Friends reunited: Football Weekly listeners come for the games and stay for the people – The Guardian

Tee Rasheed
9 Min Read

We’re on tour again, standing on stage and attempting to entertain the podcast ultras and the odd grumpy parent
I recently found myself sending a polite email to two of the UK’s most prominent outdoor explorer types about drinking their own urine. Or at least pretending to drink it. It’s not something I have experience of, but I guess you never know what the future holds. It is for a thing. No, it really is. Perhaps unsurprisingly I haven’t heard back. I am too embarrassed to follow up.
It’s not the first time I’ve caught myself wondering exactly how the course of life’s events have resulted in something ridiculous in the name of work: sharing a sofa with Mr T, being whipped by Anne Diamond, sword fighting with Frank Leboeuf, watching a knight of the realm deface pictures of footballers in newspapers with phallic images. What have you just done to Jan Vertonghen? What odd situations to end up in if we don’t truly have free will. And if we do, then what meaningful contribution to existence is this?
Those who listen to the Guardian Football Weekly podcast, especially those who have been to a live show, know most of this already – it’s hard to deliver new material three times a week when you have such a limited repertoire of anecdotes. Speaking of which, does anyone have a spare microwave?
On Monday week we hit the road again, starting at the Troxy in east London – tickets still available, (not) the only reason for this article. The tour is a genuinely thrilling experience, and one that appears surprisingly popular – although not as in-demand as a podcaster with a plastic bag on his head who has already sold out the same venue on the previous night. From London we head to Bristol, Manchester, Dublin and finally Brighton, which will be streamed worldwide. (With apologies to Scotland, most of the north and Northern Ireland – next time.) There’s no tour bus, no drug binges, only a few cans and some sloppy hotel breakfasts.
The shows are not for everyone. After one in Oslo a few years ago, an audience member approached me to say: “Tonight showed exactly why I now listen to the Totally Football Show. You didn’t even mention Arsène Wenger once.” Fair enough, direct feedback is always welcome. Someone always brings their dad, who from the stage appears lit up by a spotlight – the only face you can see, arms folded, refusing to crack a smile, hoping for two hours on xG and not expecting the second musical interlude. A recent review of the podcast described me as “the worst human being on this earth”, which given the current competition feels a bit of a stretch.
But generally it’s an enthusiastic crowd. Last time in Birmingham listeners wanted Barry Glendenning to burn holes in their T-shirts with a cigarette. In Dublin, Barry is akin to the Pied Piper, leading a theatre full of (largely male) 20- to 30-somethings to some tiny pub where a barman is about to pack up for the night, before being asked for 300 perfectly poured pints of Guinness.
A few years ago, it was cool to host a podcast; now it’s harder to find someone who doesn’t. Perhaps this is the golden age. The competition even within football is enormous – Stadio, Football Cliches, Lineker, Crouch, Jimbo, the Ramble etc. I am incredibly lucky I took over an established one, and haven’t decimated the audience in the past seven years. We try hard to satisfy the legacy fans who might prefer the old stuff, while trying to grow and broaden the range of guests.
We constantly wrestle with how to balance covering the bread and butter of people kicking the ball with what really matters: sportswashing, corruption, racism, sexual violence, climate change – the bleakness of football when you pull back the curtain.
But the game is a never-ending content machine, even if you find yourself saying, “We’ve run out of superlatives for Erling Haaland, we’ve run out of things to say about Manchester United’s forlorn existence” a lot of the time. Soon we’ll have run out of ways to say we’ve run out of things to say about things on which we invariably do actually have something to say.
It is dangerous to deconstruct your own profession, to try to dress up four people chatting on a Zoom call as high art. We’re not changing the world. But there is an intimacy in the knowledge that someone has actively downloaded it and chosen to spend their time with you. No one is just listening and putting up with it, something we never take for granted.
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When I think of the podcasts I listen to religiously, I know Adam Fleming and Fearne Cotton aren’t my friends, but after a while they start to feel like it. The subject matter almost becomes irrelevant. So with Football Weekly, I’m certain people come for the football and stay for the people. Listeners aren’t going to stick with it if you don’t analyse the games – but they also want Philippe Auclair’s Fifa rants, Mark Langdon’s vegetable experiences, and John Brewin’s music snobbery. It might be us, it might be someone else – but those voices can be real companionship during the treadmill of life, a constant in good, banal and tough times.
It is an incredible privilege to earn a living talking about something you love, especially if you’re sitting in your shed on a laptop asking smart people about it. Only those with no self-awareness think it’s more about their talent and hard work, and not the infinite amounts of luck and good timing you need to get anywhere.
The live shows are an extension of all of this. It is great to stand on stage and try to vaguely entertain some Football Weekly ultras. We know our place. Off Menu are selling out the Royal Albert Hall, Fabrizio Romano is about to go live at the Apollo. But I’ve packed my guitar, Barry’s got his holiday photos, Elis James will talk about Croatia (a), Philippe will love Gianni, we’ll give Troy Townsend a rum and we’ll be on our way. Perhaps I’ll have a urinary based email response by then, but either way we’ll see you there.
Tickets for the Football Weekly tour are available for London and Manchester … and 8bn are still available for the live stream: theguardian.com/fwtour23. The Football Weekly Book is published by Guardian Faber, £12.99. To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy for a discount at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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