Being starved of football certainly isn’t what it used to be. Long gone are the days where, if you weren’t at the game, you were entirely out of the game; analogue era problems eh? Now, of course, whether it is matchday or not, digital wonder delivers our football fix, as if sent down from the football heavens by virtue of a simple screen-tap. Thankfully, whether it’s your train journey to work or on your evening jog, a podcast is always on hand to administer the perfect dose of football escapism.
Podcast charts are awash with brilliant football content and now sat amongst the crème de la crème is Football CFB (Callum’s Football Blog), one of the fastest-growing football podcasts in the UK.
Callum, 24, says glancing back to the first podcast, “It was just going to be a blog article”
“But then I thought ‘you know what? Instead, I’m going to do this as a podcast’. I love broadcasting, and remarkably, people started to listen.”
To be a bit more precise, around 50 people listened when Callum interviewed former professional footballer Christian Nade. Just 130 days later, CFB’s Twitter @Football_CFB revealed episode 100, hosting Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling for its centenary podcast. It was a milestone moment, reached by hosting guests such as Jay Rodriguez, Derek Rae and Alastair Campbell along the way, which capped a whirlwind five months for Football CFB.
For Callum, aspirations to become a broadcaster was there years before the podcast started, “When I left high school, I had the grades to do sports journalism and I’d always dreamed of working in broadcasting, but I eventually decided to go down the education route and become a teacher, which is something I was also very passionate about.”
“Last year I had a few months which was tough mentally. I lost my Dad when I was 14, I lost one of my Aunties to leukaemia at 15, and then one of my best friends lost his Grandmother so it has been a tough couple of years and I’d bottled all this up for so long that the lid eventually comes off.”
“Before I sought any help, one of the avenues I used for speaking out was football. I liked to write letters to people I admire in sport so when I was struggling, I sent a few emails to various clubs to say how much I admire their work and how it was helping me through my struggle. Chesterfield FC were really quick to respond, and two other people I reached out to was Phil Brown (founder of BTP Sports) and Daniel Geey (football writer and author)”.
The response from Phil Brown and Daniel Geey set the wheels in motion. “They both phoned me, and the message from them both was the same; they said your passion, your knowledge and your thirst for football is evident, why don’t you do this? Why not? Who’s going to stop you?”
Soon after, in December 2019, the spare room became an office, and Football CFB was born. “My first episode was recorded on my iPad” Callum explains. “Then I used a Bluetooth speaker with a built-in microphone, but as I’ve moved on, I am now using Skype and Zoom to record the interviews. Now when I’m chatting to a guest, I record ‘as live’ which means the interview is done in one take and can be released on the same day.”
The episode list includes interviews from across the football spectrum from players to managers, referees to chief executives and TV presenters to football commentators, all adding different angles and perspectives to the content offered to the listener. Slowly, week by week, Football CFB started to grow in popularity, but then one particular interview dramatically changed the landscape for CFB. The guest that day was Joey Barton, who joined Callum to talk about his playing career at QPR, Manchester City, Newcastle United and Rangers as well as discussing his current managerial role at Fleetwood Town.
“The Joey Barton series went so well. The listenership doubled overnight, and people have stuck with the podcast ever since which is really nice. Joey agreed to come on for an hour, which would have been great, but the interview lasted six hours. When we finished recording, Joey even joked ‘good luck editing that!’ and then I come up with the idea of clipping it into a week-long series and gave each episode a unique story. By doing it that way, if you’re a Fleetwood Town fan you can listen to the first one, if you’re a Manchester City fan, you might listen to part two and so on. That idea went down really well, and once someone listened to the first one, they couldn’t wait to hear the second one.”
Part five of that series, titled Joey Barton – An Honest Reflection on Life at Rangers and Scottish Football, even caught the attention of talkSPORT’s mid-morning breakfast show. That day, it became the show’s leading topic, and Mark Warburton (currently managing at Queens Park Rangers) spoke with talkSPORT host Jim White live on air to respond to comments made by Barton in the podcast. “I couldn’t believe the podcast become national news. That series trended in 56 countries around the world including Uruguay, Vietnam and Ghana and from that point things just went bonkers.”
Simplicity is often a key ingredient behind any success, and it is used to good effect by Callum when providing an open mic for his guests. “Football CFB is nothing without the guests. People don’t tune in to listen to me, they tune in for the guests, and that was my aim. I want it to become the platform for players, managers, pundits and directors where they know if they come on the show, they can speak openly and honestly for as long as they like and it’s a style of hosting that has gained a lot of trust from my guests. It doesn’t matter whether they are a Premier League winner, a World Cup winner or if they’ve won the Evo Stick League. Everyone in football has a story to tell.”
With so many interviews to choose from, Callum reveals his favourite: “If I had to pick one episode, it would have to be Matthew Le Tissier because Matt is one of my top three footballing heroes. I never thought in a million years I would get to speak to him for ten seconds, never mind over an hour.
A few days after the interview, I sent him a Southampton shirt which he signed and sent back to me. A week later, to my surprise, he then sent me a signed photo of him playing for England. They say don’t ever meet your heroes, but he could not rubbish that statement any more. He was just the kindest and most humble guy as well, especially when he talked about not making the World Cup 98’ squad. A gentleman of all gentleman.”
Picking a favourite guest was a tough ask, but when it comes to who would be the dream guest for the podcast, the answer is instant. “Sir Alex Ferguson,” replies Callum, without a second thought.
“It’s got to be. The thought of speaking to Sir Alex Ferguson about his career and his knowledge of football and the big names he managed like Cantona, like Beckham, like Ronaldo and Scholes, the stories and insights he can give would be fascinating. Without a doubt, he would be the ultimate guest for CFB. If you can interview the greatest manager of all time, I don’t think you can top that.”
For Callum and Football CFB, the future is looking bright. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say the dream for me would be to break into mainstream media, whether that be with the BBC, Sky, BT or talkSPORT etc, but I would always want to do CFB as well. It is my baby.” says Callum, with one eye on the future. Reaching out to larger audiences is naturally the next step. In May 2020, Callum revealed an exciting new partnership between Football CFB and American sports media company Beyond the Pitch, just hours after announcing 100,000 listeners were tuning in the CFB podcast.
“Football CFB content can now be distributed in America to a larger audience. Another exciting thing is we are going to launch a global football show which will cover world football affairs, such as South American football, Italian football, French football, MLS and so on. Wherever the big stories are in world football, we will focus on those stories.”
The podcast started as a hobby, in Callum’s words ‘the best hobby in the world’, and the success of the podcast certainly proves if you mix hard work and dedication with something you have a passion for, there are no limits to what can be achieved.