In the face of some of the biggest names in football media, the independently run Football Ramble continues to punch well above its weight – 15 years after its initial inception.
Much has changed since four lads – including current cohort Luke Moore and Marcus Speller – sat down in a London kitchen to do nothing more than catch up over the beautiful game.
A decade-and-a-half on, the Ramble, backed by its army of loyal listeners, continues to hold a very unique standing in the podcast world.
“I didn’t really know what a podcast was and Marcus said: ‘what we’ll do is get together and chat about football once a fortnight and we’ll put it out and it’ll be like an on-demand radio show’. And I said ‘Okay…Yeah, I’m up for that’,” Luke explained in a chat with Mirror Football.
“I thought I knew a little bit about football and I thought I could talk about it quite well.
“So it was me, my mate Chris, Marcus and another guy called Chris, they came to my house, we recorded some shows on a mini disc player with a load of mics that I think Chris Applegate got from some place he was working.
“And we did about four or five episodes, and we really enjoyed it and it became a way for us just to catch up and hang out.”
In what was a very niche industry at the time – perhaps still now – the Ramble stood apart from rivals with its sideways look at the game offering fans an opportunity to realise what football is really about…enjoying it.
A fortnightly endeavour quickly became a weekly one and those casual chats, sometimes interrupted by the rumble of a washing machine, became crisper, more professional, but no-less charming.
The voices changed, both Chrises would leave the show, enabling first Jim Campbell – a quick-witted stand-up comedian often forced to laugh at his beloved Arsenal ’s penchant for slapstick – and then Pete Donaldson, whose zany on-mic persona hid his expertise behind it.
With Pete bringing broadcasting skills and a studio to record in, the format which would last more than 10 years was born.
Moore picks up the story: “By that point, word of mouth had started to spread around because there wasn’t really anything else like that out there.
“We were quite an alternative thing and then just became popular and after that, we then moved it to once a week. And it became a snowball effect and got bigger and bigger, and you just roll with it then.”
But a podcast can’t survive by its wit, good humour and insight alone. That was where the man behind the curtain and the ‘yin to Luke’s yang’ took centre stage.
“There’s a really under-represented part of the development which nobody really knows that much about because it’s not the attractive part of the story. Around that time, my friend John (co-owner of Stak) got involved.
“He’s like a serial entrepreneur, a really switched on guy that’s good at all the adult stuff that is really decent to be good at in life. He came in and was the yin to my yang and was able to give the professional side and go into meetings with sponsors and do deals and think strategically about what we were doing.
“That all came behind the scenes in around 2008 to 2009, it’s what really set us apart. We were forward facing like ‘we’re just a great bunch of lads having fun’. But actually, we had this professionalism, and this drive and ambition behind the scenes.”
That duality of being so relaxed as far as their listeners were concerned and then being so driven behind-the-scenes, allowed the Ramble to truly contend with their competition, often with more established names behind them.
Luke continues: “Whereas before you’d see a hundred people downloading – mostly friends and friends of friends – it started to be thousands of people and it started to make a ripple in the pond.
“And because we weren’t part of this kind of football industrial complex, where everything relates to everything else and you can’t say this because you might offend that person and you need that person for that and we just weren’t a part of that.
“So we could be disruptors, but we knew enough not to be libellous or become crazy YouTube criminals and all that weird s***.
“And so we just stood in that sweet spot really.”
A love of comedy, music and interests outside of the game itself helped shape a show that Luke described as “greater than the sum of its parts.
“It did slide into that spot and you know what? I think it still does, we’ve changed a lot, but what other football audio do you actually have?
“We actually do exist in this place and a lot of people tried to replicate what we’ve done – and I’m not suggesting that we are geniuses and it’s impossible – but for some reason it’s never happened.”
It isn’t always an hour reserved exclusively for laughs – although there have been plenty, including Kevin from Fife and Graham Westley’s infamous Khazi shout – when needs be, they have also helped, in their own way, to drive change.
They have spoken passionately when racism has reared its ugly head in the game, as they have in instances of sexism and other unsavoury moments.
“We still keep that space,” Moore said. “I think we are able to be forthright and I think show a bit of leadership on social issues, which we are passionate about, but also we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But if there is a serious issue, we’ll kind of get in front and lead on it in a way that doesn’t bore our listeners hopefully.”
Live shows and book deals would follow and the Ramble asserted itself as one of the prominent football podcasts on the market.
But like anything, the need to adapt the show became increasingly apparent and with increased demand, they made the decision to go daily, and with it, introducing new formats and a host of new talent.
“We developed Football Ramble Daily because we had some people we really liked working with, but they wouldn’t fit into the main Ramble at the time,” he recalled.
“So we had Jules Breach and Andy Brassell, who we knew and we loved working with them. We had ‘On the Continent’, we had lots of interviews so we had ‘Ramble Meets’, so it was a more coherent way of fitting them all into the week.
“It was a natural thing and it was about moving yourself onto the next level.
“I was also getting the feeling – and I think the other guys were as well – that the four lads format had kind of run its course. It was getting a little anachronistic, a little easy and a little comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, we could still be doing it now and people would still like it and it would still be doing well, but we wanted to be the change we wanted to see in football media.
“We have some people that we felt would fit in nicely, Jules is amazing, perfect for us, Andy is perfect for us as well. Vish (Vithushan Ehantharajah) was someone we knew and liked and we thought he’d be perfect and he was and then Kate (Mason) came in and we liked Kate and we’d worked with her on some other stuff.”
There was an inevitable backlash from a small minority, but for the most, there was genuine excitement about seeing the show move into a new and unprecedented era.
“I think we’re the best show we’ve ever been now,” Luke suggested. “I think it’s a different show, it’s a more modern show, but it’s a more interesting show.”
So whilst others have fallen by the wayside, not only has the Ramble survived, it has flourished.
Luke, along with Pete and John, now run Stak, a production company which houses 14 different podcasts bringing in, conservatively, 3.5million downloads a month.
No longer exclusively a football enterprise, there are shows on travel, wrestling, dance music and original comedy series including ‘The Offensive’ and ‘Jackie the Ripper’.
But that doesn’t mean the focus has shifted from the Ramble, the product which has allowed Luke & Co. to build their own corner of an ever-increasing industry.
And the next challenge? The untapped potential of the United States America perhaps?
Luke concluded: “I believe that the Ramble has its own unique spot and if I didn’t believe it was exciting and interesting – and I’m not just saying this because I’m biased – then I wouldn’t do it.
“I do think it still occupies that spot and so in the future I think we need to really puff our chest out. There’s still a huge opportunity in America for example, the people I speak to in the US, the Premier League is massive and we want to branch out there.
“The plans are just to double down, keep making really great stuff and see what we can make better.
“So yeah…just keep on keeping on I guess.”
Football Ramble is available on all major podcast platforms.