Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Lovely Little Podcast

“Literally the best football podcast around” - not my words, but those of Sky’s insightful, tight-trousered critic, Jamie Redknapp. Not really, but The Football Ramble is definitely my favourite footy podcast, even better than James Richardson’s excellent Football Weekly.

The Football Ramble is a podcast featuring four blokes, er, rambling about football. It sounds just like the conversations you have with your mates in a pub, though sensibly excludes the sound affects and frequent trips to the gents. It is obvious that the guys love football, understanding that the game goes beyond “The Best League in the World” (© Richard Keys), as proven by their frequent forays into the mysterious world of South American football.

Is Sammy Lee’s mouth upside down? Is Fernando Torres the greatest living example of a human being? Why is Frank Lampard no longer called Frank Lampard Junior? These are just some of the questions that this podcast attempts to answer.

Never shy of voicing an opinion, you can be pretty sure that the lads will speak honestly and often hilariously about a wide variety of topics. The show is not afraid to address serious football issues, but is equally comfortable with funny stories. They have even managed to restore my faith in “banter”, when I had believed that the likes of David Bentley had consigned the word to the dustbin of phrases over-used by players (along with “hopefully”, “at the minute” and “to be fair”).

The Guardian got it right when they said that The Football Ramble has proved a welcome antidote to the glossy, predictable and sycophantic outpourings from some of the more established sports media. "People can relate to us just being normal people that take an interest in the game, and happen to be quite funny sometimes".

According to their manifesto, if you love football, the Ramble is here to serve you. Except If you’re a footballer, when they’re here to serve you your arse. On a plate. No-one is safe. Well, apart from Jimmy Bullard, obviously.

Started in April 2007 by a group of university friends, the line-up has undergone a number of changes, losing Chrissy Apples and Chimmers/Chimpo along the way. The current team consists of Marcus, Lukey, James (or Jim) and Pete.

Marcus, Lukey, Pete and James

Marcus Spelling is the anchorman who hosts proceedings with a calm authority. The Michael Palin of the team, he has traveled the world to watch football in many distant lands such as Africa and, of course, South America. Portrayed as the Gennaro Gattuso of the side, Marcus is reputed to be a more than useful footballer himself with rumours of appearances on the bench for Leatherhead Reserves.

Lukey Moore is described on the Ramble’s own website as a “belligerent fool …saying things as loud as possible, hoping that it’ll make him sound funny”. There’s some truth in that, but it’s also true that he’s often painfully funny and is usually right on the money with the targets of his vitriol. Anybody who describes Tim Lovejoy (aka Jim Lovetoy) as a “smug, cretinous fool” is not going to get any argument from me. A Pompey fan, but he quite rightly has little time for that bell-ringing imbecile, John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood.

James (or Jim) Campbell used to be the quiet one in the corner, but now proudly exhibits his own dry brand of humour. Jim managed to avoid the indignity of being stabbed in the arse by Roma fans when he attended the recent Champions League Final, but somewhat ruined the effect when he tripped on a rock, kicking it just far enough in front of him that his knee smashed into it on the way down. His wit is sharp, intellectual and a shade world-weary, which is exactly what I would expect from a stand-up comedian (and fellow Arsenal supporter).

“Producer” Pete twiddles the knobs, regales us with his showbiz tales and makes us laugh simply by being a Newcastle fan. His day job is radio presenter for Xfm, where he’s worked with industry giants such as Alex Zane, Lauren Laverne and Danny Wallace (yes man!). He has few equals when it comes to cutting up pork, though we should probably not mention the spit roast too often on a show about football.

The Ramble has deservedly become a fans’ favourite with over 20,000 downloads a month. Incredibly for an independent production, it has become the most popular sports podcast, topping the iTunes chart of sports and recreation podcasts in June ahead of established (and well-funded) brands such as the BBC, The Guardian and The Times.

This notable achievement was recognized by Sky News inviting Marcus and Lukey to appear on the programme to comment on Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid. Understandably more restrained than on the podcast, the lads did announce that the Ramble would be moving from a fortnightly show to a weekly one for the 2009/10 season (hurrah!)

Their success is not surprising when the topics are so wide and varied, including incidents with trannies (from Hartlepool to Brazil); the many dead grandmothers of Stephen Ireland; the Ted Bates statue fiasco; Chris Coleman’s washing machine; and, of course, the Dean Windass Hall of Fame.

As you will have gathered, I love this show, which to date has never put a foot wrong. Actually, I tell a lie, for they have not yet managed to explain why Andy Burton exists. Burton is the tool employed by Sky Sports News on transfer deadline day, when you will see him fielding calls from his numerous football “mates” on a huge collection of mobile phones. Of course, this vast network does not bring us the transfer news any quicker or indeed more accurately. Unlike The Football Ramble, I never want to hear Burton again.

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