Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Squidge Rugby: The Sport’s First YouTuber

Posted on 9 December 2020 by Xander Chevallier
Robbie Owen, creator of Squidge Rugby. He is white, with medium length brown hair and designer stubble, and is wearing a navy blue blazer and blue button-down shirt.
The man behind Squidge Rugby. CREDIT: Robbie Owen

In early 2018, Robbie Owen was at a loose end. An admin error meant that his marketing contract at the University of Derby was put on hold and he’d been forced to lug boxes around for shipping company UPS. He had an idea in the back of his mind about launching a rugby YouTube channel, hoping that it would help with securing jobs in the sport later down the line.

On 29 January 2018, he gambled. He quit his job with UPS, launched his Squidge Rugby channel and uploaded a video about Welsh side, the Ospreys.

Little did he know that three years down the line he’d have almost 150,000 YouTube subscribers, have covered the 2019 World Cup, and earns praised from the likes of Rassie Erasmus and Sam Warburton…all while not really being able to explain what he does.

“I don’t really know how I’d classify what I do” said Owen, or ‘Squidge’ as he’s better known.

“I don’t really like the word YouTuber even though I recognise that’s what I make money out of doing. Content creator is probably more accurate and that’s what I normally stick on forms.”

Before starting his channel, Owen noticed a gap in the market for rugby content on YouTube.

“I found some other rugby channels, and the best they had around 5,000 subscribers. My aim was to get to 5,000 subscribers by the World Cup [in about 18 months time] and even that felt like a really ambitious aim.”

It turns out it was nowhere near ambitious enough. His second video on Scotland did well, and by his third on Ireland scrum half Connor Murray he’d already hit his 18 month target – seventeen months early.

Squidge Rugby is unique, not just in rugby, but in sport. The tone of his videos is always perfectly balanced between rugby analysis and humour. The purists enjoy learning about the tactics of the game that he conveys without ever lecturing or patronising.

Meanwhile, casual fans of the sport enjoy his comedic value, with each video having at least a dozen easter eggs or hidden jokes that fit perfectly into the channel’s ‘rough around the edges’ style.

Although able to deliver extremely informed analysis of the sport, Owen’s background in the game was fairly ordinary.

“My dad’s Welsh, and growing up in England meant he doubled down on how Welsh he was, so unsurprisingly he forced rugby on his two children. I started playing when I was a teenager, but I wasn’t very good. Other than running good support lines, I was pretty useless.”

Despite struggling on the pitch, he became entranced off it: “Rugby was just always on in the house and eventually I got really into it. I’d read every article, every bit of analysis on every team, I’d listen as much as I could and even watch Tier 2 matches.

“I eventually watched so much rugby that I began to understand it. It’s very similar to what Quentin Tarantino once said: “I never went to film school; I went to films. I watched so many films that I eventually made up for whatever I would have learned in film school.”

I’m similar. I didn’t play [at a] high level, I wasn’t any good, but I sort of watched so much that [it] made up the difference.”

During busy international periods, Owen sometimes produces three videos a week. This may not seem like a lot, but each ten minute masterpiece requires a lot of work behind the scenes.

He’ll usually watch a game three or four times. First he watches live to get a feel for things, then he watches a second time while making lots of notes. The third watch sees the rewind button used avidly, as he writes the script for the video, and sometimes a fourth showing is required to ensure nothing major is missed.

Then comes the editing. This is the longest part of the process, as inserting game clips, recording voice-over and writing and adding in the jokes is extremely time consuming.

Referencing the deep dive that he did on last year’s World Cup Final, Owen said: “I edited and watched the game so many times that when I was watching the Springbok’s Chasing the Sun documentary, I saw a close up of Pieter-Steph du Toit and thought to myself, ‘That close up is in the 63rd minute.’ That’s how many times I watched it.”

Owen is used to short turnarounds. However, when lockdown happened earlier this year and there was no rugby on, he explored other avenues. Squidge became a rugby film club, and he and his brother decided to switch mediums and launch a podcast reviewing matches from the 2011 World Cup.

He also started hosting ‘The Feed’ for World Rugby which compiled the best social media content from rugby players from around the globe.

However, during this time he was also doing the ground work for possibly his best videos. In early October, he released the first ever Squidge two-parter, as he did a deep dive into the game nicknamed ‘The Brighton Miracle’ when Japan beat South Africa in 2015.

Owen said: “I spent literally months on those two videos. I read four books, watched eight or nine Japan games in great detail, and even Google Translated old Japanese media reports around the build-up for the World Cup.

“I used to be really nervous when I released videos, but overall I’ve calmed down a lot on that front. However, with this one, as I’d put a lot more work into it, I got really nervous again!”

With over 150 videos under his belt and a weekly podcast, Owen is in a great position. His channel which he hoped would help him get a job has become his job, but he is always looking to expand.

“I really enjoy what I’m doing, it’s great. I think it’s strangely important for rugby to have, not necessarily me, but people like me who are ‘outside the game’ but still have voices within it.

“Rugby keeps talking about growing the game, but then keeps closing themselves off and not appealing to people from across countries, cultures, financial backgrounds, classes etc.

“I’ve spent three years making content around rugby, but I want to pick up some other projects alongside the rugby stuff. I’d keep the same style and tone of my current videos, but on other topics, not exclusively rugby.”