Baiteze v SE Dons: What Does the “YouTube El Classico” Tell Us About Sunday Football?


Referee’s assistant checking the nets before the game

BAITEZE SQUAD (ESSEX SUNDAY CORINTHIAN LEAGUE) -V- SOUTH-EAST DONS (ORPINGTON & BROMLEY DISTRICT SUNDAY LEAGUE)

FA SUNDAY CUP – ROUND 2

Sunday January 16, 2022 – 1pm (at Barking FC in east London)

For those who ask: (a) “Are YouTube teams good for grassroots football?” (b) “What is the point of YouTube teams?”; and (c) “Are YouTube teams actually good at football?” – this game answered all those questions and many more. This game had everything you would want from a cup match: a massive raucous crowd, goals, attacking football, fierce commitment, a stirring comeback, crunching tackles, and red cards.

BACKGROUND

There have been many great Sunday football rivalries over the last 45 years: including 279 Sports v Troy, Arras v Continental, and Kenningwell United/New Salamis v Baldon Sports. The contest for football (and social media) supremacy between these two teams might be the next great amateur football rivalry.

For the unitiated/those unfamiliar with these two teams, Baiteze and SE Dons are the most popular and successful of the so-called “YouTube teams” who film and upload footage of their games with commentary to YouTube. The two teams have almost half a million social media followers between them, and SE Dons has more YouTube followers than 70% of Premier League clubs.

Both teams are champions of their respective leagues. Baiteze are champions of the Essex Sunday Corinthian League which is based in east London and Essex, and SE Dons are champions of the Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League – which is based in south-east London and northern Kent. The two clubs are also each other’s biggest rivals, and play each other every summer in non-league sanctioned “YouTube championship” matches. Yet ironically, this was the first competitive game between them. For it to happen in an FA Sunday Cup game made the occasion even more special.

All the “pundits” had SE Dons as massive favourites and not a single one of them picked Baiteze to win.


BUMPER CROWD

There was a massive crowd at the game. Both stands were packed to capacity and there was no space on the side of the pitch. Some stood or sat on elevated places like walls to get a view of the game. Despite Baiteze being the home team, it was like home game for Dons as the bulk of the crowd was supporting them. Several social media posts by both teams claimed that there were 2000 fans at the stadium.

While the crowd was certainly large, I think the real figure was about 50-65% of the alleged 2000. Whether or not I am correct, a crowd of over 1000 at a Sunday league game is extraordinary. I am amazed that Baiteze did not charge an entry fee – especially when they knew that there would be a huge crowd.

PET PEEVES

The game started with a replication of a pet peeve I see in elite professional football: two teams wearing their change kits despite there being no colour clash between them. While SE Dons wore all white, Baiteze were the bigger culprits by wearing a gaudy kit that looked like a painter and decorator’s splattered clothes after several days painting a house!

It took time for both teams to settle and there was little incident of note in the first 10 minutes. The first goal mouth action was self-inflicted and exposed another one of my pet peeves about modern football: the inflexible insistence on playing out from the back. I never understand why defenders do this all the time – even when under pressure and when surrounded by opposition attackers, and even though it often goes wrong and results in a defensive error and giving away a goal. Baiteze’s centre back decided it was a good idea to dribble his way out of trouble (when surrounded by three SE Dons attackers) when he could have put ball onto the roof of the stand. He lost possession, and Dons capitalized on the error by scoring.

Fortunately for Baiteze, the goal was disallowed for offside. As I looked down to take notes on what just happened, I heard two noises. The first was the familiar thud of boot on leather as someone took a shot. The second noise was a massive roar from the crowd. As I saw members of the Baiteze bench run onto the pitch to celebrate, I realised what had happened. 60 seconds after SE Dons had a goal disallowed, Baiteze’s Domingos Pires had given them the lead, and I missed the goal because I looked away from the pitch to take notes about something that happened a few seconds earlier!

Baiteze 1 -v- SE Dons 0

The goal settled Baiteze and Samuel Jeremiah scored a second goal with a header from a corner. Jeremiah also plays for Basildon United on Saturdays in the Isthmian League Division 1 North. The referee spent as much time policing the benches as he did controlling the players. A fracas ensued between the Baiteze and Dons benches during the celebrations of Baiteze’s second goal. The referee had to work as hard as a WWE referee to declare a ceasefire between the benches. There was a lengthy delay while he restored order.

