The Offensive: The Premier League meets The Thick of It
The Offensive is a mockumentary football podcast that follows the trials and tribulations of fictional Premier League club Ashwood City FC throughout the season. Launched by podcast production network Stak in 2018, The Offensive has since grown to over 1.6 million listens and has been awarded a bronze prize for ‘Best Fiction’ in the 2019 British Podcast Awards. From rogue tweets to ill-advised charity singles and irrepressible fan protests, The Offensive marries an ultra-sharp The Thick of It-style script with a well-observed understanding of just how wrong everything can go in football. Speaking to the boardroom circus that seems to lie inside every club right now, the show has never been so close to football’s reality.
Ahead of the new season, I sat down with Joel Emery and Adam Jarrell, co-writers and creators of The Offensive, to discuss predicting the future of football, what to expect next from the Premier League circus this season, and what is in store for Ashwood City in the coming months.
Have there been times where something you’ve scripted in the show has then happened in the real world?
JOEL: When it comes to writing the plot for the show, you think to yourself: “What is the most cynical thing the board of directors at a top football club could do?” And as soon as you enter that thought process, you invariably end up predicting the patterns of elite-level football. We predicted the Super League a month before it happened – except I think we called it ‘The Gazprom Super Euro League’. When the pandemic shut down football, Ashwood City’s Chief-Executive Patrick Nolan furloughed all the staff – around 4 days later in the real world so did Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle… much to the disapproval of football fans. Liverpool reversed that decision, the fallout was that bad.
ADAM: We built our storyline last season around grassroots fan ownership, in the coming months the same things happened at Rangers and Newcastle – among others. Our favourite ‘prediction’ (if you can call it that) was during a Europa League episode where we had a story about the club’s left-back walking out with a mascot who was taller than him. 3 hours after the episode aired, it happened to Man Utd’s Dan James in a game versus AZ Alkmaar.
Has it become harder to satirise football ownership – particularly in the last six months with the European Super League saga – when so many owners and CEOs seem to be as villainous as Patrick Nolan now?
J: I think it’s left us feeling somewhat vindicated, to be honest. There’s always the worry that our characters will go too far, be too cruel, be too greedy or callous but the football world always reflects people back at us that are – somehow – so much worse. Patrick is an Old Etonian, Cambridge educated, a former banker with a hatred of football fans and a desire for money and power… Is he that far removed from other football club owners? No. Not at all. In some cases, he’s actually one of the nicer ones, which is worrying.
A: The challenge with the satire around the ESL was how it launched and crashed so emphatically. As well as football goings-on, our show also specialises in PR disasters, social media faux-pas, egg on the face of the wealthiest elites in football… and all of a sudden when the ESL popped up and managed to collapse in the funniest and most humiliating way for all parties involved we were left scrambling to outdo them in a way.
How do you expect the tension between fans and owners to play out this season and beyond – both at Ashwood City and in the real world?
J: This is going to be a bleak answer… I can’t see how fans get a meaningful foothold on the game again. Fan ownership will roll on for a few more years, but I can’t see a fully fan-owned Premier League club. We’ll come to a point where fans purchase a piece of their club, but not a controlling stake. And if you thought club owners were bad enough already – wait until they have access to money that isn’t theirs.
Where do you see your next rich source of material coming from this season? In other words, what do you think football’s next big fuck-up will be?
A: Well… the answer there is probably the road to Qatar 2022! Amidst football’s genuine attempts from fans, players, brands and charities to find a heart and soul, there is also the colossal and unstoppable wealth of Manchester City and PSG, the impending collapse of football institutions like Barcelona and Inter Milan and of course the race for mid-table sides to sell their soul to the Saudi Arabian wealth fund. As real social change happens at the bottom in football – with inclusivity, mental health awareness, social responsibility – the opposite is happening at the top.
J: The next big fuck-up is the super-owners versus the super-organisations like UEFA, Premier League and FIFA. What do the brands caught in the middle do? Is it right for a brand that celebrates Pride Month to sponsor a tournament in Qatar? Is it right for a team that works with men’s mental health charities to brand themselves head-to-toe in Chinese gambling websites?
A: I realise this all sounds really gloomy, but I promise we’ll find an amusing way to poke fun at it all.
Can you give us a teaser about this season of The Offensive?
A: This season, Ashwood City are going to be pushed into areas they could never have dreamed of – thanks to the shady and devious activity of their Chief-Executive and his anonymous financial connections.
J: For those that remember Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano suddenly turning up at West Ham – you’re in for a treat.
For both connoisseurs of the beautiful game and fans of comedy, The Offensive is unique entertainment – with a bite. The new season of The Offensive is live! Listen via the Stak website, ACAST, and Spotify.
This article was written by Finn Ranson, an Assistant Producer at Stak, as part of a paid advertising package.
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