Two Teams, One Story: How a documentary series created a unique competition

Have you ever had a passion? That one thing you love doing more than anything else? If you have then you know just how lucky I am to have two.

As an owner of 180 Degrees one of my passions is obvious… filmmaking. The other is a little less obvious but it’s one that I’ve had since about age six when I first stepped on the soccer pitch. To me there are few things better than a day spent on the field, playing soccer, and when I’m not playing it, I’m usually watching it. And it’s not just the big leagues… I love the lower leagues, the semi-pro leagues, even the Sunday rec leagues. I’m a fanatic.

For several years I thought about ways to combine my two big passions. With the book of Premiere League-related programming on streaming services and broadcast, I thought it would be great to give viewers a look into a side of soccer few outside of the UK even know exists, so while working on a film in France during the summer of 2017, I had a few days to myself. I took a train to the UK to see some grassroots, more commonly known as “non-league” football in action. I brought my camera to capture the experience and get to know the people who live the grassroots ethos. Those people left a lasting impression. Players, fans, volunteers... all coming together, sharing a common struggle. Not just the struggle to avoid relegation and move up the footballing pyramid, but to also breathe life into an institution that is shared by all.

Football is a sport and a business. Many club owners straddle that fence well and, as a result, enjoy strong fan support. However, in a world of multi-million dollar deals and celebrity sportsmen, there are those who believe non-league football delivers the game in its purest form. The fact that the non-league player who scored a winning goal on Saturday could be working as your plumber on Monday offers a personalization of the game not found anywhere else. Even with some barriers removed, many non-league fans see the teams they love under the control of wealthy owners with few ties to the community. These owners make decisions, which often go against the tradition and heritage, all in the name of profit. It's a dominating system that has been in place for more than a century and it is spurring a revolution known as "fan ownership" which is finding a strong voice in 21st Century sports.

I approached two teams about telling their stories, Merthyr Town FC and City of Liverpool FC. I also approached an organization called Supporters Direct, which exists to help fans realize their dream of club ownership. All three parties agreed to participate in the making of the proposed series.

Over the period of 18 months I took several trips to the UK to film material for a sizzle reel to help promote the series to networks on both continents. As the teams and the staff at SD became more excited about the project they realized an opportunity existed to bring both teams together in a friendly competition for the Supporters Direct Shield. Normally, these two teams would never meet in regular league competition but the project we developed brought them together for one high profile competition.

For me it was an amazing experience to have had some small part in bringing these two teams with such unique backgrounds together in the spirit of play and in support of fan ownership. Keep checking back with us at 180 Degrees as we work to tell their stories and promote this unique project.