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How two aspiring footballers hit 10 million YouTube subscribers

Jeremy Lynch and Billy Wingrove started out on a conventional path to football stardom, but ultimately took a different route to get there.

Jeremy Lynch and Billy Wingrove's fifth book focuses on the Ultimate Footballer.
Jeremy Lynch and Billy Wingrove's fifth book focuses on the Ultimate Footballer.

JEREMY LYNCH AND Billy Wingrove have just published their fifth book.

A blurb on the cover of ‘F2: Ultimate Footballer’ explains: “If you want to add skills like the Ozil bounce pass, the Messi soft scoop and the Neymar rainbow, then look no further. And this time we reveal the secret tips told to us by the top pros behind the scenes.”

Yet the duo’s talents have not been confined to the publishing industry.

Their videos have 10 million subscribers on YouTube. They have interviewed and received footballing tips from some of the biggest stars in the game, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney, Robinho and Isco. They have been told by a number of players that their young children are big fans. They have numerous different business ventures on the go, including a football talent agency, an app and their own clothing line, Rascal Clothing.

In addition to attracting millions of eyeballs, their videos make money through ad revenue and brand endorsements from Adidas among others.

So how exactly did they get to this point?

Both of them started out with dreams of forging a career in conventional 11-a-side professional football. As a youngster, Wingrove was on the books at Tottenham, while Lynch spent time in Arsenal’s Academy. Neither made a first-team breakthrough and instead, they increasingly opted to focus on football freestyling, before that in itself became their primary career.

“We used to do the football freestyle tricks. We used to do stage performances. Then we created a double act, which no one had done before. We won the UK Entertainment Act of the Year award, and we got invited to perform at the Ballon d’Or, the actual ceremony, with the players and everyone there. To this day, no freestyler has been invited to do that again. 

So we kind of hit the pinnacle of that performance freestyle world. And it was a time when social media was just starting to boom and YouTube was quite new. We started a channel and we started creating content. Very quickly, we started to realise that the way the world is going, content is the future. We started to focus on that more. Seven years later, we’ve got over 10 million subscribers on YouTube and the social reach is over 20 million. A huge following. And we are considered the world’s number one football content creators.” 

And was it a case of the potential for creating content becoming much more of a realistic career path than a traditional football career, which prompted their decision to give up on the latter?

“That’s exactly right,” Wingrove says. “We got to a position where we could have continued down the football route and carried on our journey. However, football freestyle at the time was new. There were endless opportunities there. There weren’t many people doing it. We were the best in our field. And we were much closer to being the best in the world at freestyle. And it was earning good money.

“As a career move, something so new and so fun really put us in that space. We got so busy that we had to choose one or the other. We decided to go into freestyle together individually and then we formed a double act after that.

“It’s a real tough one. It’s probably the hardest decision that I’ve ever made and Jez will say the same — stopping playing football to dedicate yourself to the freestyle field is so difficult, because it’s your main passion and hobby in life. But you know as a career move, the possibilities of freestyle are endless, because you’re the best in the game and you’re the only really top ones doing it.”

Source: F2Freestylers - Ultimate Soccer Skills Channel/YouTube

So would they recommend going down this path to others for whom a traditional career in football is not necessarily a viable option?

“It is competitive, I’m not going to deny that,” Wingrove says. “It’s just the way the world has gone now. There was a report that came out recently saying that Cristiano Ronaldo makes more money from his Instagram than his football contract. There are endless opportunities career-wise in social media — they weren’t there 10 years ago.

“It would be quite hard to replicate exactly what the F2 has done. However, there is room for new influencers to come through all the time. It comes down to what people are passionate about and how hard they have worked to get what they want.”

Lynch finds it difficult to pinpoint one moment when they realised they had hit the big time.

“Having your own book. Having your own clothing line. Working with top-class players. Hitting a billion views and hitting two billion views on YouTube, 10 million subscribers.

