Craig G Telfer was long making a name for himself before the inception of the now popular TV Show A View from the Terrace. The Stenhousemuir-supporting host of the BBC Scotland series has been in the media game now for the best part of a decade, and we wanted to hear about it. Having given lower-league footballers the platform to reflect on their careers with the Pele Podcast, we felt obliged to turn the tables on Telfer to understand the journey that took him from wording up the Warriors on his Who The Hell Is Akabusi blog, to being in charge of Craig Fowler, Joel Sked and Shaughan McGuigan. A thankless task. But more on that later. For now though, let’s get started. And quite literally…
First of all, going back to the beginning, tell us what your earliest memories of football are. It’s probably the same as a lot of people who grew up in Stenhousemuir in the mid-nineties: it was the Stenny team of 1994/95 - Terry Christie’s side. My earliest memory of watching Stenny is the Scottish Cup replay against St Johnstone at Ochilview. I can’t remember too much from the match itself other than Stenhousemuir being very good. Then we went on to beat Aberdeen and played Hibernian in the Quarter Final. Again, I can’t remember too much from that game either other than a Stenny fan running onto the park and sticking a flag in the middle of the pitch! It’s strange though, as I never felt a connection to the players at that point, nor did I have much interest in watching Stenhousemuir in the league; but, when it came to cup games, the whole town seemed to be whipped into a frenzy.
I think you were 17 before you took a registered interested in following the fortunes of The Warriors; what was it that triggered that connection for you having been present to witness the cup scalps in the 90’s? Well I had no real interest in football at all, to be honest until I was about 14 when my mate at school gave me a loan of Championship Manager 1999/2000.
Right, that makes sense! Doesn’t it! I went Lazio and tried to win Serie A with them. That’s when I started taking an interest in football and seeing the Champions League on TV - things like that. But you’re right in saying that I didn’t take an interest in Scottish football until I was 17. I hadn’t been to watch Stenhousemuir in years by this point - probably since I was at primary school. But, when I was finishing up at high school, my mates said I should just come along to a game. The team had already been relegated to the Third Division and were just playing out their remaining two fixtures - I think they were against Alloa and East Fife. So I went to the Alloa game and remember sitting thinking to myself how terrible it was and wondered how could people actually pay to watch it… The football was rubbish, the pitch was awful, the ball was in the air all the time, and the team were getting pumped! So the first time I went was a joke for me but, the second time I went, everything seemed to change. The team lost again and the football was still poor, but the picture just changed for me and, all of a sudden, it just became the most important thing. I can’t explain what happened. Going to watch Stenny was what the whole weekend was based around from that point on. I couldn’t wait for the start of pre-season and then the league games for the Third Division. I couldn’t explain to you what happened between the first and the second game, but it very quickly meant that I was now a Stenhousemuir fan.
Do you think you had a confusing relationship with football in your formative years then? Confusing is probably accurate. I liked Newcastle United because of their cool kit at the time with the Newcastle Brown Ale sponsor and the grandad collar. I also liked Blackburn Rovers because of their kit - I really liked the blue and white half and half style. In terms of Scottish teams, though, I just never showed an interest. My connection to football stemmed from watching it on the tele, playing Championship Manager, and going along to Ochilview when I was finishing school. For that formative period I would compare myself to Theo Walcott – he didn’t start playing football until he was thirteen, so I felt like the Theo Walcott of football supporters! (Laughs)
That’s interesting! Now though, as a Stenhousemuir supporter, how would you describe the feeling of being a fan of a club in the lower-reaches of the Scottish footballing pyramid? That’s a good question. I don’t know if it differs all that much from the experiences of supporting bigger clubs. It’s probably not the same now, but my emotions and feelings were directly indexed to Stenhousemuir’s performance when I was younger. And Stenhousemuir have never been successful! I think Stenny are the least successful football team in Scotland; they’ve never won a league title and have only been promoted three times with two via the play-offs. Success is an alien concept to Stenhousemuir fans. Being a fan of a lower league club, for me, is really no different to supporting Rangers, Celtic or Hearts, it just comes with the knowledge that you’re less likely to have success. Overall though, it’s the sense of community. You go along to the games and you see the same people and get to know them. I’m now the stadium announcer too which I’ve been doing for the last few years; that allows me to get a feel for how the club works. I think the community aspect is very important at smaller clubs and that allows you to feel closer to the team and players themselves.
