Men talking about football on television is nothing new - yet BBC Scotland’s latest incarnation of the concept is quietly but bravely pushing boundaries.
It’s impossible to escape the topic of football - even in Scotland, where, generally speaking, the less said about our national efforts, the better. From predictions about that night’s match with workmates to heated debates over a pint in the pub, passionate and opinionated fans of the beautiful game are everywhere you turn in this country.
But (as anyone who has ever been seduced by an office World Cup sweepstake will know) it’s never going to be the skill of a player or a manager’s glowing legacy that will win over a non-football fan.
For someone on the outside, what is enticing about the world of Scottish football is a lot of what is appealing about Scotland in general - its sense of humour, its self-awareness, its ability to make fun of itself, and (some ugly incidents aside) its inclusive and supportive nature.
Finally, a TV show has captured that essence and is beaming it into your living room every Friday night, injecting the fun back into the football on TV for the first time since Baddiel and Skinner’s Fantasy Football League.
“We take it very seriously, and we don’t take it seriously at all,” admits A View From The Terrace star Craig Fowler.
“We take it very seriously in terms of the work we put in. But we know that football’s stupid. It’s just something stupid that we really like.”
Fans (and friends) first
A View From The Terrace is the new BBC Scotland TV channel’s take on a classic talking heads football analysis show. It takes the tired trope by the shoulders and shakes some life back into it.
There’s not a former player, commentator or anyone you’ll actually recognise in sight - just four thirty-something Scottish football fans with a shed load of enthusiasm, knowledge and cheeky quips.
Without a shred of previous TV experience between them, Craig G Telfer, Joel Sked, Craig Fowler and Shaughan McGuigan are the show’s hosts. They are also those guys we mentioned earlier, bantering boisterously about football in the pub.
Four friends in real life, the group has been making a regular podcast about Scottish football together since 2009, which paved the way for the TV adaptation.
A new era of football commentary
Now pulling in around 3,000 listeners per episode, a rotating cast of 12 football fans regularly appears on The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast, which records two episodes per week, as well as extra paid-for audio content - and, yes, that’s alongside filming a weekly TV programme.
“There’s a kind of Edinburgh team and Glasgow team. Or an East Coast team, is probably a better way of putting it,” explains Fowler.
“[The other podcast contributors] have been huge in terms of keeping the podcast [going]. Especially the Glasgow boys,” says Sked.
Originally the brainchild of 32 year old Fowler, what started as a far broader concept at university in 2007 with three contributors has blossomed into the much more niche podcast.
“I didn’t like football shows where they debate a topic, and they all just repeat the same points over and over again,” explains Fowler.
“I just found it quite boring. So I wanted to do something where you basically got a set time limit on each thing, and then you moved on to the next. I think it’s quite funny, because that’s basically what the TV show has become.”
How to get a football sceptic to enjoy a football show
From the exhilarating opening credits - soundtracked with ‘Toy’ by Edinburgh hip-hop trio Young Fathers - it’s clear that this is not your average football TV show.
Anchored by Fowler, Sked, Telfer and McGuigan, A View From The Terrace is a mixture of topical in-studio match analysis (traversing both the Scottish Premiership and lower leagues) and features from other contributors.
These segments are what will draw in fans and sceptics alike and tempt them back for more. Beautifully filmed and showcasing the charm of Scottish lower league football, each one is more surprising and engaging than the next.
From an Arbroath match entirely captured in the style of director Wes Anderson to baking empire biscuits with Kilmarnock right back Stephen O'Donnell to asking primary school kids how they would manage a team in the SPFL, it’s bizarre but brilliant content.
Impressively, every on-screen contributor on the programme was already involved in the Terrace podcast before the TV show came around. The one exception is filmmaker Duncan Cowles, who is also the only cast member who doesn’t like football - or the only one who admits it, anyway.
Cowles appears in regular segments with ‘the other Duncan’ - Duncan McKay, who loves football so much that he visited all 42 Scottish clubs in one season. Mismatched in every way, their unlikely friendship is one of the regular highlights of the programme.
“Duncan and Duncan - I think they’ve been the stars of the show so far,” says Sked.
“It’s been nice how their relationship has developed. Also, [Assistant Producer] Gemma [Hood] is with them. There are a few people behind the scenes who play an absolutely huge part.”
