Start talking sense

Everyone has a novel inside them, the cliche says, while failing to point out that most of them would be unreadable. A similar principle appears to apply to football podcasts and, as they are easier to produce than books, there are a lot of awful ones out there, though Ian Plenderleith does find a few worth a listen

 Are podcasts an important part of the brave New Media era, or just blogs with sound? I’m not that good with new stuff. I abandoned vinyl as late as was decently possible, and took a while to catch on to the idea of downloading music and having songs on your hard drive instead of on your shelf. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t see what broadband could do for me that wasn’t already available through my dial-up connection. And neither had I listened to a single podcast, even though the concept had been nagging me unpleasantly for a while. As in: “I suppose I ought to listen to one some time.”

 I’m happy with the thousands of handy music files I now have on my computer, and the speed with which I can (legally, of course) send them around the world by email or transfer them to a small, handheld device. If I finally made the effort, what would podcasts do for me? Cause me to throw away every radio in the house? Prompt me to shun all real-life human discussion in favour of more refined and expert opinions on the internet?

But podcasts are not one of those technological advancements that can streamline and simplify your life. They are merely another consequence of improved communications that have democratically enfranchised all those people who fancy the sound of their own opinions. Seeing as that, for better or worse, covers pretty much everyone, you can imagine that quality control is the first area to take a hit in the era of widespread amateur self-broadcasting.

Nowadays, saying you have your own blog is about as remarkable as boasting about having your own email address. We’ve quickly reached the next stage, too, when someone holds up a digital tape machine, announces they have their own podcast, and everyo­ne runs for the door. Oh lord, not another one. Who has the time to listen to them all?

That’s what the magazine pays me for. I listened, so you don’t have to. Come with me for a brief, and for you mercifully voice-free, tour of the largely unedited analytical graveyard that is the world of the football podcast.

A Game of Two Halves 21/2/08
Oddly, football podcastery is largely the work of Englishmen living abroad, seeking to connect with the game back home and impose their inbred “passionate” support of a native team on whichever lucky locals are now their hosts. And so A Game of Two Halves “is mostly the work of two Englishmen, Mark Hesketh and Chris Knowles, who now call Australia home”. One of them starts off proclaiming that Paul Jewell is “completely bonkers” for saying Derby will come back up and be one of the top ten teams in the Premier League. Wow, these lads are opinionated! In the aftermath of Liverpool’s FA Cup loss to Barnsley, “you could practically hear the knives being sharpened” for Rafa Benítez, apparently, therefore the previous day’s win over Inter in the Champions League was “absolutely massive”. “Tactically, Rafa gets it right in Europe,” says one of the wise Englishmen, and if Liverpool get an away goal in the second leg, then Inter will need four. It’s true. Does Rafa “chuck paella around” when he’s mad at half-time, they joke. And how do those “passionate” Inter fans relate to a team that has only one Italian in it? What with being in Australia and all, we don’t really know the answer.
Lots of nervous laughter, inane observations and an extraordinary poverty of insight. 1/10

EPL Talk “Best Of…” 10/2/08
The “Best of…” podcast celebrated 100 episodes of EPL Talk, produced by an Englishman in Florida, “The Gaffer”, who sounds as much like a gaffer as Harry Redknapp sounds like a country gentleman. Each show is centred around an often quite famous guest. And sometimes less so, because I should mention at this point that I was once interviewed for EPL Talk, and no, that’s not one of the episodes I’d recommend. The show’s title is a misnomer, because it’s thankfully not really that much about the Premier League, and covers instead just about any subject The Gaffer can find someone to gaff with. There are a few too many interviews with fellow podcasters and journalists, and they tend to drag on a bit, but there’s some good stuff, too – chats with such people as Simon Inglis, Ronnie Whelan, investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, Peter Kenyon, Patrick Barclay and Simon Kuper. In one episode, The Gaffer talks to fellow podcaster Phil McThomas, producer of a now already defunct online programme. “Use your imagination,” McThomas advises, “the barriers are very low, the equipment’s very cheap, just go for it. The more the better. We’re not competing with each other, we should be helping each other out.” It’s sound advice, and EPL Talk is one of the few to have taken it. Most of the others are still stuck trying to get over those low barriers.
Getting guests to slag someone off, then having a riposte interview a few weeks later. 6/10

