Baker & Kelly’s VSPO; 107 hours of joy

I haven’t got any pets. In fact I don’t particularly like animals at all. But I appreciate lots of people do. They connect with them in a way that others simply don’t ‘get’. Imagine the sadness if they were then to lose said pet. A feeling that something’s missing, a slight emptiness in their routine. I feel that when a television show I grow fond of comes to an end. Surprise turns to shock, followed by sadness then anger that’s it’s been allowed to end before finally resigning myself to the fact it’s gone and I ain’t changing anything. It was like that when TFI Friday finished. It was like that when The Big Breakfast was ended. I even shed a tear at Big Brother’s Channel 4 funeral. At least those shows had a good run. Several years on telly is no mean feat.

So imagine my horror when Danny Baker and Danny Kelly brought down the curtain on another excellent season of their BT Sport vehicle VSPO on Monday 18th May by announcing it was the last live show ever. The title stands for Vaguely Sporting Phone Out as subjects for discussion were offered up by the two Dannys for us to then get in touch and, for a select few, get a call from them to regale on air. It’s a format they’ve done, both together and separately, in various guises down the years very successfully and made its television debut in August 2013 when the newly created BT Sport launched. Friday nights at 6pm live for one hour of unscripted, free-flowing wit and charm. A certain TFI Friday could be boiled down to that sentence too. I took to it from the start.

It was clear that the genius of Danny Baker was heavily involved in much of the creativity and spontaneity of the show. Anyone who has read both best-selling autobiographies, with more to come, or listened to just a snippet of his radio work knows that genius is but an understatement for the man. His writing style on TFI was also clear on VSPO. But I think it was Danny Kelly who played the most vital part of the show. Often relegated to sidekick when Baker is in full flow, he seems to hold the show together and able to keep it ticking along nicely. The long-standing friendship and mutual respect the two have for each other was an essential element for its success. They complemented each other. The rapid wit and thinking-on-feet of Baker matched the carefully chosen, lovingly-crafted factoids brought in by Kelly. To see the pair on top form is a broadcasting treat.

The show threw a load of ideas out there week in, week out. Some stuck, and the public ran with it. Some didn’t. Graeme Le Saux’s giant chess game perhaps didn’t catch the nations attention as might have hoped! Early success stories seem to develop organically, a major beauty of the show and it’s free-flowing format. A footballer baked in bread and sent in by a viewer for show one developed a lovely item in season one called Roll Models. A full squad of edible ballers was soon assembled as others got in on the act. A giant ball of football socks was built over the first few months as viewers and guests alike were ecouraged to donate to the cause. A mountain of matchday programmes was erected on the cluttered desk, with the excitement building as to which fixture would be the one to topple it. Very early on a tarot card reader was a regular fixture as we looked at the supernatural forces predicting football. It was of course nonsense, but the Dannys knew that full well. It was a testament to them that the item worked for as long as it did, whilst giving subtle and knowing nods and asides to our camera. We were treated as equals eavesdropping in on our mates rather than talked at or down to.

The key to it was simple, joyous fun. It was a football show about the fans as much as it was about the game itself. “A funny thing happened on the way to a game” was an example of the many subjects we were offered. Contact the show, tell the nation about your funny story. “Did you ever write to a player or club?” When Ray Wilkins was on as a guest there was indeed a caller who wrote to Ray as a child. A lovely moment remembered from probably 30 years or more in the past. Our hosts were on our side; the fans side. They weren’t trying to compare who the best footballer ever was; is it Pele or is it Messi? Who cares?! They’re different generations in different games. Incidentally we were made aware that a certain Mr Pele’s penis makes an appearance in a book of football photographs, much to the amusement of Baker who happened upon that book himself. 