On the flip side to that, what has been your finest moment as a Warrior since you started going to Ochilview on a weekly basis? Promotion in 2009. Without a doubt. There has been some other amazing moments as well, though. David Templeton’s debut, for instance…
East Fife away? Yeah! 2-0 down, he comes on, sets up two and scores one. That was amazing. Beating Falkirk in the Scottish Cup in 2018 too. But in terms of sheer, balls-out joy, it would be getting promoted in 2009. It came down to penalties between us and Cowdenbeath in the play-off final. Andy Brand ended up scoring the winning penalty and, after that, I just remember running on to the pitch and shouting ‘We did it!’ to Kieron Renton, who was the sub goalkeeper! In the wee bar at Ochvilew there’s a collage of photos from that day, and it’s great seeing it. So I suppose that was my first taste of success with Stenny. But getting promoted in 2018 against Peterhead was also amazing. Mick Dunlop scored two at Ochilview and I remember him running up the front of the stand with his arms out. I love Mick Dunlop. But, if I had to pick out one favourite moment, it would be the Play-Off Final against Cowden in 2009.
"The success that football players and managers achieve means something to someone no matter the level."
As you’ve touched on already, you’ve moved seats at Ochilview in recent years - swapping your view from the stand for the glass panel of the stadium announcer’s room - how have you found that? There’s good things about it and there’s drawbacks. The good things are: it’s a very small way to help the club that you support. The way I see it, I would be going to the game anyway. I’m just going a wee bit earlier now, playing music and making announcements; it’s not difficult. You mostly get a good view of the games. And it’s warmer! The biggest drawback is not being involved in the emotion of the crowd and going off my head when we score. You can see the people celebrating and you still get that emotional element when you’re in there, but you miss that physical element of being able to jump around with folk and high-five those around you.
In terms of documenting the fortunes of the club, you started a blog on Stenhousemuir called ‘Who The Hell is Akabusi?’ - what could Stenny fans find on there? So that would have been in 2011 when I started that…
Was it just yourself? It was just myself, yeah. So, in 2011, I went to study journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University and they said that I needed to be writing blogs and that just gave me a chance to write about Stenny that season. That would have been 2011/12 so Davie Irons would have been in charge and we actually had a right good team - Andy Rodgers, Stewart Kean, Stevie Murray, Ross McMillan, Martyn Corrigan, Willie Lyle - all pretty well-known, experienced players. But that was my first interaction with Twitter as I was looking to promote my work. That allowed me to open up my network with other football fans and their clubs. That’s where it probably first started for me with regards to writing about football.
You then started up ‘Tell Him He’s Pele’ (THHP), which was a website devoted to the Scottish lower leagues with some of your peers; did you feel you had to broaden your output with more clubs being covered with THHP? That’s exactly it. I got talking to a guy called John Maxwell on Twitter after I shared my Stenhousemuir blogs. John actually had his own blog at the time called ‘Ross County Tactics’; that was like Ronseal - he would watch Ross County games and he’d analyse the tactics from the match. That was the Ross County team who went 40 games unbeaten and won promotion to the top-flight. I really liked John’s writing as he wrote seriously about football; it was serious but accessible. We got talking about our own work and writing blogs independently, but wouldn’t it be great to have a website that would contain mature, serious, almost broadsheet style writing about lower league SFL clubs as it was then. We felt the only time you’d see a smaller team get coverage would be if they drew a big club in the Scottish Cup and it would be done in typical tabloid style. But we wanted to position ourselves as an informative source to tell people about matches that they wouldn’t be able to see elsewhere. So John got another couple of writers - one was Alistair Gemmell, who blogged about Ayr United and the other was Shaughan McGuigan, who was a blogger about Scottish football and Raith Rovers.That’s basically how Tell Him He’s Pele started. The name came from the famous John Lambie quote when Colin McGlashan got sparked out and the trainer said he didn’t know who he was. John Lambie turned around and said ‘Well tell him he’s Pele and send him back on!’. So, for the three years, that’s how it went, we covered lower league Scottish football amongst the four of us, with help from a couple of others along the way. It was ironic timing though, as we started in 2012. No one was covering the SFL at that time, then Rangers had to start again in the Third Division! So there was never as much attention on the basement as that year.
