State of the Football Nation on TV and radio: Podcasts

Date published: Friday 5th May 2017 8:46

As Johnny’s series considering the State of the Football Nation on TV and radio draws to a close, he goes all fancy and modern on us by downloading things off the internet. No not that, he doesn’t like that. It’s podcasts, you filthy beggar.

 

HOW MUCH IS IT?
For the purposes of this piece, I’m addressing podcasts that are standalone and aren’t downloads of radio shows, which will have been covered elsewhere.

Most pods are free, but I’m very pleased to see some podcasts now charging a small, one-coffee-in-Costa fee per month. It’s a welcome development because not only will it allow creators to invest in their product, it also helps chip away at the unsustainable, unfair and unrealistic idea that too many of the public have lodged in their prejudices, that original internet content should be free.

 

WHAT’S ON?
We used to do one called Podball on F365 way back when the internet was powered by coal. Myself, Alan and Sarah would act out silly bits – I seem to recall one sketch just being about Gareth Southgate trying to stop Mark Viduka eating, with me doing my best Davey Stott. Then Alan and I did Planet Tabloid, a weekly 5-minute skit. But most weeks it was me and Winty talking dirty about Fabio Cannavaro. It had a cult following, which is just a way of saying no-one listened to it. We were ahead of our time. That’s our excuse, and we’re sticking to it.

But these days there are so many podcasts that it’s hard to keep up with them all. The podcast culture is now deep and wide. They have become an important part of football media, with some such as The Anfield Wrap evolving into bigger, more professional media projects. The beauty of the pod is that they can set their own rules and can be as broad or as narrow as they want. Also, they tend to be made by people with both a great knowledge of the subject matter – especially when it’s club specific – and a great deal of passion.

Cheaply available software now ensures that, with a decent microphone, you’d struggle to tell the difference between professional and amateur ‘broadcasters.’ All of this is very democratising, though it has led to some degree of oversaturation.

The tough thing, if you’re not making money, is to just keep on doing it. As a result, podcasts come and go, some last a few years, some a few weeks. Most are just three or four blokes discussing stuff. Some of the bigger ones will do interviews. It’s just a case of finding the voices and minds you enjoy most.

 

STAR PERFORMERS
I can only scratch the surface here, and this is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the podcasts I listen to on anything like a regular basis.

The Anfield Wrap is truly an extraordinary creation. For £5 a month you get over 30 shows, based around all things Liverpool. I would imagine for Reds fans it has become an indispensable part of your football life. Well-respected, professionally produced and with access to big interviewees, including the boss, Jurgen Klopp, it thoroughly deserves its award-winning status. The original show is still always free on a Monday or Tuesday. They cover women’s and youth football too and they pull in contributions from opposition fans.

Aside from anything else, this has real soul and intelligence to it and is obviously produced by people with great love for their club. Admirable. Nice to see Gareth Roberts on BT Sport on Saturday’s post-game shows too. I like that it features articulate, working-class voices, which simply don’t get heard often enough in the mainstream media, and are hardly common in many of the major podcasts, which tend to be dominated by the educated lower middle-class.

The Offside Rule (We Get It!) is a breath of fresh female air. A great relief from hearing men bloviating, it is uniquely presented by three women: Hayley McQueen, Lynsey Hooper and Kait Borsay. It’s wide-ranging in coverage of women’s and men’s football. Its website also carries articles and interviews. There’s a very good recent piece by Michelle Owen about sexism in football.

Well-produced and ambitious in what it covers, this is football talk with a different tone, and all the better for that. Essential podding. Don’t miss it.

The Game, hosted by Gab Marcotti with some panache, is The Times’ pod, usually featuring excellent, articulate journos. It is a bit like Sunday Supplement, minus the strange giggling baby-men, twitchy paranoids, and no-soul-behind-eyes merchants.

Football Weekly is another consistent firm favourite, hosted by James Richardson. Long-running and with well-informed and witty people, there’s simply nothing not to enjoy about it. If you’re looking for chat, analysis and knowledge, look no further. The big question is this: if The Guardian needs money, why don’t they charge for it?