They were our voice on telly. Not content with accepting the ridiculous wage demands of Adebayor and Sterling, or the outrageous attempts at cheating from others, they wouldn’t brush over that for fear of ‘upsetting the individuals’, they would rightly point it out for the farce it was. Danny Kelly’s regular cries of “Come on Guy!” became an ell-encompassing catchphrase for the sillier, more frustrating side of the modern game. Premier League players complaining of tiredness 3 weeks into the new season? Come on Guy! Celtic getting knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers twice in one season? Come on Guy! As well as the bad, Kelly also kept us regularly informed of the great and the good still in football. Nuggets of information such as the European league in which with 7 games to go, it was still mathematically possible for any team in the league to become champions. Or the progress of Hyde FC who hadn’t won a single league game all season. Or Scunthorpe in League 2, who would go up having drawn more games than they’d won. The show was classic Reithian; inform, educate, entertain.
Entertain they did in buckets! Two of the most fondly remembered features will be the toasters and Keep or Delete. Both born from very straightforward premises, but both hugely captivating. Two see-through toasters, A and B to give them their names, would each week be used to predict which team would win the big match upcoming. Predictor games have been a big part in football comedy shows over the years, from dogs choosing to eat from a variety of bowls to fish tank footbal games. This was as simple as whichever popped up with the toast first would win the game. The fantastic thing was the toasters started to get the winning team right. The luck continued week after week. They even managed to predict a draw when both bits of toast popped up at the same time! The success rate was remarkable and the show had a hit on its hands. They didn’t quite do so well in season two and were often replaced with other predictor games Danny Baker had thought up, often using vinyls and other props lying around his house, but they were a mainstay for much of the run. They even warranted their own a Twitter accounts. Now that is infamy.

Keep or Delete was another succes of the show, born out of a growing trend for people at football matches to just photograph everything. Every time there’s a corner or a throw-in you’ll see people behind the player taking a picture of what must just be his back. So the show would decide once and for all whether the photo sent in would be kept or if it was just so bad it had to deleted forever. It even came with its own TFI style jingle and title sequence. There were some shocking photos sent in; some out of focus, some completely missing any of the action on the pitch instead getting the back of the bloke in front. It was honest, recognisable fan interaction. It’s the only football show where they actually ask proper, interesting questions. You came away learning something from every show. Players shooting waywardly into the crowd during the warm ups; they actually are aiming to hit us! Just ask Ian Wright. They questioned ex-pros about the everyday things taken for granted, like the kit or signing cot tracts and transfer dealings. Don’t dismiss the show as two blokes having a laugh about footy, they got us the answers we never really thought we’d get. Always managing to get the best out of players, which wasn’t always easy with some.

The high point was when the show did a run of 32 consecutive nights for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil – where the nuts come from! It was a perfect antidote to the bland, stuffy studio chat in between the games that the BBC and ITV were offering up. 32 different predictor games, no toasters in sight. We heard what it would have been like if Jools Holland (voiced by Wisby) were the commentator. With Jools’ odd intonations, just hearing “NeyMAR, ladies and gentleman, NeyMAR!” still brings back happy memories. We saw 11 year odd pundit Harvey, updates from Baker’s radio sidekick Lynsey Hipgrave out in Rio and a regular news update keep the legitimacy amongst the fun and frivolity. Baker and Kelly Not in Rio was a joy to watch. I even managed to contribute via Twitter with my name mentioned and my joke getting a laugh.

The gallows humour of the show “the only thing on BT Sport right now”, being able to laugh at themselves and the channel was a refreshing welcome. Baker’s regular digs at the BT canteen facilities or suggesting the pitch side desk used on the live coverage was actually a piano was great. During the final live show there were several mentions about it being the last ever; during the toaster prediction the chosen game was the Championship play off final which “like us won’t be on BT Sport”, I assumed to be another part of the humour. Sadly it seems like I’m wrong and, after 107 live shows over three fantastic series, the show really has come to an end. Just like The Big Breakfast did, and TFI Friday all those years ago. I’ve felt the shock and the sadness and the anger, and this was the reflection. So thanks to everyone who worked on the show, who contributed, to those who watched (clearly not enough of us) but “chiefly yourselves” Danny Baker and Danny Kelly. Thank you for providing me with such fantastic TV memories. I now have three shows to bring back when I launch my own channel. I just hope it’s very soon.

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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