We Are Going Up! Interview: Podcasting the Football League
Having made a number of appearances on podcasts in recent years including Two Footed Tackle and The Tilehurst End, our founder writers Lloyd and Lanterne Rouge are perhaps inclined to go in the corner and hide, such are the demands of stationing oneself behind the microphone. Hence, we are in admiration of anyone who has stuck at it, let alone done it really well indeed.
The recent FSF Awards nomination for best podcast for We Are Going Up! was therefore thoroughly deserved and you should waste no time at all in following this surveymonkey link in order to vote for these weekly purveyors of Football League discussion (along with a few people you might just recognise in a couple of the other categories). Here, Mark Crossley, Bury fan, Absolute Radio Presenter, Host, Producer and Editor of WAGU and David Cameron Walker, Watford devotee, talkSPORT Assistant Producer, Co-Presenter and Producer of WAGU have been kind enough to answer some questions about the two seasons and a bit that they have been running the pod. The results make for fascinating reading for anyone wishing to start a podcast or with an interest in the Football League in general. You can follow Mark on twitter here, David on twitter here and the podcast is available in a variety of formats by heading to the WAGU website.
TTU: What made you start the podcast in the first place?
Mark: Well, first and foremost we’re all mates who each happen to support Football League clubs. We met at university in Nottingham six or seven years ago, but now all have jobs in radio/journalism in London. In fact most of us work on football radio shows or websites, so the idea to get together again and do a football show seemed obvious.
DC: We actually started off by doing a more generic football podcast, but we were constantly asking ourselves the question: why would people choose to listen to us instead of the others? We were focusing more and more on the Football League as time went on anyway, so that eventually led to We Are Going Up! being launched in July 2011.
How has the line up of regular participants changed over the two and a half seasons the podcast has been running?
Mark: It hasn’t changed massively to be honest. There’s five of us involved now -myself, DC, Jim Knight from PERFORM Sports Media, Carl McQueen from Sky and Adam Williams from the BBC. Steven Toplis (aka Toppo) used to be on a fair bit in our first season too, but he’s based up in Nottingham rather than in London.
DC: Yeah, we decided we needed us all of us to be in the studio together for it to really work. That said though, five voices at once is a bit too many – so we tend to stick with three, depending upon who is available, recording times etc.
You have occasionally managed to secure interviews with well-known names such as Martin Allen and Kevin Davies. Is this something you would like to do more of or do you think working with a circle of bloggers, local journalists and podcasters gives things a more grassroots feel?
DC: I think it’s always good to speak to people who are actually involved in the game, as it gives you a perspective that others can’t from the outside. That said we do aim to strike a balance. The opinions of a blogger are just as valid as those of a player or a journalist, so there has to be room for all.
Mark: I’d definitely like to get more managers and players on. The further down the leagues you go, the more accessible they seem to become too. For example, John Ward (Bristol Rovers manager) was great fun when we had him on at the start of the season. I do think the critical eye of a fan or journalist is important too though. If we were just interviewing a manager a week then that might get boring pretty quickly.
At the start of the second season, you appeared to consciously move towards a format of two in depth interviews per episode and the quality of these has been very high – what made you decide on this change of strategy?
Mark: We were still finding our feet in the first season. We weren’t quite sure of the best format to use, but slowly we stumbled upon it.
DC: Yeah, we were trying to do too much in each show. It’s impossible to cover all 72 sides in detail every week, so we were basically a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. We decided it was much better to focus on two stories or clubs in detail.
Mark: Fifteen or twenty minutes does allow you to really get stuck into the subject matter too – i.e. the sacking of Tony Mowbray, Coventry City Council vs SISU, the implementation of the EPPP etc. Hopefully these are helping people to get a deeper understanding of various issues from across the Football League.
Which have been your favourite interviewees and episodes?
DC: I loved speaking to Dom and Tom from the Bantams Banter podcast during Bradford’s Capital One Cup run last year. Also, I was proud of the series of shows we did on Blackburn last year as they lurched from one disaster to the next. The mainstream media went through a period of questioning the fans’ anger at The Venky’s and Steve Kean but we gave some passionate supporters a platform to air their concerns and in my opinion they were totally right to be angry.
Mark: The live shows at Leyton Orient (Episode 77) and Brentford (Episode 96) were great fun. Hopefully they reflected the whole experience of following a side around in the Football League – from being in the local pubs to the fanzines, food, fans and atmosphere. In terms of guests, James Daly from Five Year Plan was great on Palace last season. Jonathan Wilson is always brilliant. As was the football historian Mark Metcalfe when we had him on in August. He told us the fascinating story of how the Football League was formed. There are far too many to mention really.
The podcast is incredibly professional. Does having access to a professional radio studio make a big difference? What are the technical challenges?
DC: Having a studio makes a massive difference. When we were first starting out we used Skype to record… and it was a bloody nightmare. The sound quality was awful; everyone would keep dropping out and on one infamous occasion the whole thing didn’t even record at all. Which might have been for the better.
Mark: Sound quality is crucial. If it sounds crap when people press play, there’s a good chance they won’t listen for much longer. We’re obviously lucky to have the facilities we do, including phone lines, microphones and ISDN. The main technical challenges are more in terms of turnaround. We need to get the whole thing edited and released before everything we discussed becomes out of date.
