In part-two we got Tony Bishop and Nigel Walker on a Zoom call and we’re giving you the full bloody thing. It’s the only way.
To me you’ve got this DIY ethos that runs through Cricket Guerilla. In some respects it’s a punk rock show in a squat ethos, you’re using different spaces, there’s goodwill of people, using people’s flats and all sudden the tech has become accessible. Just that sheer force of will and personality to bring the concept to life. Tell me about that DIY energy?
Tony Bishop: “Some of its true, and certainly was originally, some of its evolved though.”
Nigel Walker: “So Guerilla Cricket was originally Test Match Sofa. We originally started as Test Match Sofa with a guy called Dan Norcross in 2009 to cover The Ashes series over here at a time my daughter was two and my son had just been born and I was desperate to watch the cricket and he (Dan) had just been made redundant”.
“You’ve got to think back from 11 years ago to now, the internet has changed an awful lot and made it possible. My background is audio engineering and on TV as an on-location sound recordist. I had some kit knocking about, he had a spare room, he’d just been made redundant, we wanted to watch The Ashes, so we got a few people together and said, ‘right, we’re going to do The Ashes.’ An essential concept was we were going to charge people and because it was the internet, it was essentially for people who are overseas. Dan’s brother lived in America, so we did that and we really enjoyed it. We did it our own way, we set up an email and people started emailing us during the series and we’d stay in contact.
“So we decided, ‘sod it we’re going to do this because we can.’ We always wanted to. I played cricket with Dan, he was my captain at the cricket club. We roped in a few people, we did it, really enjoyed it and then thought maybe we can carry on with this. We immediately dropped the pay thing and went about doing it for free!”
It’s a very similar story that we have in Australia, you know Jeff Lemon and Adam Collins, they started out in a similar fashion.
Nigel: “Well, they got their concept from Test Match Sofa because I know Adam and Jeff. In fact, I was working on the World Cup last year while they were getting really annoyed because what they were supposed to be doing had fallen through and they were still travelling around. and Adam and Jeff both know Dan as well.
“I mean Adam and Jeff went off and got the rights to the Pakistan-Australia series in the UAE after we got the rights to do Ireland’s inaugural Test match against Pakistan in Malahide.
“We got that purely off the back of Dave Brook, one of our guys, knew and worked in TV years ago and knew Warren Deutrom who’s the head of Cricket Ireland, and they were having problems getting rid of the rights. No one really wanted the rights, it was madness. Eventually we got in there, a lot of companies here were saying they weren’t going to do it full-time, it’s going to be like the radio stations, it was going to come after the horse racing because they didn’t think it was that important and the broadcaster’s didn’t really want to broadcast it. So no one’s putting in any money and we got those rights for a thousand pounds.”
What! A thousand pounds?
Nigel: “Yep, and it cost us 1800 quid to hire an Airbnb for a week. So an Airbnb was almost twice as much as the rights.”
Tony: “We got quite a lot of press coverage for doing that. We did a blog with The Cricketer, got written up I think in The Standard, The Guardian and Wisden among several others. And you know that journalists will always look for the angle of the story and the angle was not our heroics or Ireland’s first Test or any of those things. It was much more about the fact that the Airbnb cost more than the rights!”
Did you make your money back?
Nigel: “The thing was it was too late. They mucked us about in choosing a broadcaster, it looked like they were trying to go for one of the regular broadcasters but as I was saying they weren’t forthcoming. I was keen to cover it full-time so they decided to go with us and we got the rights about two to three weeks before the game. We set up a donation page and we got just over five grand from that to cover our costs to go over there to hire a kit, hire an Airbnb, pay for the rights all that kind of stuff.
“Ireland’s quite easy though, Tone and I drove up in my beaten-up old Merc through the length of the country together with all the audio kits stacked in the back of my car, drove up to the top of Wales and got a bloody ferry over to Ireland. Instead of flying and hiring all the kit, which if we’re gonna do again, I’d do it again and do it that way it’ll be much easier to hire the kit and fly over, it’s only an hour from bloody Heathrow. But it was fun, it was a road trip and it was really well done.”
Tony: “It also gave me a flavour for what Clyde Lloyd would have to endure being your passenger during the World Cup!”
