By Katie Whyatt
It started out as the most unlikely formula for success. A podcast following the doomed exploits of a football club toiling away at the foot of England’s basement division – a club still stinging from the financial tumult and relegation fears that had characterised its previous decade. At the team’s helm, a manager the fans had grown disillusioned with. The story: lifeless football that left the team loitering a little too closely above the trapdoor to non-league. It was into these troubling circumstances that the Bradford City podcast Bantams Banter was born.
Fast-forward to the end of the season, however, and the podcast about that doomed football club was burgeoning. With the team clumsily stumbling through the campaign with a season of below-par performances, the uniquely comic – and always honest – musings of Tom Fletcher and Dominic Newton-Collinge became a warmly welcomed and refreshing antidote to City’s gloomy on-field affairs. By the start of the Peter Jackson era, the effortlessly entertaining quips of Tom and Dom were absolutely essential listening. At a time when positivity was at a premium, the liveliness of Bantams Banter reminded us that, beyond anything else, football is supposed to be fun.
Fast-forward to 2013, then, and squeal with delight. With Bradford City finally moving forward at last, Bantams Banter boomed, with the duo fronting everything from BBC News clips to music videos as their signature give-it-a-go gusto and manic audio celebrations personified the true magnitude and meaning of the Bantams’ cup adventures. It was a season capped off in perfect style, and later built upon, as the show scooped two awards: BBC 5Live’s Fans of The Year and, later, the Football Blogging Awards’ Best Podcast prize. The following year, Dom and Tom ventured beyond Valley Parade and starred in Alan Davies’ Brazilian Banter with the QI star, helping to cover the World Cup for ITV. They hit the number one spot on the iTunes chart for the second time – a final affirmation of exactly how far they’ve come.
But Bantams Banter is just about ending. For the first time since the desperate days of Peter Taylor’s tenure, there will be no dedicated podcast to accompany the entirety of City’s campaign. Hosts Dom and Tom have decided to call time on the show, drawing the curtains on four seasons of exceptional work.
“It was a really tough decision,” says Dom. “Tom and I have put the hard graft in over the last 5 or so years to make the podcast a success, and the decision to retire the show took some real mulling over. The figures last season were the second highest we’ve had. It’s just the cost and time it takes to stay on top of things that led to us scaling back the podcast. We both have young families so now just seems like the right time, while the show is still popular.”
“As above, really – and I hate Dom,” Tom adds. “We had a big fall out and he threw a plate of spaghetti bolognaise at me…”
Dom casually nods, “He ate it.”
The 2013/14 season saw the pair explore a series of different avenues as the season progressed. Bantams Banter TV [BBTV] was essentially Bantams Banter in video form, and pilot episodes ran to mixed success. Later, the boys tried Bantams Banter’s Round Table, an interactive, panel-style live broadcast during which City fans were invited to join Tom and Dom for Bradford City based-Q and A debates.
How have they found branching out?
“BBTV was a tough one,” Tom says. “YouTube is really hard to crack – unless you’re talking down the lens about Kim Kardashian’s arse or playing Minecraft and crying over finding some rare iron stone, then it’s pretty much impossible to get viewers and subscribers. It was just an idea, though, and shows that some things work and others don’t – it’s just sticking at it that’s important.”
“We know that, although Bantams Banter as a podcast has done well, that success won’t last forever so we were just experimenting, seeing where we might be able to take the show to the next level,” explains Dom. “BBTV didn’t have the success we had hoped for. Round Table, however, has done really well, so the plan is to keep turning out monthly recordings and live shows.”
Both were the precursors to greater things. In May, ITV announced its coverage team for the 2014 World Cup. An impressive list of all-star names: among them, Gus Poyet, Gordon Stratchan, Ian Wright, Patrick Vieira, Fabio Cannavaro, Andros Townsend – and Tom and Dom. After the success of their joint podcast with Arsenal’s The Tuesday Club in 2012, Bantams Banter approached QI’s Alan Davies with the idea of making a podcast dedicated solely to the World Cup. The comedian was keen to work with the boys again, and Davies’ agent recruited a sports media guru, Andrew Thompson, to help develop the project further.
“He contacted ITV and hey presto, they’d heard of us, they’d heard the podcast we’d already done with Alan, and the rest is history!” explains Dom. “Working with Alan is always great. He’s a really down to earth bloke who has become a great friend and mentor. Brazilian Banter was different because for the first time, we weren’t making the rules. But it was great and became our second number one podcast.”
Tom adds, “It was a very different feel and production to Bantams Banter, as it wasn’t in front of a live football match. It was literally Alan’s dining room with 3 microphones around the table. The pressure then to be clever, funny and insightful was magnified, as if we have nothing to say we usually just laugh at Steve Evans.”