The editing is presumably a lot of work – for any budding podcasters out there, what would be your main tips?
Mark: Try and record ‘as live’ and only record the bits you need to would be my main tips, as it helps save time during the editing process. On average, it will probably take me about four hours to edit down a one hour show – cutting down gaps, mistakes, questions that don’t fit and physically listening back to everything we recorded. Using software such as Adobe Audition helps, although there are cheaper versions available. Also play around with the compression settings to find the exact sound you want.
How much time do you need to spend researching per week in order to be ready to interview people? Is time an issue in view of the pressures of day jobs?
DC: Time is a big issue. We could always do more. A lot of us work unpredictable and unsocial hours, including at the weekends. That does sometimes make it hard to catch up on all the football each week.
Mark: There has been a lot of scrambling around in the past. We record on Mondays now, but when we used to record on Sundays it was particularly difficult. Now I’ll always have time to watch the Football League Show, make notes on most games and then try and write a few questions beforehand. If I’ve got a few hours spare on a Monday I’ll prep for by listening to bits on local BBC radio shows, reading blogs and monitoring Twitter.
DC: My job helps me in terms of research as I’m pretty much covering stories from the Football League on a daily basis. I also rely heavily on Twitter and sites like yours too. It helps you keep across what people are saying and enables you to look out for little things when you’re watching games and the Football League Show.
Do you aim to run the pod as a commercial venture or is it really only ever going to be for fun?
DC: We do it for fun but who wouldn’t want to make money out of something they love doing? But I think if you really want to maximise any such opportunities then you need to dedicate some serious time to selling yourself, which we just don’t have at the moment. We’re starting to get a bit more recognition now though, with awards nominations and more high profile guests, so anything that comes from that is a bonus.
Mark: Yeah. It’s definitely something we want to try and do. It’s quite frustrating that we’ve barely made a penny out of it so far, but I guess that hundreds of other podcasts are in the same boat.
Personally, we find your podcast and other less well-known efforts (no offence) such as The Sound of Football far more enjoyable than the likes of Football Weekly. Which pods do you gain inspiration from?
DC: I do enjoy shows such as Football Weekly and The Football Ramble but I think it’s easy when starting out to fall into the trap of sounding too much like a poor imitation of your favourite shows. It did take us a while to find our own voice. I personally love 5 Live’s World Football Phone In. You get real hard detail about obscure football stuff, but in a relatively free form, easy-going style. I also love the way The Sound Of Football will dedicate a whole show to debating a particular issue or topic and it’s something we could potentially explore further down the line.
Mark: I think we gained inspiration from the fact that most of the big football podcasts don’t cover the Football League in any great depth. I still listen to loads of different sports podcasts though – from FW and TFR to 5 Live Sport Specials, My Sporting Life, TMS etc.
How do you feel about being nominated in the best podcast category at the 2013 FSF awards and which signs of recognition give you the most satisfaction – subscribers to the podcast, reaction on twitter or these kinds of gongs?
DC: Definitely subscribers to the podcast. Award nominations are nice and a bonus (comments on Twitter are too), but ultimately you want to know that more people are listening and enjoying what you’re doing. That’s the satisfaction you get out of it.
Are there any clubs you feel you have not covered as much as you would like? Do you feel trapped occasionally by the merry-go-round of managerial sackings?
DC: I think we do feel a bit trapped sometimes. Personally – and again this something made harder by lack of time – I’d like to go off-piste and do a few more episodes like when we dedicated a week to the work being done at the Burton Albion Community Trust (Episode 70). We definitely should donate more time to talking about that sort of stuff, but often it’s easier to get hold of journalists to talk about the weekly grind of sackings, hirings and results.
Mark: In terms of clubs, I think we’ve covered 70 of the current Football League clubs in at least one detailed interview/feature since the podcast began. The only two missing on my watch are QPR (just relegated from the Premier League) and Accrington (arguably the smallest club in the League Two) – so I guess those are the ones to get working on this season!
In the time the podcast has been running, which team do you think has been consistently the most impressive and which consistently the least?
DC: It’s hard to say. The really impressive teams have been so good they’ve gone up to the Premier League and we’ve stopped covering them! Southampton would be an obvious candidate. I was massively impressed by what Bradford achieved last season though, even though they didn’t show up at Wembley against Swansea. I think the least impressive would have to be Blackburn or Coventry for their various off the field disasters.
Mark: Hard to pick one. Brighton and Bournemouth have both been excellent. I thought Brentford were incredibly unlucky last season and I hope they go up this year. In terms of least impressive, my own club Bury would have to be in with a shout. Bristol Rovers and MK Dons also seem to constantly disappoint. Preston finally seem to be getting their act together in League One this year.
Who do you think are the best young up and coming talents in the Football League?
DC: Well the name that instantly springs to mind is Will Hughes at Derby, although he’s been around a little while now. I really like Max Clayton at Crewe, Harry Maguire at Sheffield United and Adam Forshaw at Brentford. There’s also Sean Murray at my own club Watford too.
Mark: Nakhi Wells is still the standout for me – over 50 goals in his first two-and-a-bit years as a professional. Liam Moore at Leicester and Luke James at Hartlepool would be up there, plus Jed Wallace is having a great season at Pompey too.
Thanks to Mark and David for a great interview. Now get yourselves over to iTunes to subscribe to the We Are Going Up! podcast for free