Talking Youtube, Arsenal, Meeting Messi And More: In Conversation With Timbsy
The days of sitting upright in a suit and talking about football like you’re in a job interview are long gone. If you’ve kept tabs on the takeover of the online footballing movement, discussing the beautiful game like you’re sat down with your mates at the pub is the new normal. At the forefront of this paradigm shift, there are plenty of names and Michael Timbs or ‘Timbsy’ is certainly one who needs no introduction.
As Poet and David Vujanić first introduced viewers to Timbsy on Copa90’s show, ‘Comments Below’, to say he’s evolved into one of the most standout football presenters online is merely stating a fact. Whether it’s showcasing his tekkers on his show, ‘Timbsy vs The World’ against the likes of James Maddison and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or playing ‘Blindfold FIFA’ with Marco Reus and Alex Witsel, Timbsy’s greatest achievement is perhaps making footballers seem as human as can be when he interviews them.
As Timbsy has continued to make waves, from Copa90 to creating content for his boyhood club, Arsenal, transitioning to TV with Match Of The Day X and starting his own YouTube channel, More Than A Game had a chat with the part-time presenter, full-time dead ball specialist. Or is it the other way around? You’d also be confused if you saw him casually ping one into the top bins online.
Every football fan has their own peculiar reason for supporting a club- whether it’s being drawn to the color of the kit, finding the most eccentric haircut on a player way cooler than it actually is or just something about watching that first game, when they just knew they were locked in. Can you remember the exact moment that made you an Arsenal fan?
I can’t quite pick an exact moment. I obviously know why I’m an Arsenal fan. I think, like a lot of people, it was my family- so with my dad, my grandad, I technically grew up as an Arsenal fan. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. But I do kind of remember my earlier memory of really caring about Arsenal was going to Highbury and going with my dad and my brother, just walking up the steps and going right to the very top of I think, it was the North Bank. I think it was against Wimbledon and we lost 1-0 at home but that’s the earliest memory I have is maybe being a little bit sad that we lost. But that’s the first time I actually remember really caring about Arsenal.
Growing up, you must’ve watched legends of the game like Henry and R9 who had an impact on you that other things like education, something that everyone puts a lot of emphasis on when you’re a kid could never even come close to. For someone who became as passionate about football as yourself over time, was the dream always to do something within this online footballing space?
I think so, yes. Just because as you said, growing up, you’re watching these people and they’re real people but when it’s the team you support, you see them as gods more than just normal humans. So, you kind of idolize these people and dream of being like them. Obviously, the No. 1 dream for a lot of us is playing football at that level and playing for the club that you love but I think when the reality sinks in, when you get to your early teen years or when you get to about 15 or 16 and you realize, “I’m probably not good enough to make it.” But the mind moves over to slightly different ways of still being involved in football and still working with the club that you love.
So I kind of had an idea as I got to the end of school and at the beginning of university that I’d obviously love to work within football because I was interested in languages and writing is something that immediately sprung out to me as something I could maybe do, so more of a kind of, traditional journalistic role. Growing up, watching BBC, Match Of The Day and Sky Sports, I thought to myself, “that’d be a really cool thing to be able to do.” You know, working on TV or in radio, covering football and talking about football because that’s what so many of us love doing anyway. But, working in football, in this kind of the more online, YouTubey type area didn’t really occur to me because it didn’t really exist when I was a kid. So, I didn’t really have that as an aim and it was more of a kind of journalistic role and it was only recently, I guess about a year ago when I really knew this is what I wanted to do.
Up until then, I just kind of happened to be here and just tried and worked hard, but I didn’t know this is what I wanted to do, long-term. But luckily, I do now.
I remember the first time I was introduced to you on Copa90 is when Poet and Vuj used to make all those Korea’s Next Top Model jokes (laughs). As a viewer, you started to grow on me, and I wanted you to have your own show when I saw you chilling with the guys. From there to presenting a host of shows, meeting and kicking ball with the greatest footballers on the planet, what was that initial transition like?
