IBWM meets The Football Ramble

Football via the medium of sound.  How does that work?  Well, if we're not talking about the radio it has to be the podcast, clearly.  If we are talking football podcasts though, we'd best aim high and go with the benchmark.  David Hartrick catches up with the Football Ramble.

In a world of new media providing us with a vast amount of football coverage, it takes talent to rise to the top of an ever-increasing pool. Commenting on the game is no longer the exclusive privilege of the journalist or the pundit and many are now lining up across various formats to have a go themselves.

This brings us to ‘The Football Ramble’.

The Ramble is the biggest and best independent Podcast out there. A four-handed ensemble that embrace the world game rather than any specific Premier League bias, it offers intelligent comment, a respect for history in the form of the week’s Dean Windass Hall of Fame entrant, and an easy handed rhetoric that never has to sink to on cue ‘banter’ to convey the warm relationship between the leads and their love of the game.

Since 2007, the Podcast has evolved its line up, format, and media presence to become the undisputed leader of the pack. Now mixing in the same circles as the subsidised ‘big boys’, they even have a sparkling new website offering videos, a forum for fans, and blogs from some major writers.

From the Ramble, Luke Moore was able to spare a little of his time to answer a few questions for IBWM.

It’s April 2007 and you’re sitting in your kitchen about to record the first ever Ramble, what were your early expectations for the Pod?

Er, none really. We started in my kitchen because I had the biggest area to record in as I was sharing a house with a few others, and I was also the only person actually living in London at the time I think. The others were too far out for it to be realistic. We wanted to meet regularly and talk about football, because that’s what we used to do at uni and on the university radio station. I don’t think it was a matter of expectations at that stage.

The original shows were fortnightly and you’ve talked about being a little ashamed of your early efforts (in a Guardian interview in 2009), can you look back at them now with a greater affection knowing how far you’ve come?

Did I say ‘ashamed’? I’m not sure if that was the right word thinking about it. It’s a weird thing because when you listen back to something like that and realise that it’s not as good, it’s bad because you’re sort of automatically embarrassed by it, but at the same time it’s also good because it means you’re improving. There is a certain amount of affection there, yes, because we were enjoying ourselves and it was a much simpler time. But I don’t really listen back to shows from that long ago; there’s too much to do in the present.

The line-ups altered from the shows original incarnation, (Moore is now joined by host and fellow original Rambler Marcus Speller, Pete Donaldson, and James Campbell) how did you all get together?

Jim went to the same uni as Marcus and I, but I didn’t really know him. Chimmers recommended him as a replacement for himself, and Marcus was friends with him so we got him in. When Chris Applegate left, we needed someone else - we always wanted four people - and I used to work with Pete and knew him as a brilliant radio person and funny guy, so I persuaded him to get involved. This is the best line-up we’ve had, and it wouldn’t feel right to lose/gain anyone now.

How much preparation goes into each show? You’ve mentioned Marcus’s notes (particularly when he’s made a mistake!) sent before recording, do you all have an input or do you keep things as loose as possible?

There’s a decent amount of preparation for each show, with both individual research and a coherent running order needed. We’re sort of in constant contact over email all week, bouncing ideas around etc. It’s a balancing act though, you can’t be too scripted because it will then become formulaic, and you also can’t be scattergun or completely free form because it would be all over the place. One thing I will say is that none of the jokes or quips is written in advance; they’re all completely improvised and off the cuff.

It’s a bit naughty of us to pick Marcus up on those mistakes because he’s the one who does the Running Order each week, and we’re grateful for that.

The Ramble has now led to television appearances on Sky News, trips to the World Cup in the summer, the number 1 spot in the iTunes Sports & Recreation Podcast charts (ahead of The Gaurdian backed ‘Football Weekly’ and ‘The Game” from The Times), a place in the Championship Manager games, the chance to observe an FA coaching weekend recently, and a spanking new website with blogs from some of the biggest names writing about football today – Andy Brassell, James Appell, Michael Cox (you may know him better as Mr Zonal Marking) - to name but a few. Does it now feel like a monster compared to its relatively humble beginnings?

If you lay it all out on a page like that, it does, but I don’t think we ever really stop to think about it too much. These are things that have all happened gradually, so we’ve had time to get used to them. There have been some big moments of course, but I like to think that we’ve earned them all. One thing that was great was when people like Andy and James and Chris Nee and Joel Richards (Rupert Fryer has been with us almost from the start) were all really keen to be involved with what we were trying to do. They’ve all been brilliant, and their writing is of the highest standard. I genuinely believe that we’ve got the best football comment website on the internet now, and that’s a superb feeling to have. Matt Isherwood (designer and webmaster) has done a brilliant job as well; it looks awesome.

As a more general point, we are ambitious about making this the biggest it can possibly be, so we can’t shy away from success and achievement. You have to take it in your stride. There’s still a long way to go and a lot more to achieve. You can’t rest on your laurels.