Baiteze 2 -v- SE Dons 0

“Ade Are You OK?”

Dons were shell-shocked after Samuel Jeremiah scored his second goal of the game to give Baiteze a 3-0 lead.

Baiteze returning to the center circle after scoring their third goal.

Baiteze started enjoying themselves and stringing lovely passing moves together. A brilliant dummy by Baiteze’s Ade Cole which flummoxed the Dons’ Nathan Palmer (followed by Cole playing a “no look” pass) delighted the crowd and brought chants of “Ade are you OK?” (to the tune of the “Annie are you ok?” lyrics in Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.

Baiteze 3 -v- SE Dons 0

Ade Cole’s older brother is also called… Ade Cole (do not ask me – ask the family!). Ade Senior is also a fine footballer who used to play for former Hackney & Leyton League champions Clapton Rangers.

SE Dons did not create a single clear cut opening in the first half, and their prolific star striker Zak Ansah was anonymous in the first half. Ansah is a fine player who plays Step 4 football on Saturdays for Herne Bay of the Isthmian League (South East Division) and scored 28 goals for Herne Bay in the 2019-2020 season. Much of the credit for keeping him quiet is due to the excellent play of the Baiteze centre-back Alex Cruickshank who did not put a foot wrong all half. He blocked, headed, and intercepted everything that came his way.

SECOND HALF

Baiteze’s first half dominance was so comprehensive that it was inconceivable it would continue in the second half. With Baiteze in a commanding lead, they held back and did not attack as much as they did in the first half. A rare opening for Dons’ Zak Ansah was blocked by Alex Cruickshank (who else?!). As Dons tried to get back in the game, their midfielder Nathan Palmer crashed a fierce long range drive against the crossbar.

Dons centre-back Joe Denny (whom the Dons describe as “Full English” in his playing style) held a Baiteze player down on the ground after a challenge. The Baiteze player did not retaliate, but Ade Cole (who was standing at least 20 yards away from the incident) recklessly retaliated by charging across the field at Denny and hitting him in the chest. The referee issued a double red card (one to each team). Cole’s dismissal was as blatant a red card as one is likely to see. Both he and Denny have played at a high level and should have known better (Denny formerly played for Ebbsfleet United of the National League and Cole plays on Saturdays for Step 3 Isthmian League Premier Division team Haringey Borough). Dons were fortunate not to be reduced to 9 men after a reckless tackle that led the ref to issue a yellow card – that another referee would have punished with a red.

Yellow card to an SE Dons player

A fine Baiteze move down the right wing put Samuel Jeremiah in on a goal with a great chance to complete his hat-trick and put Baiteze 4-0 up. Jeremiah’s initial effort ricocheted off the Dons’ goalkeeper George Kamurasi and bounced back to Jeremiah who had the goal at his mercy, with Kamurasi prone on the ground, and team mate Shomari Barnwell whom he could have squared ball to. However, Jeremiah’s effort cannoned off the inside of the post and out to safety. Would Baiteze rue missing that chance?

PENALTY FOR THE DONS

With each team reduced to 10 men, Dons midfielder Montel Agyemang was excellent. He showed great stamina, was always available to receive a pass, and distributed the ball very well. He was the Dons’ best player on the day. After the referee awarded Dons a penalty, Agyemang had a great opportunity to give Dons a lifeline from the penalty spot. This is what happened:

Penalty to SE Dons

Due to the huge crowd, I had a concern that rarely arises in grassroots Sunday football. Since Baiteze were 3-0 up with only 10 minutes to go, I wanted to leave early to avoid the inevitable crush and long car tailbacks after the game. About 30 seconds after I started walking to the exit, I heard a roar. It was the sound of the crowd cheering after Nathan Palmer scored and reduced the deficit for the Dons. I did not see the goal as I could not see past the huge crowd.

Baiteze 3 -v- SE Dons 1

As I reached one of the stands behind the Baiteze goal, I heard an even louder crowd roar. This time Dons winger Rory Hill had played in the hitherto anonymous Zak Ansah, who scored to make it 3-2. Somehow, Dons had scored twice in the few moments it took me to walk from the side of the pitch to the back of the stand. I had not even reached the exit! 

Baiteze 3 -v- SE Dons 2

The two goals sent the crowd into a frenzy and I abandoned my plans to leave early. I thought Baiteze would be haunted for the rest of their lives if they threw away a 3-0 lead in the dying minutes of the game. With the crowd roaring on the Dons, their tails were up and they started bombarding the Baiteze goal in search of the equaliser. Incredibly, Baiteze were now hanging on in a game where they were 3-0 up with 10 minutes left, and in which they had not looked in any danger.