(chuckles) For me, it was a very natural and gradual transition. When I was slowly being introduced on camera, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my god, I’m on screen presenting now.” It was more, as you said, it was so natural and it was borne out of a very natural chemistry between me and the boys, Poet and Vuj. So, because we had such good chemistry, they were nice enough to tell me, “Just come on screen and have a laugh with us. You can be on screen for 30 seconds, we can chat, and you can go and it’s sort of like a cameo type thing.”
I think when people like yourself, as you said realized that I’m kind of one of the gang and they saw that chemistry on screen, and it worked, it obviously progressed from there and the people higher up at Copa90 saw that and thought that, “People seem to like you so let’s give you some more screen time, test it out and see what you’re good at and what people like seeing you do.” And because I was lucky enough as I could play a little football and I’m not bad at kicking the ball about, they gave me my own show. So, it was a very gradual and slow, but very natural progression from being behind the scenes to being on camera.
And I think it’s because of that natural chemistry between myself and the boys; that’s what I think a lot of people gravitated to, especially on YouTube which is kind of a very raw platform where the relationship between the audience and the YouTuber is so close knit that when they see relationships develop, they feel very invested to see what it is and I think that’s what people liked in the beginning. Then, of course, it just went from there, so it’s been a very pleasantly peaceful transition from being off-screen to on-screen.
When people watch you on YouTube, interviewing iconic footballers, travelling the world to watch games and go to exclusive events, they must think you have the best job in the world. What elements of the YouTube grind are not as easy as they look, behind the scenes?
Generally speaking, I think a lot of hard work does go on behind the scenes on YouTube from the very beginning, from the point of just conception where you just come up with the idea to going somewhere and filming it, editing it and then releasing it; a lot of work goes into it. Obviously, because the viewer just goes onto YouTube and sees it, and those few minutes they watch it and they’re engaged and then, that’s it. They wait for another one to come out. But, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, particularly if you’re independent and do everything yourself, it’s very tough just because it’s all on you and from a personal experience I guess, I always think it’s amazing and fun.
And it is fun but the novelty of travelling to all these places unfortunately does wear off where you have these films or these interviews with footballers and not to say that I don’t enjoy because I do and I love it but, a lot of the time it’s getting a 6’o’clock flight in the morning and flying to say, Germany, getting there mid-day and you’re waiting there for 3 or 4 hours doing nothing and then suddenly, you’ve got literally a 10-minute window to try and film a whole video and then, that’s it.
And then the footballer comes, you have 10 minutes and there’s a lot of pressure and then after that, you just go to the airport and you get back at 1 or 2 in the morning and then you have to do it all again the next day. This is not me complaining at all, I love it and I think it makes the whole grind worth it when you see the final product. So, I don’t regret doing any of these shoots or anything like that. I think, a little more work goes into it than people may think but I think on the whole, YouTube audiences are quite understanding, and they realize that more goes into than just picking up a camera, saying stuff and uploading it.
If there was a highlight reel just about your career, you’ve had some incredible moments- whether that’s meeting Leo Messi, David Alaba thinking you’re a pro footballer in the ‘Ultimate Set-Piece Challenge’ video as well as speaking French with Zinedine Zidane. What moment was the most special for you personally and also, what felt the most surreal?
I think the most surreal is easy- that was definitely chatting to Messi and interviewing him on stage in Russia, in the lead up to the World Cup. Interviewing him in Spanish and translating it live on stage in front of an audience and it was being broadcast live on Adidas’ YouTube channel and everything like that; that was a massively surreal moment for me. Even to this day, I can’t really remember what happened. I was so in the zone that it kind of passed me by in a few seconds and it was like an out-of-body experience in a weird way.
As for the most special, as you said, the first big solo shoot I did by myself was the set-piece challenge with Renato Sanches and (David) Alaba. Just seeing this was kind of the first time I had gone to a shoot by myself with a crew, leading it and at the end of it, when it came out, it got a million views in less than a week and I guess I did need validation at that point but it kind of proved to myself that, “Wow, this is a thing I can do and I might be good at it.” That was a special moment for me but also the series we did with Puma, the Mind Control Challenge with Marcos Reus, Olivier Giroud, and those sorts of people where they had headpieces and they controlled myself and Vuj on the pitch.
