Thousands of fans, Champions League experience and a global audience – SE Dons are a Sunday League football team with a difference.
The team from south-east London has more than 175,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel and hs sold more than 10,000 replica shirts.
Their following on the video streaming platform means they have more subscribers than 11 Premier League clubs.
But how has a Sunday league team from Lewisham, founded in 2014, ended up with fans all over the world including a number of Premier League footballers?
‘There’s an elite side to Sunday League football’
The self proclaimed ‘biggest Sunday league team in the world’ were co-founded in 2014 by UK Grime artist Don Strapzy, real name Andrew McHugh.
Thousands of fans turn up to watch them through the season, with around 2,000 in attendance when they won the Paul Picard Cup at Bromley’s home ground last campaign.
McHugh formed the club with brother-in-law Ryan Palmer, as a way to play football with his friends. But now due to their weekly YouTube episodes showing the trials and tribulations of Sunday league football – which have been watched by the likes of West Ham’s Declan Rice, Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard and grime star Stormzy – they have a worldwide fan base.
He said: “Hard work, dedication, sacrifice and a lot of unpaid hours of work are what we are about.
“We’re showing you that there’s an elite side to Sunday league football. We play in parks, we’re just showing you and the kids from our community that might not always make it professional – be proud of your local club, try your best.
“A lot of people think that Sunday league football is about getting drunk and smoking at half time and that is a lot of it but in the lower division. If you want to be in the higher divisions and want the best in life you have to push yourself.”
The Dons have a mantra of ‘Anything For the Dons’ but it is much more than a saying for members of the club.
“A lot of us have come from humble beginnings,” said McHugh. “A lot of us have lost family members and parents and that gives us an inner drive. I lost my mum in 2018 and she was a big part of the club.
“We expect the best from the boys. Little things, being on time, manners. Coming from where we’re coming from it’s easy to be misjudged. We just bring the best out of each other.”
From Champions League to Sunday League
The Dons’ home, ‘The ‘Dead End’, backs onto a cemetery and isn’t where striker Zak Ansah saw himself playing just a few years ago.
Ansah started his career at Arsenal, has been on the bench for them in the Champions League and represented England at various youth levels. The forward now does one-to-one coaching and works as a sport choreographer on TV.
“I never thought that I would be standing here at 26,” he said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world the way it’s turned out for me.
“I feel like I’m giving back to the community because the club is so big, it’s giving the younger generation something to aspire to. You don’t always have to make it as a pro footballer.
“I think you’ll see in the next couple of years a lot of Sunday league clubs be better than a lot of non league clubs.
“It’s unheard of to have your name and number on your shirt at this level. I went to Leicester last year and outside the stadium I saw someone with ‘Ansah 9’ on the back and I just thought ‘wow’. You never think that would happen.”
The Dons have just partnered with one of the biggest sport brands in the world and have employed full-time members of staff to deal with how fast the team is growing.
Chairman Andy Ansah, who played almost 200 league games for Southend, has been brought in to help grow the Dons off the pitch, something he has great experience at doing. He came up with the term ‘unbelievable tekkers’ while he was the host of the 2008 Wayne Rooney street striker reality show.
He got involved with the Dons after watching son Zak play for the team.
He said: “It’s a global force but there’s honesty within what we do.
“The guys were in Brazil earlier this year, pre pandemic, and there were people wearing SE Dons shirts and everything. We also had guys in America last year and everyone over there is SE Dons, it’s crazy!”