It wasn’t their first foray into uncharted waters. City’s trips to Wembley last season spawned a double header of music videos, and a Christmas tune, titled ‘Merry Christmas, City Fans’ and featuring Parkinson’s squad on dulcet backing vocals, was released last year. Ahead of the Capital One Cup final, the pair – joined by a professional film crew – met with Steve Parkin and City players Rory McArdle, Carl McHugh and Nahki Wells to film ‘Parkin the Coach’, a promotional video for the Wembley showpiece. The challenge? Park a typical team coach. No gimmicks, no catches, no hidden surprises – just park the vehicle, that’s it. Sound simple enough? Think again.
“[It was] a right laugh,” enthuses Dom. “It was our first bit of work to camera so we were a bit nervous at first, but the production crew just gave us free reign and we just had fun with it. The players were really up for a laugh so it was a lot of fun.”
“The funniest thing was,” begins Tom, “that we both assumed it was some poxy amateur production and pretty much turned up in our scruffs. Then we saw the production team of roughly 25 and cried.”
“Oh, yeah,” Dom recalls distantly. “There was a camera on a crane…”
“I enjoyed the Crimbo video,” says Tom. “There is so much footage that didn’t make it, too. Like the scene where I’m taking an emotional, solitary walk through the woodsin a big brown sheepskin coat, like a Westlife video, and Dom jumps out from behind a tree and genuinely scares me.”
“We have fun in everything we do – it’s why we do it!” enthuses Dom. “[The Christmas video was] ace. We got to do skiing! It’s a lot of work but we love it, and getting the players and club involved was the cherry on the cake. By then, the players knew what to expect when we rocked up at the training ground so they really got into the spirit of things!”
“We’ve always got ideas for stuff,” Tom smiles. “We’re both creative guys and we have a laugh, so we’ll always produce stuff.”
With that chapter done and dusted, the focus now turns to the future. Both are impressed with the way City have started this season – an “impressed” Tom says passing through the midfield is a lot quicker, “and the link up play already with Hanson and Clarke is very promising. Defensively, we will be hard to beat, too – all in all, it’s exciting.” Dom deems it “encouraging”, saying, “I was concerned about the size of the squad but we’re filling out nicely now, and Parkinson has done really well to attract some really good quality players who have shown us already what they are capable of. As you said, it’s early, and injuries could well knock us off track, but early signs are very positive indeed.”
On a more personal level, BBC Radio Leeds have already offered Bantams Banter a monthly Bradford City special slot for their West Yorkshire Sport Daily programme, and Tom was could be heard turning on the trash talk on last Thursday’s edition as he taught a Leeds fan Italian and boasted about how “we play the might of Arsenal and Wigan – who are bigger than Leeds!” Dom today explains how they’ve been offered regular slots at a number of radio stations and are “mulling over our options but are pretty certain which way we’re heading.” Round Table will continue, running once a month, but, before that, there’s just the small matter of episode #92 to contend with – Bradford City VS Leeds United.
“WE CANNOT WAIT!” cheers Dom. “Over the past few seasons, we have been spoilt for Yorkshire derbies, but by ‘eck, you can’t beat a game against them lot from the dark side. It’s too tempting to miss for us, hence the special podcast we’re planning! Send in the clowns!”
“It’s not very often you get Leeds at Valley Parade so when you do, it’s going to be a big deal!” Tom says. “They will claim they don’t care about us but every one of them will have a little niggle inside about getting one over on the neighbours. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Leeds United fans say their biggest rivals are Manchester United – a team in Lancashire!”
That podcast has the potential to provide more riveting audio to add to the growing plethora of memorable Bantams Banter soundbites, which ranges from the acutely observant (“Oh, look – Rory McArdle’s beard’s gone.”), hilariously outlandish (“No! I’ve just put the last cow in the mincer!”) to raw, unrestrained outpourings of unadulterated adulation and relief (see: “F**k the cosh!” and any goal celebration from the last four years). But what have been Tom and Dom’s favourite moments?
Dom says, “In terms of the podcast audio, I know people will expect me to say ‘podcasting at Wembley twice’, which was amazing, but for me it has to be Aston Villa away – I never listen to our stuff after editing, but that podcast I could listen to over and over. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I actually get a bit teary.”
“I will never forget Crewe Alexandra away on a freezing Tuesday night,” says Tom. “It was the first time we’d podcasted from an away ground and we were sat right amongst the home support. We just went for it when we scored – to the disgruntlement of the Crewe fans. The reason I’ll never forget – Dom started a fight with a few of the fans and used me as a human shield!”
“It was hardly a fight,” clarifies Dom. “We just mouthed a few words and made a few gestures. Bloody toerags. Personally, it has to be working alongside a mate, watching the team we love, doing something we enjoy and are really passionate about, and turning it into a success.
“It doesn’t get much better than that.”
■ Visit the Bantams Banter website by clicking here