Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“I could probably be more serious” Max Rushden on the challenges of broadcasting and why he’d play an elephant in midfield

Posted on 14 February 2020 by Hal Fish
Max Rushden discusses broadcasting with the Sports Gazette

Sport often requires a baton to be passed.

Be that metaphorically: think, Cristiano Ronaldo taking David Beckham’s number seven shirt at Manchester United.

Or literally: think, a relay race.

Whilst not a sportsman, Max Rushden can certainly relate to this.

In 2008, when Sky were struggling to successfully replace Soccer AM’s original host Tim Lovejoy, Rushden grasped the baton.

Once more he took the rod in 2017. This time from James Richardson, to become host of the Guardian Football Weekly podcast.

Rushden explains the pressure of trying to step into someone else’s shoes: “I found them very different because when I got to Soccer AM I was incredibly inexperienced. And it was like a massive break for me, and I was basically terrified. So, I don’t know if I handled it very well at all actually.

“It just took me a long time to relax, because I was different to my predecessors. Not necessarily better or worse.”

He smirks, before adding: “I mean, some people would definitely say the latter.”

But his move to Football Weekly was more akin to Sergio Aguero stepping up when Fernando Torres left Atletico Madrid, as opposed to William Gallas claiming Dennis Bergkamp’s vacant number ten shirt at Arsenal.

“When I got the Guardian I’d already been hosting seven or eight shows a year. And Barry Glendenning who does it, I would never praise him on camera, he’s obviously a huge part of the pod, so I just kinda felt comfortable doing that.”

“It’s a less pressurised environment, a podcast to a live TV show, you know? The lights, the people, the audience, the producers. The amount of stuff you’ve got to do, it just feels more pressurised.”

Having left Soccer AM in 2015, Rushden now divides most of his time between Football Weekly and hosting on talkSPORT.

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Despite his enduring reputation as someone who takes a more jovial approach to sports broadcasting than others, it’s clear what Rushden has learnt to prioritise.

“For me, it doesn’t really matter who wins or who loses. I don’t get angry about that,” he explains.

“But the things in football that are problematic – the wrong owners of football clubs, how the whole of football is run, racism and homophobia and sexism in the game – we take them seriously, and that’s important for me.”

“You have to say things as you see them, and talk about the things you care about, and what you like. And hope you are a decent human being, or certainly that’s how I try and do it.”

Occasionally, sports broadcasters find themselves having to shift from frivolous matters onto moments of genuine gravitas.

Rushden believes honesty is key in these moments.

“I think you can do gear changes really quickly actually on the radio, because you can do them in life. Like if you’re having a conversation with your friends you might talk about someone who’s really ill and then start joking about something completely different.

“I just think as long as you’re honest about it. And you can always say, we’re about to talk about this thing, it’s really difficult to talk about, and we’re not really sure how we meant to cover this.

“I could probably be more serious more of the time. I feel this is the most serious I’ve been while broadcasting ever in my life actually,” he jokes.

“But it’s really important to think about it.”

In fear of things becoming too serious, however, we swiftly move onto matters a little closer to Rushden’s usual discussion topics.

The 40-year-old offloads a well-considered analysis of what positions animals would play if they lined-up on a football field – having recently been inspired by a Tweet.

Upfront, naturally, would be a Giraffe, though it would need a partner: “He’s got play alongside someone else because he wins a lot in the air but needs some pace around him. So I put a natural predator next to him. A tiger or a lion; I went tiger I think.

“A lot of people wanted to the goat in the ten but I pointed out it was a goat not the goat,” Rushden asserts.

“There was an elephant in centre-mid, because elephants can put their foot on the ball, can’t they?

“I’ve thought about it a lot.”

Presumably, it’s analysis such as this which has seen Rushden’s odds of becoming Cambridge United’s next manager supposedly drop lower than those on Sam Allardyce taking over at Old Trafford.