Rapper Andrew McHugh, 28, has seen his team crowned ‘Best on YouTube’ and Jesse Lingard, Danny Welbeck and Declan Rice are fans – but he has even bigger plans
HOW does a Sunday league football team end up with fans in Papua New Guinea, 8,996 miles away?
Just ask SE Dons.
Grime star Don Strapzy, real name Andrew McHugh, has one of the most popular and best Sunday league teams in the UK – SE Dons – but has even bigger plans.
Based in Lewisham, they are one of the most popular and best Sunday league teams on YouTube and current holders of the ‘YouTube Championship Belt’.
There are other YouTube football teams, but none quite like the Dons, who have taken a decidedly authentic approach to win hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe.
The Dons, who also get hundreds of fans from around the country turn up on a Sunday morning, didn’t start with intentions of being a YouTube team and were founded by McHugh and manager Ryan Palmer, just like any of the thousands of amateur teams around the country.
The difference was that one of their founding members was grime star Don Strapzy, real name Andrew McHugh.
Strapzy is famous for his football-based double entendres and punchlines and his music is a feature in the West Ham dressing room, thanks to Declan Rice.
The England midfielder, 20, was used in a bar on ‘Khabib’, with Strapzy rapping: “I’m breaking up the play, I think I’m Declan Rice.”
Rice tweeted about the song in December, later revealing on West Ham’s YouTube channel that if he was to put one song on in the dressing room, it would be a Don Strapzy freestyle – and then revealed even his mum is a fan.
He said: “I was actually playing it in the car with my mum, it was so funny… She don’t like that type of music, she was going ‘get this off, this nonsense’.
“I said ‘mum, just listen’… she goes ‘b***** hell you’re in the song – let’s listen again!'”
Jesse Lingard and Danny Welbeck also posted a video listening to Don Strapzy on Instagram.
However, McHugh has had to graft for his success.
In his early career, he had found reasonable success in music, reaching hundreds of thousands of views on his Fire in the Booth and SBTV freestyles, selling out headline shows and performing in the US.
Danny Welbeck also posted a video of Jesse Lingard listening and rapping along to a Don Strapzy freestyle to social media
But within a couple of years he was all but out of the business.
His then-management convinced him to change his moniker to Dru Blu in a bid to appeal to a more commercial audience and the south Londoner eventually all but gave up on the rap game.
He tells SunSport: “I went away and sorted my life out to be honest.
“Because at 22/23, I was up to no good. I didn’t really have a direction of what I wanted to do, I was causing problems at home.
“It was a positive transition, a heard transition as I had to change my circle of friends.”
Don, whose lyrics have made reference to dealing drugs and other crime, said he “fell into the wrong crowd” and was “caught up” in other things.
He would eventually start his own company coaching youth football, working in schools and running his own football camps.
While focused on growing that firm, fans of his music would continue to reach out and eventually, he decided to make a return to music.
McHugh needed a way to further connect with fans and began vlogging – and the football followed from there.
“I saw another channel, Palmers, I was a fan of that,” adds McHugh, who was on the books at Charlton as a kid.
“I love Sunday League, I would always type in ‘Sunday League tackles’ or whatever. I liked what they were doing but I knew that my team was very different to them, the kind of characters I have in my team, you can’t buy it.
“Originally it wasn’t something I thought of, I just brought the camera out. It went from there.”
Since the football videos started in 2017, the team has seen massive growth, now boasting just shy of 100,000 subscribers, with videos regularly topping 120,000 views.
In the early days, the Dons gained notoriety for being a physical team, always ready with verbals, with some YouTube comments actively cheering against the team.
“At the end of the day this is our version and it’s not for everyone,” says McHugh on the criticism.
“We have simmered down from our first episodes, that [comes] with growth. Toning down the rowing, trying to respect the referee more. It’s Sunday league, we love it.”
Strapzy believes the passion and authenticity of his team is a huge part of the appeal.
“There’s a story behind us, we’re not clean cut,” he says.
“There are some boys on our team that have had a rough upbringing. But we all love football and we like to believe that we’re not bad role models.
“We can come across rowdy and stuff at games, but if you see what we’re doing outside of football, we work with kids, we work with the community.
“We believe that sometimes in England to say ‘I’m the best’ or ‘I want to be the best’ can come across as arrogant.
“But we’re trying to show that no, it’s OK to work hard, it’s only Sunday league but it’s OK to want to win, it’s OK to want to be the best. We’re trying to give you that passion but also to show that you have to have morals and respect.
“We’ve got time for our supporters – I don’t even like to call them fans. If we see them we say hello. If they come to the games we make them feel a part of it.
“With the professional game, you’ve lost that connection. But they can come to meet us on a Sunday, shake our hands take pictures and we value what they’ve got to say as well.”
Winning obviously helps and the Dons can now seriously argue to be one of the best Sunday teams in the UK.
They are currently unbeaten in the Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League and have reached the final of the Kent Sunday Premier Cup – beating both of last year’s finalists along the way.
They’ve already sold 800 pre-sale tickets for the game, with hundreds more expected to turn up on the day.
Half a dozen of their squad, including Palmer, play for Hythe Town, in level eight of the football pyramid and they have some real talent.
Striker Zak Ansah is a former Arsenal youth team star who has played in League Two for Plymouth Argyle and Newport County.
But McHugh admits he has eyes on bigger things than just being the best Sunday team around.
“We definitely believe that we can head to semi-pro football,” says McHugh.
“We’re trying to be the best Sunday league team. But within the next five years, I want to travel, I want to take the Dons to Europe – America would be fantastic.
“I have big visions, big plans, I always aim high. We’ve got to see where it goes really, the way it’s building I don’t think it’s impossible.”
Going into more structured football presents its own problems – stadiums have minimum requirements, the costs are much higher as are the commitments needed from players.
But the Dons want a friendly with Crystal Palace in the summer and already boast sponsorship deals with Adidas and Kitlocker.
As the channel grows it’s not hard to see the team taking another step.
On the music side, Don Strapzy also has a headline show set for the summer.
Messages flood in from across the globe and merchandise is being sold worldwide – America, Australia, Papua New Guinea.
Hashtag United, a wildly popular YouTube team that caters for a more PG audience, started as a Sunday league team but are now top of the Eastern Counties League Division One South, step ten in the football pyramid.
An old school defensive midfielder, McHugh is currently recovering from an ACL injury and has not been able to play at all this season.
Laughing, McHugh “don’t know” if he’ll be able to get back into the starting XI when he’s fit – “I’m a good footballer but there’s levels!” – but says he’s “needed” to the team when there’s a battle to be won.
On a personal level, the channel has also helped him deal with personal tragedy: the death of his mother, Paula.
The words ‘Anything for Paula’ have become a slogan for the club and a war cry for the players and fans.
He says: “You can never prepare for something like that, my mum was the heartbeat of my family.
“In a weird way, it has inspired and motivated me to go harder this year and keep it consistent because that’s what she would want.
“She loved the Dons. She used to come to every game. It’s given me that extra push. I was very open with it, I shared it with everyone.
“That’s not like me.”
He admits that support from the fans kept him going.
“The support was amazing,” he says.
“You might not realise but it does help. I didn’t feel alone. When I put it out there, I had thousands of messages.
“It does help. I guess in a weird way it’s kind of therapy. I’m speaking about it, not bottling it up.”
McHugh believes that the Dons, who also offer half-term coaching camps, will still be playing Sunday League football next season.
But after that, the sky is the limit.