So this Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending a live version of the Guardian’s Football Weekly hosted at Griffith College here in Dublin, and to be honest, it was extremely enjoyable.
For those unaware, Football Weekly is the Guardian’s football-focused podcast known for its “puns and punditry” and is, in my opinion, much more insightful than the vast majority of television-based punditry panels. And, obviously, a lot funnier too; especially when live and the panel has no need to worry about receiving an ‘explicit’ tag on iTunes or, worse, dealing with a particularly litigious butt of one of their jokes.
Presented by James Richardson of Football Italia fame, the panel that made the leap across the Irish Sea also included Offaly’s own Barry Glendenning, Paul MacInnes (who’s even wittier in person) and Liverpool fan Gregg Bakowski, who was dreading the result of the Champions League game he’d be analysing.
Real Madrid hosted Liverpool for their second meeting in Group B and it seemed everyone, aside from Glendenning whose 2-1 prediction came closest to the actual score, presumed Liverpool were in for another hiding, especially after manager Brendan Rodgers made seven changes to his starting line-up, which was seen by some, such as Gary Lineker, as being the “equivalent to raising a white flag. It’s accepting the game is over, before it actually is.”
The panel didn’t disagree, but Bakowski noted that the result of the upcoming game against Chelsea will ultimately determine the fans’ reactions to Rodger’s “White flag” XI. A result against the team (prematurely) being heralded as the next invincibles will not only absolve Rodger’s of criticism enduring for Tuesday’s selection, but also probably see him lauded for some Mourinho-esque pragmatism.
When asked who he thought would be Liverpool manager come Christmas, the panel seemed unified, with Bakowski making it clear he believes Rodger’s “has enough credit” leftover from last season to endure a bad year and still be in charge next summer.
This gave way to one of the funnier audience-tweeted jokes: Is Rodgers the worst ‘pool manager since Michael Barrymore? (I had to look that one up. I was six years old when that happened.)
The short half-time analysis mainly included some muted impressment with Liverpool’s resilience (yes, they were a goal down, but before this match Real Madrid had won their last eleven games). There was of course the obligatory swipe at Richardson’s love of Italian football, with the other three suggesting he had tried and failed to get the Juventus vs Olympiakos game on his laptop while they were watching Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema score what turned out to be the sole goal of the game against Liverpool.
After full-time the panel returned to analyse the match. Bakowski found solace in losing to a single goal and the panel had little more to say after a bland, unsurprising second half. And so for their last half an hour they filled their time with questions from the audience.
The highlight of the tweeted questions asked each of the panel members what their best off-the-record story was. Of course, none of that can be repeated here, but even the smallest of details are enticing: an apparent encounter with Ryan Giggs’s agent in a nightclub, Gary Lineker’s “honest” opinion of Walker’s crisp and his obligations, something unprintable learned during an interview with actor James Franco, and some “bantz” between Liverpool players in the back of a taxi around the mid-90s.
It was at the tail end of the night when a microphone was passed around the few members of the audience with the confidence – or Dutch courage – to speak rather than tweet. The result was some banal questions slurred towards the panel in the hope of eliciting further “funny” reactions from other inebriates in the crowd. It worked to some extent, and the increase in belligerent, barely-coherent shouting delayed each of the panel’s answers by minutes and proved the failure of the authorities’ attempt to keep the audience sober by charging €4 a can of Heineken.
Thankfully Richardson and the panel managed to keep it all together long enough to finish gracefully.
Despite it all beginning to unravel towards the end, the live showing of Football Weekly was well worth the €20 to attend; it was as insightful as the podcast always is, but had the added benefits of being unrecorded, and therefore looser regarding rules and much funnier, and, for a time at least, enjoying it as part of a crowd brought its own excitement.