They had to spend their money and use their own free time, but the team behind The Final Whistle believes it’s all worth it.
As an avid listener of Spotify podcasts, Deepanraj Ganesan often tuned in to football podcasts such as The Official Manchester United Podcast and The Guardian’s Football Weekly for his regular fix.
The 26-year-old enjoyed those podcasts so much that he thought of doing something similar for local football.
“I think our local footballers deserve to be heard at length. We know more about the footballers playing in the English Premier League than the ones in our own backyard,” said Deepanraj.
He believes that footballers in Singapore deserve the same attention Singaporeans give to English Premier League players. Yet he never really got started as he felt he could not do it on his own.
That changed when fellow Manchester United supporters Mohamed Khabir and Nazhan Achmad approached him in January with the idea of running a local podcast.
That gave birth to The Final Whistle (TFW), which focuses on telling the tale of football players and coaches, past and present, in Singapore football.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. As a fan of Singapore football and the Singapore Premier League (SPL), I wanted to do my part to promote it in hope that more would talk about it in the near future,” said Khabir.
The Final Whistle is run by three local football fans who want to do their part to promote it.
The trio didn’t know it then, but their podcast would go on to become a huge success.
TFW, which releases a new episode weekly on Fridays, has averaged 500 plays for each of their 19 episodes so far on Spotify, hitting slightly over 11,000 total plays till date.
In just two months after the first episode aired on Feb 21, the podcast found itself atop Spotify’s sports & recreation podcasts charts in Singapore, ahead of the ones Deepanraj tunes in to regularly.
“I was actually shocked and borderline surprised,” admitted Deepanraj, who is also a freelance sports journalist.
“We were aware that it wouldn’t be easy considering the niche nature of the podcast. As opposed to our competitors who release at least two episodes weekly, this is definitely something. Being number one [in the charts] was also not our aim and it’s definitely nice to see that we are there.
“It’s not just a win for us. Instead, it is a win for Singapore football as a whole.”
In a Facebook post, The Final Whistle thanked “everyone from within the local football community and otherwise for (their) relentless support thus far”.
Still, it’s a nice reward for the trio who have been funding the project out of their own pockets.
To run the podcast, they have to fork out $470 a month to rent a studio at The Hive Studios in Kallang. They also paid about $700 to purchase the recording equipment needed.
On top of those factors, they also had to record their podcasts with their own free time outside of work or school commitments. Deepanraj is currently a third-year student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) while co-host Khabir, 30, is the assistant project manager at a local facilities management company.
“I’ve had to rush down to the studio immediately after my last lesson of the day, which ends at 5pm, as recordings start an hour later,” said Deepanraj.
“Financially, we’ve invested quite a bit with money out of our own pockets. Coupled with the fact that we don’t come from rich families, that’s been a huge sacrifice as well. On top of my academic commitments, I’ve got to send invites to potential guests of our show, plan the content and craft questions too.”
As for Khabir, his busy work schedule meant nearly three-quarters of his day would be taken up.
“We normally discuss questions together, but I would only have the time to reply when I get home in the evening,” he shared.
“Also, it’s challenging to get to the recording on time, but I try. Of course, when I happen to be on leave, I will come down earlier to help out.”
From recording to post-production, a typical session takes the team at least six hours each week. In spite of all the challenges, Deepanraj remains unfazed and believes this is all worth it.
“I think when you have a passion for something, you don’t necessarily see it as draining or tough and it actually keeps you going,” he shared.
Among the guests who have appeared on the show so far include national captain Hariss Harun, former striker Aleksandar Duric and the legendary Fandi Ahmad.
While the team is on the lookout for a partner to come on board and support them financially, Deepanraj insists that they do not aim to profit from TFW. Instead, they want to raise as much awareness as possible for local football, which has been suffering from dwindling interest over the past decade.
“The reason why we started the podcast was really to drum up interest in local football and to give those involved an avenue to share their stories,” said Deepanraj, who is also a freelance sports journalist.
“In our first few episodes, the discussions with our guests revolved mainly around the English Premier League and international football. However, we soon realised what really powered the episodes was the local stories. So we shifted our focus and asked our guests more questions about the local football scene.
“Also, I could see the eyes of our guests light up whenever certain questions were posed about their careers. That’s exactly what we hoped to achieve, for them to come on the show and share their honest thoughts. We also wanted it to be as raw as possible and we do not censor the expletives that may have been splurted out.”
Nazhan echoed Deepanraj’s sentiments.
“The whole objective of TFW is to increase the current media coverage of local football and give these players a personality,” added 35-year-old Nazhan, the sound technician for The Final Whistle.
“We wanted to let the masses know who they are and it’s the least they deserve for their efforts on the pitch. These days, we struggle to get more eyeballs on local football and we simply want to do our part.”
Running the podcast has given the team some memorable moments. For Deepanraj, it came in the sixth episode, which featured someone he grew up idolising, former national forward Noh Alam Shah.
“I admired how he didn’t shy away from talking about the tough moments he had in his career,” he said.
“Seeing his face light up as we reminisced about his playing days and as he spoke about his kids will always live with me.”
We couldn't have Noh Alam Shah in the studio and not talk about the time he netted 7 times in a 11-0 thrashing of Laos in the 2007 @affsuzukicup. And according to the former Lions forward, it was all made possible by @khairulamri19 And why did Alam Shah name Amri as the one player he wishes to play with again? Listen to our latest episode now on Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts etc. now to find out.Posted by The Final Whistle on Sunday, April 5, 2020
Nazhan’s personal favourite, on the other hand, was the two-part episode with former national defender Baihakki Khaizan (left, main photo).
“Hearing him share about some really personal things in his life with us was an eye-opener,” he said. “It was also interesting because it’s not everything we get to see this human side of our footballers and there is a thing or two we could learn from them.”
Having achieved some form of success this early, Deepanraj knows that the team cannot afford to rest on their laurels. One of their targets will be to extend the coverage and take it to the next level by having players and coaches from the region onto the show.
“What’s next? We hope that more footballers, be it former pros or current players, will come forward to share their stories. It will no doubt contribute to the scene.
“I also feel that more can be done from those within the community, be it those in media, management or even the players themselves to promote us.
“Those in the fraternity always lament the lack of coverage and attention local football gets, but are they really doing all they can to give someone who’s doing it out of their own expenditure the support?
I’ve not seen it and I hope things can change in time to come,” he concluded.
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