Issue BfB meets…Bantams Banter

As told by Jason Mckeown

The 2010/11 season may have been one to forget for everyone who cares about Bradford City, but the introduction of a dedicated podcast – Bantams Banter – was a rare bright spot competing against a tide of widespread misery.

Presented and produced by City supporters Tom and Dom, the regular series of downloadable audio shows quickly grew in popularity – as the pair’s comedic style when talking about City became a must-listen for Bantams fans around the world. “Over time, word of mouth has spread about the show and we ended up with a 100,000 downloads last year,” Dom Newton-Collinge told BfB. “We want fans to feel, when they’re listening to it, that they’re getting an honest view on City matters. Like they’re at the game almost, sat next to their mate. We tend to say what we see, which is what all the fans do. And I think that’s why it has been so well received.”

“THEY’VE NEVER TOLD US OFF ONCE. THEY COULD EASILY HAVE DONE.”

There are just under 10 minutes until City’s friendly with Guiseley is about to kick off at Nethermoor Park, and BfB meets up with Dom at the front of the main stand to interview him about the success of Bantams Banter. Sidekick Tom is unable to make it, as his cousin’s band is playing at the 02 Academy in Leeds. Our discussion about finding a suitably quiet place to chat leads to Dom suggesting we gatecrash a part of football stadiums he is very familiar with from his podcast work – the press box.

A quick negotiation with the Telegraph & Argus’ Simon Parker later, and we’re clambering over empty seats to the quiet annoyance of City’s official website editor, Mark Harrison, in order to find an empty spot. On the row in front of us, a few seats to the right, are Mark Lawn and other members of City’s Board. It’s a slightly surreal experience; though for Dom it seems more a case of sitting with good friends like Mark Harrison – oh, and close to the guy who once made him redundant.

“I worked for Bradford City for a few years,” Dom explained when I asked him about his background. “I was the assistant press officer, which included getting to travel with the team to away games. It was the best job in the world: I’ve been a season ticket holder since before I can remember.

“Then when Mark Lawn came in there was massive changes. They thought things would be better when Stuart McCall took over, but it didn’t work out. So I got back from a holiday in New York, where I’d spent every bit of money I had saved up when I was working for City, and Lawn said he was going to have to let me go, and made me redundant. I was absolutely gutted.”

Not that Dom was out of work for long, with BBC Radio Leeds’ Derm Tanner straight on the phone with an offer to work with him. Dom revealed, “He taught me all the ropes – everything I know in radio now I learned from Derm really. I was at the BBC when I got a job offer from Sky, and I ended up working for them doing horse and greyhound racing commentaries. I knew nothing about them at all! I hated the job, they knew I hated it and they laid me off after six months.”

Now working for a local radio station in Bradford with his friend Tom, the pair began to develop the idea of Bantams Banter and a podcast dedicated solely to Bradford City, featuring hard-hitting opinions mixed with humour. They approached the club, who agreed to the idea, and when the show launched in August 2010 it carried the club’s ‘official’ tag.

“Well it was official until they listened to it!” laughed Dom. “Then they said they liked it, but the Football League would have something to say. But even though it’s no longer official, the club are really good about it. They really like it and they try to do everything that can for us, such as meeting the players.

“They’ve never told us off once. They could easily have done. They know we push the limits, but they accept that it’s just honest views.”

“BECAUSE THIS IS OUR OWN THING WE CAN BE MORE RISQUE AND EDGY ABOUT IT.”

As unplanned as this location for our interview was, with the match having now kicked off, it seems like the perfect way to chat to Dom given the format of Bantams Banter. Last season a podcast was produced for every home game, and the majority of the content is recorded while they watch the match live from the Valley Parade press box.

“We put loads of research into it before we launched Bantams Banter, in order to discover what works,” added Dom. “We listened to Chris Evans, BBC Radio 5live. Just trying to gather as much information as we could, and then thought how can we take these shows and make them our own?

“We’re trying to introduce a new way of reporting and new style of media. There’s been a bit of a breakthrough recently where you can be more silly and people like it. We’re trying to introduce that to sport. Soccer AM have done it and stuff, but because this is our own thing we can be more risqué and edgy about it.”

Initially the podcast got a lukewarm response with few downloads, but Tom and Dom stuck at it and, over the course of the season, its popularity grew considerably to around 4,500 downloads per game. “After the first few we thought ‘it is worth it?’ because we were getting about 100-200 downloads. We persisted with it and tried to make it look as professional at it could. It’s worked out now and really taken off.

“To be honest I feel quite shy and embarrassed about the fact I do the show, but I want people to listen to it and I want people to download it. I’m not going to profess that we’re some type of media geniuses or anything, it was just lucky the idea works, and we’ve got the people who download it to thank for that. Because without anyone downloading the podcasts, it would be nothing really.”

“ONE OF THESE DAYS I WILL GET MY HEAD CAVED IN – IT WILL MAKE A GOOD PODCAST!”

That producing the show while a game is underway comes across so natural on the podcasts is testament to the pair’s broadcasting abilities. Trying to record an interview under such circumstances at Guiseley quickly showed me how difficult it must be to remain fully focused on producing the show, though Dom admits the pair quickly forget the fact they’re even recording.