Did having Rangers go through the leagues benefit you or hinder you at that time, as, all of a sudden, there are more people reporting on those divisions? It was never a hinderance, as we knew that as soon as Rangers won whatever league they were in, the coverage would revert back to the way it had been before. But there’s still interesting stuff going on beyond Rangers being in the league and we thought we’d be the ones to carry it on. There wasn’t anything like Tell Him He’s Pele, in my opinion and, for me, I think we did quite well. I go back and look over the articles on there and some of the stuff is really, really good.
I was listening to you speak on “Lower League Ramblings” with Danny Denholm and, on that, you mentioned you were taking time off work to allow yourself to write for the website. So I was curious to understand if you were able to monetise the site; or did you do it purely for the love of Scottish Football? To answer the first point about taking annual leave, that’s right. We used to do this thing called ‘The Report Card’, which would be a breakdown of all thirty clubs after every quarter and give them a grade based on how they were performing. I think it was May 2015 when we were doing the end of season report cards for the clubs in the three divisions, but some clubs were preparing for the play-offs and, by that point, other clubs were releasing and signing players for the following season. So it was very difficult for us to produce something that was relevant for every club. I think I just told John that I couldn’t be bothered anymore at that point. In terms of monetisation, I don’t think it was something that could ever be monetised as the viewing figures were not big enough. With the best will in the world, you could write the best article of all time but if it’s on Elgin City, it’s not going to reach the widest audience. But, as well as that, if you start charging people, you need to deliver.
We’ll come on to A View From The Terrace in a second, but THHP was the springboard that allowed you to get in contact with the Terrace guys. So did you see starting up the website as a stepping stone for you to progress in media? I was studying journalism at the time but I think the only way I could have ever have been paid for writing about Stenny would be if I worked for The Falkirk Herald or something like that. So I never had a plan with ‘Tell Him He’s Pele’; anything that came of it was just a bonus for me. I started working in corporate communications and I thought my career would be in that, with writing on the side.
On the back of the website, you graduated Tell Him He’s Pele to the Pele Podcast - interviewing Scottish footballing players and personalities at great length which people could access via Soundcloud. How did you come up with that idea? Podcasts were starting up at the time but the only interviews that were being done were with players from the top-flight. The success that football players and managers achieve means something to someone no matter the level. Winning the league with Rangers is fantastic and it means a great deal to a lot of people. But winning the league with Stranraer is equally as important, only it’s to a smaller group of people. So that was the idea behind it. The podcast finished up in 2015 along with the website, but I brought it back for a bit in 2018 with the likes of Bobby Barr, Paddy Boyle, Rory Loy, Grant Anderson, and Mark McGuigan. At the time, no one was really doing it, though. They are a lot more common now, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the emergence of Zoom calls - everyone who likes football will have a podcast by the end of the year!
Moving on now to The Terrace - both the podcast and the TV show - tell us about your first interaction with Craig Fowler. I had listened to The Terrace Podcast and we followed each other going way back to 2011 since the Who the Hell is Akabusi days. Then, when we started doing THHP, we’d put out the ‘Five Things We Learned' on a Monday where we would look at some talking points from the wekeend’s games. The Terrace guys would then record a podcast on a Monday night and reference some of those items in order to talk about the lower leagues. So it got to the summer of 2013 and Fowler sent me a message on Twitter asking if I’d be up for meeting for a pint to discuss coming on the show as they were looking to expand the podcast to twice a week. So for pretty much the entire 2013/14 season I would travel through to Edinburgh to talk about the lower leagues and it was great fun. I’ve been a semi-regular presenter and panellist since then.
