Barnsley’s Oakwell Stadium is not exactly where one would expect an “awakened mob,” a band of liberal do-gooders eager to impose a politically correct agenda.
Known for its rich mining heritage, this Yorkshire town voted overwhelmingly in favor of Brexit and incomes are well below the national average.
But Barnsley fans were branded “woke” and far worse after they rebelled against their club’s new sponsor, a cryptocurrency called Hex, which bills itself as “the world’s first certificate of deposit on the blockchain.” (If you have no idea what that means, that’s okay, we’ll take care of it.)
Hex promised riches for those who came on board, but Barnsley fans asked questions about what the product was actually and then homophobic social media posts by people associated with Hex were dug up by fans of the League One club.
“We had the miners’ strike, we had the austerity measures, we had the cost-of-living crisis,” says season ticket holder Chris Rhodes the athlete. “People here don’t have time for shit.”
He is pleased his club gave up Hex as a sponsor after fans won an online war with Hex supporters, who they dubbed “Crypto Bros”, some of whom appear to wish ill for Barnsley fans and the town, when the deal imploded.
the athlete visited Oakwell this week to watch Barnsley’s 3-0 win over Bristol Rovers and to chat with fans about what just happened and what broader lessons Barnsley’s experience can bring to English football at a time when cryptocurrency companies are popping up everywhere seem to be .
Halfway between Sheffield and Leeds in Yorkshire in northern England, Barnsley won the FA Cup in 1912 and spent a season in the Premier League in 1997/98.
A jersey from this season hangs on the wall of the Barnsley Museum in the city’s new Glass Works shopping center and the team photo is in the Oakwell press entrance.
Just 15 months ago the club finished fifth in the second tier and made the play-offs, but Brentford secured promotion to the Premier League.
Barnsley finished bottom last season and had a mixed start in League One, winning two and losing two of their first four games.
When Barnsley defeated Bristol Rovers, the athlete met Daniel Finney, a season ticket holder who proudly boasts having visited 43 of England’s 92 venues.
He explains how the Hex debacle unfolded and recalls that the first game of the season featured a local cancer charity on the shirts.
“Obviously it was very well received by the Barnsley fans, but financially it left holes,” he says. “Out of the blue, Hex.com was announced as our main jersey sponsor.”
Barnsley fans began asking questions and delved into the operation the club signed on to.
The site is full of confusing cryptocurrency jargon, but the claim in the headline is pretty clear: “HEX stakes average 38% returns per year.”
The program is advertised as a high return investment program that allows users to deposit a sum of money and withdraw a much larger one.
That 38 percent figure is staggering given that there are few disclaimers traditionally associated with investing. Hex’s website states: “This is not financial advice and you should do your own research. The price of HEX could go down at any time.”
Investing is strictly regulated in the UK, but HEX is not as it is not a UK company. In fact, it claims not to be a company at all, but more of a “community” or “project”.
“Even by crypto’s standards, there’s something unnervingly predatory about Hex,” says independent football journalist Martin Calladine. “Barnsley owes their fans an explanation as to how they came to subscribe to what is little more than a digital pyramid scheme with clean designs on their fans’ wallets.”
Hex says on its website that it is not a pyramid scheme and Barnsley declined to comment.
Many fans are suspicious of the cryptocurrency even if they don’t have a deep understanding of it, as many are aware of the recent price drop of well-known tokens like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Over the years, Barnsley has mostly been sponsored by local companies such as CK Beckett, an electronics company that was on the shirts from 2011 to 2019 and now lends its name to the behind-goal stand where the loudest home fans sit.
Hex.com is not local. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint where it even is, or where in the world its army of aggressive online followers are.
It claims to be a type of investment product called “Certificate of Deposit” in the form of cryptocurrency that users can buy and sell.
Users can “stake” this cryptocurrency by “locking” it for a period of time. According to the site, “Your bets are rewarded every day, and the amount of return depends on the length of your bet.”
In other words, if you stick with Hex cryptocurrency, you will get more cryptocurrency allotted.
The flaw with this investment opportunity, however, is that the value of the hex cryptocurrency has plummeted well over 38 percent over the past year.
So if you’ve held Hex for the past year, you’ve actually lost money. Lots of it.
Calladine says this “staking” — holding onto cryptocurrency — doesn’t always serve a noble purpose.
“What initially looks like a valuable product feature for customers only serves to stabilize the crypto price by penalizing early withdrawal,” he explains. “It discourages people from cutting their losses, which could trigger a run on the currency.
“Customers give the system’s founders their hard-earned money in exchange for crypto, which costs the founders almost zero to issue and whose long-term value depends entirely on speculators’ sentiments, which is essentially impossible to predict.”
the athlete asked Hex for a comment but received no response.
Many Barnsley fans were also unhappy with the responses they received and the sponsorship drew an extremely hostile reaction on social media.
“As a small working-class town, we’re proud of our authenticity and our values,” says Finney. “A community that often seemed hidden behind profile photos and fake usernames was never relatable or trustworthy to our fanbase.”
Hex users who posted pictures of expensive cars or houses and claimed the cryptocurrency made them rich weren’t well received either.
“They posed as the saviors of our city,” says season ticket holder Rhodes. “This is a competitive place. (Fans) will see people on Twitter with Lamborghinis, understandable if people fell for it.”
Backers didn’t have to search the web to find serious criticism of Hex. Its own website even feels the need to respond to some of the lurid allegations, including that it is a pyramid scheme.
After fans began questioning the deal, the reaction from the so-called “Hexicans” was fierce.
“Barnsley’s social media platforms have been inundated with comments from Hex users, many in aggressive ways and including outright threats,” says Feeney.
the athlete spoke to a few other fans, who were upset about the deal and wary of being quoted as they felt seriously threatened by some of the comments directed at them.
Fans also dug up historical tweets from people who appeared to be related to Hex and who were homophobic. Two came from people tagged in a tweet from the person who announced the deal on behalf of Hex.
The club issued an official statement saying it had “become aware of discriminatory and abusive posts on social media” which it took “extremely seriously”.
After a few days the deal was abandoned.
This reaction led some Hex fans to be upset that their cryptocurrency would no longer be worn on Barnsley shirts, accusing Barnsley of bowing to their fan base, the “woke mob.”
Barnsley’s LGBT support group welcomed the move.
Rainbow Reds would like to make a final statement on HEX.
We are pleased with the outcome of today’s declaration. Under no circumstances do we wish the club to go through such a difficult situation but with the evidence presented to us –
— Rainbow Reds 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ (@RedsRainbow) August 12, 2022
“This is a difficult financial time for Barnsley FC as the cost of living crisis continues to impact local families and businesses,” said Councilman James Higginbottom, who wants a new sponsor that “reflects both the club and the city’s core values”. . He says the city is committed to “not being a place for hate, abuse and discrimination.”
However, there is a noticeable downside to breaking the deal with Hex.
Barnsley have returned money that could help the club in a highly competitive league where there isn’t much money.
But Barnsley fans have a sense of pride that outweighs the desire to get an extra player at any cost.
“Possibly selling our souls wasn’t worth it,” says Finney. “In the end they underestimated both the fans and the club.”