Working with Cricket Ireland, an emerging association, what was the partnership with them like? Were they more open minded and more willing to work to yourselves and your personalities?
Tony: “I think that is true because they were setting out on their journey. So they didn’t have airs and graces. They didn’t have attitude. They didn’t feel they were an established entity. They were fighting their way in and this was huge for them. It was huge not just for them as a cricket organisation, but as a country as well. So they were very open and it was just fantastic.
“What was really interesting as well is that it threw up a number of challenges for us, which I think we well and truly conquered… If you remember there was no play at all on the first day!.”
Tony: “I think we must have interviewed everybody from the lady who made the sandwiches, to the groundsman, to Warren Deutrom, to the head coach. So we managed to get a whole day of really interesting interviews, we even met with the President of Cricket Ireland, Aideen Rice.
“Bizarrely, we kind of did a magazine show about Irish cricket and we got to know them pretty well. So I think attitudinally they have a pioneer spirit. It was brand new and as such they welcomed us in as a broadcaster, and they have said since, and we are very happy that they said it, that we did them proud in what was a very proud moment for them. We’re proud of that.”
What has been the reception from the established associations like the ECB, if at all? This might even might be complimentary if you’re known as an agitator.
Nigel: “Cricket is very different than football. In football they get away with saying quite a lot. There’s so much news generated about it. They can upset the authorities by saying what they like because there’s so much money involved in it and it can all go ’round. I think with cricket everyone’s really protective of their jobs, they realise how fragile the ecosystem is. That’s the impression I get, other people get different impressions.
“People don’t really engage with us because we’re not on the inside but they did when we were in Ireland. That was the funny thing everyone was really nice as pie because we had the rights but then as soon as we didn’t have the rights to Ireland again, we were essentially on the outside, people just tend to ignore us a lot. It becomes a bit frustrating and the whole thing about being an agitator, as you say, I think people now have to sit up and take notice of us because they all thought we would go away very quickly. When Test Match Sofa fell apart a lot of people saw Dan Norcross as the man who set it up and done it all and of course I’d started it with him and I was the guy who made it all happen. It was only the fact that he talked an awful bloody lot that made him a sort of star and that’s what he wanted to do, he’s ego driven. Whereas I was more kind of let’s just get this thing done and I enjoyed it, and so I carried on with Hendo (who couldn’t be here today!).
“We just enjoy doing our cricket and I’m very stubborn like that and I was like, ‘sod it, it’s a good concept.’ It actually works well and we had nearly 30,000 Twitter followers by the time we left the Sofa so we knew it worked and it was a good concept, and maybe we hadn’t done it as well as we could and by the end the organisation that bought us were trying to make us more mainstream media, which didn’t really work for what we were trying to do. Anyway, so we went off and did Guerilla and I think a lot of people ignored us to start with because they thought it won’t last because Dan wasn’t there. But it’s now five-years later and you can’t ignore us, we are still about and we are self-funding, we make our money through Patreon, donations through PayPal, we merch, it’s not enough to pay us all but it’s certainly enough to cover the costs to make the thing a goer as it were.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done and we’re still here.”
Tell us what happened to you during the World Cup?
Nigel: “I ended up weirdly working on the World Radio feed for Channel Two last year. I worked with a guy out of the West Indies called Barry and we ended up basically producing the world audio feed for the World Cup, it was basically like Guerilla Cricket at stadiums because I literally turned up on day one and a guy didn’t have anywhere to stream it to, didn’t have a streaming base station, the whole lot and I literally sat in a studio in Cardiff five days after the tournament started because they were late, ‘and what you’re telling me I’ve got nowhere to send this to and you want me to basically start from scratch and sort out your feed?’ it’s very easy to do in the modern world but still…
“I think we’re very good at doing things cheaply with what we can find around, that’s our Guerilla attitude.”
The appetite from the fans and public is there, why do you reckon so?
Tony: “Watching cricket with your friends is what you’ve probably grown up doing. I certainly did and by and large it’s a social experience. It’s a sport that gives you that time and space for conversation. So we try and make that absolutely central to the way we broadcast and what we do is to just have that conversation amongst ourselves, but then also with as many other people that want to join us and they become the 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 rows behind us in the stand. We’re all suddenly engaged in the same conversation. When we broadcast we make it social. Test matches will thrive and continue to thrive because watching them is a social event, although of course it has to be good cricket!
