Luke Moore, for his sins, is a Portsmouth fan. “It’s essentially just luck – or bad luck – of the draw”, he says wryly of his allegiance. And though his home town club’s fortunes have shifted tumultuously in recent history, Moore’s success with award-winning podcast The Football Ramble has followed a very different trajectory.
Established in 2007, the Ramble’s unique blend of quality analysis and good-natured comedy has taken sport podcasting by storm to become the UK’s biggest independent football brand. All of this is thanks to the charms of its loveable quartet: Marcus Speller, Jim Campbell, Pete Donaldson and Luke Moore.
For Moore, his analysis of the podcast’s rise in popularity is simple. “Social media and a lot of hard work” he states. “That’s the only way you can do it. It’s not going to be successful straight away, so you’ve got to earn your right to be there.
“We just kept doing it because we loved doing it.
“Gradually we started posting some pretty big numbers because people liked it and there was a gap in the market for it.”
Not least due to a mind-boggling amount of domestic and foreign investment, football is constantly evolving, with the on-pitch stakes raised ever higher by the investment of those off it. A referee’s decision, a player’s mistake, an off-hand comment all fall under increasingly intense scrutiny.
Within this oh-so-serious sporting sphere, despite near-limitless room for top-quality analysis and expert punditry, is where Moore sees the Ramble’s niche as the antidote to a sport increasingly disconnected from everyday life. “We don’t take it too seriously; we just have fun and take the piss out of each other and the game itself. The more serious the game gets, the more fun it is to do the show!”
Facing yearly downloads well into the millions, Moore maintains the importance of respecting the Ramble’s social responsibility. “You have to get used to the idea that whether you like it or not, people actually rely on this show and it’s a part of their week” he said. “You have to put the time in to make sure it’s as good as it can be. We have to make sure we’re on top of our game.”
For a show that revels in its unruly and rambling nature, this hints at a great deal more preparation between shows than meets the eye, particularly where the live shows and brand new book, eponymously titled The Football Ramble are concerned.
“It all goes into everything outside of the hour we record, and the hour we record isn’t prepared at all”, Moore admits, recounting the challenges the brand’s recent diversification have presented.
“You have to respect each medium. You can’t just take what you do in the podcast and go ‘let’s put this on the stage and that’ll be that’, otherwise it’s boring and no one fucking likes it. For our book, we didn’t just put a podcast between the covers of a book, we actually wrote a book and it took ages.”
From writing to presenting in front of sell-out crowds, the Ramble’s success has nevertheless brought its own set of challenges. “I don’t want to sound like a massive pillock complaining,” Moore begins ominously, “because it’s amazing to have the opportunity and stuff, but whether you like it or not it’s tiring, it’s hard, and you end up not seeing your wife for a week.
“Even just a week off, like for Christmas, is a real bonus… sometimes I need a break for the quality of the show”. It’s as if the bigger the podcast gets, the more there is to do that isn’t the podcast.
“Exactly, yeah” Moore agrees, quickly adding that despite any fame, podcasting isn’t the medium for financial gain. “I’m still fucking skint! I’m saying all this stuff, but I haven’t got any money.”
The perfect balance for a show that is, essentially, a group of mates chatting about football, is challenging to achieve. Organic banter and discussion makes for a natural procession of in-jokes, but make too many and be too self-referential and the audience is alienated.
Moore sees this balance as his biggest learning experience so far. “The thing we fall down on most is being too self-indulgent. Just think about what’s going to entertain people on their way to work on a shitty Monday morning, because that’s why they listen.”
Podcasts are now delivered in a dizzying array of formats, from documentaries and commentary to professional criticism and storytelling. If the secret to the Ramble’s charms is so simple, then why aren’t more groups successful within the medium?
Moore puts it down to a lot of love, and a little bit of hate. “They don’t spend all their time together, they don’t have any dynamic, they don’t have a love-hate relationship with each other like we do, like everyone has with their friends because they’re not friends. That’s essentially what it comes down to.”
It seems fair to say that no three ‘ramblers’ could truly succeed without the fourth, but Moore’s regularly well-structured insight and quick-witted humour makes him truly indispensable to the quartet’s endearing dynamic.
“There’s always pitfalls with any dynamic. If he’s not too careful, Marcus can be too cheesy, too Alan Partridge. I’ll just be too loud and just give opinions for opinions’ sake. Jim can just be boring, and Pete can just be wacky for the sake of wacky. As long as we know our roles, we can make a strong dynamic.”
The Ramble’s existence is inextricably tied to the state of the game.
Fortunately, in these extraordinary times of 24-hour transfer speculation, rumour mills and domestic and foreign matches played nearly every night, a lack of content to cover is a complete non-issue.
No one knows this better than Moore. “The one thing you find out about the football is that it’s never-ending now. Not a month goes by when there’s no football”.
In the words of Mitchell and Webb, “the football is officially going on forever”. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is subjective, but what is undoubtedly true is that the existence of shows like The Football Ramble enrich and ground a game that, for the everyman, is becoming more and more removed from reality.
The Football Ramble’s new book is available at most major retailers.