It’s the ultimate dream for many a football fan. Swapping the nine to five for a career spent posting on a blog about the sport you adore. No editorial limits, no suit, no boss. For Alan Spurgeon and his blog Footy-Boots.com, that dream is reality.

It’s the ultimate dream for many a football fan. Swapping the nine to five for a career spent posting on a blog about the sport you adore. No editorial limits, no suit, no boss. For Alan Spurgeon and his blog Footy-Boots.com, that dream is reality.

What started as a series of niche articles in 2006, Alan’s blog which focusses primarily on reviews of football apparel now reaches four million people worldwide, three hundred thousand of whom read his words on average every other day. It’s the sort of platform any of the major football brands would pay serious sums to control, but Footy-Boots.com remains independent, relying upon a small team of mostly volunteer staff and freely available publishing technology to engage the fans.

In a year which has seen every major sports brand jump on the social media bandwagon, Alan’s seen a shift in attitude when it comes to dealing with the marketing departments representing the kit he reviews—

“Our job is to review everything we can get hold of and when a product comes with an already established online fan-base that can explain the benefits in our terms, an invitation to meet the people who produce the product and a willingness to engage in feedback, there’s an obvious advantage. For years we struggled away ordering products as soon as we could get hold of them, crawling through the maze of PR departments to get comment or information and then taking the stuff to the field to run it through the paces before posting our opinion online. These days it’s a little different. Whilst we’re still just a couple of lads operating from their laptop, it’s not unusual for us to be invited to meet the people who produce the kit or to go down to the pitch to chat to the premiership players who are wearing it. The biggest names in the world like Nike, adidas and Puma have got used to the fact that if you want to sell your boots to a digital generation, it’s not just the print media and broadcasters you need to engage with celebrity endorsement, it’s the little guys like us. We need data and it’s in their interests to make sure we have it.”

Whilst the manufacturers are falling over themselves to accommodate the ‘super-bloggers’, some team brands have been better than others at adjusting to the social media era. Manchester United and Arsenal rule Facebook with 20million and 7million fans respectively. Arsenal in particular have embraced the digital revolution, recently hosting web chats for up to 2.5million international fans at a time. The players themselves are thrust into this world, somewhat dazed, to play their part. In May this year Rio Ferdinand posted on Twitter “Yesterday I’m signing a few autographs + a guy pulls out his phone + says ‘can you follow me’! A follow is the new autograph!”.

So what does it feel like being taken from your backroom office to the glorious highs of sports stardom? According to Alan, whose site is successful enough to “pay the bills”, some things will never change. “We are now considered de facto I guess in our niche, particularly for the Football Boot Awards we run every year where the public come to us to vote for the product of the year. That’s great and it’s astonishing of course to get to meet your heroes through your work as we have done when premiership players are lined up to take part in things like the awards sessions, but other things remain the same. We’ve not yet been able to get to some of the international product launches, not because of the cost, but because we’re a simple set up, a couple of guys and a few computers, we just wouldn’t be able to take the time for a long flight which would mean being offline for 9 or 12 or 24 hours. We miss out on that sort of stuff. We’re still geeks attached to our umbilical tech.”

When asked if they would accept a private flight sponsored by a major sports brand, their reaction is typical of the new generation of citizen journalists— “No way, the fans of the blog would slaughter us. Our greatest asset is being unbiased. You can’t buy our opinion.”

Nobody at Footy-Boots.com has made a dot com million, but the site owners need an income. The key to success might be seen in the addition of sponsors and affiliates on the boy’s website which help to bring in stable financial support whilst they focus on reviewing kit and steering conversation in the forums. “We’re not salesmen, we never have been, never could be. We’re not good at going out there to find sponsors. I’m sure there are plenty of ways the site could make more money, but it’s never been about the money for us so we’re happy to just let a couple of sports shops link through the site as long as we get positive feedback about them. It’s a happy compromise between running a basic blog and being a commercial website.”

As someone who has tested every major boot released since 2006, Alan has a few pointers for those wanting to be on the Christmas list this year and next. “The best boot in the world is only good for one man. Reading our forums (especially the “ask geeks” channel), you know every player has their own strength, speed, accuracy, strength, ability and confidence to take risks on the pitch. No one cleat is going to fit them all. Just like social media has opened up a million different varieties of opinion, the manufacturers of the product are going to have to follow too. Bespoke might be the way to go. I’m sure the technology will exist to let players pick every aspect of their kit through an app very soon.”

Which raises an interesting question- what will be the value of celebrity if and when every boot is customised not to the famous foot, but to every man or women on the pitch? There will be bigwigs in PR breathing a sigh of relief in some cases— we all know Football and Twitter don’t always a happy marriage make. Alan has a list of social media disasters on his site to tell that story.

So where next for Alan and his happy team of sports bloggers? “2011 was a great year, we saw some astonishing products hit the pitch and through our relationships with the brands, we felt like we were pretty much front row. We’ll continue to offer a space where your opinion matters and we’ll be bringing that to a climax with this year’s awards which launch online December 5th and we’re expecting tens of thousands of votes again.”

The one difference between this year and last for Footy-Boots.com, a 1765% rise in the number of visits originating from mobile phones. Let’s hope that Nike and co have their iPhone apps in order when voting kicks in.

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