“There are platforms that allow people to commentate on live sport, but by and large they are just one head to camera and aren’t a social event. We are a social event when we broadcast and that’s very hard to deliver on your own. It doesn’t have as long a life to sustain interest because you need those other people to help sustain it.”
The beauty of Test cricket is the slow burn storytelling and the patience, it works to your advantage.
Nigel: “It works well on the radio. It’s a five day game, most people can’t afford to sit and watch a screen for five days but they’ll be happy to have it blaring in the background. It comes back to the social part, Test cricket does get dull in periods, everyone’s just blocking the shit out of everything, no one’s going anywhere, it’s about to rain and no one wants to do anything. So the game essentially stops for a period of time.
“I always thought the concept of it was imagine that you’re all sitting in the lounge, basically you’ve got a couple sofas and you’re watching the cricket, it gets boring, and then someone starts up and goes ‘what the fuck did that politician do or whatever’ and you go off on that tangent but you always keep an eye on the cricket. That’s essentially what we do. We always give you the ball-by-ball but when it’s getting dull if someone comes in with some crazy, random tangent on Twitter we’ll follow it and go with it, ‘we’ll keep you informed about the cricket but that sounds quite entertaining.’ I think that and the jingles, and that kind of thing is where we kind of differentiate ourselves from mainstream media.”
Expanding out to have even more voices, a network of commentators if you will. Is that something that’s been discussed amongst yourselves about having a bigger network of people that can take the mantle as well? Be an extension of yourselves.
Tony: “If you look at the number of current commentators we have I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s around 50. Some of those are what you might call core and regulars and some of those might be occasional because they live in another part of the world and they’ll appear when they’re in the UK to get to our studio.
“We are open to people contacting us and we are always on the look – out for people. That’s how I got involved. I met the other Nigel and Dan Norcross at Lord’s after a Surrey-Middlesex game in the Tavern, I was a bit drunk and somehow fell into conversation and next thing I’ve been doing this for the last three and a half years.
“We will always open our doors for people to come in and have a try out, we’re pretty gentle with them. But at the end of the day they have to be able to do it. The listeners are the ultimate arbiter, aren’t they?”
Nigel: “You’d actually be surprised how many people can do it.
“There are some people who come in and don’t know enough about the game, they think they can talk the hind legs off of something and as soon as you stick a mic in their face they freeze, it’s quite interesting. I also realised, funnily enough, I’ve been doing it for so long, how comfortable I feel on a mic right now. I always saw myself as a technical person but I’m comfortable doing it and I enjoy it.”
Tony: “The one thing we are very, very keen to have and to put it bluntly is more women commentators. We have about three or four, and they are fabulous but we’d like more. Those that have come and done well have really stuck with it. It would help us, it would help our image, it would help the game if the fabulous growth in women’s cricket was mirrored in the balance of our commentary team.”
What about commentating on other sports? Is that something that has been discussed internally, something like football, rugby?
Tony: “It’s a commonly asked question. As we’ve had business discussions that’s one of the things people talk about. We see that opportunity as well. It’s down to time, resources and doing it really well. We understand the potential for the brand and I think there are sports it could work well for. You would have to adapt it and evolve it because shorter form sports don’t necessarily work as well for the reasons that we’ve talked about. But is it a potential for us? I think I would say yes. Are we advanced in getting to it? Not really at the moment. It’s certainly a part of the vision that it could work.”
Nigel: “I think you’ve got to have passion about the sport that you’re going to do. One of the sports I often think will work really well funnily enough is American football. There’s so much bloody stop-start. You’ve got an hour-long game that goes for several hours, the amount of time for talking crap and getting people’s tweets in and that kind of thing, it’s definitely there. I don’t know enough about American football, Tony doesn’t know enough about American football but if you want to do it properly…”
Tony: “That’s a bit of an assumption, how do you know?!?”
Nigel: “They could be from England, they could be from anywhere they just need to understand the game, the plays and all that kind of nonsense and be able to talk about the game with intelligence. Then be able to bring everything else in, which you could do, you can find those people quite easily but it takes time and effort to make it work.”
