The way the media is changing is remarkable.
Ofcom report that circulation of national newspapers has decreased by 52.5% this decade, with 49% of adults now getting their news from social media. Online platforms are the way forward in this digital revolution, and Robbie Lyle is one of the frontrunners.
Lyle is a content creator and the founder of AFTV, the renowned fan channel for Arsenal FC. AFTV was founded in October 2012 to give Arsenal fans a voice, by the fans for the fans, gaining almost a billion total views. Within eight years, AFTV has revolutionised the media game.
“The last few years have been crazy,” Lyle tells me. “We’ve hit over a million subscribers on YouTube, all of our other platforms are growing, and a lot of opportunities have occurred to be on Sky, talkSPORT, BT Sport and the BBC. It’s been really good to contribute on those sorts of platforms.”
The transition from YouTube to the mainstream media is just another remarkable chapter in Lyle’s story. Once a reggae DJ going by the name of ‘Crucial Robbie’, he is now one of the most recognised and widely respected in the community. Yet, his success has not come without backlash.
I ask about the harsh criticism he receives about AFTV profiting from Arsenal defeats, and he just laughs. “At first, I found it a bit upsetting, because the sole purpose of our platform is to give ordinary fans a chance to have their say,” he explains.
“I don’t know what they’re driven by- whether it’s jealousy, whether it’s they just don’t like the fact that it’s a new style of media. I think when you’re something quite new, this is what’s going to happen. You’re going to get to a point where you become really big, you come under a lot of scrutiny, there’s people who don’t like what you’re doing.”
Today, Lyle sees his own programmes aired on national television. “I’ve got a TV production company and [have] been doing some TV stuff with Channel 4,” he says. “I’ve got a documentary that’s coming out very soon on ITV as well, which I’ve been working on over the past couple of months.”
Lyle speaks proudly of his documentary, which is due to air at the end of March 2020. It delves into the problem of racism in football, a sensitive and critical topic for Lyle and fans alike. “The documentary I’m doing is talking about how bad it used to be and how things have improved, but we still got work to do,” he says.
“I’ve been dealing with racism all of my life, all my football life, from the very first time I started going. Back in the day when they used to do that sort of thing, they’d have hundreds and hundreds of people joining in. It does rear its ugly head, and I’ve had a lot of it, recently especially.”
It goes without saying that racism has seen an ugly re-emergence in football. Kick It Out showed a 67.3% increase in reports of racism last year, while making up 65% of discrimination in the professional and grassroots game. There is much work to be done, and the question is how should we be tackling it.
“I’ve been dealing with racism all of my life, all my football life, from the very first time I started going.”
“We’ve got to change people,” Lyle explains. “We’ve got to make sure that when these people are being racist, we isolate them and push them out of the game, because there’s no place for them in football. Let them go and do whatever they’re doing elsewhere but in football, you’re not welcome.”
The Premier League and the FA continue to combat racism, and despite the launch of the ‘No Room for Racism’ campaign, not much seems to be changing. “I personally believe that they should be working harder,” he declares. “There can be very harsh sanctions on people who do these things.
“You’re not just banned from Arsenal or Tottenham or whichever club it is, you’re banned from all football forever. I truly believe that those are good ideas, as well as education for people to show that there’s certain things that you say that you shouldn’t be saying in a football match.”
Racism in football is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues in sport, being widely covered by the British media. Yet while the media criticise the problems in and around the game, they fail to recognise their own shortcomings when it comes to diversity and equal representation.
A study by City University showed that 94% of UK journalists are white, compared to 2.3% mixed race and just 0.2% who are black. With the need for BAME representation more critical than ever, Lyle emphasises how much of a concern it is.
“We talk about the racism in football but the media in this country is not diverse at all, and it needs to change,” he tells me. “Changes are being made but it’s still too slow for me, and it’s really hit home to me how white the industry is. It should be reflective of this country- look how many people of colour go to football.”
He continues, “In the media, there’s not enough black journalists, women [or] Asian people. If you’ve got a media that’s not reflective of the diverse community that watch it, then you start to get racism coming out.”
Diversity is lacking in the British media, but AFTV is a great example of successfully representing the population. “One of the things I’m proud of on AFTV is that we show the diversity of Arsenal fans,” he says. “Everybody has always known that Arsenal have a very diverse fanbase, we never used to see that before.
“We reflect that, because my motto with AFTV is, ‘As long as you’re an Arsenal fan, I’ll speak to you.’ I don’t care about colour; I just want people who are going to have good opinions, and that’s how it should be.”
From his days as a DJ to being at the helm of the biggest fan channel in the world, Lyle has taken a remarkable route to get to where he is today, as a dedicated professional and a truly straight-talking, genuine person.
After a transformative decade, he has big ambitions for the next. “For AFTV, I really want to build it into a stronger media company, like the Netflix of YouTube where we’re just that one-stop shop for all your programming when it comes to Arsenal,” Lyle says.
“I want to be able to help other like-minded people to start channels for their football clubs and just really build this community, stronger and worldwide, keep innovating, keep it fresh and keep getting bigger.”
I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in making this interview possible. To The Oval cricket ground for providing the venue, Ashanti George-Faure and BCOMS for setting up the interview, and especially Robbie for making the time to sit down and speak with me. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.