Social media and football often make uncomfortable bedfellows. With cases of players being hounded off their accounts due to fans – how shall we put it – remonstrating strongly with them and the months of January and August often becoming unbearable with mysterious agents claiming to be ITK, inflating gossip around possible signings (quick tip – they’re usually 15 year olds whose only professional capacity involves Football Manager).
But within all the sniping, the ill advised banter and tittle tattle there’s a success story to be told with a group of local lads who decided to come together and harness the power of the internet for good not evil. Well, kind of.
Describing themselves as a “flexible, constantly changing group”, The Anfield Wrap have enjoyed much success over the past 18 months. Their podcasts have clocked up over two million downloads and they host an equally popular website, providing an honest and engaging alternative to the red Echo, on all things Liverpool Football Club, and anything else that takes their collective fancies.
As the crew launch their brand new (and very impressive) downloadable magazine, SevenStreets caught up with TAW’s Neil Atkinson for a chat about how it feels to be, at least, top of the Podcast league.
So, how does this all work? Is there a membership initiation? Do you have a secret handshake?
We aren’t really the membership types. We’ve had over 50 contributors to the podcast – not including guests – and our age range is wide. Youngest is around eighteen, oldest probably around mid-fifties but best not to ask isn’t it? Rob Gutmann’s pleasingly mature but has soulful eyes. The owners are Andy Heaton, Jim Boardman, Ian Maloney and Gareth Roberts. They are all devastatingly attractive.
How did you all meet then?
I think Andy, Gareth and Jim all knew each other. I knew Rob Gutmann and Mike Girling from football related stuff and Andy knew them and John Gibbons too. Andy knew Ian and Kris Walsh. Everyone’s basically a friend of someone who they think talks sense/is funny about football – e.g. Dan Hunt suggests Mat Lim, Mat comes in and does one and now we’ll have him on monthly. And Andy seemingly knows everyone in the world. Somehow.
Where did the idea for a podcast come from?
Andy and Gareth had the idea, with a website around it. Andy then asked me if I’d do it. I said yes, then he told me I was presenting it.
The trick is to do things face to face. That’s what makes such a difference. Us being in the same room is very important. Loads of podcasts are Skype etc, but for us, we enjoy it because we enjoy one another’s company and we want people to enjoy ours. There’s more warmth in being funny in a room with people than over a phone line or via an internet connection and people seem to respond to that.
And how do you fit it all in around your real lives?
Me personally? Badly. I’d love more time. I obsess over time. I have an understanding employer in the practical sense but I am engaged in an endless, losing battle against the clock.
Has doing The Anfield Wrap affected your relationship with the club? Are you allowed more access? Are you under pressure to be more positive as a pay off?
TAW’s been getting access just like other websites/fanzines get access. It is good that sort of thing, unvarnished talk from Rodgers/Lucas. I think the club in general would like us to be nicer about them, but that’s one reason I try to dodge them, I’m easily charmed so best to keep a safe distance.
We try to be fair both to and about the club. Some would say we are too harsh, some would say we aren’t harsh enough. Everyone has different views.
Football is an emotive topic and given how no-holds-barred you are, there must be the occasional negative snipe. How do you deal with this?
We’re there to be entertainment, to speak to our audience, get them thinking and laughing and maybe enjoying football a bit more. You can’t do that if you are precious. We aren’t our own or anyone else’s soapbox. It’s great to be part of an ongoing conversation. I get very little grief. I know others get more than me and I’m sure TAW itself does too but there are lots of Liverpool FC websites and podcasts out there.
People might often think I’m wrong about things to do with football. And they are right. I will be. Quite a lot. The most overrated thing to be in any discussion is “right”. It’s just a conversation. I haven’t got the secrets of the universe and don’t think I have.
With the success of the podcast, what are your favourite moments so far?
The guests are the obvious shouts – Rafa Benitez, Vasily Petrenko, Didi Hamann. But I enjoy all of the podcasts and the radio shows. This isn’t fluff or anything, but I love the fact that we can go anywhere, off the beaten path, off football, down cul-de-sacs and see where we end up. No one ever tells us what to say, no one ever says we can’t say anything whether on a Monday or on Citytalk. Steve Hothersall promised us he’d leave us to it when we asked and he has – all he’s given us is great advice.
Everyone will have their favourite moments or shows. I loved asking what Tony “Hibbo” Hibbert has for his tea and the irritation that followed from Evertonians (Tonight he’s having spaghetti bolognaise out of a can – he’s feeling continental).
We want people to enjoy being in our space. I always say it, but you are paying 50 quid a week for this football thing so you should wring the life out of it in terms of enjoyment. It’s meant to be a laugh, not having endless, circular arguments.
I was really pleased with our broadcasts after the Hillsborough panel report. What struck me when the details of the report was coming out was that loads of Liverpool supporters who aren’t Liverpool based or under 30 probably can’t imagine how Hillsborough and the cover-ups and smears that followed could happen, and it was important to contextualize that with reference to things like Orgreave.
I did a live show with Sheila Coleman and Peter Hooton the day after which was incisive, and then recorded a normal edition with Mike Nevin, Steve Graves and Mike Girling immediately afterwards. Mike Nevin recalled recent recollections of being interviewed by West Midlands police in the aftermath (first question: “What had you had to drink?”), Steve showed his excellent journalistic mind by pulling some fresh documents which showed the smear in action on the smallest scale and Mike Girling emphasized concisely that now everyone could see Liverpool and football’s Hillsborough tragedy was actually a national scandal.
Those two are the two I’m most proud of.
Next you go on tour… kind of. Off to Ireland and then attempting the difficult “breaking” of the states – where so many have failed… (Take That, Westlife… although One Direction are doing OK).
We’re made up to be working with Sound City in New York and going with The Tea Street Band to Ireland. Takes us right out of our comfort zone. So I’m currently finding ways to throw a bit of razzamatazz behind the basics. I don’t want it to be a copy of a podcast with a bit of a Q&A, people have bought into the fun we have on TAW as much as the football so we need to find ways to replicate that. I want good audience participation as well. It’s talking about football with your mates. The good people of Bray and New York are going to have to bring their best form. It’d be a great shame if they had a town meeting the day after and felt they’d collectively let themselves down.
And the weirdest thing that’s happened as a result of your new found fame?
The oddest thing is people recognizing your voice. It’s happened to everyone. Mike Nevin gave a talk in his job to some teachers, finished, asked if there were any questions and a lone hand went up and asked if he was from The Anfield Wrap.
When Stephanie Till was burgled the policeman wanted to talk to her about it rather than her burglary. The first time it happened to me, I was on a train and this sound started to do my head in on the edge of consciousness. Finally I realized it was probably my own voice on someone’s headphones. I went over and asked what he was listening to and he said “This podcast called The Anfield Wrap”. “That’s me that is,” I squeaked. He looked terrified. Some gormless prick smashing the life out of the fourth wall on his commute home. He said on Twitter he was sound about it. People tend to be sound on the whole. They just want a nice chat. Discovering that’s been the best bit.
The Anfield Wrap