Tony: “We kind of think cricket is unique because of its complexity and idiosyncrasies. But you know, I have wonderful friends in the US who I have been to watch baseball with and you realise that baseball in the minds of the US audience has a similar sense of history. It has a similar sense of love. It has the camaraderie in the audience and indeed a lot of watching it is built around the consumption of food in America. So there are kinds of commonalities in it. I could see our American selves falling out of a bar one day saying, ‘let’s do Guerilla Baseball,’ and I reckon we’d do a damn good job.”
What’s the reception been like internationally, and with expat audiences?
Tony: “I would say we kind of split into a couple of categories, maybe more. We have a hardcore audience of regular listeners who love their cricket. They love us, they love our attitude and they’re almost part of us and a lot are now contributors as well, they’re the ones who are always sending us tweets or Facebook messages. Sometimes they’re our musical contributors. Anytime we do an interview like this we have to give a shout out to our musicians, comedians and the people who write our amazing jingles because they’re an amazing network of talented people!
“A lot of people find us by being expats. The geo-blocked nature of official broadcasts, the power of the internet to not be geo-blocked and then what we do.
“I went to Australia recently desperate to go and watch some cricket there and a listener who I’ve never met in my entire life just said, ‘come by my office, you can have my passes to the SCG.’ So I went, collected my members tickets and went and met loads of lovely people in the Sydney Pavilion. Just because this chap who I’d never met in my entire life was a Guerilla listener. He just said, ‘have my passes, they’re yours.’
“The expat element is really good. Even people like Stephen Fry has tweeted when he’s in France, saying thank goodness he’s got Guerilla Cricket.’ The interesting thing is when you start to look at where huge growth and consumption of cricket is then you’ve got to be looking at India. We have interesting relationships with Indian websites who carry our commentary. Just two years ago we were thinking a big audience being 300,000-400,000. Suddenly we start to look at our listening or viewing figures and we’ll get three and a half to four million for an ODI.
“I’m thinking of one particular game, it wasn’t even a particularly high-profile game, I think it was Australia in India in an ODI series. We covered that and it was a massive audience. What you tend to find there is just as much passion but a bit less perhaps the conversation and engagement. The conversation tends to be briefer but the audience size tends to be higher. So typically if we get, let’s say, an audience of a million people, following us in a day’s Test cricket, roughly 200 to 300 people are in regular conversation, another 20 to 30 per cent stick with us for the day and others dip in and out. We recognise that it’s absolutely a global game and we haven’t really substantially changed the way we do things but we have changed the ways in which we reach people. We make sure we’re able to reach a broader audience in cricket mad countries like India.”
Nigel: “When we originally started doing this, streaming to the internet was quite expensive and you had to find specialist things and now you can web stream from anywhere you can get software, even open source broadcast software that allows you to broadcast to Facebook Live. What you can do now compared to the past, especially the bandwidth we have, they’re all massively improved in 10 years. It changes how you play the game.”
How do you keep the passion and excitement going? We’re also in lockdown so how do you keep the momentum up?
Nigel: “There are times where you actually get worn down and you think I could do with a break and this is an enforced break and actually makes you think ‘you know what, I can’t wait to get back there’.”
Tony: “We’re finding ways. We are doing regular podcasts. We’ve done commentrary for The Cricketer’s Quarantine Cup matches. We’ve even created our own tournament which has had its own technical challenges but is working brilliantly now.
“We’ve gone out and we’re working with a charity partner, so we’re raising money for a very important charity for our Dickwella–Broad Owzat Trophy. During the competition, for every donation of 15 pounds or more we receive, 50 per cent goes to support the amazing work of the Juvenile Diabetes Research foundation and that’s going to carry on till June. So we’re finding ways to engage with each other, engage with our audience and build it around cricket of some kind even if we’re sort of inventing what that version of cricket is. It stretches you, different circumstances make you think differently about the way you do things and it’s all down to how you react isn’t it and I think by and large, we’re reacting pretty well. You wouldn’t want it to go on forever though!”
Again a courtesy. For the Dickewella – Broad Owzat Trophy, during the competition, for every donation of £15 or more we receive, 50% goes to support the amazing work of the Juvenile Diabetes Research foundation. The link is here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/db-owzat-trophy