Baiteze held on for a 3-2 win, but made it much harder than it needed to be, and turned what should have been an emphatic one sided victory into a nerve jangling, hearts in mouth last 10 minutes. Credit for that must go to SE Dons. Even when 0-3 down, they never gave up and kept attacking. They got back into the game on sheer willpower.

FINAL SCORE: BAITEZE SQUAD 3 -V- SE DONS 2

MAN OF THE MATCH: Alex Cruikshank (Baiteze Squad). Imperious in defence for Baiteze.

WHAT THIS GAME TELLS US ABOUT SUNDAY FOOTBALL AND THE YOUTUBE FOOTBALL SCENE

The massive and raucous crowd, and number of people from unconnected clubs at the game shows how powerful social media has become in Sunday football. Coaches of teams who are not even playing in the FA Sunday Cup (such as Rising Ballers’ coach Mahrez Bettache and The Wall’s coach Sian) were at the game, as was the Dons’ chairman Andy Ansah (a retired professional footballer who played for Brighton and Southend United).

This was no ordinary Sunday football match. Most of the players on both teams also play on Saturdays for Step 3-5 semi-professional teams. The standard of play was akin to a Step 4 Saturday football match. Haringey Borough, Glebe, Margate, Hythe Town…the game was like an “All Stars” game for well known semi-professional players from the Essex and Kent areas. For example, Ansah was formerly in Arsenal’s academy, and Agyemang plays for Margate in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League.

I was also impressed by both teams’ commitment to passing and keeping the ball on the floor. There were very few “hit and hope” long balls and even when a long ball was played, it was usually a deliberate and accurate cross-field pass to switch the play to a team-mate on the opposite side of the pitch.

This game also raised an issue that will become increasingly prevalent with YouTube football: crowd control. Unlike Saturday semi-professional football, there were no security officers or stewards at this game. Crowd control was 100% dependent on the spectators in the packed stadium keeping their discipline and self-policing themselves. Control issues came not from the crowd, but from the respective benches who invaded the pitch to celebrate each goal. If the referee mentions such incidents in his match report, the FA might introduce strict rules about crown control and incursions onto the playing surface.

It also struck me that most of the spectators were in their teens and 20s. The fact that Baiteze and Dons attract this Gen Z fanbase is a dream for brands. Baiteze already has sponsorship deals with New Balance and Wingstop, while SE Dons has a sponsorship deals with Puma and German Doner Kebab. Attracting sponsorship from big brands usually has strings attached. Those brands will put pressure on the teams to maintain a “PG product”. To that end, the unpleasant scenes that resulted in red cards to Joe Denny and Ade Cole are incidents to avoid repeating.

The entrance of YouTube teams has introduced a new fanbase and level of attention to the FA Sunday Cup. This competition does not receive the attention it deserves. However, the social media bombardment of these YouTube teams will grow the competition’s audience. The videos of this game has already been viewed almost 200,000 times on the clubs’ YouTube channels. I cannot recall the last time 1000 people attended a Sunday football match (can anyone else?). Not even the finals attract crowds like that, and this was round 2! This is not even a record attendance for SE Dons. When Dons played in the Kent FA Sunday Premier Cup final in 2019, they drew a record crowd of over 2000 people. That is a higher attendance than most Conference National (Step 1) Clubs can attract. The fact that a Sunday football team is can attract higher attendances than professional football teams is astonishing.  If Baiteze go far in this competition, they could attract record crowds.

I will conclude by giving huge credit to both teams for contributing to what was an entertaining football match. Both teams should be proud of their performance.

3 responses

  1. Good report max I’d love go to final one year compare the standard to 70s I think unfortunately I be in Spain this year but maybe we can meet up next year and watch it

  2. […] affected the teams’ performance, but on the strength of this game, neither team is as good as Baiteze Squad or South-East Dons who played each other last week in the FA Sunday Cup (albeit football was much easier for them on a 4G artificial surface than on the bumpy and muddy […]

  3. […] Gen Z fanbase that did not even know this cup existed 1 year ago. The 1000+ attendance at their huge round 2 clash against SE Dons was the most well attended FA Sunday Cup match in decades and drew a bigger crowd than most finals. […]

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