Real fans (with real day jobs)
Fowler and Sked are quick to praise everyone pitching in on either the TV or podcast incarnation of The Terrace who doesn’t take up a space on the studio sofas.
Andy Maas and Jordan Laird (series producer and director, respectively) get a shout out, along with the programme’s other contributors, plus those on the podcast who didn’t quite make it to the big screen.
But what Fowler and Sked don’t dwell on for very long is the sheer amount of effort they themselves put in.
Despite their relaxed on-screen demeanours, all four Terrace talking heads work full-time. Telfer is a university video communications officer, Fowler and Sked are sports journalists for The Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News, and McGuigan works in finance.
After work on Mondays, they show up for a regular two-hour production meeting. On Wednesdays, they get time off their day jobs - to record that week’s programme. Then, on Fridays (while fans tune in to the show) the cast members have already started thinking about the next episode. That’s on top of recording two podcasts per week.
“I’ve gotten to a point where, when it gets to the Sunday, I will have an idea of who I want to put in each section, and then it’s just a case of trying to research them over Monday and Tuesday,” explains Sked.
“Basically you just try to fit [planning] in wherever you can. Do the research you need, [watch] the clips you need to watch, [read the] articles you need to read. No one does anything for us.”
‘S**t, we’re doing something good here’
A View From The Terrace was recently commissioned for three more episodes - bringing the inaugural series up to 13, and taking the show to the end of the current football season. It’s clear that the group’s tireless efforts are appreciated by the BBC. And, if social media reaction is anything to go by, the gang are definitely doing something right where the viewers are concerned, too.
“[Social media users] can say what they want without much consequence. So we were thinking that’s where they might be really harsh on us, but 90 per cent of it has been really positive,” reveals Sked.
“After the first episode, I went to Dumbarton and walked off the train, into the pub and before I even tried to buy a drink, a guy had already come up and offered to buy myself and my girlfriend one,” he continues.
“And, that day, on four separate occasions, someone came up to me and said how much they loved the show. I was kind of like, ‘S**t, we’re doing something good here.’”
There has been significant support from the clubs featured on the programme, too.
“They’ve obviously got a vested interest, because nobody else is going to talk about them,” says Fowler.
“But it’s still great to get so much enthusiasm.”
And, it seems, even those well versed in Scottish football have a lot to learn from the programme.
“Fans of the big clubs have said to me that they didn’t care about lower league teams before, but [The Terrace] has opened their eyes to a different world,” reveals Fowler.
The women’s game
There are critics, of course. While Fowler argues that the show’s “negative comments aren’t really anything constructive”, he concedes that men talking about other men for an hour isn’t a flawless set-up.
“We’ve had accusations of not being gender balanced enough,” he says. But the group are actively working to make their output more equal.
Already “very keen” to add female voices to the podcast, this summer The Terrace team will travel to France in order to cover the FIFA Women's World Cup. But you won’t see A View From The Terrace suddenly switch their TV analysis to female players before the end of the current series.
“People will see right through us if we start talking about the women’s game, and we clearly have no idea what we’re doing - if it’s just a token gesture,” says Sked.
“We’re not doing it any great service by doing that.”
Instead, women in football are represented on the programme via regular non-studio segments, such as a recent feature on Hibs Ladies player Rachael Small, which was met with praise from viewers.
What is a football hipster?
Accusations of sexism aren't the only assumptions those watching have made about the stars of A View From The Terrace.
“I think they think we’re ‘football hipsters’, and I’ve really no idea why,” says Fowler.
“A football hipster is someone who is across a lot of leagues. They have an opinion on Slovakian leagues and German second division, and try to know everything,” explains Sked.
“And they’re very heavy on advanced stats,” adds Fowler.
But, Fowler and Sked say, they aren’t interested in following Scotland’s lower league football teams for the sake of showing off in the pub. They want to do their bit to represent the sense of satisfaction and community real Scottish fans get from the sport and put it on TV, in a way nobody else ever has before.
A significant slice of Scottish pop culture in itself, A View From The Terrace will undoubtedly change opinions on Scottish football and inspire new attitudes for as long as it is allowed to do so.
Watch the next episode of A View From The Terrace at 11pm on Friday 26 April on BBC Scotland (repeated on BBC One Scotland at 12:55am on Saturday 27 April), or catch up via BBC iPlayer