'A unique and alternative look into Irish League football'

The world of football podcasts is an ever-growing one with more shows now than ever before.

The popularity of such broadcasts has increased in the Irish league in recent years from club produced podcasts through to fan-led shows, like The Waffle.

One of the most popular Northern Irish football broadcasts though is put together by a football fanatic from the north east of Scotland!

Dr Grant Campbell may be an avid Aberdeen fan, but his passion for football in Northern Ireland is evident for all to see in his Campbell’s Football podcast.

Dr Grant Campbell (left) pictured with former podcast guest Craig Brown

I caught up with recently to see how his love for the Irish League came about...

SC: How did your interest in the Irish League come about?

GC: I was bored one midweek afternoon during my PhD days, around 2015, and popped into a café for lunch to try and get some inspiration. I stuck on some football highlights to pass some time and stumbled across the Irish League Show with Joel Taggart and Chris Morgan.

I enjoyed the coverage and highlights of the games as well as both guys’ analysis on the action. There was no bias and every side got a fair run at being looked at. It was a good concept for the show.

I started to take a real interest after my first viewing and started connecting to podcasts such as The Score NI afterwards to help increase my knowledge of the league, its players, managers, and rivalries. It’s been an education for me you could say. I don’t follow any team, but I do follow Coleraine more than most of the other teams mainly down to the journey of Oran Kearney who spent a period in Scotland at St Mirren.

SC: How did the podcast first come about?

GC: I started my podcast originally off the back of a few Facebook Live posts I did back in the mid-2010s. I love predicting football matches, hence my @Stato_Grant handle on Twitter, but usually I am shocking and always end up jinxing people so I wouldn’t ask me for any tips! I enjoy talking about any sort of football and follow a lot of big names on social media who talk about tactics, statistics and general footballing affairs and I just wanted to create my own identity in that regard.

I turned it into a podcast back in 2018 as I simply didn’t have the time to do the Facebook Live videos consistently anymore and thought it best that if people did want to tune into what I had to say, they could do via a podcast instead. I still enjoy producing my shows and I hope many enjoy listening to what I have to say. It’s a journey and you never quite know what’s coming next. On the podcast, I interview people from the world of (mostly) Scottish Football and more increasingly, Northern Irish League football about their career in the game and ask them to share their stories, memories, and best moments with me, thereby providing a unique and alternative look into their journey.

SC: Do you see similarities in Scottish/Irish football?

GC: When I first started following the league, Coleraine reminded me of Aberdeen in the early years of McInnes – they played with flair, width, and quality in attack. I have admiration for all the teams in the league and every club has their story so there are no personal allegiances!

I think there are lots of similarities to Northern Irish and Scottish Football than people think. Celtic and Rangers supporters here in Scotland are like Linfield fans over in Northern Ireland. Any loss and it becomes a problem, more than one game without a win is a crisis. You have your midfield teams who on their day can beat anyone in the league and down at the bottom you have sides who no top team likes to travel to but if you want to challenge for silverware you need to go there and get a result.

SC: There are plenty of characters in both leagues, who stands out for you?

GC: There are so many to choose from! It depends on who you define as characters.

In Scottish Football, the biggest character I can think of is Arbroath manager Dick Campbell. Dick just says it as it is. He takes no prisoners and is not unknown to using the odd superlative from time to time. He’s managing the only part time club currently in the Championship and they are going along well at the moment.

They are a breath of fresh air and I just wish every day I could have some enthusiasm like Dick has as the world would be a much better place for it. The commentary guys in Scotland have some stories to share too. I’ve been lucky to speak to Ian Crocker from Sky Sports and Rob MacLean from BT Sport and BBC. Boy, those guys love their Scottish Football. I still speak to both guys occasionally before big commentary games.

In the Irish League, there are guys who are just out and out goal scoring legends and having spoken to both Andy Waterworth during his time at Linfield and Joe Gormley at Cliftonville. They are both great people too.

Matthew Clarke was a real character as well. I’m not a Rangers fan but the banter we had on my podcast was superb. I think he enjoyed letting me know how rubbish Aberdeen were against them too! What can I also say about Matthew Tipton? The guy could write a book on the number of stories he has. I also think I needed subtitles for my chat with Eoin Bradley. Boy that guy can talk fast!

