Goodbye Quickly Kevin – the podcast that proved 90s football was silly, and great

Like many middle-aged men struggling to let go of the past, I was gutted earlier this year to hear that Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? was coming to an end. Launched in February 2017, it provided an irreverent, joyous and outright hilarious look at football in the 1990s across more than 300 episodes. It was a huge success and is, quite simply, my favourite ever podcast.

As such, I felt compelled to talk to the hosts Josh Widdicombe, Chris Scull and Michael Marden about doing the show, as well as about 90s football in general. To paraphrase Quickly Kevin’s regular sign-off: Robbie Slater, see you later, lads. You’ve been great.

SN It’s been a few weeks since Quickly Kevin wrapped up; how are you guys feeling about that – England levels of sad after Euro 96 ended?

Josh Widdicombe Well, for a start, we did it more on our terms than England did at Euro 96! I think, ‘Quit while you’re ahead’ is a good way to go about things and overall I’m delighted with what we created. You can’t often say that.

Chris Scull There’s not many British creative projects that have famously ended early. I can only think of Fawlty Towers and The Office … and now Quickly Kevin. In all seriousness, it’s rare for creative projects to end on their own terms, and that’s the great thing about podcasts in general; you can start them and end them when you choose to do so.

SN You went out with a bang with your final live show at the London Palladium last month. Being there, it was clear how cherished Quickly Kevin is. Why do you think it connected so strongly with so many people?

CS I like to think of Quickly Kevin as a coming-of-age story, specifically the story of how our generation got into football. There’s obviously a lot of joy those who remember that time can take from that, and you saw that at the Palladium.

One thing that has really stayed with me from that night is a tweet I saw from someone who said how nice it was before the show to see so many people in the pub talking about other teams, and there’s definitely something about looking back to the past that means you lose that tribalism.

JW Totally. Having done this podcast I now find myself liking the Manchester United team of the 90s whereas at the time I despised them.

On the appeal of Quickly Kevin – the 90s was a perfect blend of the old and new, the merger between the lack of professionalism of the 70s and 80s and the professionalism of today, and that undeniably makes it a unique time. There was an innocence then that football simply doesn’t have now.

SN Michael, it must be weird for you as a United fan to hear someone say they like your team from the 90s …

Michael Marden I wouldn’t say it’s weird, I’d say it’s quite nice! Touching on what the guys were saying there, we’re fortunate that our formative years and the growth of football took place in that decade. We were the first generation to have an analogue childhood and a digital adulthood and you can’t underestimate how important that was. The money from Sky, the birth of the internet … it profoundly shifted the landscape as well as our relationship with the sport as a whole. For instance, a feature like ‘Do I Remember This Right?’ – you just couldn’t have that as a feature about football now because the thing in question could be proved or disproved immediately because all the information is out there. If we’d been born 10 years later we may still have done a podcast but it would have been a completely different experience. We got lucky with the timing.

Darren Anderton, centre, in action for England against Germany at Euro 96. The former winger told Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? that the team planned to celebrate victory by running down the tunnel. Photograph: Getty Images/Sportsphoto/Allstar

JW I agree, and what’s interesting about that is in the analogue days, prior to the internet, you didn’t have much stuff. So if you had a sticker book, or a Rothmans Yearbook, or a copy of FourFourTwo, you’d read it again and again, so it was in your mind that much more and, because of that, felt more special.

MM There’s definitely an extra value to something when it’s rare. For instance, I don’t think that Ronny Rosenthal miss is that bad but because it’s the one people remember from a time of scarcity, it’s held up as this high watermark of misses. If you went on YouTube now, you’d find a hundred far worse examples. That single moment and the way it is remembered highlights the potency of nostalgia. Quickly Kevin, at its best, tapped into the communal sense of that.

JW It’s about a shared sense of humour as well which, early on, was probably best summed up by that Norwich fan emailing us to accuse Efan Ekoku of stealing his Drifter bar.

CS We also had that person writing in to say they once saw Gerry Francis at Disneyland wearing a Tottenham tracksuit with ‘GF’ on it.

JW There was also that person who sent in a picture of Terry McDermott reading his own autobiography on holiday.

Football was definitely sillier in the 90s and we were fortunate in stumbling across a load of people who recognised that and shared our desire not to take it seriously because it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Frankly I don’t think that is acknowledged enough these days, when you’ve got deep dives into tactics and radio stations that are on 24 hours a day for fans to phone up and be angry about VAR.

SN Do you have any particular favourite discoveries about 90s football from doing the podcast?

CS I’d say the best bit of insight we ever got was Darren Anderton telling us that if England had scored a golden goal against Germany in their Euro 96 semi-final the team planned to celebrate by immediately running off down the tunnel. That really sticks with me, partly because the tragedy of that game sits at the centre of Quickly Kevin – to hear what the flip of that game could have been and that the players would have celebrated in such hilarious fashion was something else.

JW To be fair, we spoke to a few other people in that team who didn’t seem to be aware that was the plan. Maybe Anderton hadn’t told them.

MM If Quickly Kevin was to be viewed as a fact-finding mission to uncover the truths of 90s football, we’ve probably made things muddier, to be honest. The Anderton celebration thing … when he said that I genuinely felt like Indiana Jones discovering the Ark of the Covenant. I’d never heard it mentioned before, ever. It felt like we’d cracked open a mystery, and then, as Josh says, every subsequent England player from that time who we met said they had no idea what we were talking about. Suddenly you’re left wondering what we’re contributing here.