That was an idea that was picked up by Puma and so it was a branded content series, but that was an idea that myself and my friend Kai had come up with. Obviously, a lot of work went into making it behind the scenes. I think, it was genuinely a very unique idea that no one had done before and that was special for me because I was involved in the process from the very beginning to the very end. Seeing that come to fruition and come out as well as it did, it really meant a lot to me.
Speaking of surreal moments, you’ve played football with absolute ballers like Kaká and Mesut Özil to even the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt. Just tekkers wise, I’m not talking careers and trophies won, who stood out for you and made your jaw drop?
I have to say before that with footballers, they don’t get much time so bearing in mind that the shoot could be anything from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, it’s so dependent on how much the players are allowed to do, the mood that the player’s in, if he’s coming back from injury or just depending on how much time he has. I actually prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt when they’re in a difficult position where they’re eventually going to be judged on what is a 5-10 minute video and people are going to think, “Ah, he did this really well or he did this very badly”, and so there’s been a lot of times when I know these footballers are incredible and maybe their heart’s not in it or maybe the weather was bad or whatever so that plays into it.
Purely on how well the footballer performed when we were filming, I was really taken aback by how good Thomas Lemar was. So, when he was at Monaco, before he moved to Atlético, I think we were filming for a video for at least 45 minutes. He was lucky enough that there wasn’t an agent there or there wasn’t a club representative that was warning him against doing anything in particular because we had the freedom we wanted. And he really enjoyed and he really tried, but just to see how well he struck the ball with both his right and left foot and just every time he hit it, it was a 100 m/h and hit so sweetly that it genuinely shocked me how good he was. Not that I didn’t think he was a good footballer but just the consistency of quality was unbelievable. So, he’s probably the one that stood out to me.
Copa90’s where you started to make waves online, but you moved on and launched your own channel in September last year. What has the transition been like to becoming an independent content creator?
It took a little while for me to get used to just because, as a lot of people know, I was small-time at Copa. Copa was my first proper full-time job that I’ve ever had, straight out of uni as a social media intern, just doing tweets and creating little videos for Facebook and Instagram and then as you said, the journey from off-screen to on-screen and being a presenter. But the main thing was working 9 to 5, even longer than 9 to 5 and it being so full-on and I loved the work so much that it wasn’t a case of, “I felt I had worked so hard.” I wanted to work hard all the time and I wanted to do as well as I could. So, then it got to the point where I was so busy, and I felt bogged down by it and I was struggling, where I felt I had to be a little more independent, broaden my horizons and see what was out there.
Equally, I wanted to give myself the freedom of time and opportunity to do more. That transition did take a while to get used to just because I went from doing everything at a 100 m/h to suddenly having 2-3 days off. There was an initial feeling of being a bit anxious that I wasn’t doing enough because going from being busy everyday for 5 years to suddenly being able to pick and choose when I work, a bit of doubt crept it in and you start overthinking things. But now, I have found a balance and a wider network for work. But equally, I have a far greater balance of working very hard when I want to and when I need to and having time for myself so I can develop myself as a person and look after myself, health wise.
That last point you made about developing as a person and looking after your health leads me on to my next question. On your channel, we’ve seen you branch out to things other than football such as travel vlogging, talking about your workout plan as well as veganism. Is that extra bit of creative freedom what makes work not seem like work when you’re in charge and what other plans do you have for the channel?
The freedom is amazing. As I said, the freedom of time and the possibilities now are that I don’t just need to do football, I can do anything I like and that I enjoy doing. But as I said, at the beginning, it’s easy to doubt yourself but the wealth of possibilities are almost overwhelming. Suddenly, you’re like, “I can do anything.” And then it’s easy to kind of be a bit scared and because you’re afraid to do anything, you kind of do nothing. But now, I very much enjoy the variety. I love football and I always strive to make good content around football, talking about it and chatting to footballers. But equally as you said, travelling is a massive part of my life because of work and also from my childhood-, learning new languages, I’ve always enjoyed immersing myself in new cultures and learning new things and from other people and their perspectives.
And working on my health has always been key to me so I think a mixture of all those things is what I’m trying to do with my YouTube (channel). At the moment, it’s not my No.1 priority just because I want to work as a presenter and still get better at being a presenter. So obviously with BBC (MOTDx) now and EA Sports, doing more work with them as a presenter and developing myself that way, improving and then having the time and knuckling down to working on my YouTube as well is definitely something I want to do. So, for the future, of course I want to strike that balance.