What also interests me is the stories at some of the smaller, less prestigious clubs. Niall Currie was a real laugh when I interviewed him during his time at Carrick Rangers and I was disappointed at how things ended up for him in the end there. Barry Gray and Stuart King are the same, but do you know the best thing about it is? These stories from anyone in the NIFL are not heard repeatedly, and I feel my platform and others are the best ways for these guys to get these tales told.

SC: You’ve done numerous episodes now are there any which stick out in particular?

GC: The signature show from my archives must be my one with former Scotland, Motherwell, and Aberdeen FC manager Craig Brown. I went to meet Craig and managed to pull a two-part show together with the main man after spending over three hours in his company.

He was fantastic fun and some of the stories he shared with me were sensational particularly during his time managing the national team but also at Aberdeen as well. The man lives and breathes football and I messaged him recently to wish him well.

Second to that, is my one with BBC Match of The Day commentator Guy Mowbray. Guy for me is the best English football commentator anywhere in the UK and consistently gets better and better with every big game he commentates on. I found it amazing to chat to a guy who oversaw England in the Euro 2020 final this summer and who has done many World Cups, FA Cups and Premier League matches with plenty more to follow. It was just fantastic. I still speak to Guy occasionally and would love to meet him at a York City game some time if I am ever down that neck of the woods.

The first podcast I did which connected me to Northern Ireland was with Michael Clarke from BBC Sport NI and host of The Score NI podcast. I find Michael and his own show the benchmark for content in Northern Ireland and that is with the greatest respect to everyone else who does content over there.

Michael is so forensic with his research and his views and analysis of the game is usually spot on the money. He is an approachable guy too, and I’ve interacted with him many times on social media. I know he loved my chat with Mowbray as well and personally messaged me about that so that was nice of him. He didn’t need to do that. I was honoured.

SC: Your listening figures are impressive you must get good feedback from fans?

GC: I just surpassed 40,000 total plays recently which for a fledgling podcast which I run in my spare time, is some going. I saw I had some good numbers in places such as Bahrain recently as well as Great Britain and Ireland which was fantastic to see! There are a usual cohort on social media who acknowledge and respect my podcast episodes. I like to think I produce something for everyone and that it is an alternative, unconventional look into my world of football through my eyes.

Of course, you get people who are critical but that’s up to them. You can’t be loved by everyone and I’m grateful for those who continue to stick with me. I don’t think I do too badly for someone who is not trained in the media, production, or journalism. I’m just a genuine football fan like most of the general population.

SC: What plans do you have for your future podcasts?

GC: One of my dreams is to get James Richardson from BT Sport and Totally Football Show fame on my podcast. James was, and still is, one of my heroes of football and as a young lad growing up during the heights of the 1990s, Gazzetta Football Italia was my show all day long. I love the way he talks. He just oozes classes and is not bad at a few gags as well. Oh, and he likes Ice cream too and a read through the papers. That’s a win, right? How can people do that so brilliantly and effortlessly? Not many can.

Closer to the Northern Irish League, I’d love to interview David Jeffrey and Oran Kearney. DJ is a legend of the Irish League and every time the guy speaks, you listen. I think he should be an ambassador for the NIFL. I think he would capture so many people’s imagination.

I’ve ran out of superlatives to describe Oran. I wanted him to manage at Aberdeen after he left St Mirren! I think he’s a manager who could make it in a bigger league if he ever fancied that challenge again. He’s clearly well-loved at Coleraine and I just love the way he speaks so candidly and respectfully of his players, his staff, and the fans. Coleraine fans are lucky to have him, and I can see him being at the top of the game for many years to come.

SC: Have you plans to come over for an IL game?

GC: Before the pandemic, I had grand plans to meet the guys from ‘The Waffle’ Irish League Podcast for the weekend and take in a Big Two derby between Glentoran and Linfield. Make no mistake about it though, I will be coming across. I might need to take a fortnight holiday though to go round the grounds and meet everyone!

You can listen to Grant’s podcasts here