Through Gritted Teeth #30: talkSPORT

by Mark Critchley

Oh hairy Icarus! Fly not too close to Molineux’s golden midday blaze lest thy bristled appendages and waxy coiffure droop, and a firestorm thus rage. January was the cruellest month, with its fall from Super Sundays — a heap of broken images. Here you and Andy sit, like a three-legged pony and rusty fridge in this divot-ridden field of broadcasting pretence — brought to you by The Big Red Building on Golders Green Road. What the fuck is The Big Red Building on Golders Green Road? Hush dear boys, for it matters not. You’re with Talksport now. The country for old men. Where blokes go to die.

Or perhaps, to live …

‘Prehistoric banter’, such as that of sunken anchors Richard Keys and Andy Gray, struggles by definition to explicitly carve its jests about aprons and handbrakes into our happy modern world. It’s wrong, they were wrong, Germaine’ll go potty, etc., and most of us concede that. Yet you may find those who claim one flare of balls-out boisterousness stands firm in South East London, defiantly opposing the marigolds of dreaded matriarchy.

‘talkSPORT’, the station ‘for men who love to talk sport’, apparently. That stylised moniker — a bit like ‘rutMEAT’ or ‘punchGAY’; almost a complete compendium of Andy Carroll’s neural processes for each and every one of us to enjoy and partake in. Except you women of course. No blood-pissers.

Through When Saturday Comes’ intermittent ‘Mike Straight’ column this image of a tubthumping station regurgitating Sky-perbole has been perfectly exposed and subsequently adopted as the default arms-length position for us liberal sorts, myself as much as any other. What’s more, it’s a distanced hostility which a bulk of the station’s output and tone actually deserves. For a while I couldn’t abide Talksport, less so its perceivably crypto-fascist apologies for kicking asylum seekers in the engaged womb even when the on-air discussion was concerned only with Arsenal’s far-too-foreign ‘spine’. Every syllable of the station, flowing like a back catalogue of Kelvin MacKenzie’s faecal discharge syringed and gushing through my canals. At its worst, i.e. the desperate attempts of crashing shock-jock Iain Collins to make political correctness go mad, the insufferable sloth-wit sod Andy Goldstein, as well as with Keys and Gray’s aforementioned lads’ club, Talksport is barely listenable. But only barely. For some inconceivable reason I kept listening. And now I have to say it: Talksport’s alright, y’know.

In fact, when compared to its immediate counterpart, Talksport is positively brilliant. If the average sock-folding 606er was once the kid at school with his hand perpetually vertical, knocking laxly-tightened ear medicine capsules onto his Thomas the Tank Engine pencil case, then ‘Villa Dan’ and his cohorts are tearing the seam of the swot’s inverted underwear enough to cause a nosebleed, and goose-stepping behind the frosted glass after their classroom ejection. Yes, Auntie, there’s something in one argument, something else in the other and the truth probably does lie somewhere in the middle — but that isn’t what being a football supporter is about. It’s about being right. All the time. That and thinking Alan Green’s a twat. Talksport understands this.

From fresh dew to dusk then, callers sprawl themselves over farfetched rumours and forced polemics in what you begin to realise, as you listen over a number of seasons like myself, is a brilliant, alluring narrative. It’s instant and direct, incredibly fast-moving, relatively illogical and a lot of the time, refreshingly entertaining. ‘Roo’, ‘Fab’, another ‘Fair Kop’ at Anfield. Every bit of the populist zeitgeist without conceding a penny from your pocket to the bastards. Alongside the knowingly niche world of blogging (calm down, it’s a compliment), this is perfect. Jonathan Wilson and ‘Stan in Walthamstow’ — if football constitutes of ‘everything’, as some bloggers plausibly profess, then this dichotomy is their thesis in action. Good news chaps, it works.

Even so, ‘talkSHITE’ is dismissed as audio for those with more laboured mits, a sheet of mammary glands sliding down their dashboard, and therefore dumb. It ain’t. Intelligence is ignored by those nose-up listeners, not the station, which holds Gabriele Marcotti and the effervescent Danny Kelly in its employ to provide irreverent yet erudite discussion at every time of asking. Talksport’s prize jewel, Paul Hawksbee, co-hosts a lunchtime slot with Andy Jacobs indebted to the football supporter’s radio peak: Kelly’s old phone-ins with the attention-eking Danny Baker. Perennially referencing fanzine culture, rock ‘n’ roll’s minutiae and Ken Monkou’s pancake house, as well as regular contributions from Tim Vickery, Sid Lowe and the football intelligensia’s various doyens, Hawksbee and Jacobs is close enough to that vibrant and enlightening format of sporting debate so many have spent their 140 characters a-hankering for. Hey, for all the jingoistic Jerry-bashing, there’s even the only national political talk show hosted by a left-winger here. I mean, yeah, it’s done by George Galloway, but hell. Every generation gets the Guevara it deserves.

Reservations against Talksport, well-founded ones at that, will continue to exist for as long as ham-fisted philosophies on the women’s game and national identity intoxicate every other airwave and induce a wince and fidget from even the most lasting of listeners. But remember, Talksport is a forum. It is what football supporters make it; there for our good and bad ideas to be engaged with, appreciated and challenged respectively, rather than simply turned off and ignored. The controversial signing of Keys and Gray and the rather meek public response exemplifies this. After all, if the existence of a ‘glass ceiling’ in the sporting media is as prominent a nuisance as we like to think, Talksport is perhaps the most likely place to hear the central, prevailing question. Would you smash it?

Find Mark on Twitter here: @markcritchley.

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