Big Del died last week. A fixture in my Brixton local, he hadn’t been in since Christmas and the cancer did for him pretty quickly in the end. Nobody in the pub, not even those closest to him, had known he was ill because he seemed the type who probably didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him.
A retired drayman, Del was a sweary old-school Londoner who loved his football, rooted for “those facking Gooners” and was England till he died. We’d even fallen out over it once; nothing serious, a clash of nationalities more than personalities. He knew this mick co-presented a Sunday morning radio show on TalkSport and always made it abundantly clear he tuned in whenever he could. Occasionally in the strongest possible terms.
More often than not, however, he came armed with a good-natured dig regarding anything he perceived to be controversially anti-Arsenal or England that I or my co-presenter Max Rushden might have said on air with which he disagreed. Our shared Sunday mornings in completely separate places meant we were never short of things to talk about when our paths did cross in the pub.
Shared experiences between people in completely separate places are quite the thing now, whether they are cyber booze-ups on Zoom, Mother’s Day meet-ups on Google hangouts or groups of friends staying in touch through the medium of gallows humour on WhatsApp. And as people struggle with the anxiety of uncertainty in these weirdly unprecedented times, it seems plenty find the familiarity of old friends, some of them people they have never met on the radio, weirdly comforting.
Sitting alone typing this column for a newspaper’s sport section at a time when there is no sport to write about, I am almost certainly not the only listener being kept amused by the sound of sports commentator Sam Matterface jovially bickering with his sidekicks the former footballers Perry Groves and Stuart Pearce (each of whom I have met through work) on a nearby radio.
With four hours to fill on a Saturday afternoon that should have been jam-packed with football action, the panel are instead discussing the profundity of their urbane and dapper host’s ignorance on the subject of what a “larder” is. The word had cropped up in conversation, Groves had been agog that Sam had never before heard it and now all three are arguing over whether or not having a room specifically devoted to food storage in your house means you’re “posh”. I am prepared to concede that maybe you had to be there.
Fast forward approximately 24 hours and Max and I have just come off the air after our two hours on TalkSport and, while tricky, it was highly enjoyable. Even in the absence of sport the show must go on and as purveyors of jovial, utterly inconsequential mid-morning tomfoolery we are apparently somehow considered key – if not absolutely key – workers at this difficult time.
During a frightening period when we have seen the very best and very worst of people, medics, shelf-stackers and others on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus have been rightly lauded for their heroic efforts. Meanwhile the challenges being met by a pair of idiots with hours of sports radio to fill and precisely no sport with which to fill it have gone unheralded. That’s OK, we’re not in it for the glory or the plaudits. What Nick Cave once memorably described as “this tumbrel – this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes”.
There are those out there who will argue that filling time by “playing” the postponed FA Cup game between Sheffield United and Arsenal through the medium of a quiz is considerably less stressful than pulling 48 hours on the A&E ward only to wind up weeping in the car park of an empty supermarket. What’s more, they would be absolutely correct. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is those questions didn’t ask themselves on Sunday, ultimately resulting in a highly controversial Arsenal win that comically enraged many listeners who support Sheffield United.
Meanwhile on the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast, Max and I have vowed to continue delivering our twice weekly show covering all the football that is not being played for as long as it takes and feedback has been heartwarmingly pleasing even if results have been mixed. A recent episode featured discussions about Australia’s A-League, Stuart Broad’s evolution as a top-class bowler and a monologue on the finer points of wood-chopping.
It is a privilege to be lucky enough to have radio shows and podcasts to look forward to producing in the company of likeminded individuals at a time when so many people have never felt so isolated, utterly bereft of companionship and downright bored. The inherent sense of camaraderie and community is a source of comfort and it is to be hoped our inane natter provides some sort of company and sense of familiarity to listeners whose ears are otherwise under constant assault from others engaged in far more important and largely depressing chat.
I suspect Big Del would have got a kick out of tuning in to radio coverage of Arsenal denying Sheffield United a place in the FA Cup semi-final in a preposterously complicated radio quiz, effing and jeffing throughout and making a mental note to remind me of how the Blades had been the victim of “a facking stitch-up” when next he saw me down the pub.
Although I never told him, I got a similar kick out of hearing from him and others who were out there tuning in to and laughing (or seething) at the latest drivel Max and I had dreamed up. With the world halfway to hell in a handcart, now seems as good a time as any to make sure each and every other one of our other listeners knows.