Tell us about how your first reaction when you heard that The Terrace Podcast was bidding for a slot on the new BBC Scotland channel? I thought somebody was taking the piss! We’ve got a group chat for The Terrace and, one day, Fowler put in a message to say someone from the BBC had been in touch about a slot on the new BBC Scotland channel. They wanted to see if we could make a pilot for an hour long show. I was thinking ‘somebody is definitely taking the piss out of you there mate - nobody wants to listen to us and nobody wants to see us!’ (Laughs) Robert Borthwick was at Studio Something, a creative studio, and he approached them about getting involved and asked if they would be interested in helping out with the pilot episode. That got the ball rolling, but I was still thinking it was fucking daft! We ended up filming the pilot in a tiny studio in Leith with all these classic football shirts - a Clydebank top with Wet Wet Wet on the front, an Ally McCoist Scotland shirt - and just two couches. We wanted to talk about Scottish football in an interesting way, so the Boyata Index was a way of saying this player is good, that player is bad, but doing it in an interesting way. So we made the pilot and it was just so much fun to be a part of - that was probably the best day of my professional career. Working with cameras, sound engineers, seeing the VT up at Arbroath, Duncan McKay being the mascot for Raith Rovers, another guy cooked with Gary Dicker at Kilmarnock as well. So we had the studio content and then that stuff on top - pretty much as it is now. The guys at Studio Something pulled it together over the course of a month or so and we had the Premiere for it in the Dominion in Edinburgh with the sparkling wine and all that! So we watched the pilot on the big screen and it was great, but I was still thinking we had no chance of winning the slot as we had some tough competition. Fast forward a few months and I was in the office… (Laughing) and Robert Borthwick sent a message in to the group chat to say we had been picked for the slot. They had to peel me off the fucking ceiling! There were only two people in the office and I was hugging and high-fiving them! I couldn’t concentrate for the rest of that day. The guys who were available went through to Edinburgh that night and just got smashed. That feeling from thinking somebody was stitching us up in the beginning to actually being selected for the slot was unbelievable.
"At the end of the day, it’s just four mates talking about the clubs they support and their favourite players, so if people can connect with that and resonate with it, then that’s perfect. "
How did you find the transition from being a panelist on the podcast to hosting a show on national television? That’s a good question too. You know something? I think it helped that none of us knew what we were doing. We worked with experienced guys in terms of the sound engineers and the camera operators, but we had never made a show before. It was all just one big learning experience. It was all about writing links and being able to steer a conversation down a certain path. For the Boyata Index, for example, I would need to constantly play up to the concept of stocks and shares and tying the footballers in to that. I’m still learning how to do that but I feel we’re far better now than when we first started. I feel a lot more relaxed being in front of a camera and interacting with the guys on the panel. The crew were very patient with us in the beginning; we need to be slicker now as we’ve been doing it longer, mind you!
What has been the most surreal moment for you since you started up the TV show? I think it would need to be people asking for pictures. Why on earth do you want your picture taken with me?! (Laughs) I once went on a date with a girl through in Edinburgh and I went up to the bar to get us some drinks. When I was up there, a guy asked me for a picture, but the girl I was with had her back to us! (Laughs) It’s great to hear people say that they enjoy the show. At the end of the day, it’s just four mates talking about the clubs they support and their favourite players, so if people can connect with that and resonate with it, then that’s perfect.