Divers And Cheats 20/2/08
Generally, the funkier the opening music, the worse the following content turns out to be, while “we’ve got a lot of stuff to get through” usually means “we’re going to spread ourselves thinly over a lot of material we don’t really know a lot about and ramble on for way too long”. Broadcast by LA-based Champions Soccer Radio Network, this programme professes to cover Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan and… the LA Galaxy. According to its publicity, “Divers and Cheats is a wry take on European football – its sissies, conmen, and Dr Evils – set to a samba beat at cocktail hour. Hosted by former FA accredited referee Graham Bell and LA pickup legend Pete Brown.” And yes, it’s as bad as the publicity suggests. I’m not saying you should be automatically suspicious of Brown, but according to the CSRN site he hated football until he was visiting London in the mid-1990s, and in one afternoon he became a Chelsea fan. Fortunately, once you’ve listened through five minutes of adverts, the sound quality of this podcast is so poor that after another ten you stop bothering to try to make out what exactly it is they’re saying about Chelsea this, Arsenal fans that, and turn off.  The same company produces The Two Gs – Gary Richards and Graham Bell. Never heard of them? Come on, the two Gs. You remember, Graham Bell from the Divers and Cheaters podcast, named in the paragraph before last. You’ve forgotten him already? Imagine a desert of inanity stretching out before you, and somewhere off in the distance there is an oasis of insight. But dying of thirst and stuck in the sand, you are surrounded by rattlesnakes saying things like: “I was talking to someone dahn the boozer…” You know you’ll never reach the oasis in the two hours of podcasting to come. You swear you’ll give up football and devote yourself to the poetry of Andrew Marvell and John Milton instead, if they’ll just stop talking… ah, that’s better. “O, who shall deliver me whole, From bonds of this tyrannic soul…”
Highlights None. 0/10

Guardian Football Weekly 21/2/08
Good format here, with a much shorter programme, and four presenters, all assured talkers, moving quickly back and forward between participants. The interaction is lively and professionally produced, without taking itself too seriously, even while tackling obvious themes such as the Champions League. The Arsenal v AC Milan game had, according to one of the participants, “fewer chances than an orphan brought up in the projects”. Sid Lowe is brought in from Spain for a variation of voice and content (something that podcasts need constantly, but rarely feature), there’s plenty of banter but without anyone making cliquey jokes, and you actually stay tuned to what they’re saying, almost as if this were a real radio programme.In fact it’s one of the few podcasts you might listen to if it was on the radio. A good radio show, after all, deludes you that you are in the same room as the people broadcasting it. My only complaint is the choice of discussion topic – all the obvious big themes of the week, like everyone else.
Highlights Brevity and conviviality. 8/10

BBC World Football Phone-In 23/2/08
Broadcast in the middle of the night on Radio 5 Live for nightshift workers and insomniacs, the BBC is kind enough to make this segment available for download, featuring the very well informed Tim Vickery from South America, and callers from places as varied as El Salvador and Salford. North American panellist Sean Wheelock is less stiff than as a TV commentator in the US, liberated perhaps by the early-hours bonhomie. It’s a chatty affair and you even find out things you didn’t already know – for example, the South American game is slower because they let the grass grow longer, and the overhead kick was invented in Chile in the 1920s.
Highlights Professional, informative and hospitable conversation. 8/10

World Soccer Wrap 25/2/08
Presented by Simon Allen and Ray Ray, but the latter is out with flu. Could it be that podcasters are already getting as fed up as everyone else of the dire quality? “Nah, can’t make it into the podcast centre today to repeat the same crap I said last week about Chelsea and Man United. I know, I’ll call in sick.” Well, at least solo host Simon starts off talking about something besides the EPL, opting for the Australian A-League final, saying that “it literally was Tony Vidmar’s last game as a professional”. As opposed to metaphorically being his last game as a ­professional, which I bet is yet to happen. Despite the different new subject matter, he may as well be reading out the instructions for a toaster. Eight minutes in and we’re still talking about the A‑League final, about seven-and-a-half minutes too long on this form, until Allen turns to something that’s been annoying him for “the past 18 hours, maybe even longer” – the Pan-Pacific Championship, which made Dominic Kinnear, the coach of Houston Dynamo “literally look like a joke”. Furthermore, one of the goals Houston conceded was “literally a bullet”.
Highlights Literally, there are none. The worst soccer podcast. And yes, the competition for that title is extremely fierce. 0/10

From WSC 254 April 2008