It’s just doing more basically, to find a balance between lifestyle and football as you said. Developing a routine to stick to and build on YouTube. Currently, I’ve had more time to work on my YouTube and other things so yes, when the lockdown is over and the world slowly gets back to normal, I want to get back to bettering myself as a presenter and then, striking that balance between my presenting and also content creation on my YouTube.
Moving on from YouTube to actual football, we all know that English football culture’s second to none, whether it’s the fans, the rivalries or just the general vibe about the sport in England. But, if you had to pick another country to watch football in, taking the culture, lifestyle, and weather into consideration out of everywhere you’ve watched games around the world, which place would you choose?
That’s so difficult because as you said, being here in England, it’s a football crazy country and we’re sort of spoilt that we’ve got so much amazing football culture on our doorstep. If I had this opportunity and it was just one country, I would steer clear of Europe because I’ve been to Europe enough times to know how amazing it is. If it was in Europe, Germany and Italy would be up there for me because I think they both have got amazing fan culture. Serbia would be up there because of Vuj and how much he’s told me about the Belgrade derby and watching football in Belgrade.
But I guess if it had to be one country, it would be (pauses) aaaagh! It’s between Brazil and Argentina. It would be one of those two because I’m annoyed at myself that I haven’t been to South America nearly enough as I should have because of the languages I speak obviously and because it’s just an unbelievable part of the world. So, I’ll have to settle on Brazil because growing up, Ronaldinho was definitely a hero of mine and there’s so much football there. The way they live football I think is a little bit different to other places in the world. I say it’s like a religion; it is a religion in the same way that they are very religious over there in Brazil and they are just as passionate about their football as they are about their religion. I think Brazil, for sure.
I have another question, but before that, how do you speak so many languages?
You say so many languages, but I can only speak in French and Spanish fluently. I’ve been studying French since I was 10 and learning it before I was 10 and studying Spanish since I was 12 and then obviously, continuing that into university and then my year abroad, living in France and Spain. That obviously helped and in uni, I spent 2 years learning Portuguese, so my Portuguese is ok, it’s not amazing, it’s quite rusty now but I can still hold basic conversations. But it’s just from studying, really. When I was a kid, my dad always loved France so any chance, any holiday we had, we’d all go as a family to somewhere in France and spend a week camping or something.
From a very early age, I was exposed to hearing different languages and getting used to different sounds. So, I guess I had a little bit of a head start but it’s just from studying for a lot of years. I would always recommend anyone to just learn a language. It doesn’t even have to be Spanish which I think a lot of people hail as the most useful to have because it’s spoken by a lot of people. I think learning any other language is a good thing because it just opens your eyes to a different part of the world and opens another door to anywhere, really.
I can honestly say I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing or to the same extent if I hadn’t had my languages. I think having my language skills definitely helped push me through certain doors where otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to do certain things. It’s definitely helped me along the way.
This question’s the toughest of them all. We can go on and on about the legendary footballers you’ve interviewed. But, if you had to make a 5-a-side team out of the ones you liked chatting to the most, who goes in?
Firstly, probably Héctor Bellerín just because he’s one of the footballers I speak to the most. I get on very well with him because we’re quite similar and he’s just a very normal person. So normal, it’s a bit shocking at first at how normal he is. He’s just a very nice person so I’ll say Héctor. Arsène Wenger. I know he’s more of a manager than a footballer, but he did play football back in the day, so I’ll take that. Arsène Wenger, on a very personal note just because he’s like my second dad and I just love him. Kaká as my third just because he for me and I’m sure if you ask Vuj the same question, he’ll tell you that Kaká is genuinely one of the nicest, not even footballers, just one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I can honestly say, hand on my heart just how unbelievably nice he is as a human.
Thierry (Henry) meant a lot just because he was obviously another one of my heroes. I know this is very Arsenal focused but as nice as it is to go with Zidane because it’s bloody Zidane, he’s amazing, I would have to go with Ian Wright. He’s one of the most lovable, warm, energetic people. He’s just so open, honest and caring, he’s just a special man.