The Blizzard, the estimable and quietly revolutionary home of intelligent football writing and thought, has enriching podcasts that marry brains with soul.

The Football Ramble is exactly that. Good-natured and entertaining, it’s four blokes rambling on about football. If you’re only going to listen to one of the many, many podcasts of 30-something blokes talking about football, a lot of people choose this one because of the mix of bonhomie and knowledge.

Graham Hunter’s The Big Interview should be on everyone’s listening schedule. It’s better than most major broadcaster’s output and, amazingly, you get it for free. Graham is engaging, has great contacts, gets great interviews, is always worth listening to and knows his rock ‘n’ roll. I hope he charges for this soon, because it must take time and money, and everyone needs rewarding for their labour.

The Spanish Football Podcast with the always splendid Sid Lowe is superb for keeping up with La Liga without having to try too hard. One of those pods which educates you to such an extent that you can subsequently bluff your way through most discussions, despite knowing almost nothing.

Set Piece Menu with Rory Smith and three others has a pleasing twist to it, in that it’s a combo of football and food talk, which are two of the four things that make existence worth persisting with, in the face of sometimes overwhelming contrary arguments.

Women’s World Football Show has an enjoyable global approach. It’s hardly hi-tech but it does the job well.

Second Captains is another incredibly prolific and professional podcast. For a mere 5 Euros – it’s based in Ireland – you get a lot of well-produced, articulate and amusing shows which shame some of the mainstream offerings from certain lumpen broadcasters.

The Terrace has some interesting discussions about Scottish football. Niche stuff, yes, but that’s what podding does so well.

Football Fives takes five topics every week for discussion. When it goes out on a limb and plays at the dusty end of the fretboard, it ventures into some very interesting territories.

Bob Mortimer’s bizarre, vaguely football-related podcast Athletico Mince is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else. Best enjoyed on ‘shrooms.

And that really is just skimming the surface. I’d wager every club in the country has at least one podcast dedicated to it. Middlesbrough certainly does. Of no interest to anyone not a fan, the club-specific podcast in now a commonplace part of football life.

 

LOVED OR LOATHED
My Twitter research suggested there is much love for the concept of podcasts in general, with many saying that they are great for the commute, or when out walking or running. An interesting development is how they’re not only replacing or complementing consumption of mainstream media, but are considered superior.

Many point out that the people who produce the pods are more knowledgeable than many of the high profile ex-pros that are employed on the TV and radio. Indeed, without naming names, it’s easy to think of at least a couple of consistently poor ex-pros who regularly get work in the mainstream, who would simply be out of their depth on any of the best podcasts. Many cite the reliance of radio and TV on the cliche-droning, sloppy-thinking ex-pro as the reason for jumping ship to intelligent podcasts. One thing is for sure – mainstream media needs to keep on its toes because there is now serious competition from the world of Pod.

‘Football weekly for me. Right balance of insight, humour and contrasting opinions.’

‘The Guardian football weekly all day long – Jimbo and Barry are always a great listen.’

‘For something a bit different @setpiecemenu is absolutely excellent.’

‘Second Captains World Service does great work on football interviews. And Football Weekly is still the best audible newspaper on it.’

‘Amazing thing is consistency of football weekly. Been great since the start.’

‘Favourite has to be @acjimbo @bglendenning et al on the Guardian Football Weekly pod. Never feel uninformed or unentertained after listening.’

‘@BumperGraham interviews always excellent and genuinely insightful.’

‘Anfield Wrap has been consistently excellent and tries to look at all elements of LFC and the tribulations and joy of being a fan.’

‘You’ll have had plenty of shouts for @TheAnfieldWrap already, but it’s sensational right across the board.  @FootballRamble top drawer too.’

‘When @yellowbootson was regular it would have me in fits. Atletico Mince is funny too. @FootballRamble is great, @SecondCaptains too.’

‘The Game can be good. Marcotti is a bit snipey about players, managers and the lower leagues.’

‘@FootballRamble has banter + good insight. All four are excellent. Football weekly is superb, light hearted but in-depth.’

‘@FtblFivesPod is great. 5 questions about a specific topic each week. Their 5 aside team episodes are the best, especially fictional 5s.’