Another thing that must be surreal is seeing yourself on TV. I think you guys have an extensive review and planning process for each episode - tell us more about that. That’s right. I’m glad you asked me about this actually as, when the show first started, we had no idea what we were doing. So for the Boyata Index, we had to bring two options each and both were recorded. So we’d have eight players up on the board that would go away and be edited down. So it was a nightmare for those guys as there was so much footage to be cut into an hour long tv show. I remember watching the first two episodes and thinking that the content was good, but there was something missing; it wasn’t flowing. I think it was Episode 2 that felt really long and it could easily have been cut down by fifteen minutes. But we stumbled upon a formula that worked for Episode 3 whereby you have two topical segments, then a VT, then Robert’s Social Media section, then some daft game that we’ll play amongst us, then another VT and we’d finish up looking forward to the weekend’s games with Bank or Bust. I remember watching the third episode and thinking it was really good. From that point on, we know what works and what doesn't. The show isn’t scripted as well, the only things that are scripted are my intro’s but, for the segments, I’ll have a handful of bullet points that I’ll try to stick to in order to guide the discussion. Say we’re talking about Callum Tapping, I’d have some bullet points on what he’s good at, some questions that the guys might ask me, and then my summary. That helps the guys who are editing it as there’s not a lot of fat to work through; it’s all very succinct and concise. So it’s not scripted, you just have a rough idea of what you’re going to say. The jokes are all natural on the show too. People say that the laughter is forced, it’s not forced - if somebody is making an arse of themselves, you’re going to laugh at them! The podcasts are different as there’s no timeline and you can go off on tangents; you can’t do that on the TV show. I’ve actually started wearing an earpiece for this season as we really need to be a lot tighter, especially with the COVID-19 procedures.
Having had your own website and podcast, featured on many others, and are now the host of a very successful TV show, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting up something of their own? Think of doing something that no one else is doing. When we started THHP, no one was really writing about the lower leagues. Either think of something that no one else is doing or, if someone else is doing it, think of a way that you can put your own spin on it. So I would say find a niche, don’t half-arse it and don’t be shy about promoting your work; use your social media as much as possible as well to network as that’s what it’s there for. But just believe in yourself overall. I remember being in journalism school when my lecturer told me I would never get anywhere talking about Stenny. I don’t want to sound like Allan Partridge and say I had the last laugh, but here I am still talking about Stenny! (Laughs)
You always come correct with your fashion choices on the show; tell us about your style and how that has evolved over the years. In terms of my own clothes, I never took much of an interest in fashion until we started doing the show - what went with what and different colour palettes. I tend to go for items that I feel comfortable in but also allows me to stand out a little bit. I often get the piss ripped out of me for the shirts that I wear, but I couldn’t care less. Everyone on the show has their own style - Fowler is into printed t-shirts of his favourite bands and hip-hop artists, Shaughan is short-sleeved shirts and looking like a darts player or a ten-pin bowler, and Joel’s stuff is all over the place! (Laughs) Robert will always wear long-sleeved shirts as well. So everyone has their own style. We’ll always take a couple of options with us to the studio to make sure that no one is clashing on the day.
Do you look to anyone for inspiration on Fashion? It’s mainly Instagram that I use for ideas - accounts like @HighSnobiety and @HypeBeast. Don’t get me wrong, some of the stuff is either awful, far too expensive, or I’d never be able to pull it off! The Off-White printed t-shirts for £400… Dearie me!
You’ve got the Juventus x Palace kit on today for the shoot - but if you could handpick your ultimate collaboration, who would it be? Hang on a second, let’s have a wee think here. It’s pretty obvious that I’m a fan of Palace - I could basically apply for sponsorship with how much Palace I have! The cut of their clothes and their colours are spot on. The logo really grabbed my attention from the outset as well; I just think it’s so cool. I would then go to Instagram and see their collaborations. The stuff that they do with Adidas is fantastic. The Juventus shirt, man. I remember seeing it for the first time and just being blown away by it. I think certain people may be put off by the bright green in the kit. But if you look past that and see the design of the stripes - the way they blend in to each other at the bottom with the polka-dots, and the cloud-like pattern at the top and across the shoulder - it’s just so incredibly well detailed and so, so cool. I still love putting it on now and feel very lucky to have managed to get my hands on one. It was some rush when I managed to secure one in my checkout that day! So I’m a huge fan of Palace. Some of their stuff I wouldn’t wear, but you’ll get that with most brands unless it’s Craig Telfer Clothing and I’ve designed every item! But they suit my criteria for clothes in that they look cool, they fit well and they let you be a wee bit out there.
So Palace and… I’m just going to stick with Adidas!
"Blonde still sounds amazing. You can go back to listen to it now and it still sounds incredible. It beats Channel Orange for me. Channel Orange is probably more accessible, whereas Blonde has it’s little own world."
