Monday, 14 December 2009

The Football Basement

The blog is late this week because over the last seven days I’ve been part of an experimental new football podcast project. This makes it sound far less ramshackle than it actually is – but when, during a predictably over-excited round of group emailing in the hours leading up to the draw for the World Cup groups, the idea of committing our outlandish predictions to tape in a social setting came up, The Football Basement podcast was born.

The podcast has just gone up on iTunes, and interested readers can subscribe and download it by clicking here, or (hopefully) by searching the iTunes music store. It was recorded, fittingly, in a basement in Borough, South London, which is much less dingy than the image the title probably conjures up. Spacious, well-lit and comfortable, the suggested meeting-place had everything we would need: with even a little fridge to chill the inevitable first-record beers.

In the end there were seven of us who were up for the idea – none of whom had ever really done anything like it before but all equally enthused about the prospect of having, if not a record-breaking, chart-storming career-making podcast, then at least a record of our own World Cup hopes and predictions to look back on and laugh at. Chances are it would also be funny (at least to us) as this same group of people is well-used to gathering, bantering, bickering and generally taking the piss out of each other.

The football podcast is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – particularly since stumbling across the excellent Football Ramble, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is well worth a listen and provides consistently funny and well-informed chunks of football banter every week. Incidentally, I was invited to the regular Socrates meeting of London football bloggers last week and managed to meet a couple of the Ramble boys who, although we had already recorded our chaotic effort, were able to offer some brilliant advice on getting started podcasting.

There was a lot to get advice on, as it happened – and much to take into account when recording. Seven is a lot of people to record with, especially when you possess the magical, zero-budget combination of a single, internal microphone attached to a Mac laptop and Garageband, nobody with any real recording or radio experience and lots and lots of beer. We all knew it would be noisy – and feared that it would be completely unlistenable. As it happened, the layout of the Basement helped us out in that everyone was able to be positioned more or less equidistant from the mic and that there was absolutely no noise from outside.

However, we hadn’t recorded for long before we realised that a free-form, slightly merry discussion just wasn’t really going to work. The urge to shout down whoever is making a point is hard to resist – and in football discussion, particularly in large groups, there is a counterargument to literally every argument. While this is what makes football banter so much fun, it can also be what makes it interminable – and potentially completely tedious to listen to. While we felt the podcast was primarily for our own amusement, it’s nice to think that there might be some other people out there (and at the very least our other friends) who could enjoy it too.

There needed to be order, and the appointed chairman (me) was required to step up and rule with an iron fist. Well, kind of. A system of raised hands and pointing out whose turn was next evolved, but the big fear in this situation is that such an officious approach can stifle organic conversation.

I don’t think we needed to worry – the podcast definitely improves in terms of listenability as it goes on – but if the organisation of the discussion was manageable, duration was definitely an issue. It’s crazy to think about, but fascinating in itself having given ourselves the remit of discussing the World Cup draw which had taken place only 48 hours before, that we not only had to consciously try not to talk too much about it in the pub before the record, but that we managed, almost without noticing, to talk for two and a half hours purely on the prospects of the members of each group – including a frankly inexplicable forty minutes on Group D – and continued to debate during every cigarette break we gave ourselves and finally, barely having broken sweat, continued back in the pub after we’d pressed Garageband’s stop button for the last time.

This, surely, cannot be healthy. Never mind the fact that I had meticulously prepared an agenda that went on from a “quick” discussion of the group stage to Capello’s team selection, World Cup memories and so on, I honestly think that we could have picked a single team and talked about them alone for just as long. And while this is somewhat shocking, in terms of editing the podcast later in the week, it verged on the maddening.

The finished article is a fairly tight 65 minutes, looking at each group in turn and allowing each of the seven of us to pick out our winners and runners-up from each group. Achieving this tight 65 minutes from 150-odd minutes of yelling, swearing, giggling and, occasionally, some really good, well-argued points from a group of silly but thoughtful football fans took six hours. Getting the 40-minute bellow-a-thon of Group D down to the eight minutes it is now took a long, long time (and about three quarters of a bottle of red wine – that was my Friday night sewn up). Clearly, if we’re planning to make this a regular thing (and we are, I think) then we’re going to have to organise. Set time limits and a deadline – and allow everyone to make their points. Have a detailed and realistic agenda on hand. And, crucially, focus.

But I think the finished podcast sounds great – and is a lot of fun to listen to – mainly because it’s chaotic, silly, noisy, funny, rambling and, at times, really interesting. In fact, I like it for the same reasons I like talking about football at all. I know that over time we’ll get slicker, more disciplined and we’ll do more research. It might not be the same people every time (seven people is also a tricky number to round up of a regular evening) and it might not always be good – but I’m proud that we have this first, shambolic cacophony of deranged, drunken punditry saved for posterity.


So here’s the plug bit, properly:

The Football Basement Episode One is now available on iTunes. If it’s not searchable yet, click the link at the top of this entry or try again later in the week. If you’re not an iTunes user, it can also be accessed through hosts Jellycast by clicking here.

If you’re on Twitter, follow what’s happening with the Basement at @tfbpodcast.

If you fancy getting in touch with The Football Basement, email

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