The unbelievable rise of fourth division Bradford City to the League Cup Final (I still struggle to type that without being utterly amazed that it’s a factual statement) isn’t the only underdog triumph at Valley Parade this season.
Bantam’s Banter, the unofficial Bradford City podcast has matched the rise of the team on the pitch to become the first independent podcast to reach number one in the iTunes charts.
Written, presented, produced, paid for – it’s free – and recorded live from the Valley Parade press box – and the odd away game – by 27-year-old Tom Fletcher and 26-year-old Dom Newton-Collinge, Bantam’s Banter has become not only a hit with Bradford City fans, but with fans from other clubs.
Then, the Arsenal match podcast (yes, that Arsenal match) which guest-starred ‘celebrity Arsenal fan’ Alan Davies reached number one in the iTunes charts. And life’s been a whirlwind ever since for Tom and Dom.
I met up with them, in The Shipley Pride pub, to share a few pints of real ale and hear about their rise.
“It’s incredible,” says Dom. “We’re the only independent podcast that’s in the top ten on iTunes consistently and we’re the only individual podcast that’s made by two lads in a back bedroom that have been number one.
“Other podcasts can afford Facebook advertising, they have the benefit of being general football chat…”
“…and have producers,” adds Tom. “I mean, The Anfied Wrap [the Liverpool FC podcast] get a fair few downloads, maybe not as many as us, but that’s Liverpool! And we’re Bradford city!
“I’m not saying we haven’t got a big fan base, I’m saying we’re playing in League Two. League Two! To us it means it’s not about the football. We realise it's about the show.
Bantams Banter is now into its third season at Valley Parade. Originally officially endorsed by the club, they’ve have had to take a step back due to the somewhat fruity content. But the duo are still offered all the luxuries of the Valley Parade press box and the club still bend over backwards to accommodate them. The kind of PR other boardrooms would do well take notice of as they increasingly distance themselves from the opinions of fans.
“The Football League don’t like us,” says Dom, “they’ve made that clear. We’re unofficial, they like everything official. The club can’t advertise us on the website because we’re not official. But we’re giving a service to the fans. We’re keeping the hype up about lower league football. A team that’s in the lowest league of league football and their podcast hits number one on iTunes and the football league cannot stand it!
“It’s upsetting because you’d love the backing of the football league, because you’re promoting it. To Arsenal fans, Aston Villa fans, people that wouldn’t normally take any notice of League 2.”
The duo met at Bradford’s Media museum five years ago: “Ushering and generally dossing about,” says Tom, “I can’t remember us actually doing any work!”
Desperate to get into radio Tom and Dom then presented a programme at Bradford’s community radio station BCB.
“We had listeners in Texas and stuff,” says Dom. “We did a bit at the end called Bantam’s Banter, where we’d just talk about City for 5 minutes. We did that for a couple of years, then sent a tape off to the BBC.
“The Commissioning Editor at 5 Live told us to change Bantams Banter into a full show. We did, sent him a couple of tapes, heard nowt back, and just carried on!”
So why live and not in a studio?
“We used to do it in a studio, but its hard to get an atmosphere, it didn’t work as well as we thought it would at a live game. Leave the studio stuff to the pros and we’ll come from a different angle and make it more original,” says Tom.
“That makes it sound like it was a plan!” laughs Dom. “It just evolved. The first season was relatively successful. A couple of thousand people downloading it every week, because there was nothing else on Bradford city out there. Then the next season fans of other clubs started listening.
“We were getting five to six thousand downloads a week. Then this season it’s just been unreal. We’re getting about twenty thousand per episode. The Arsenal match was over fifty thousand and Villa was about forty-three thousand!”
“That’s up there with the big guns,” says Tom. “The Football Ramble podcast, they regularly get sixty thousand downloads every episode and we’re approaching these kind of figures. The Tuesday club, the Arsenal Podcast that Alan Davies does, they get similar figures”
It was a chance encounter with Alan Davies that lead to him appearing on the podcast for that memorable game at Valley Parade, when a full strength Arsenal team were knocked out of the League Cup.
“We do stuff for 5 Live every now and again,” says Dom. “We were doing something on ‘the world’s longest game of 5-a-side football’ and he was there. And we’d just had these business cards printed, literally an hour before we met him and we gave him the card. He said I’ve never met podcasters with a business card before!
“We hit it off,” says Tom. “We started chatting for half an hour and then by pure luck City drew Arsenal in the next round of the League Cup and he rang us, and said lets do this joint podcast!
“He’s such a nice guy. He was so sincere. He knew it was our show, he didn’t take over…”
“But when we scored he was genuinely really miffed off,” laughs Dom, “and his mate who was with him just didn’t say anything! So we’ve got this celebrity on our show and he wasn’t saying anything!”
“…and we’re going nuts in his face!” says Tom.
“We’re no fools,” says Dom. “We knew it helped us no end having Alan Davies on the podcast, and it helped it get to number one on iTunes but the fact we were able to keep forty-three thousand of those fifty thousand for the next podcast at home to Villa when we beat them, again it says it’s us people want to hear…”
“Yeah,” says Tom, “they could have said, this is c**p it was better when Alan was on!
A lot of fans from other clubs got in touch. After the Villa game we had five thousand tweets that we had to trawl through. Fans from Bristol to Coventry and ten people downloaded the podcast in Ghana!”
“We’d never have imagined it,” says Dom, “We only thought we’d get Bradford city supporters. But I think Bantam’s Banter has been successful because of the sheer passion for the football club. Fans from other clubs can relate to it. It doesn’t matter its about Bradford City.
“It certainly helps that Bradford city are flavour of the month. Everyone likes a minnow. And I was kind of offended by that, that people were calling us minnows and Eamon Holmes was calling us a pub team.
“Then you think, ‘we are minows!’ We’ve been on a downward spiral for ten years. There’s a whole generation of 15 and 16-year-olds who never saw Bradford City in the Premier league. It’s working well for us right now because everyone want to hear about Bradford City.”
“We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re lapping up all this attention we’re getting to really big up Bradford City and take on the positive vibes that we’ve waited a decade for.
“We’ve defied the odds to get here. We’ve had some luck. This hype feels right and when these moments come along it just seems things happen…”
“And over the last decade we’ve just not had these moments,” says Tom.
“Yes,” says Dom. “If you’re Tom and I’s age, you caught Bradford City on the up. Wembley in 96 [when Bradford City beat Notts County in the third division play off final] was the first big event for us as City fans. And after that it was great. We stayed up in the second division, got the to the Premier League and then stayed up again!”
“There’s fans only five years younger than us who know nothing of the good times and have just seem the downward spiral,” says Tom.
In the media whirlwind since the away leg at Villa Park, Tom and Dom have appeared on 5 Live, a Capital One cup promotion skit, local news and released a Wembley song. One of the five or six cup final songs of varying floating around on YouTube. It’s not going to win any awards but it’s done with the duo’s tongue in cheek sense of humour.
So what next for Bantam’s Banter? A Wembley podcast is in the offing, subject to the usual Wembley and Football League red tape, and then maybe national radio stardom?
“Opportunities have come up for us in radio,” says Dom. “It’s so competitive though that you’ve got to know someone.”
“We wonder how far we can go with Bradford City, Wembley will take some topping,” says Tom.
“We wonder if this is going to bottom out, but at the moment it seems everybody loves it.
“And if we lose at Wembley then we lose, we’ll have had a great time anyway.
"But we won't lose."
Listen to the Bantams Banter podcasts here