This is the Spinal Tap. Well, this is eerily reminiscent of the iconic mock-rockumentary. The Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast’s five-man lineup is doing yet another passable impression of David St Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and friends as we try to negotiate a labyrinthine network of dark passageways, filled with propellers and cables, one of which leads from our dressing room to The stage. Having finally found our way, invariably with the help of a patient theater technician, Max Rushden wanders onto the stage while the rest of us wait backstage.
There is no big announcement or fanfare for our host, who just walks over. The agitation of the restless, predominantly male crowd is gradually replaced by cheers and applause. How he does it remains a mystery, but within minutes the manners presenter described by a Manchester United fan in the Belgian city of Genk as “everything that is wrong with modern football” has drawn the crowd into a genuinely bubbly frenzy. . Amid raucous applause, he introduces Producer Joel, who explains the rules – no recordings to protect the sanity of Guardian lawyers, every man for himself in the event of a fire, and a polite request not to spoil the big surprise for future audiences – and displays all others. It’s showtime – let the 90 or so minutes of high-octane football chat and crowd-pleasers begin.
With no musical instruments (okay, a musical instrument), little to nothing in terms of a set-list, and not even a smoke machine to give a much-needed aura of mystique to the five middle-aged men who take their places on stage, it seems. baffling and flattering that in these difficult times several hundred people have paid real money – their own money – to come and hear us do little more than bluff about football, among other matters that come up. After all, it’s a service we provide for free three times a week on the Guardian podcast, so the genuine guilt caused by the fear that our audience won’t get anything like their money’s worth means we at least have some multimedia sets prepared. part surprises and a halftime extravaganza up the sleeves.
We also tell the audience which local hotel we will go to next if anyone wants a drink; a revelation that recently led to two arrogant but extremely kind and patient staff at The Wellington pub in Birmingham being inundated with orders from an already inebriated crowd of thirsty people on what should have been a quiet and uneventful Wednesday night. complications.
Occasionally there are requests for autographs and selfies, which we are always happy to provide. Last Sunday in Manchester, a glassy-eyed young man who had just paid £20 for an official Football Weekly Live T-shirt designed by cartoonist David Squires invited several of us to burn commemorative holes with cigarettes, a request that turned out to be, reluctantly accommodated when we’d established that he wasn’t completely disturbed.
They can be a strange and intense group, the Football Weekly audience. But they’re our weird, intense audience and we wouldn’t have them any other way. After two and a half years confined to the barracks, recording remotely on Zoom because of the pandemic, it was a real pleasure to bring the band together for this summer’s eight Football Weekly shows in front of the live audience on the road.
Of course, the Guardian’s football podcast is far from alone in drawing crowds to venues to cater to what seems to be an odd but welcome appetite for sports-related chat. Conceived during the pandemic, the Socially Distant Sports Bar has proved to be a huge success for Elis James, Steff Garrero and Mike Bubbins, who knew each other before Covid but gathered in the same room for the first time at Hackney Empire in London for a noisy sale. our show which sometimes resembled a game out of Wales and during which the old venue’s pubs were drunk.
The trio quickly established themselves as foul-mouthed Welsh national treasures, completed a national tour, had a supposedly more sanitized TV series commissioned by BT Sport and are promoting a show at the 5,000-seat Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff in February. next. It’s an audacious attempt at next-level cavernous amphitheater chat, but such is its popularity that it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to see the “House Full” sign light up for what could be a truly epic show. Elsewhere, The Anfield Wrap, Set Piece Menu, Football Ramble, Second Captains, Totally Football Show and others also do a quick live trade.
It shouldn’t work, but it does, mainly because the podcast audience is an audience unlike any other. The Football Weekly mailbag could not have been the only one during the lockdown as it received missive after missive from listeners, many of whom found themselves in dark places, who wanted to express their gratitude for helping to keep them sane.
It was really our pleasure. The same people seemed oblivious to the fact that taping the offers three times a week helped keep this and other Football Weekly podcasters from going crazy. They rode to the rescue again last Christmas when I suffered sudden family grief. The humiliating number of sympathetic messages from strangers who only know me from talking to shoemakers about football and more off-track topics through their headphones has provided more comfort in a dark time than they will ever know.
While modesty and an obvious preference for flagging amusing abuses prevent us from reading much on the air from listeners, a common theme of those who write to correctly point out how good we are is that listening to Football Weekly is like enjoying a relaxed night out in the pub with old friends. With three of our summer shows live and five to go, our tour is just that – a punishing drinking series with dear old friends whose company we’re finally having time to spend with.
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