Do you think club’s in Scotland do enough to supply their fans with football fashion and streetwear? I’ll be honest and say that up until you guys got involved with the Ayr United kit launch, that was one of the few times I have seen a Scottish kit released in a non-traditional way. Scottish clubs tend to release their kit with a couple of first-team players dressed in the full kit and their arms crossed behind their back. It’s very much advertised as a football kit and marketed very traditionally. The only clubs in Scotland that tend to offer leisurewear or streetwear style are the bigger teams. I think the design of most Scottish kits are focused on being primarily football kits as well. Even the Queens Park away strip this year is really cool but that was still very much marketed as a football kit. I like Arsenal too, so when they launched their marble kit for this season, they marketed that as streetwear first and foremost. They follow that up with the traditional shots in the stadium too but it’s the shots of the players wearing it with hoodies and cool jackets that really grabs everyone’s attention. I don’t think that we do that in Scotland. Teams could still have traditional home kits and kit launches but, with away kits, I believe teams should explore other opportunities - be that in design or the way they are marketed as Queens Park and Ayr United have done this year. I think our clubs need to take more risks. You think back to the Nigeria strip from the 2018 World Cup and the way that was marketed, there were queues upon queues for that!
Combining the last couple of questions, if you could choose who made Stenny’s kits, similar to Juve collab above, who would you pick? Oh, that’s a good one. It would be Adidas, but with caveats. The three stripes are just class. But I wouldn’t want a template. If you had the maroon home kit with a white collar, three white stripes down the side, no sponsor… I’ll sponsor them actually! (Laughs) It would basically be like the Stenny version of the Foundation of Hearts strip from the 2014/15 season. For the away strip they could do what they wanted; go wild with it! Away kits come and go every season so just have a laugh with it. It must be be difficult for clubs, though. We’ve mentioned Juventus teaming up with Palace but when you’ve got Joma pitching up at your door with a template then you’re up against it.
On the show, you finish with The Last Minute Winner - which tends to be a modern take on a club’s anthem or, in the case of HYTTS, an absolute banger on the team they support. In terms of yourself, I’ve noticed you ranking your favourite songs from the likes of Jay-Z, Frank Ocean and Kanye West on Twitter recently, so how would you describe your relationship with music? I’ve always had an eclectic taste, I would say. Frank Ocean, though… fucking hell. Blonde still sounds amazing. You can go back to listen to it now and it still sounds incredible. It beats Channel Orange for me. Channel Orange is probably more accessible, whereas Blonde has it’s little own world.
English football is becoming more and more intrinsically linked with music and artists - do you think that same connection is missing north of the border? I think we are trying to do that with A View From The Terrace with the Last Minute Winner as you mentioned and some other cultural references. I’ve always believed there is a link between music and football, even if it isn’t an explicit one. I don’t think there is anything Scotland necessarily needs to do. It’s more about giving people a platform to do it.
Do you think Scottish club’s risk losing out on attracting a new generation of supporters with their current outlook to music? I wouldn’t say so. I think that, if a teenager went to a game and was unhappy about the music being played, I would tell them to fuck off! (Laughs) In terms of making lower league appealing to a younger audience in 2020, that’s the tricky thing. I do think younger people will go to watch their local club as it’s easier for them to get to. I believe that lower league football in Scotland is still slightly overpriced but I understand that clubs' need the money. Fans also may get disillusioned by supporting bigger clubs and see it as a badge of honour reverting to their local club. Stenny do it well in encouraging younger fans and have their own signing section. That kind of thing is important to encourage younger fans to come to the games. But you probably are right in saying that a crowd is slightly hedged towards an older generation throughout the lower leagues.
Lastly, if you could chose between Stenny winning League 2 this season or A View From The Terrace being the most watched show in Scotland, what would you pick? Stenhousemuir winning the league, one hundred percent. A View from the Terrace is brilliant fun but imagine being at Ochilview when the Warriors win their first ever league title? What a feeling! Words couldn’t even begin to describe how incredible that would be!
Words: Scott Kelly
Photography: Connor Stewart
Styling: Craig G Telfer
Location: City Centre, Stirling