Twitter sensation and semi-professional football Michael Campbell opens up about Footie Stories, and how it has helped provide a platform for unheard voices within the game to express themselves.
By Amos Murphy
From disappointment, to delight, the Footie Stories early days
Slumped on his sofa, Michael Campbell could feel the nerves starting to take control of his body. A highly-rated goal scorer across almost every level of non-league football, there were few stages he’d ever struggled to perform on. But the thought of speaking in front of the entire internet had knocked him back a little bit.
For any active Twitter user, the evening of 22nd November 2021 will live long in the memory. From Premier League footballers, to the Somalian Embassy, everyone who was anyone had tuned into the latest internet sensation, ‘Sing Your Dialect’ – a Twitter Spaces hosted by Jacob McLaughlin, where notable figures would come on and perform a song of their choice.
Declan Rice on sing your dialect:#si pic.twitter.com/gcsgQN5qAd
— Max🏴 (@_MaxUTD) November 23, 2021
Throughout the following week, various other Twitter Spaces began popping up, with a particular highlight being the ‘Americans vs Brits’ space – a dedicated platform for Americans to vent their anger towards British culture, and vice versa. Utterly absurd. Yet, Michael, a semi-professional footballer, had an idea of his own:
“Even though my partner wasn’t particularly interested in football, when I’d come home from games and waffle about my stories, she’d love hearing them.
“When Twitter Spaces kept popping up, I asked her if she thought it would be a good idea for me to start one and speak about all of my footie stories. She agreed, so I went for it”.
Footie Stories goes from strength to strength
Buoyed by optimism, Michael started the space and eagerly awaited his first listeners. A few seconds passed by and nothing. Not one person had joined. Scrambling off Twitter, Michael’s plan looked to have stumbled at the first hurdle.
It was the football equivalent of being sent off in the opening minute of a match, and having to trudge back to the changing rooms for an early shower. Whilst they’re may not have been VAR in any of the matches Michael had ever played in, there would be a reprieve this time:
“I’ve still got the message from my mate, who told me to start it again but change the name. I did that and he came in, another few friends did and everyone was just bantering about football.
“Before I know it, its up to 30 or 40 people. I was happy with that, after initially thinking nobody would come in. But I really didn’t expect what happened next”.
One of the biggest factors behind the initial success of Twitter Spaces, was the fact mutual followers could see what a person was listening to and jump onto that server themselves. This would work wonders for Michael’s early project, with various people starting to join from all corners of the country.
“There were two supporters of Sunday league teams going at each other, saying all sorts. It was really good, because these two people tweeting would’ve never have spoken to each other prior to this space.
“The numbers kept rising, it went up to 100 people, 500 people and my dm’s were going through the roof. From what was a space with a couple of my mates speaking about football in London, now had a number of celebrities involved”.
Providing a platform for semi-pro footballers’ voices to be heard
From that night on, what was an ambition shared between Michael and his partner, continued to grow up until the point where he decided to take his idea to the next level. Throw in a bit of snazzy branding, a new title for the show and a regular schedule with repeating guests, and Footie Stories was born.
When quizzed on why he continues to provide a space for footballers of all abilities up and down the pyramid to come on and tell their Footie Stories, Michael was open and honest in his response:
“I speak to a lot of people within the game, a lot of them have opinions… I’m not the only person who has had mad stories to tell about football, people want to tell these tales, but there was nowhere for them to go.
“Footie Stories has given people a place to get involved. I don’t shy away myself, I get involved and I love it”.
Boy does Michael get involved. In fact, there will be few speakers in the Footie Stories space with a more eclectic knowledge of the non-league game than master of ceremonies Michael Campbell himself, who is a self-proclaimed journeyman of semi-professional football:
“I started semi-pro playing at 17 with Croydon FC. When I went for my trail, I thought it was with Croydon Athletic who were quite high up at the time, it was actually with Croydon FC. I thought ah well, let’s just get on with it”.
A sign of things to come, Michael would go on to represent a number of clubs in and around the London area, all whilst regularly enjoying a transfer or too. Prolific in front of goal, the current Footie Stories host, in his words: “racked up too many goals to count”.
Journeyman Michael seen it all in non-league
Such experience within the game made Michael a natural fit to host such a show, and having had to overcome a number of barriers himself throughout his career, the marksman understands what it takes to juggle semi-professional football with everyday life.
Having been forced to turn down what would’ve been a career-changing move to Step 2 side Braintree Town, Michael decided it was time to hang up his boots and seek pastures new:
“I was playing through bad injuries and playing on painkillers. I called it a day and started writing blogs.
“But any footballer will tell you, if you can still physically kick a ball, you can’t just walk away. I had to get back in”.
Battling barriers and what next for Footie Stories?
Currently plying his trade with Kenningwell United, there was something about giving up football that didn’t sit right with him. However, Michael recognises he cannot play forever and has already set his sights on a post-football career:
“Personally, I’d love to get into radio, or hosting shows. There’s a market there for what we’re doing with Footie Stories, especially in the non-league space”.
Since that first space held on Twitter, Footie Stories has already proven to be a huge hit with various different audiences. Regularly trending on Twitter, the show has seen a number of high-profile guests come on and vent about their time as a footballer, semi-pro and pro players alike.
Amongst those star-studded names Michael mentioned, former Swansea City forward Wayne Routledge stood out in particular, having joined the space to speak about his experiences within football.
i still can’t believe that we had wayne routledge just casually talking to us on #FootieStories 😳😭
— #MC9 (@mc9mikes) November 25, 2021
With a blueprint that is consistently proving to be successful, Michael is excited about where Footie Stories can go:
“We’ve already got a podcast in the pipeline. It’s going to be a different type of podcast, where we do a live phone-in, keeping it true Footie Stories style.
"The team we're building is incredible. There's 'Mazza' alongside me for the episodes, and the social media growth has been incredible".
Whatever happens outside of the show is out of my control, I’m just an admin😔👀 #FootieStories https://t.co/w5eQnTmppP
— #FootieStories (@footiestories_) January 27, 2022
Already boasting over 1,700 followers on Twitter, the mysterious Footie Stories admin has gained its own notoriety for its cutthroat takes during the live shows.
A goal scorer on the pitch, a visionary off it. What Michael and his Footie Stories team have achieved in such a short space of time, should be commended and is rightly getting the acknowledgement it deserves.
From utterly bizarre anecdotes about managers interfering with players’ relationships, to humbling discussions about dealing with mental health problems as a semi-professional footballer, Footie Stories has provided an environment for a previously unheard voice to flourish.
Who knows what beckons in the future, but one thing is for sure, Footie Stories will carry on growing, whilst continuing to attract the attention of some of the biggest names within the football industry (even if the identity of Admin will remain under wraps for now).