Scroll to the bottom for a TL;DR
It is a task no person should take on, listening to the world’s World Cup daily podcasts in the hopes of reviewing them. The words tumble out of earbuds like a waterfall, endless, each day, so many, so many….
[Generally, the day I give here will be the day I listen. Most are recorded on the evening, after all the day’s games have been played, but a podcast recorded on Thursday, after the tournament’s opening game, is one I will call ‘Friday’s episode’]
I feel, after listening to so many podcasts, like Brian Straus in Saturday’s Planet Futbol. Recording with host Grant Wahl at 3am in Russia, the day was taking its toll on the Sports Illustrated writer, the highlight of his part-sleep deprived, part-beer fuelled daze being “the analytics would suggest Iran are going through…”
Silence from Wahl.
“Not analytics,” sleepy Straus continues, “Wikipedia or whatever.”
The pair make for likable listening, and mix general overview of the matches with their own experiences out in Russia (Saturday’s episode also includes a Grant Wahl interview with Bruce Arena about his new book and the US men’s national team).
The Independent is the most similar in approach of the UK-based podcasts, Ed Malyon and Mark Critchley based in the host country, bringing in occasional guests. Friday’s episode featured an interestingly philosophical discussion on the nature of memory and what makes a ‘good World Cup’ that you wouldn’t expect to find on many other podcasts from the mainstream of British media.
Speaking of, The Times and the BBC focus on what their strengths are. The BBC, taking from their 5Live coverage, is predictably good, and although their guests might not be to everyone’s tastes, the station seems to be encouraging them to, well, be better in the past year. As the BBC, they also have access to England players for interviews which other podcasts are never going to have.
The Times has Natalie Sawyer as host during the World Cup, one of the few daily podcasts to include a female presence at all. The paper must have as many staff out in Russia as local papers have on their entire sports desk, allowing plenty of opportunity to phone up guests for general reportage.
Where the reporting-heavy journalists tend to flounder is on the tactical insights-front, an increasingly important part of the media landscape. The Times’ James Gheerbrant, based in the UK for the tournament, is a decent dual-talent, while UK football’s podcast war have their own way of bridging the gap.
Both The Guardian and the Totally Football Show sit themselves in the ‘amiable presence’ category, mixing general overviews of the games with some analysis (more if Michael Cox is on TFS) and coverage from Russia itself with assorted phone guests. The Guardian’s employ of Sid Lowe came into its own on Friday’s episode with the Spain sloppy-tegui saga.
A general point, partly springing from listening to this pair. Phoning reporters to talk about individual games that they happened to be at makes sense, but adds little compared to the time it takes up. It seems odd to ring up a journalist only to spend most of the time talking about the same things that the other guests, already comfy in the studio, would talk about anyway.
Both Guardian and TFS pods are what they are, as is the Football Ramble, which I confess I listened to at the end of a long stretch and switched off early. Related: I turned Sunday’s Guardian pod off after Barry Glendenning wondered whether African teams’ underperformance in the World Cup was due to an African mentality.
He was responding to a point Tim Vickery tweeted about North African teams ‘making the same mistakes tournament after tournament’, and whether Glendenning meant to apply ‘African mentality’ to the whole continent I can only assume. When the amiable pod ceases to be amiable, there’s not a lot of reason to continue.
Some of the best dailies are lesser known ones. Tifo is offering in-depth tactical analysis far beyond what other podcasts are featuring, and the Total Soccer Show also provided some marvellous insights on the Sunday episode I listened to.
TSS, hosted by Daryl Grove and Taylor Rockwell, structures the show more traditionally than Tifo, centred around the goals in each match for the most part, but uses the structure to hang interesting tidbits from. Listen to Sunday’s for Grove’s secret to Iceland’s defending and Rockwell on why Christian Cueva’s penalty run-up was so weird.
The Ringer, another American show (along with TSS), is an easy listen – the hosts are clearly friends, an underrated quality in podcasting which makes listening a more pleasurable experience – and they also chip in with light tactical or statistical insights. Am now considering adding it to my regular football pod rotation.
Oh, The Mirror are doing a daily podcast as well. A shorter option than the others – which generally range from 40-70 minutes – it features Mirror journalists overviewing and giving their opinion on the games, interspersed with odds from their betting partner.
Best all-rounder: BBC – although competitors may complain that the public service broadcaster is hardly fair competition to be up against.
Best bang for their buck (considering likely budgets): Tifo. Or, considering likely budgets of their immediate rivals in this particular style of World Cup podcast, The Independent
Best analysis: Total Soccer Show – a toss-up between this and Tifo, which is more in-depth, but TSS have been broadcasting for 9 years and the more structured approach makes it easier to tune in and out of depending on what else you’re doing while listening.
Guardian vs Totally Football Show: Neither are hugely suited to the World Cup, trying to be a best of both worlds between reporting and analysis while being the best at neither. Your usual favourite will likely be your World Cup favourite, for whatever reasons are your usual reasons. The ability to check what guests are on TFS in the show notes is reason to check them first over their warring rivals.
Apologies to any dailies I’ve missed, or for misrepresenting any present. Time and energy constraints meant listening to every ep of each pod was not gonna happen.