Cafe Calcio. This is Radio Football

IBWM doesn't do radio shows, but if it did.....Here's Jeff Livingstone.

What we know.  There are one or two radio stations out there and some of said broadcasting houses have programmes that feature that football malarkey.  A large percentage of these shows are as intolerably dull as it is possible to be.  Therefore, the discerning wireless tuning soccer fan on a quest for ear thrills has a fairly limited choice.

We also know that there are many varied and really quite splendid football related podcasts available….but let’s just imagine, dear reader, that somehow the gods had seen fit to fuse these two universes - radio and podcast - together in a dazzling display of audible delectability.  All in the name of footie.

Imagine no longer.

The Sony nominated Café Calcio is back on Resonance 104.4 FM and through t’internet this month.  The latest series of the football fanzine show - a favourite at IBWM towers - will run till the end of the football season when the regular presenters will be joined by a series of experts to discuss topics around the game.  Heck, someone from IBWM might even come along.

Amongst the items covered in the coming weeks will be the psychology of football, ground architecture, old and new soccer media, women and football, football at the cinema and the debate on atmosphere and safe standing.

I caught up with presenter Chris Dixon and his shady cohorts Chris Roberts and David Stubbs earlier this week.

Good to have you back, why the long break?

CD - It's good to be back! We had a break because we're first and foremost a radio show operating within the confines of an established station. We were commissioned first of all as a 12 show series as a bit of an experiment for Resonance, to be booked for a second full series if we were a success. The station was happy with us so here we are again.

DS: Also, the series focuses on themes, rather than tracking developments in the domestic season. We tend to steer clear of topicality, the done-to-death controversies and "blah-blah of 5Live and Talksport.

CD: On top of this, we broadcast live on a Friday night according to our time slot in the Resonance schedule. The station doesn't expect Chris and David to work for the show on a voluntary basis and take their Friday nights away from them indefinitely! It suits all involved to have a break. The break also freshens things up on the schedule and prevents shows becoming stale.

There are a few of you involved in the show, what are your backgrounds in football?

DS: I am a contributor to When Saturday Comes and also wrote Send Them Victorious: England's Path to Glory 2006-2010, a collection of match reports on England internationals in the guise of the ultra-patriotic, highly xenophobic Wing Commander.

CR: Basically as a punter would be the nice way of putting it. I follow my team, swear at people more talented and faster than me to be, well, more talented and faster and shout at other people whose misfortune / fortune was to be born in a different part of the country. I think though I’ve always been more interested in the cultural baggage surrounding the game than the actual football and last year a book I’d been researching for a number of years on football and magic was published.

CD: I'm a radio type with a fanatical love of Crystal Palace. I'd been working for the station at CPFC as an engineer and co-presenter and obviously, like most of us, followed my team around and about places all over the country. Also like CR, I have a love of swearing loudly in public places.

What prompted you to start Cafe Calcio?

DS: To fill a gap on Talk Radio - to talk about football in more cultural terms, rather than get bogged down in the usual, heated, my-team-is-better-than-your-team discourse. Resonance FM is less compromised than other radio stations, in terms of subject matter, certain toes that must not be trodden on, and so forth.

CD: There was probably the same prompt a lot of these things tend to have, a few beers. Some of us at the station were in the pub including show commissioner Richard Thomas and another of the station's program makers, Nick Hamilton. Resonance had been keen to do a sports show for a while so we were thinking we should try and put something together to cover the World Cup from an alternative angle. Nick knew David and Chris who both had books coming out coinciding with the tournament so he teamed us all up for a pilot and we hit it off. We finished a little run of half hour shows and it was decided to give us a run of shows on the wider cultural aspects of the game.

CR: I was introduced to the others through my more normal beat, which is strange London stories, and folklore and I’d done some work on a show called Lost Steps also on Resonance.

CD: I have to mention from where we take our name. Cafe Calcio is a little eatery of genius on Crwys Road in Cardiff. It was covered wall to wall in football scarves from the world over and other ephemera you'd expect to find in such a place. It was also the venue for my first ever DJ gigs, and seeing as Cafe Calcio: The Show was my first proper gig on the air I thought it had an appropriate symmetry.