Although it feels like a clichéd question, I have to ask, do you have a favourite Ramble moment? I remember having to press ‘Pause’ as I couldn’t stop laughing at the story of a pre-season Peter Beagrie driving a motorcycle through a plate-glass hotel door, particularly when he discovered it wasn’t his hotel…

Haha! The Peter Beagrie story was a beauty for me too because I was on holiday that week and got to experience it as a listener. There have been lots of great moments; it’s so much fun recording every week. Alan Valderrama stands out, as does this amazing moment really early on when we were still with Chris Applegate:

This bloke was managing a non-league team in Essex (might have been Canvey Island), and he’s the go-to man for everything at the club - he’s the manager, the groundsman, the caretaker, the kitman etc. Everything. He’s trying to balance all these jobs at the same time to the extent that during a game he sees these kids sitting on the top of the outside toilet by the side of the pitch, watching the game. He apparently breaks from shouting instructions to his players to shout over to these kids ‘Oi! Get off the roof of that khazi! It’s gonna collapse!’ That had me crying with laughter for ages. We had to stop recording. The thought of this manager being more worried about the state of the outside toilet than the game his team are playing in makes non-league football such an amazing thing.

Do you listen to any of your competitors? Anything non-football related?

I do. I listen to Football Weekly occasionally, and I also listen to New Noise, which is a great new music podcast presented by the excellent Jon Hillcock. I also like some of the Radio 4 stuff that is available in podcast format.

We’re now in a time where football fans are increasingly turning to the Internet and Podcasts for their daily football fix rather than more traditional outlets like the newspapers. Do you think this is a reflection of a desire for something different from football coverage as a whole?

I just think there’s more choice. You are no longer bound by traditional media based in the country that you reside in. Users can afford to be a lot more selective, and if your content isn’t good enough, people won’t consume it. I think traditional media is starting to realise that and trying to catch up.

The other thing that’s worth mentioning is the ability people now have to reply and give their point of view on a story/opinion. Back in the day, if you didn’t agree with a journalist’s opinion it was pretty difficult to respond and have your voice heard. You could write a letter and hope it was printed, but that’s about it. These days you can comment on their story, you can tweet it, you can Facebook it, and you can email it around to everyone you know. This means that presenters, writers, and journalists now need to be a lot more careful and thoughtful about what they write. That said, no-one seems to have told the Daily Mail that.

No one could have a conversation with your good self without mentioning your beloved Portsmouth. Thousands of words have been written about their financial woes from journalists, what or who do you think was the route cause of the problems?

That’s a big question and one that would take a lot of answering. The root cause is obviously the decision makers at the club. Whether they want to admit it or not, there were people at that club that KNEW what was happening. Peter Storrie said on record that he knew nothing about it, because it was ‘the owner making the financial decisions’. Then what was he there for? What was he doing to earn his £1.2m a year? It’s my contention that he did know. Gaydamak and Storrie both knew, and I would argue that Redknapp did too. One thing that’s worth pointing out is that we can never say what we think or what we believe to be the case about the Portsmouth situation, because it’s just too legally sensitive. I get a lot of grief from football fans for apparently chastising Harry Redknapp for ‘no reason’. There are several reasons - I just can’t say them! And it’s not just us that have that problem, David Conn said to me at the time that he would love to write more about the Portsmouth situation but they were just too secretive. He couldn’t get any concrete information.

I’ve stated before that I believe the Championship to be one of the most competitive and incredible leagues in Europe, time and time again it remains almost impossible to call on a game-to-game basis. How do you assess what will represent progress for Pompey this season bearing in mind the rollercoaster of the last year – mid-table perhaps?

The Championship is very tough to call, I’ve always maintained that. Portsmouth had a number of years in that division before they got promoted and it was always tough, with the exception of the year we walked it with Redknapp and Mandaric’s millions. Before the season started, I would have taken fourth-bottom had you offered it to me because it’s vital that Portsmouth achieve some sort of stability. That said, I think Cotterill is a decent manager with experience of dealing with financially poor clubs, and the signings of Lawrence and Kitson seem to have lifted us. We could achieve a mid-table finish, in my opinion.

Finally and with huge thanks for your time, as the keeper of the keys to ‘Diego’ corner on the Ramble and a dedicated follower of the absolutely mental life of Maradona, you must have a favourite moment from his career be it on or off the pitch…

My favourite moment of his on the pitch would be slightly less obvious than you think. My first World Cup was Italia ’90. I love that tournament (as I imagine a lot of people my age do). Maradona was underwhelming for most of it, and it disappointed me. All I had heard from my family and older friends was how great he was, best player ever etc. All I saw for the group stage was diving around, complaining, and histrionics from him. Then, in the second round, Argentina faced Brazil. It was more of the same from El Diego until about ten minutes from time. He got the ball in his own half and quick as a flash took himself away from two men, was being heavily fouled/leaned on by a third, and still managed an inch-perfect through ball, through the backtracking Brazilian player’s legs, to Claudio Cannigia who rounded the keeper to score. It was like the genius of Maradona condensed into ten seconds. Some will say the goal he scored against England in ’86 was the pinnacle, but that moment in ’90 was something I’ll never forget.

The Football Ramble is available on iTunes and the author of this piece can heartedly recommend you immediately head there and subscribe.