If I had to pick something about 90s football that drastically changed for me from doing the podcast it would be how I view Graham Taylor. His legacy is a big needle that shifted, because if you grew up in that time you were very much left with the view that he was incompetent and rubbish. And yes, England weren’t very good, and yes, we probably should have qualified for the World Cup, but reliving that journey really did alter my view of Taylor. I came to recognise that he was a brilliant, lovely man and far more than the guy who the Sun turned into a turnip.

Graham Taylor during his time as England manager. His legacy was a ‘big needle that shifted’ for Michael Marden as a result of doing the podcast. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire/PA Images

JW Some of that came from us doing a rewatch of An Impossible Job, and it’s mad to think how much damage that did to Taylor’s reputation given he comes across incredibly well in it. Someone who is noble, kind and honest.

SN Is it fair to say the thing you enjoyed doing most on the podcast was interviewing 90s footballers?

JW By a distance that was the thing I liked doing the least. I was constantly worried they wouldn’t get our sense of humour, or they wouldn’t deliver what we wanted. I found it much easier talking to Chris and Michael, or to one of our friends; 90s footballers felt like they were from a different world.

CS I probably loved those episodes the most out of the three of us, mainly because it led to some incredible moments, like Tony Dorigo popping around Michael’s flat on a Saturday morning, or whenever it was.

SN Did you have a favourite type of Quickly Kevin episode?

MM I loved them all but the ones that meant the most were the ones where I got to meet the people who were responsible for the DNA of my childhood. James Richardson, Jon Hare, Miles Jacobson … I still play Football Manager now and my relationship with that game is the longest of my life. The fact I got to sit down with Miles and talk about Freddy Adu … if you’d told a 14-year-old me that would happen in the future, it would’ve blown my mind.

Like Josh, I struggled with the footballer interviews because of that need to disarm them. To ask someone if they’d heard that Chris Bart-Williams had tiny feet … before Quickly Kevin existed I don’t think you could get away with asking a footballer that. We proved there is a desire for the irreverent minutiae that is the lifeblood of football fandom.

CS The first interview we ever did was with Matt Le Tissier and I remember talking beforehand about how we didn’t want to ask him: ‘Do you remember that great goal you scored?’ We wanted to focus on the things we were actually interested in and so eventually settled on the first question being, ‘Can you remember all of the sponsors that were on Southampton’s shirts during the 90s?’

JW You could tell Le Tissier enjoyed being asked that question – he probably wouldn’t now, if we’re being honest – and it kind of set the tone for the entire podcast.

SN And how did doing the podcast shape, and change, your friendship?

CS It was like being in a band in that you have to make a lot of creative decisions that evolve your friendship into a business-like relationship.

JW Indeed … you find yourselves having different views on if we should ask Kevin Keegan ‘x’ or ‘y’. Scull will always go blazing in whereas I’ll always be desperate not to offend, and of course the answer is neither of those things and you have to learn to meet halfway. Overall we did that well, but it does have an affect on your friendship – you end up being colleagues as much as friends, and it’s weird now talking to Chris and Michael about the Tories trying to implement national service as opposed to whether or not we should try and book Steve Coppell. In that sense there’s something nice about not working together again.

CS We’re free again to just be friends.

‘If Quickly Kevin was to be viewed as a fact-finding mission to uncover the truths of 90s football, we’ve probably made things muddier.’ Michael Marden, Chris Scull and Josh Widdicombe have gone out on top. Sort of. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

SN One of my very favourite things about listening to Quickly Kevin was the mad stuff Chris regularly came out with, the most infamous of which was probably him saying Roberto Baggio wasn’t good at football. Josh, Michael, do you have any favourite Scullisms?

JW For the show at the Palladium I listened back to a load of our watch-along episodes and there’s one where there’s a clip of a Liverpool game and Scull goes: ‘Tell you what, who knew Alan Hansen was so good,’ like he wasn’t the best defender for the team that dominated English football for an entire decade. Remarkable.

MM Roberto Baggio not being good at football is definitely my favourite thing Chris said on the podcast, mainly because there is so much evidence to prove he was.

CS Go watch the penalty shootout from the final of USA 94. That’s all I’m saying.

SN Before you start squabbling, let me ask the final question, and it’s an obvious final question: If I gave you the chance to go back to February 2017 and do Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? again, would you?

CS 100%.

JW Yeah, of course.

MM No. I don’t think you should ever look back.

JW What? That was the whole point of our podcast?!

MM By not looking back, I mean you should never do redos. But I would at some point do a revisit of Quickly Kevin. Maybe in 20 or 30 years’ time.

JW We could interview Tony Dorigo about us interviewing Tony Dorigo.

MM And see if Lee Dixon remembers spilling wine on my carpet and not apologising.

CS The great thing about podcasts, of course, is that you can go back. Everything we ever produced is out there for people to listen to whenever they want.

JW If anyone wants to look back at 90s football, bizarrely we’ve probably done the deepest dive. We learned nothing, made things more complicated, didn’t take it seriously and came to some awful conclusions, but we definitely dived deep into it.

The Guardian