Interview: Andy Jacobs
Rio is grand for broadcaster who loves the funny old game
Two up front: talkSPORT’s Andy Jacobs with Chelsea star Frank Lampard.
As you read this, Andy Jacobs will be in Rio de Janeiro, a stone's throw from the Copacabana beach, trying desperately to appear as though he is not having too good a time. It will be tricky. Anyone who has heard Jacobs on the talkSPORT show he presents daily with Paul Hawksbee will be familiar with his infectious giggle as the two banter about sport, interview guests and generally seem as though they are thoroughly enjoying themselves, although Jacobs retains a great fondness for a rant.
Even after 15 years, he finds doing the show is great fun, but adds that there is much more going on than meets the ear. Over a coffee shortly after coming off air, Jacobs talks about the preparation which goes into every show. "Occasionally people say to me that my job must be easy - you turn up, talk about football all day, he makes you laugh and that's about it. Well, they obviously don't have a clue. It's great that it comes across as effortless but the truth is we are there early in the morning, cutting things out of the papers, preparing jokes, having things ready which might provide 10 minutes of chat if we lose a guest or if nothing much is going on."
Jacobs reaches into his briefcase and pulls out a pile of clippings, around the thickness of War and Peace, which equates to about a week-and-a-half's research. He has been known to quote JC stories on air. Clearly the confidence to be relaxed and jovial comes from plenty of hard graft.
He expects it to be the same in Rio - the first time he and Hawksbee have done their programme from a World Cup location. "We're going to be doing 10 shows," he explains. "I'm really looking forward to it but you have to be careful that the show doesn't sound like it's about two blokes on holiday."
Now 60, Jacobs came to radio late. It wasn't his first, or even his second profession. Having decided not to follow his parents' advice to become an accountant - failing maths O-level was the clincher - he developed a menswear business with a partner. As his dress sense suggests, he likes fashion and the business was successful at first, if less so later. However, he had also started contributing articles to For Him magazine (later FHM) and became FHM's first editor. "Being in menswear enabled me to make the transition in my career," he recalls. "I had always liked showbusinesss and I made my own tapes and sketches so it was a natural progresssion to move into that world."
Jacobs dressed as a Chasid in the Fantasy Football sketch with David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and Avi Cohen
The next stage of his career is one he looks back on with great pride. Having worked for Grandslam Productions, which among other things, produced American football for Channel 4, he heard that David Baddiel and Frank Skinner were looking for a producer for their new show, Fantasy Football League. "They wanted a producer who knew about sport and also had a feel for comedy. I'd also been out with David's wife's cousin, which helped," he adds self-deprecatingly.
Fantasy Football League captured the '90s zeitgeist perfectly - the laddism, the shiny new Premier League and presenters who knew how to make being funny look easy. Jacobs, who hooked up with Hawksbee to work on the show, remembers the time with great fondness and is a big fan of Baddiel's."They were utterly brilliant to work with and it was a very original show. On Fantasy Football they used to say that Frank was so much funnier than David. But David did so much brillant stuff on that show. Now recently he has got all this critical acclaim on the back of his one man show and I'm really pleased for him."
Jacobs and Baddiel conspired to come up with a hilarious episode of Phoenix From the Flames, the regular feature on the show in which great football moments were reproduced - in this case Israeli international Avi Cohen scoring on his debut at Anfield. Jacobs appeared in the sketch (immortalised on YouTube) dressed as a Chasid.
And Jacobs backs Baddiel's ongoing campaign to ban the Y-word from football. "I prevaricated for a long time about this. But in the end, even though I didn't believe it to be true antisemitism, I decided we could really do without this word. It's an unpleasant pejorative term. Chelsea fans sing terrible things about Liverpool and Man United with the Munich thing. Individually I don't think they mean it but it's a culture in football that you try to upset the opposing fans in any way you can."
Like Baddiel a Chelsea fan, Jacobs stopped going to Stamford Bridge for a few years in the 1980s when the yob culture was at its height. It followed an FA Cup quarter-final with Spurs in 1982. "The atmosphere had got very nasty," he recalls. "I went back with my kids a few years later and it had all changed."
He is in no doubt that the money which has flooded into English football in recent years has improved the product. And what of Roman Abramovich? "People say to me, 'how can you support that football club'? which I presume to mean a club owned by a very rich Jewish bloke. It's just jealousy. I was in the stadium with my son when we won the Champions League. Nothing can take away that night in Munich in 2012. I can now die happy."
Jacobs talks to a lot of football insiders so I am keen to have his insight into the likely World Cup winners. England perhaps?
"I recently interviewed Jimmy Bullard who played under Roy Hodgson at Fulham and he said off-air that he was a fantastic man, the best manager he has ever worked with and a great tactician. I think we'll make the last 16 but then will come up against a team who are better than us - like when we played Chile and Germany in the spring and came up short. I fancy a Brazil v Germany final with Chile as dark horses."
Having said that, Jacobs feels that the quality of the World Cup is very much second best to the Champions League, mainly because the players are exhausted after a long season. He then launches into a trademark rant against the money grabbers at Fifa, the incompetence of the FA and even the Guardian's list of the World Cup's all-time top 100 players. "How can you judge all these players from different eras? It's pathetic."
He is aware that some people have labelled him grumpy on air and, well, it annoys him. As he rightly points out, there is probably no one on radio who spends as much time laughing as he does.
"On my Instagram page it says 'simultaneously grumpy and happy' and I'd quite like that on my headstone."