Break-ins, Boost Juice, and a radio show: the story of The Football Sack Podcast

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In mid 2010, two young lads broke into a recording studio. One year on and the brain child of Jack Quigley and Christian Layland was the Australian football podcast.

The Football Sack is turning ten on Friday 8 May 2020. We are releasing a series of articles celebrating the various achievements of our first decade. In this look into The Football Sack history, we examine the insane story of The Football Sack podcast. Let’s begin.

I. How to start a podcast, illegally

“We broke into that studio a lot. We really, really pushed the boundaries of what you can get away with.” – Jack Quigley 

 

A few months before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup The Football Sack was created by Christian and Matthew Greenlaw. When Christian discussed his new website with his friend Jack, his soon to be partner in crime would birth an award winning idea.

“I approached Christian and asked him whether he’d considered doing a podcast. I felt like podcasts were the go because a lot of people don’t have the time to read articles,” said Jack.

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Christian gave the thumbs up, albeit with no podcasting experience and no idea of how to make one. Jack did have some experience, having previously been on a podcast about West Ham United. So between them it could work. The boys now just needed somewhere to record. Fortunately, they both attended Southern Cross University where there was a state of the art recording studio right on their doorstep. A locked one, that is.

“So we rock up there and obviously it’s locked because of course it is: it’s a recording studio,” says Christian. “But Jack told me not to worry. Someone walks past and Jack goes ‘excuse me mate. I left my swipe card at home. Do you reckon you could swipe us into the recording studio?’ And it worked!”

“I deliberately didn’t find one of the lecturers who knew who I was,” adds Jack.

It got crazier still.

“We’re sitting there, and we turn on the equipment,” continues Christian. “But we need a password to access the system. Crap. So I turn to Jack, and say ‘try student’. Bam. We’re in.”

The first few episodes continued in a similar manner, with the guys using someone else’s card to get into the studio. Such a system was untenable and eventually Jack managed to weedle an access card of their own. They were still not allowed to use the studio for personal projects however, making each time they went to record an interesting experience.

“There were times where we would literally tip toe up the side of the building past the sound and engineering guys who monitored the studio. We would make sure the lights were off and the blinds were down. So we would quite literally record in the dark to make sure people didn’t think we were using the studio,”Jack recalls.

“There was one moment when we thought we got caught,” said Christian. “We were recording one day and the guy who presided over the studio saw us and gave us a funny look but because we had the ‘on air’ light on, he didn’t come in. But he was gonna be waiting for us. So just like the masculine brave men who are willing to face the consequences of our actions that we are, we finished recording and proceeded to crawl out of the building on our hands and knees so he couldn’t see us through his office window.”

It all would come full circle however – a year on with the podcast’s success making the news, Christian received an email from Southern Cross University. He thought for sure the gig was up and opened the message apprehensively, but instead was congratulated on making such a successful podcast and was offered access to the uni’s state of the art recording studio, which they graciously accepted.

Given the pod was on the news, it’s fair to say the podcast was getting pretty big. But how?

II. Fun and games

“Got lunchtime cravings? When the boys are not producing Australia’s most popular football podcast they’re re-energising at Boost Juice! Head in to Boost Juice today for a free upsize when you mention The Football Sack Podcast.” – Boost Juice advertisement 

The podcast got its timing right. Interest in football and the A-League was beginning to climb but in terms of content there was just not a lot on the market, and the podcast offered something unique. The boys were not experts. They were fans. Jack, Christian, and fellow host Pat Flaherty were semi-professional and open about it. And people loved the unique angle. At the time there was nothing like it in the Aussie footballing world. The boys could be their comedic selves.

“We had this really nice balance of things with lame attempts at humour which people found funny but we also included a bit of actual analysis,” said Christian. “So the product itself was quite good which resulted in lots of carry over jokes. When our listeners listened to future episodes they got references from the past. It made them feel included and part of it because they knew there was always going to be a joke about John Aloisi.”

“We also knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Jack was very good at coming up with a joke and I was very good at building on it. So we had this really good chemistry which translated great on air. We knew if I raised my eyebrow at him he understood I wanted to make a joke. So we’d have a sort of sign language on air, and it worked great!”

“We weren’t trying to be Fox Sports or The Guardian,” said Jack. “We figured there was enough analysis on television and we wanted to be a fun and games podcast. There are lots of those now but back then they were pretty scarce. We were nobodies who didn’t try to sound like we were somebodies.”

The approach worked. The Football Sack podcast became the number one football podcast in Australia, ahead of the more professional shows. It charted on iTunes and Christian and Jack would be interviewed multiple times by various news outlets. There was even a brief time where the podcast got a few dozen listens in a place like Romania – which the pair figured was down to a youth tournament being hosted there and opposing teams wanting to find out about some of the Aussie players.

Fun and games also resulted in high fan engagement. The pod would often post quizzes during the show where the fan with the best answers would get a shout out. Fans would also commonly write in, allowing for greater engagement and more opportunities for jokes. Neil Sherwin listened on the treadmill, so they gave him encouragement. Benjamin Marvin would commonly write in, so he got the nickname of Marvin The Martian. There were even a few scattered requests for autographs, and of course the aforementioned celebrity appearance for Boost Juice.

