For a podcast initially recorded in 2008 on a minidisk player in founder Luke Moore’s kitchen, it’s not an understatement to say that the Football Ramble’s meteoric rise to become one of the world’s biggest independent football podcasts has been anything but astounding. Throughout its journey, Moore has been joined by Marcus Speller, Jim Campbell, and Pete Donaldson to form the quartet that biweekly grace the ears of football fans across the globe.
Initially a fortnightly podcast, the Ramble has now snowballed into an all-encompassing football media behemoth. Boasting a six shows-a-week schedule featuring a wide array of football broadcasters and writers, the podcast has enabled the main hosts to co-author a best-selling book and embark on multiple sell-out tours as theybroing their show to theatres across the country and further afield.
Their latest tour, the first one since their limited run in 2016, was met by immense enthusiasm by fans so it wasn’t difficult to be excited for the show from the moment I received my ticket. Despite their appearance at Birmingham Town Hall being the second to last UK show, the auditorium was packed: stalls were almost full and the circle, where I was seated, was fairly well attended.
As I took my seat around 15 minutes prior to the show commencing, a screen at the back of the stage showcased various retro football stock footage. Although this was a subtle touch, coupled with the alternative rock tunes blasting from the speakers this definitely added some atmosphere while everyone took their seats.
Stand-up comic Maisie Adam brilliantly warmed up the show. Her misadventures growing up in Yorkshire were almost unanimously met with raucous laughter. Although her set was primarily a series of childhood anecdotes, while not sounding particularly ground-breaking, it was a masterclass in winning over an audience through shared experience. The relatability of the stories coupled with her enthusiastic delivery and strong stage presence instantly ingratiated herself with the crowd, many of whom, I imagine, probably wished her set lasted longer than the 20 minutes she got.
As the Football Ramble markets itself as something different to almost all other podcasts, their choice in Adams as their support act was indicative of this. For a crowd almost exclusively consisting of young-to-middle-age men, it would have been an easy call to recruit a Dapper Laughs-esque comedian whose “cheeky chappy” brand of misogynism would be something many think would appeal to football fans. However, they opted to not play into this, often incorrect, stereotype and instead had the awareness of their own audience to do something.
With the tone for the evening set, the iconic theme song rang out across the auditorium; the crowd’s anticipation reached fever-pitch. As the music faded out, however, we were not greeted with our first view of the presenters, but rather a video was screened. To avoid spoilers for their upcoming US and European tour dates, I won’t detail the contents of the videos used in the show. However, suffice to say they are all utterly hilarious and blend both niche and accessible gags with much aplomb with the outstanding post-credits scene makes the Marvel ones pale into insignificance by comparison.
The show was billed as multimedia experience and it certainly lived up to that with the gang first appearing on stage performing a musical number with their resident wildcard Donaldson serving up the totally unexpected punchline in his own inimitable manner. This outrageous, yet absolutely hysterical, gag was just the beginning, but it was definitely a sign that the elements of the podcast fans know and love clearly translates well to the stage.
The show is, rather fittingly, structured like a football match with two 45-minutes halves punctuated by a 15-minute intermission. The show’s main body follows much the same formula of their podcasts with the hosts shooting the breeze about all manner of football related topics. From Campbell’s assertion that Michael Owen is a psychopath to Moore’s retelling of the lesser-known story of Geoff Shreeve’s route into football broadcasting and Speller’s hat-trick of mentions for fan favourite Sven Gorran-Erikson, there was definitely something for everyone.
The popularity of the presenters was apparent immediately as virtually everything they said was met with loud whooping and applause from the lively crowd. It is a testament to their showmanship that could harness this energy to elevate their performances to the next level. Moore remarked that the crowd would literally clap for anything, offering up the example of a tin of tuna to which the audience duly obliged by enthusiastically cheering.
As a long-time listener to their podcast, I was curious about whether I would have already heard some of the stories that they would sharel. Presumably, this was a concern of their’s given that the show was almost entirely new material with a few knowing nods to old tropes thrown in for good measure. Although this may seem like a relatively unimportant fact, I was impressed by the effort they had clearly gone to to write the show and thus avoid the pitfalls that other live podcasts sometimes fall into.
Alongside the series of amusing stories and anecdotes, there were also interactive segments where the audience got a chance to participate in the fun. Up first was “Moorestermind” where Moore took on the role of John Humphrys to ask a, somewhat worse-for-wear, Aston Villa fan questions about their beloved club. Hilarity ensued as the audience member, who was seemingly bewildered by the simple instructions given to him, managed to answer all of the questions correctly.
There was also a round of “Going for Glold” where the audience finally got a chance to participate in a game that they’d all heard countless times on the podcast. The identity of the mystery footballer was guessed on the first clue, much to the annoyance of the games host, Donaldson, who then launched his shoe towards the back of the stage (à la Muntadhar al-Zaidi) and just lied down. These surreal scenes were met with raucous laughter from the bemused audience whose preconceptions of Donaldson were definitely confirmed by this incident.
Overall, this was a fantastic way to spend a Friday night and provided a countless number of hilarious and unforgettable moments that epitomise why I enjoy their podcast so much. The most telling thing from the show was that, despite it being the 14th of 16 UK shows, the host’s enthusiasm and energy was like it was opening night – a real sign that they were having fun alongside the audience and doing something they genuinely love. There is fantastic chemistry between the “ramblers” and, like Guardiola’s Barcelona, you can only sit back and watch in awe as the masters of their trade make their jobs look easy.
Given that the show was in Birmingham, I thought I would sum up the Football Ramble using the words of the city’s favourite son, Mike Skinner, and simply say that they excel in both content and deliverance.
by Jake Sandy