This isn't your normal run of the mill football programme, what can we expect from Cafe Calcio in the coming weeks?

CD: We’ll have the usual high calibre expert guests in and over the coming weeks we will be looking at the psychology of football, ground architecture, old and new soccer media, women and football, football at the cinema and the debate on atmosphere and safe standing. As well as these we will have specials on the game in North America, Germany and we started the opening show with a special on Russian football current and historical.

There is a new formation to the latest series with the tone setting opener by David Stubbs being more conversational and the replacement of the Resonance Galaticos by a weekly topic called Football Art Masterclass. I’ll once again be the garrulous ringmaster bringing guests, presenters and music to cheerful frothy climax on the airwaves.

CR: We also hope to chuck in a few bonus surprises like the Halloween –Voices of the Gooner Dead – Podcast from the last series.

Do you have a particular audience in mind?

CD: Well, the Resonance audience is something we've worked hard to please. The show needs to be accessible to those who have had either a passing or no previous interest in football. The culture and richness of the world around football is something we focus on because we're aware of the need to satisfy an audience that are tuning in to hear something that offers them something different to what one would otherwise find on the air elsewhere, an alternative narrative if you will.

Those who come to the show as fans of football, well obviously we've aimed to give them something they don't get either. Chris (R’s) Football Art Masterclass is a tongue in cheek nod to pleasing both the audiences that we're trying to target.

DS: A mix of the regular Resonance listener who might view football more as a cultural phenomenon than a personal passion, as well as the typical When Saturday Comes reader, a highly knowledgeable fan but whose love of the game is matched by a dislike of its clichés, its inequalities, as well as those who think it's a sport for alehouse idiots.

Do you think modern football fans have an appetite for more than just the Premier League?

CD: I'd bloody well hope so.

DS: Yes, fed by the sort of extended coverage you now get on BBC (or is that a response to a greater appetite?), disaffection with Premier League hype and unfeasibly high turnstile prices, as well as an increase in the number of people who take the game that bit more seriously as its popularity grows.

CR: Depends what you mean by modern. If you mean young I’d say yes though it might not be other British leagues they are interested in. Amongst older fans as well there is definitely an interest in others teams, if not leagues per se.

Do you think there is room for more in depth analysis and world football in mainstream media coverage?

DS: Yes - unfortunately, the commissioners of said coverage tend towards the ultra-cautious, ultra-conservative, especially in straitened times. This is a source of frustration to a lot of people working in the media themselves.

CR: There’s always room for good coverage but then that can be supplied outside the mainstream too.

CD: In terms of analysis on the screen, certainly as far as the BBC is concerned, no. Football has been taken away from it to a certain extent with Sky fulfilling the 'specialist' coverage the last 20 years for those who are interested enough to pay the ridiculous price for it.
I don't see how BBC coverage could improve for the non-specialist just wanting to be entertained. The more arcane you get the more you alienate the casual watcher.

DS: I was sat in front of a woman at the Emirates who said, in all sincerity 'My word, that Theo Walcott, he's got such a good future in front of him'. Football coverage has to be accessible for people with this level of understanding.

CD: Many people in the footballing cognoscenti get overly pissy at the seemingly facile analysis one can get on MOTD. Presumably because then they have the armchair punditry of the casual fan trotted out parrot-fashion taken from that which they've seen and read in The Sun and on SKY/BBC, which of course winds many of us up.

But 'Mainstream' very rarely goes hand in hand with 'in depth' for good reason. As for world football, possibly. It would be great to see Football Italia style specialist coverage on a terrestrial channel of the something such as the A league or MLS. I'd certainly suck it up.

Blogging and podcasts have given many thousands the opportunity to convey a message that they may not have been able to previously.  In terms of football coverage, are we witnessing a power shift from the mainstream media to the independent blog or podcast?

CR: Not sure because mainstream media also blog but at least there is more choice and outlets available.

