Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited along to a special event at The Emirates, as Arsenal became the first Premier League football club to launch a fully interactive children’s app specifically for its young supporters – the Junior Gunners App, where Junior Gunners and young Arsenal fans globally can look forward to joining a virtual Arsenal world and playing a host of fun and educational games.
I took my 11 year old stepson Harry along with me, as I’m not the kind of adult that spends hours on my phone addicted to playing games. Honestly. Mind you, the launch itself was actually shrouded in secrecy, all we were told was that the club were launching a new “youth product”, which added to the excitement. “Having an invite to this top secret, very special event was very exciting as well as mysterious” was how Harry saw it.
When we arrived at the ground we were shown to the media room inside the Emirates stadium along with some other Junior Gunners and their parents. Once we reached this room it became obvious what the big secret was, as the room was decorated with Junior Gunners App merchandise, including a rather enthusiastic looking Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin.
After an introduction to the app in the press conference room, the kids went off to test the app on the world’s most giant iPads.
“The new app is brilliant, it gives you many different ways of customizing your own avatar, my favourite game on the app is Pocket Player” was Harry’s opinion.
Pocket Player features digital avatars of three Arsenal players; Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott. These ‘Pocket Players’ live in four areas within a virtual Arsenal world; the changing room and pitch at Emirates Stadium, the canteen, where they feed the players from food actually served at the Arsenal Training Ground, and a bedroom. “The training part of the Pocket Player game is my favourite part”, says Harry.
Children can also play Squad Boss where they will manage their very own six-a-side Arsenal team throughout the season and compete against their friends. There are a number of trophies to be won by completing challenges in both of these games and other areas of the app.
All the games aim to educate children and help them develop new skills. For instance, the training element of the Pocket Player game will help them develop their hand-eye coordination and they will learn about nutrition and healthy foods as they have to feed them.
Some Junior Gunners formed part of focus groups alongside their parents to ensure that the app was really tailored for that age group. Aimed at children aged 4-10, the app will give young supporters a safe environment to engage with both Arsenal and their friends. It is a free app with no in-app purchases and operates on a closed network so children cannot interact with strangers.
Anne-Lise Johnsen, Arsenal Youth Product Manager, said: “With over 36,500 Junior Gunner members and even more young Arsenal fans round the world, we are proud to launch an app targeted specifically to them. We hope the Junior Gunners app will elevate the experience and engagement the club has with our fans of the future, not just here in North London, but globally.”
As one of the players featuring in the apps Pocket Player game, Mesut Ozil was excited to see his virtual avatar for the first time. “My avatar looks really good and so do Hector and Theo’s! They really look like us and I think some of our team-mates will be quite jealous. I hope the children really enjoy playing Pocket Player and all the other games on the app. I’m looking forward to having a go myself.”
This was a great little event, and the app itself is a great way for the club to engage with their younger fans, given that these days phones, tablets, apps and the like are the order of the day for kids, and seeing how enthusiastic the children were got me thinking back all those years ago when I was a Junior Gunner.
It’s been a while now so I can’t remember exactly what we used to get as members back then, but in all honesty I was happy with that little membership card, in a plastic wallet with your name handwritten on it.Imagine the look on your kids face now if you handed them one of those now? “Great…..thanks….” as they chuck it aside without giving it a second glance and turn back to the Playstation. Or, handing them a little cardboard fixture list, with spaces for them to fill in the results themselves? “Erm, nah….you’re alright, Dad……”
So, now they have things like this app to keep them engaged instead, and from what I’ve seen it will keep them engaged, and that can only be a good thing. As much as we may complain about the way the game has changed these days, the kids don’t know any different, and their enthusiasm for things like this is exactly the same as ours for handwritten membership cards when we were their age.
If someone had told my eleven year old self that years later, instead of that feeling of anticipation I had for the football season starting up again, there would be people whose first thought of the day is “Have we signed anyone yet?” or whatever other rubbish is going on that day, I probably would’ve given it up. Thankfully, kids could not care less about transfers, “ITK’s”, AKB’s, WOB’s, net spend , “Celebrity fans” or any of the other nonsense, they just enjoy being a football supporter for what it should be, just like we used to.