Former East Thurrock United and National League South winger Harry Honesty announced his retirement from football at the end of last season – but a phone call from now Hashtag United manager Jay Devereux soon put that to bed.
27-year old Honesty played for Thurrock, in the National League South for three seasons, with spells at Tilbury and Harlow thrown into the mix, but at the end of the 2017-18, he had fallen out of love with football.
“I got involved through Dev. In fact I’ve known Dev for a long time. When I was sixteen, I played for Redbridge and he called me up to the first team. At East Thurrock he was Assistant Manager when I joined. When he got the job at Hashtag United I had just quit East Thurrock and said that I’m retiring from football; I’m not playing any more after two seasons in the Conference South.”
“He’d seen the tweet then rung me up and said:
“What are you doing at your age? You can’t quit football! You’re way too young to do that! If you’re really serious about not playing, come over here and check it out. I think you’ll like it.”
A lack of first team action had really dampened Honesty’s spirits, “I’d just given up with it really. I’d lost interest in it and for East Thurrock, being in and out of the team.”
Hashtag are currently top of the Eastern Senior League Division One South, having amassed 58 points from 26 games (before Saturday’s game), but it is off the field where the differences are really key. “Completely different! There are so many benefits playing for this team but, the way the team is, it has everyone together between Sunday teams, the FIFA players and the actual football team, first team, it’s a great club to be at.”
“It’s just transformed my whole view of football. The way you can compare it is playing for them, it’s like being a professional footballer but not being a pro. The spotlight on it is ridiculous!”
With a camera always “in your face”, it is something Honesty must get used to, “At the start it was something new to get used to, definitely, having the camera there all the time. Now I think you can just accept it. It’s ignored really; you don’t notice it there because you’re so focused on what you’re doing.”
“At the start it was definitely a big change – having the cameras, having interviews all of the time – it was always something to do with the camera because of the social side of the game that needs to be upkept just to keep people interested.”
It took Hashtag five games to capture that winning feeling after a difficult start to their inaugural non-league chapter, but once they got going, nothing could stop them. “For the club it’s definitely turned out to be a dream season. From the interviews I’ve seen so far, I don’t think the aim was really for the club to get promoted or win the league in the first season. I think it was just to establish itself in the league then go for it.”
“I think the YouTubers that they already had were good enough; it just took a while to settle with the league and the tempo of it. Once that had happened and we’d got a settled team, that was it. The confidence started to come in and we went on that ridiculous unbeaten run of sixteen games. From there we’ve settled down now and I think everyone understands the league and understands exactly what we’re playing for.”
“I think when it first started, everyone believed the club literally was there to throw money at it and to buy loads of players, tear it up and that it wasn’t going to really focus on football. The exposure that everyone has, for example the football managers in the league being able to watch their games back and it being like a showcase for themselves so individual teams and players can showcase their talents at our games.”
“It’s viewed by so many people worldwide it’s basically a show for them. In the end I think they’ve come to grips with it, it’s benefitted them and they’ve started to understand that the club is there to be taken seriously. It’s not just there for a show.”
Fast forward six months, and Hashtag have had to be taken serious, with promotion firmly in sight now, the original criticism and scepticism surrounding the club is certainly subsiding. “It’s definitely boosted the exposure of non-league football, especially for the younger generation; the people who are always on YouTube. I think that’s opened up a whole new life for them because now they’ve got a non-league team that they like.”
“Then you’ve got local people from the areas of teams we play in our league that come to games now and it’s boosted finances and attendances in the league overall.”
“Our target is to literally take each day as it comes. We’re not really looking that far ahead to say we’re going to win the League. We want to go game by game and hopefully, at the end of it all, we’ve won enough that it does us a favour. We are just going to go game by game, trying to win each game. We never look as far as we can; we just go one game at a time, as Dev has tried to instil in us, never to look that far ahead. We’re just always focusing on the next game.”
A big thank you to Harry for his open and honest interview, and good luck to Hashtag United.