When you add up all the contributing factors, it’s no surprise the podcast won awards. And it won a lot. The pod were serial winners, winning a huge amount of awards, including three major ones despite some serious competition. In one ceremony, Christian was so certain of a win that he printed The Football Sack Champions T-shirts where, once at the podium, he took off his suit and jacket revealing the shirt underneath. When Christian told me the next story, he forgot which award it was for which says a lot about how much they won.

“One year we won a ton of awards. We had a table at every award. And we went out to kick on and celebrate, someone suggested going to the Ivy, one of the big nightclubs in Sydney. We went in and the guys there must have had this awe about us because they said welcome and swiped us in for free while everyone else was paying cover charge and had to wait. It was so weird.”

But Jack and Christian did not win those awards without help. The podcast got generous financial support from Banking On Football (now called Summerland Football), which Christian stressed to me was a big part of the podcast. Without institutions like Banking On Football supporting projects like the podcast, high quality fan made content does not exist.

Amidst all this, there was a second The Football Sack Podcast, earning awards alongside Jack and Christian.

III. A radio show and a podcast

 “The podcast was a chance to muck around and have a bit of fun while trying to fix the problems facing the A-League in half an hour on a Sunday morning.” – Matt Greenlaw 

In 2011 Matthew Greenlaw and Pete Nowakowski started their own podcast as an offshoot of The Football Sack. It did not have the same glamorous beginnings that Jack and Christian had – the first few episodes were recorded with Matt and Pete hovering over Matthew’s laptop. But a stroke of luck came their way – Pete was invited to a weekly radio show, and managed to convince the host to allow Matt and Michal Roucek on as well. Every week the trio would record the radio show, then go to a different room and record the podcast.

“The radio show was focused more on national and international football. Meanwhile The Football Sack was a separate product where we were more focused on the hard hitting facts of what was happening,” said Michal. “But at the same time we had a jovial perspective and were trying to solve the giant problems by having as much fun as we possibly could.”

“I think we all just wanted to contribute and be some kind of voice for the A-League when it was really needing one and didn’t have the same mainstream appeal it does today.”

“One of the goals was definitely to beat the drum about the A-League,” agreed Matt. “Early on, we were actually doing some fake advertisements for the league and putting them halfway through the podcast.”

One of the most successful aspects of this podcast was how Michal and the others would commonly write – how you say – controversial – articles for The Football Sack website, which would then make someone want to come onto the pod to rebut or agree with what Michal said.

“We used to get Brendan Schwab, former head of the PFA sending us messages and saying ‘Hey, I’m going to say this and I’ll back you up’ and he would then come on the radio show,” said Pete. “We would then be able to take that content straight into our podcast and give our listeners the full story.”

“I always loved how we’d be blunt and brutal in our articles because then we could back it up with people to support us, or the people in power would strongly disagree and say how they’d like to talk about it. Either way, we’d get a great podcast story out of it.”

But perhaps what was the most important aspect of Matt, Pete and Michal’s podcast was the emphasis they placed on state leagues. The Football Sack website and podcast earned the trust and respect of those in the state leagues and became one of the few voices reporting on them at the time. Their coverage led to a Football New South Wales award. In fact, on the occasions larger outlets did cover state leagues, they would be turning to The Football Sack guys as they were the experts.

“Being able to talk about state league football was so rewarding because there were so many untold stories and so many people would approach us when they just wanted to talk,” said Pete. “It didn’t matter what level they were or who we were – they just wanted to share their stories and experiences. For instance, the guy who is the women’s football technical director at Football New South Wales? We would get him on the pod pretty regularly.”

“The fact that state league opened their arms so widely to us – it was special. You would knock on the door of a state league club and they would go above and beyond to welcome us.”

However by 2012, just a year after Matt-Pete-Michal show had begun, it was gone. In fact at the time of writing, it’s been six years since anyone we have looked at so far has recorded a Football Sack podcast. Six years since Jack, Christian, and Pat last took to the studio. Eight since Matt, Pete, and Michal did the same. What happened?

IV. Legacy

“We were just really passionate kids.” – Matt Greenlaw 

The heyday of The Football Sack podcast is over. Jack, Christian, and Pat did not return for the 2018 World Cup despite their best attempts – at one stage there was even talk of the boys appearing on TV – but it was all for nothing. Instead, Ben Smith’s crew over in WA took over for 2018 featuring Louie Granich and Aaron Corlett. As previously mentioned, the other pod with Michal, Matt, and Pete is also long over. It’s now been several years since an applicant for The Football Sack internship program mentioned listening to the boys – when that used to be the case for every applicant every year.

Why did it all end? It’s not as if they stopped wanting to do the pod. Everyone who I interviewed spoke so highly of their time with the podcast. Everyone who I interviewed seemed open and enthusiastic at the prospect of doing it again. Yet I personally think the chances of any return are slim.

Rather, for the boys, free time became a lot harder to come by. Work became a larger part of their lives. Without wanting to say my employers are old – they are not as young as they were. The podcast died of natural causes.

Looking back, how do we remember the podcast? It’s hard to quantify what it was. It was one of the first Aussie football fun and games podcasts. It was one of the first openly semi-professional football podcasts. It was one of the first to take a serious look at state leagues. It was one where opponents tuned into to learn about who they might be facing. And, it was the product of a break in.

It was a high point in these young men’s lives which positively affected their careers and gave them recognition and some fame.

“I always said if I could revisit five weeks in my life it would be those five weeks in 2014,” said Christian.

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Dan Moskovitz
The Football Sack's resident teen kiwi football nut. Loves everything football except defeats.