Photo: Bootlegger / Twitter

Meeting Bootlegger: “The Captain” talks Wrexham, wine and viral fame

Forget Arsenal Fan TV – Bootlegger has been documenting the pitfalls of his beloved Wrexham for the past few years, becoming a cult hero in the process.


Photo: Bootlegger / Twitter

How do you explain a man like Karl “Bootlegger” Phillips to someone outside of the social media bubble? The influential football vlogger has experienced a meteoric rise in 2019, aided and abetted by the professional caricature he presents to his legion of fans. But the man affectionately known as “The Captain” is leading something of a digital revolution – whether he knows it or not.

Phillips has felt the love this year: His gravelly, Welsh tones and signature catchphrases haven’t just struck a chord… they’ve conducted the entire orchestra. He’s seen his Twitter page amass over 200 000 followers, as professional football clubs have used his clips to promote their games. Bootlegger even has his own range of mugs, Christmas jumpers and pint glasses on sale.

How Bootlegger “built the brand”

He’s crafted both a business and a reputation by staying precisely on-brand. Football fans flock to his page to watch him downing pints, while recounting stories of how he’s upset his long-suffering at the end of each week. Karl’s portrayal of himself – which is just as uniquely-weird as it is “playing up for the crowd” – is something that many football vloggers strive to achieve, only to fall short: It’s positively authentic.

Karl began his vlogging adventure nine years ago, when he began filming his travel adventures and putting them on YouTube. He started taking his camera to Wrexham games, documenting the chronic agony that comes with being a fan of the fifth-division side. Misery, it seems, loves company: He chalked up thousands of views on his matchday videos.

However, things have gone a bit quiet for Bootlegger on the vlogging front. His chosen method of communication these days is Twitter. But for those of you familiar with his channel, you’ll be pleased to know that he intends to get behind the camera again at some point this season:

“I’ll be honest, I’ve got a young kid and I’m self-employed at the moment. When I started my vlogs, I was a factory worker. Now I don’t have much time to do them every game, and sit there doing the edits. But I do plan to get myself out of the pub to start vlogging again – there’s more to come this season, at some point soon.”

“Supporting your local” is no easy task

Phillips is a warm character. As we get talking about the beautiful game, he gets on to a subject very close to his heart: Supporting your local team.

“It’s more than 90 minutes on the pitch”, he begins. “I’ve made most of my friends through going to the football, and the social side of going to games is unparalleled”. His trademark chuckle is nowhere to be heard when he reflects on his beloved Wrexham, and the state they find themselves in.

Karl bemoans the sight of Wrexham’s children running around in Manchester United and Arsenal tops. Sadly, he’s forced to concede that this current generation isn’t left with much choice. “Maybe it’s us, and the actual standard of the club”. Taking a solemn pause, he notes: “the club is at its lowest ebb. We’ve sunk to rock bottom”. The Red Dragons are fourth-bottom after 20 games this season.

Bootlegger has seen interest in his videos skyrocket in the past six months. He says he is loving every minute of his moment in the sun. But it’s not been all plain-sailing for The Captain.

“As much as I love the banter, there are times it makes my blood boil: Somebody once sat on my profile and scrolled back four or five years to find something I’d Tweeted – completely out of context – and they reshared it.”

“I got in from work, looked into it, and then put a Tweet out saying it was pathetic. That’s it, though… There’s are snowflakes and trolls with nothing better to do than to stalk you. ”

Bootlegger reflects on the pitfalls of viral fame

Viral fame has indeed been a double-edged sword for Bootlegger. Part of his online profile came from a very unfortunate incident when Wrexham faced their bitter rivals Chester. A grossly-offensive chant came from the opposition supporters during a minute’s silence, which Karl had captured on video.

The disgusting taunt made light of a young Wrexham fan who had passed away recently. The chant caused a chaotic uproar in the Wrexham end, and in a morbid twist of fate, the moment has been associated with Karl and his videos ever since. “I grimace whenever it gets mentioned”, he says. “I’m friends with his family. But I don’t like talking about it. It just brings up bad blood”.

We end on a lighter note. Our conversation with Karl was a rip-roaring laugh for the most part. The hard-working, champion-of-the-working-class persona he portrays online shines right through. This is a man who lives for the weekend, exudes positive energy and of course, he loves his beer.

“What are you drinking, baby?”

But that was a love he recently had to give up. Against all the odds, Bootlegger – famous for usually having a pint of Pilsner in-hand – completed the Stoptober challenge. He gave up the booze for an entire month, and in the process, raised thousands for charity.

“I had a month off it, and then a week back on it! It was a long old month… I was seething on the first few weekends. But I’m not as savage a drinker as people make out – I work hard, and I play hard. It was tough but you get used to it. I still went to the pub though, because I enjoy the social side of it. My workmate doesn’t drink much but he’s always in there. You don’t always need booze to enjoy yourself.”

Now who’d have thought they’d ever hear The Captain say that? We strayed into more familiar territory, yet still found another shocking revelation. Phillips has red wine down as his second-favourite drink, behind Pilsner. His favourite blend, we hear you ask?

“Anything red from South Africa. We love that stuff from Stellenbosch!”

No need to flatter us Karl. But we’ll take the compliment anyway… Over and out, pop-pickers.