All these milestones are incredible, but when I first realised that we had not made it, but were [onto] something special I’d say, we were working in Brighton south of the UK. We saw a family on holiday. This kid looked at us as we got out of a cab. We’d just finished a job. And he just burst into tears, in shock. We went over to see the family and apparently, he’s our biggest fan.

“We had this impact on the kid. Not every kid obviously, but we have a following — it means that much to meet us. We’re inspiring them in a massive way. And if you can get into a position where you can do your job as a hobby and you’re inspiring people in that way, then, in my opinion, you’ve made it.”

Wingrove adds: “For me, one that stands out is when Adidas gave us a key ambassadorial contract, which was in the same tier as in their top-tier players, outside of Lionel Messi obviously. But it looked pretty much the same.

“Such a power brand like Adidas to be treating us the same as they treat their most valuable player assets, that felt like a big achievement, because obviously, we didn’t end up becoming professional footballers.”

So what exactly is it that prompts so many millions of people to connect with what the pair do?

“The success of YouTube, I don’t think it’s solely down to your football technique, skills and ability,” Lynch says. “The reason why the kids go to YouTube nowadays is because they want to follow these people’s journeys, their lives, it feels like they’re really connected into their world.

“And I think people just enjoy watching our content, because we don’t take it too seriously. We’re always adapting and not just sticking to the same stuff. We have a laugh together. We’re best mates. And it’s easy for us to have a laugh and create great content, and people buy into that, and they like it. I think they feel they’re really connected with us and our content.”

liverpool-v-arsenal-carabao-cup-fourth-round-anfield Liverpool's Rhian Brewster last year signed with F2's football talent agency. Source: Mike Egerton

Last year, the duo expanded their interests and formed a talent agency. Several young players came on board, with Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster the most high-profile client recruited, and licensed intermediary Leon Anderson joining them in the venture.

“It’s mainly around the youth of today and nurturing their talents and being able to offer something that we’ve been through ourselves, starting our own social media,” Lynch explains.

“We had past experiences with agents that weren’t great. We decided, if we could offer something totally unique, we’ve got the experience of social media to help them with, commercial deals to help them run it in the right way. We’ve got a top football lawyer that worked on some of the biggest contracts in Premier League history.

We’ve got the right team in place and these kids that are playing in academy set-ups and Premier League clubs, they follow us and they’re fans of us. If we could benefit them in the right way, it’s not about financial gain, but what’s right for this kid’s future. So that was the reason why we started it up and we found that it takes a lot of focus and a lot of time to do it properly.

“We haven’t come away from the agency, we’ve just taken a sidestep and put more focus into the F2 at the moment.”

The duo’s move into the world of football talent has not been met with unequivocal approval. In reaction the Brewster move, a piece in The Independent last year noted: “That raised eyebrows in the agency world, for a high-profile young player to sign with a company which had only just been established. Especially one whose reputation and expertise was in a very different world, of entertainment, digital media and shareable content, rather than in the demands of elite competitive sport.”

Yet Lynch insists the pair are well equipped for this role, citing the assistance of others in compensating for the aspects of the job they are not overly familiar with.

“When you’ve got the UK’s top football lawyer that’s worked on probably 60% of the top contracts through the Premier League, that gives you a massive advantage.

“When you talk about experience, Cristiano Ronaldo earns more money from his social media than he does playing. When it comes to treating these players as a brand, which they are now, who’s more experienced at doing that than us?

“We’re not saying we’re going to negotiate a deal on the table. We’re not experts on that and we could never do that. We have a team of people that have had experience in that for years.

“But what we are saying is in that modern new world, with social media, with commercial deals that have been offered to these players, not only that, but the right tone that they speak in on social media, and the person they’re portraying themselves to be might not come across on social media. So we’re there to make sure they do the right things and say the right things.”

F2: Ultimate Footballer is published by Blink Publishing. More info here.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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