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Last sync:2023-01-28 15:00
John Green is a best-selling author and a FIFA-loving YouTube star. AFC Wimbledon is a football club in London that plays in the fourth tier of the English football league system. The story of how one used his unorthodox fame to finance a club thousands of miles away is an inspiring tale of cultural exchange, triumphant populism, and the weird power of the internet.

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 (00:00) to (02:00)

John Green: I mean, initially they were a little confused, I guess, because I was like "So I play FIFA and I upload the videos to YouTube and I get ad money and I want to give you that ad money." And they were like "Well why? Like, why all of those things?" Like, it's a very strange thing to pitch to someone.

Adebayo Akinfenwa: I was like "Who's this guy with 4 million fans in America know about AFC Wimbledon?"

Lyle Taylor: I hadn't heard of John Green before I came here.

Neal Ardley: My children were the one's who first of all were, like, amazed by it. When they heard the first thing they said to me was "Dad, do you know who this is?"

Ivor Heller: It's bizarre. (Laughs) It's completely bonkers. You know, if anyone had said to me "Ivor, what you need to go after is someone that can play FIFA and generate a crowd and that will pay for a sponsorship". It's insane. How could anybody ever envisage... You can't make that scenario up, can you? You can't.

J: There was this team, Wimbledon F.C., that played very near to where the tennis tournament is, and it was mostly amateur for most of its history, but then had this glorious run, and then they won the FA Cup which is this big national competition in England. And almost immediately after winning the FA Cup things began to fall apart. There were problems with their stadium, they were purchased by foreign owners who sort of stripped the assets out of the club.

Roger Bennett: And the club owner decides in a very American style, you guys are used to it here, franchises. Baltimore Colts, in the middle of the night they zoom off and disappear, that's just sport. But in England it's not. And when the club owner decided "We're gonna move, we're gonna go to a new future, we're gonna move to Milton Keynes" he expected the fans to keep coming with them. And the fans, they were disgusted. This does not happen.

Mick Pugh: Absolutely everybody was knocked backwards by the stupidity and the unfairness of it, but that galvanized the determination of people to say "You won't do that to us, we'll get back."

 (02:00) to (04:00)

J: And they reacted to this in the best possible way which is that they decided to start a soccer team.

R: Where the owner said "You know, I have you. I own the club, I can do whatever I want with it", these Wimbledon fans, they turn round and they said "Fuck you. You can go".

J: So in 2002 they held open tryouts in this public park, Wimbledon Common. They had no uniforms, they had no players, they had no idea how to run a soccer team.

R: They decided 75% of the club would always be owned by the fans. This would be a club that was built in protest and they said "We are going to start at the beginning" and that meant plummeting to the very, very, very bottom, the deep bowels of the English Football League.

J: They started out in the ninth tier of English football. They would go to away games where there were 50 or 60 fans. Yeah, I mean the only comparison I can make to American sports is if you started a baseball team in the whatever's below Single-A baseball.

R: A man walking a dog in the park may stop by and watch, smoke a cigarette, and watch this football. There's very little to see.

J: But then when they would play at Wimbledon there would be thousands. They worked there way up in nine years from ninth tier until they were in the fifth tier of English football, one promotion away from being a full-time professional club in the Football League again.

Commentator: And Wimbledon are down to one penalty kick. To take them into the Football League! And the fans club that started less than nine years ago have a Football League club once again!

N: So to become a League football club was what the ambition always was initially for the club and to get there in such a short space of time was a fantastic achievement.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

Lyle Taylor: Clubs normally will have a sugar daddy, if you will, that will put a load of money in and buy who he wants and pay the wages and whatever and that will be how the club's run, but not Wimbledon.

I: It's one of the things, that as the fans own the fans-run club, we have to be open to anything.

J: He passes to Akinfenwa, Akinfenwa(?)! Oh he missed the goal! No- it went in! It went in with his last touch of the game, Adebayo Akinfenwa (?), beast- mode, (singing) oh he's big, he's round, he's worth ten million pounds, Akinfenwa, Akinfenwa(?).

R: John Green, what a man. He's a man of many skills, he writes books- they become New York Times bestsellers, he produces movies- he's just gold at the box office, he starts the new vloggy stuff-vloggy stuff, with his brother and becomes a massive YouTube sensation.

J: "Good Morning Hank."

J: "Good Morning Hank, it's Tuesday."

Hank Green: "Good Morning John."

J: "Hi I'm John Green and this is Crash Course World History and today we're going to talk about World War II."

R: Then he becomes a pillar of the YouTube community.


J: "DFTBA, I will see you on Monday."

J: "And as we say in my hometown, Don't Forget to be Awesome."

J: My brother decided to start a gaming channel called "hankgames" where he was going to play video games everyday and then people would watch them and we'd get ad revenue and also it would be fun.

J: "Hello and welcome to hankgames without Hank, my name is John Green and I have just become the manager of the AFC Wimbledon Wimbly Womblys. As always I am counting on you, the supporters, hopefully to get behind this club and it's amazing story."