‘@SecondCaptains Football show is great, interesting perspectives, great guests and always a funny and enjoyable hour.’

‘Can’t be doing without @TheAnfieldWrap on a daily basis. Some of the shows on offer are terrific.’

‘I ‘consume’ more footy through podcasts than any other media. Ramble, Guardian, Arseblog and much missed Tuesday Club. Not owned by the big broadcasters so seem to be able to a) have opinions, and b) have fun.’

‘@FootballRamble football is the best podcast out there. The lads seems to be good mate.’

‘@QuicklyKevin is good, Josh Widdicombe’s new one about 90s football. I was cracking up at the one about the Peter Reid/Sunderland doc.’

‘@FootballRamble is a favourite, it’s like listening to your mates talk about football but they actually know what they are talking about.’

‘The Guardian one was always a favourite but hard to detach personal feelings on Glendinning recently.’

‘I’ve started to listen to @SecondCaptains recently & regret not doing so sooner. Soothing & nuanced discussions, good guests.’

‘By some distance my favourite podcast is @SecondCaptains Funny, insightful, brilliantly produced. Excellent guests, excellent subjects.’

‘@arseblog blog, pod and best source for Arsenal news, niche subject, though humorous and measured content puts MSM to shame.’

’93:20 is fantastically good for #mcfc.  Passionate but also realistic. The Man City Podcast also good but very different in style.’

‘The Game is bit more raw I find. Marcotti never afraid to play Devil’s Advocate & some interesting debates / insight ensue as a result.’

‘Football Weekly from the Guardian is the class leader. Jimbo is the mischievous head boy in their common room. Sid Lowe on the phone a treat.’

‘Athletico Mince gives a vital insight into the gangs of the EPL.’

‘Athletico Mince is great, if you can call that a football podcast.’

 

WHAT CAN THEY DO BETTER?
Football podcasting seems to largely be a thirty-something, lower middle-class male thing, and that does lead to homogeneity of voice. Without being judgemental, after I’d spent a day listening to one after another for this piece, it felt like many of them were being made by the same group of men. This leads to it feeling like everyone is painting with the same colour. Indeed, women are noticeable not just by their absence behind the microphone, but in subject matter too. They are rarely ever mentioned in any capacity. I worry that the other side of the sky apparently does not exist in this universe, except in dedicated pods.

There are far too many pods of three or four blokes just talking about whatever it is, in a slightly waffling manner, without a good host to control and shape it. Anyone that has worked with a professional presenter/broadcaster knows how the best are excellent at bringing in guests and shaping how the show develops. It’s a real art form and is what makes broadcasts flow. Obviously, this is too much professionalism for most to embrace when it’s just an amateur affair, but all the the same, it’d be nice if some were presented more tightly and reduced the amount of laughing at yourself for being rubbish.

Also, if you’re going to entertain by talking, make sure you have people on who can actually talk coherently. The best podcasts have realised articulacy is crucial. In an aural culture, there is nothing worse than someone umming and ahhing through a half-baked idea, or worse still, starting every sentence with “So…” like a Valley Girl in 1982. This is the stuff that separates the amateur from the professional.

Some podcasts are only available on iTunes and I always think that’s a mistake as a lot of people don’t use iTunes for various practical and political reasons. All should just be on Soundcloud as well.

Also, it’d be nice for some to break up an hour-long chat with some sonic punctuation.

 

CONCLUSION
All of which ends my trawl around the airwaves and screens of our football media. I do think, by and large, we’re incredibly well-served. The once intellectual desert that was football broadcasting is now overgrown with excellent, thoughtful and entertaining shows. The only dissatisfaction that has regularly been pointed out along the way is with some ex-player pundits. Mostly this is merely a matter of taste, but podcasts, full of intelligent people who know their stuff, have certainly highlighted the low-grade work of so many ex-players whose grab-bag of expressions are over-used and under-nourished. This is a situation producers have addressed well, but a few windbags do still get on air.
We live in an era of almost incomprehensible amount of football broadcasting. To a man of my generation, brought up on meagre rations, it is unarguably the best of all times.

 

John Nicholson


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