THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Neil Rose welcomes a familiar voice back to 6.06 – a broadcaster who believes football phone-ins are not just about the match

For a radio station never more than a few minutes away from a trail, the return of Danny Baker to 5 Live was curiously unheralded. The addition of an hour from Baker on Tuesdays means that you are now more likely to hear 6.06 of an evening than not, but – and this is the good, nay joyous, news – his show shares only a name and sidekick (Issy Clarke) with those of Alan Green, Tim Lovejoy and Spoony.

The self-proclaimed pirate ship of 6.06 set sail on the first Champions League night, scheduling that I like to think – probably wrongly – was subversive. Baker’s lack of interest in the competition was clear from the off and the producer soon realised that doing the usual 6.06 thing of punctuating the chat with goal clips and post-match interviews was not really going to work. “We’ve already had people ringing up, saying, ‘Can I tell you about Gerrard’s goal?’,” Baker sighed in the first minute of his first show. “That’s just what we want – retrospective telling of goals on the radio.” It is taking some listeners unused to his style time to understand that calling up to discuss a game, tactic or manager is precisely not the point.

Later, in the wake of a characteristically anodyne interview with Rafa Benítez, he poured scorn on the media, and not least 5 Live itself, for thinking we need to hear every word uttered by managers. Keeping to himself opinions that could get him into trouble has never been one of Baker’s strengths and in fact led to him being ejected from the very same ­station in the past.

Instead the discussion centred on burning issues such as the oddest reason a game has been held up – his tale of a Millwall match stopped when a fake hand grenade was thrown on to the pitch was very funny – people whose names sound a bit like football clubs (such as Debbie County) and odes to the “14-year-old” referee of the Watford v Reading game.

Baker – more than any other broadcaster except his sometime partner Danny Kelly – taps into and celebrates football’s rich fan culture and oral tradition. His goal is to turn us into a “free-thinking fan-based nation” and so not for him rumination on the state of Arsenal’s back four – he is far more interested in why you once wrote to a footballer, or stories that prove there is a good side to Dennis Wise (and some rather touching ones there were, too). You either love Baker, his sharp wit and astonishing wealth of trivia, or cannot fathom what he’s on about. For those with long-ish memories, this is how 6.06 started life, before Baker left and it was turned into the tedious whingeathon it now is. And that’s just the presenters.

How could anyone think it fun or interesting to listen to a season of Hull fans complaining that the media ignores them, of Liverpool fans calling for Benítez’s head/defending him to the hilt, and of callers still, still forgetting to turn off their radios? One of the great mysteries of life is why some virtually incoherent wretch reckons the world is a better place for his calling Spoony to ask what he thinks of some club’s chances this season. This is not fan empowerment – it is just exceptionally dull radio, despite the best efforts of the personable Clarke. Worse still has been the proliferation of copycat phone-ins on radio and TV.

Radio 5 Live deserves credit for hauling Baker back on board despite the problems his mouth has caused in the past – although it also highlights that nobody else does what he does. Though it has little choice but to sign up to the Premier League hype, the station and its many excellent commentators manage to retain some perspective and, unlike Sky, do not shy away from analysing and criticising the game in a thoughtful manner. Some of Brian Alexander’s reports, such as the one recently on the trafficking and exploitation of young African footballers, have been particularly impressive. And through Baker and the amusing and occasionally outrageous Fighting Talk, 5 Live is one of the few mainstream outlets to remind us that it is OK to have a laugh about football as well.

From WSC 261 November 2008

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