Filling The Void

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Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96

FILLING THE VOID

When I wrote the first article of this feature a week ago, things seemed comparatively normal. People were upset about football being off, about Mrs Brown’s Boys being on, and about toilet roll supplies being depleted. Now, pubs are shut, all exercise is to be sanctioned by the state, and understandably concerned people up and down the country are panic buying pasta more than Chelsea FC have panic bought over-the-hill centre forwards from 2005 to present.  

We should be caught up in FA Cup fever this weekend, instead another disease is claiming all the headlines. It would be forgivable, in these times, for radio and podcasts and TV and general “content” supplies to stop, but I think I speak for most when I say the continuation of such things is keeping us ticking. There’s no obligation for these people to work and provide entertainment for us in unprecedented times, and there’s even less obligation for them to take their usual light-hearted tone, but it’d be immeasurably bad for our collective mental health if we only consumed depressing news and such distractions weren’t available to us. Frankly, just writing this article is helping me, so I’m not too fussed if you don’t enjoy it.

I should preface this, as always, by saying that just because this article will be peppered with numerous weak puns and a smattering of mildly comic similes, that does not mean I’m making light of this hugely important situation. But, very simply, the stream of serious news updates is easily accessible and TorquayTalk is inevitably not your go-to place for that. That said, it’s probably not your go-to site for finding out how a portly student has been filling the sports-shaped hole in his life by listening to podcasts, watching documentaries and reading a pretty dull book, either. And yet, here you are.

To be honest, as a third-year student, I was about as prepared for self-isolation as Andy Dufresne was for his Shawshank escape. Indeed, I felt Mr Johnson’s announcement that I was allowed out for exercise “once a day” was ludicrously generous. I feel I should be able to donate some exercise time to those who really need it. However, I have been spending some of my time on state-sanctioned walks around Babbacome and Meadfoot. These walks provide a great triple whammy of building in some semblance of exercise to my day; getting to see some frankly beautiful parts of the Bay; and giving me ample opportunity to catch up on my favourite podcasts.

That, ladies and gents, is a segue. We are lucky, as consumers, that some of our favourite sports podcasts continue to be produced and continue to be free. Whether you’re interested or not, I’m going to let you into what I’ve been listening to and in return you’re welcome to provide your own recommendations in the comments/replies.

In terms of absolutely not Torquay United related podcasts, the National Obsession continues to be excellent. This week’s episode saw the introduction of Charlie’s Roll Your Own Football game and an interview with Swindon’s finest comedian, Ivo Graham. (In actual Torquay United podcast news, I’m told the first in a series of “social distancing specials” from the TorquayTalkPod boys is under construction – keep your eyes and ears firmly pealed, links to their social media pages are below this article).

On a more mainstream level, I’ve enjoyed taking in the latest editions of Tailenders – the loosly cricket-based podcast; Fighting Talk – 5Live’s long-running competitive chat-show; and the Guardian Football Weekly – my favourite of them all. This week, on Football Weekly, the panel – as bereft for content ideas as me (if you hadn’t noticed) – discussed Stuart Broad’s maturing as a top class bowler, what the world would be like if Johan Cruyff was born in Basingstoke, and a deep dive into England’s 1986 World Cup Quarter Final defeat to Argentina. (They also spoke a bit about the news). It was broadly concluded (and I’d agree, having watched a highlights package this morning), that the Argies were noticeably better than England on the day and, even with the clear injustice of Maradona’s opener (which Shilts should’ve caught anyway), deserved to win.

On Maradona, I’ve spent most evenings this week watching sporting documentaries – the first of which being Asif Kapadia’s effort about the great number ten. I must say, it was superb. My takeaway was the enormous weight of pressure that he was under at Napoli and the massive personal cost that success in football carried/s. It’ll be on Channel 4’s catchup service, if you’re interested.

Another documentary I enjoyed this week was Jonny Owen’s I Believe In Miracles – the story of Nottingham Forest’s rise from the Second Division to consecutive European Cup victories. It’s an achievement which Martin O’Neill – then a trusty midfielder for Brian Clough’s side – is all too keen to remind Patrick Viera and Fabio Cannavaro of in the final scene of the film. It really is a fantastic watch, and it’s hard to not find all the talking heads charming and captivating.

Another bonus of getting out and walking is you can sit in a lovely spot and read a book. Embarrassingly, as someone who literally spends his time studying English, I’m not really “into” reading. However, when the sun’s shining and there’s a bench free, there’s very little better. At the moment, I’m wading through the heavy-yet-brilliant Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson. It’s a bible (or perhaps a hard-to-follow encyclopaedia) for anyone who wants to sound knowledgeable about football tactics and, as a Football Manager addict, I do. At times it’s absolutely fascinating, providing both fun little nuggets (did you know Alf Ramsey’s first professional game in management was a 2-0 defeat to Torquay?) and incisive historical social commentary. Today, I read about how Ray Houghton and Roy Hodgson laid the foundations for the “English style game” in Sweden in the 1980s and how their football differed from the more aspirational “Dutch style” in Denmark. I promise it’s more interesting than that sounds, especially if you can get your head round the similar-sounding Soviet names in the middle sections.

But what if I don’t want to read about Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s three great Dynamo Kiev teams, I hear you ask. Well. This week there was, still, some football going on. In perhaps the most ill-advised decision by an Australian sporting figure since Davey Warner sent Cameron Bancroft out to B&Q with a fiver in his pocket and a threat in his ear, the A-League continued to be played. It was behind closed doors, and you had to get up early for it, but there was live football. Last weekend saw a draw in the Sydney derby, with reinvigorated record-holding super-sub Adam Le Fondre opening the scoring, before a late equaliser from Western Sydney Wanderers’ forward Kwame Yeboah (there is no obvious link to Tony on either’s Wikipedias).

Meanwhile, the Burundi Premier League continues. My original reaction to this was “we shouldn’t find this funny just because it’s far away. It’s serious and silly.” But, it turns out, Burundi has shut its borders and has no confirmed cases of Covid-19. This small nation in the Great Rift Valley is a virus-free oasis, where the Beautiful Game continues to be played. Frankly, if BT Sport and Sky Sports aren’t bidding their backsides off for the rights to Inter Star Vs Ngozi City this Friday (it’s a relegation six pointer ffs!!!), they really are missing a trick.

The BBC are doing their best to fill the void. Their weekend-afternoon showings of past FA Cup quarter finals were welcome, if not entirely thrilling, while the “Best Of” compilation of Football Focus was…pushing it. And in the Saturday evening Mrs Brown’s Boys slot, Tony Hall’s Barmy Army decided to screen some of the worst telly of all time. Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and Alan Shearer gathered round Jug Ears’ kitchen island to combine all the worst bits of Match Of The Day (the talking) with the worst bits of Football Twitter (the incessant need to compare and rank footballers through history rather than just accepting that there are lots of good footballers and that’s fine). There’s a podcast I won’t be downloading.

I’m not sure what next week holds. Probably more walking. Probably more barrel-scraping for content/stuff to do/reasons to avoid my dissertation. To anyone at the Torquay United media team, if you’re reading, please do us all a favour put the full 90 minutes of Woking (a) and/or Cambridge (n) on YouTube. To everyone else, keep well, you’ll hear from me in a week.
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