CD: I don't really think there is a power shift per se, maybe that's me not being farsighted enough and too cynical. The amount of people that care about the highest quality coverage is always going to be outnumbered by those who simply can't understand it and therefore don’t care. So long as the mainstream maintain their canny knack of catering for the largest audience and paying lip service to those who demand more then I can't see much chance of a revolution!

DS: A shift, for sure, though whether it represents "power" is another matter. Certainly, bloggers aren't hamstrung by the sort of constraints suffered by mainstream media workers - constraints of time/space, pandering to supposed limited attention spans, and a banal, offend-nobody tone because they can't afford to alienate big names who they might need for interviews, etc. But it's a labour of love and for how long can we tolerate a situation where those doing the best work are the least able to monetise that work?

What leagues do you enjoy watching the most?

CD: Being a Palace Fan I'd obviously say the Championship. The Premiership and Champion's League actually mean very little to me and I don't really get to see many games other than those involving Palace as I work for the club.

DS: Well, shamefully in my case, the Premier League in that I'm a long-term Arsenal supporter. But the stagnation of that League is becoming increasingly evident; in contrast to some of the dogfights you get in the lower leagues, where the feeling of a greater proximity between players and fans is palpable. The Emirates and Old Trafford can be extraordinary quiet by comparison.

CR: 20,000 Leagues under the sea.

What advantages are there in a radio program over a just a podcast?

CD: One word: Broadcast. The show gets 500,000 listeners off the bat, from its privileged position on the airwaves, with a potential for many more (the station had 1.6 million unique IP hits last year alone) Operating under the umbrella of Resonance FM carries no little kudos. A podcast has to be exceptionally good just to get a tenth of that. We're incredibly honoured and humbled to have that kind of an opportunity. It's great to be making a show of cultural value.

CR: Like the game itself it gives us the opportunity to spectacularly screw up live and I think the knowledge that it is live concentrates the mind somewhat.

CD: Indeed, there’s nowt like a live medium to provide focus. I hate pre-recording shows. Subconsciously there’s something there saying ‘I can edit this later’ which can cause the concentration to wander somewhat.

DS: Then of course there’s the Immediacy - picking up those who happen to be tuning in, rather than the already-converted.

You, like me, are obviously very keen to look at the overlap between art and football.  Will this be apparent in upcoming shows?

CR: We are planning shows on architecture and football in theatre but also every week there will be a feature called football art masterclass in which we look at various art movements and explain them in terms of football. The opening show linked realism to the Wolves side of the 1950s. Future ones will feature Impressionism and its sway over the Revie Leeds teams; how the Italian Futurist movement may have impacted on the Arsenal and Everton sides of the late 20s and early 1930s as well as the links between post Modernism, Dadaism and Expressionism with Liverpool, Newcastle United and the English national side respectively.

The soccer side name generator, what in the name of flip is all that about?

CR: My fault I’m afraid. I’ve become slightly obsessed with Russian / Soviet team names like Atommash and Rotor Volgograd and just daydreamed about being a billionaire with a team to invest in but unable to think of a name for it. The Soviet Soccer Side name generator was the obvious answer. The Internet’s ace for coming up with solutions to problems you never really had.

Which websites and podcasts do you visit/listen to?

CD: Our own. It's great. That and you guys of course.

CR: I occasionally stroll around on Blaukopf with other refugees from the wonderful When Skies Are Grey site though believe I’ve been banned from the “Peoples’ Forum” on Toffeeweb for inappropriate use of irony in a built up area.

DS: When Saturday Comes, 200%, The Guardian in the main, others more occasionally - but it's a growing sphere and one that's increasingly occupying my attention.

You can tune in to the live broadcast of Café Calcio on Resonance 104.4 FM every Friday at 21:00 (GMT), and repeated on Saturday at 11:00. You can listen online to all the episodes of the first series at http://cafecalcio.posterous.com/ or subscribe to the podcast using iTunes, Google Reader, Rhythmbox or whatever, here: http://cafecalcio.podbean.com

You can follow Café Calcio on Twitter @cafecalcio

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