“When you do a podcast of the nature we do you forget that you’re on. That is one of the reasons it works well I think because we don’t have to think about what we’re saying it’s more natural. You can tell it’s not very professional and that we don’t really think about what we’re saying.

“While regular radio commentators just need to focus on that afternoon, we recognise we need to make sure our content carries into the week. Not everyone listens to it straight away, that’s why we try to make it funny if at all possible, because humour keeps something fresh. We try to give listeners something to laugh at. They don’t want to hear us say ‘Hanson has tripped over’ they want to listen to ‘oh bloody hell Hanson’s fallen over, what a donkey!’

“If you listen to our podcasts now from last season, you can still laugh at it. Even though the game’s months old.”

And this approach led to many memorable moments on the show last season. Highlights included the dramatic Stockport home game, where listening back you could vividly relive the pain we all experienced during that nerve-jangling 90 minutes. On another occasion they recorded a podcast from Crewe’s Gresty Road, and found themselves confronted by angry home fans when they cheered a City goal.

Dom recalled, “This big group of people sat in front of us were absolutely going for it – shaking their fists at us, telling us where to go, all sorts. Tom was really nervous. But something happens to me when I step into a football stadium, where I turn into an absolute nutter and I don’t care. One of these days I will get my head caved in – it will make a good podcast!”

“HE SAYS HE’LL ONLY WEAR IT IF WE GIVE HIM PICKLES EVERY WEEK, WHICH WE WON’T!”

In addition to recording the majority of each show live at the game, they carry out interviews with players and management. Manager Peter Jackson is a keen fan and this week invited the pair to view the new training facilities, while even the players are enjoying the extra attention the podcast – and the range of t-shirts – brings.

“Guy Branston loved the t-shirt we’ve done about him, though he did give us a bit of stick – he says he’ll only wear it if we give him pickles every week, which we won’t!” laughed Dom. “He was also telling us that he really likes the idea of the podcast and the t-shirts, because players at this level don’t necessarily get the opportunity to have that sort of attention. So it’s really good for morale. They think ‘oh I must be good because I’ve got a t-shirt’.”

Aside from the recording, production is time consuming. It can take around two days just to edit down the amount of content they have, in order to produce the final version. Fortunately with such a close working relationship, the pair get on really well.

“We’ve had tiffs sometimes when we don’t agree, but we realise the other one is only arguing because the other’s idea isn’t necessarily the best,” explains Dom. “When the show goes to the editing table for instance, there are bits that I cut out because Tom’s said something stupid. And he’s the same with me if he thinks I’ve pushed it too far.

“From start to finish Tom and I do everything. We know there’s a cap on our audience. At the end of the day Bradford City are not like Man United with 300 million fans. We know it’s not going to make us millionaires, but as long as people are enjoying it and it is making a difference – like helping the club out by raising money for the youth team through selling t-shirts – then it’s worth doing.

“Every penny we make goes into the podcast. The equipment isn’t cheap, my lap top broke last year for example. We went through a phase of thinking ‘should we charge for it?’ because many podcasts do. But at the end of the day we thought why should people have to pay for it? We enjoy doing it. We didn’t want to lose listeners because we’ve worked really hard to build a listener base.”

“IT’S THE MOST POSITIVE ATMOSPHERE THAT I’VE EVER SEEN IN A CITY TEAM.”

That said the show doesn’t exactly pay the bills, and the pair are hoping to develop their radio careers. They recently recorded a demo with Derm and are hoping to hear back from BBC Radio Leeds with good news. Not that they’ll be stopping Bantams Banter anytime soon.

“I’d never want a job that would stop us doing Bantams Banter. On Radio Leeds you’ve got to censor yourself more, and that’s not really us. We’d love to do it, because we want to be known and we want to get Bantams Banter more known. We think that if we are working at Radio Leeds, we can also attract more listeners to Bantams Banter.”

Ambitions for the new season including building on the podcast’s success by doubling downloads, while they are currently developing new ideas to gradually bring into the show. “One is try and pop out to an alternative sports clubs in the Bradford area like archery, and try and find out what it’s all about, “ revealed Dom. “It just adds something else. There’s going to be Bradford City fans doing these alternative sports and we want to hear from them.”

With the new season just around the corner, the duo are gearing up for getting back into the Bantams Banter swing of things and will be producing a podcast for the Bolton friendly. As the interview comes to its end and we pay more attention to the players on the pitch at Guiseley, Dom is filled with as much enthusiasm as any City fan about the team’s prospects. And his close access to the players – not to mention his previous employment at the club – make him a useful barometer of the mood around Valley Parade.

He explained, “I like the new morale that’s going on. It’s the most positive atmosphere that I’ve ever seen in a City team. I remember when we got relegated at Chesterfield and being in a changing room with grown men crying, like David Wetherall.

“I’ve got every faith with Peter Jackson. I like the fact he’s willing to take a risk in signing young players. He knows what he’s doing in this league, and he’s a Bradford City hero. He’s been here and done that, and managed throughout the leagues.”

To listen to last season’s Bantams Banter podcasts, click here for the iTunes store. The Bantams Banter website is under construction and will be available soon.