 (06:00) to (08:00)

R: "John doesn't see things like you or I see things.  He doesn't see things as one dimensional sporting stories.  When he hears for the first time this Wimbledon AFC story he sees a pharaoh barking at his people, he sees the fanbase as slaves freeing themselves from the chains of tyranny and overthrowing the ruling class and he is emotionally deeply connected.  And John Green playing EA sports FIFA, playing quite awfully if I'm gonna be honest it's Mkinda like thinking about Hillary Clinton break dancing or Morrissey doing Tae Kwon Do.

J: So there is absolutely no appeal in watching me play FIFA so I've tried to build a world for the team that's interesting so that people will want to watch, like our two starting forwards are John Green and John Green.  I should mention that if you're new to the game that John Green and John Green are married to each other.  They're teammates in life and in love.  Noone has the chemistry that Bald John Green and Other John Green have I mean that's just one of the thing about being the only strike partnership in all of football that is also a marriage.

R: It sounds awful but it became must watch for several hundred thousand people who tune in avidly to watch this grown man play an electronic game incredibly badly but just to hear the sweeping saga that he was able to kind of create out of his dreadful play with his beautiful imagination.

J: Lastly I want to introduce you to two of our new players playing in central defence we have A Liza Bennett.  But I do want to make clear that even though all of these players are actually based on actual AFC Wimbledon players I want you to, if you can, divorce yourselves from their reality so that the actual A Bennett doesn't get mad at me for turning him into a woman.

But the more and more I thought about it, I thought you know this advertising revenue that we're making from this channel could go to AFC Wimbledon and that idea was so compelling to me that I just called AFC Wimbledon and asked if I could sponsor them.

 (08:00) to (10:00)

R: And I didn'ty really know who John Green was at the time, yeah why would I, commercial directly, part time commercial director of a football club in Wimbledon and you know but as I'm speaking to him I googled at the same time and that was really funny because it just came bang up and there and it was like oh right okay.

J: I mean initially they were a little confused I guess because I was like so I play FIFA and I upload the videos to YouTube and I get ad money and I want to give you that ad money. And they were like why?  Like why all of those things?

R: It's completely bonkers.  You know if anyone had said to me what you need to go after is someone who can play FIFA and generate a crowd and that would pay for a sponsorship, it's insane.

J: But then it grew when we were offered the opportunity to sponsor the back of their shorts.  Then you can see your own logo in FIFA while you're playing in order to generate revenue to pay for the very logo that you're seeing in FIFA.  That struck me as circular in a way that was very appealing.  So yeah, so now we sponsor the back of their shorts that sort of liminal space between the thigh and buttock it's all us.

R. They are suddenly running around the field in a pair of polyester shorts and on the back of it it says DFTBA. Don't forget to be awesome.  It's unbelievably surreal.  But John didn't just stop there.  He ups the ante that wasn't enough for him.  A year later he came back and he said I'd like to sponsor a whole stand, the north stand is now the John Green stand

 (10:00) to (12:00)

It's surreal and it's beautiful but because it's in John Green's world it makes perfect sense.  

J: This is so cool.

R: So this is it, the crowd's cheering John.

J: Haha, Wow.  Wow.  That is so cool.

R: Forget Hollywood, forget Hollywood John

J: Yea no this is way cooler. 

R: This is the real thing. What is it like to sit in your own stand, right now.

J: This is not something I ever thought would happen to me in my life.  I have to say I did not technically tell my wife about this sponsorship until after it was publicly announced.

R: Sorry

J: So that's part of what I'm thinking here is I think if she could be here she would feel the magic.

**Crowd Chanting**

J: You know when I found this club I found the oddest bunch of people but you know in this stand there's gonna be 5000 people singing together who may not agree about much but agree about this.


R: A lot of you are here because we got a special guest here today, you all know who he is, ladies and gentleman please put your hands together for the one and only John Green.  John, this is your debut really in front of AFC Wimbledon fans, have you got a message to all of the fans?

J: It is such a testament to me to the power of individuals over corporations over wealthy people over greed, it is such a testament to me of the power of individuals who care about something and care about an institution to make this happen.

 (12:00) to (13:55)

So thank you for letting me put my name, ridiculously on your north stand. This club reflects the best values of football, the best values of sport and I feel so so lucky to be a part of it.  

R: I mean the whole story of AFC Wimbledon ultimately is about struggle, is about value, is about collective coming together, reflection upon what's important to them, what's no important and then setting course, obviously not knowing exactly where they're going to be going but knowing most importantly they're going to be going together.

J: I want them to be the internet's team, I want them to be America's football team.  You know I believe in football for and by it's fans. I believe in these communities.  I felt like I'm part of a community, I feel that I'm not alone in the world and I think it's even more powerful for fans of grassroots football and even more powerful for AFC Wimbledon fans.  They really are part of their team because they own it.  

*Crown chanting* AFC Wimbledon AFC Wimbledon