In his inner-city Melbourne home, the host of the biggest football podcast in the world points to his small portable microphone, laughing.
“This is the pod,” Football Weekly host Max Rushden chuckles from his Northcote bedroom.
“How ridiculous – you can do it anywhere! We [Rushden with wife Jaime] went to Daylesford and I was doing the pod from the little hotel room with s**t Wi-Fi while Jonathan Wilson was in Cameroon.”
Jaime sits in the background throughout this Zoom meeting on her own laptop – presumably not tuning in to Mr Rushden’s show – often interjecting with a playful tease.
“J is going to tell me off for so many things I’ve said in this thing,” the Englishman tells Kick360 of his Australian wife and the soon-to-be mother.
“For trying to turn talking nonsense about football into a little microphone into some sort of grand thing.”
“The whole thing’s ridiculous.”
The fact that, in August 2021, this football media superstar packed up his London home (10 minutes from The Guardian’s UK offices) to set up a new Australian one (10,000 miles from The Guardian’s UK offices) is ridiculous in itself.
Rushden began planting the seeds for media opportunities in his early 20s, pestering music radio stations he wasn’t “cool enough for”. However, a chance encounter on a Nicaraguan volcano was what ended up, admittedly indirectly, bearing the fruit he currently enjoys.
It was on this lava-spitting rock Rushden met his now wife. One thing led to another and he’s now in Australia hosting the UEFA Champions League on Stan Sport.
“Jaime is Melburnian and has been banging on about moving to Australia for a decade,” Rushden reflects.
“I loosely said, ‘of course we’ll go, when I get offered a job’. Deep down, I thought I’d never get offered a job in Australia [and] probably didn’t expect to ever actually move.”
“We almost came about three years ago. There was talk about coming over to Optus and [hosting the Premier League], but it didn’t materialise.”
While living in the UK, he’d sporadically appeared on Australian TV and radio; Francis Leach offered him weekly slots on SEN, the homonymously named Tara Rushton hosted him on Fox Sports’ Just for Kicks and he was Optus Sport’s English correspondent during Euro 2020.
After a rival streaming service was given the flick, Rushden’s stars aligned when Stan Sport acquired the rights to UEFA’s Champions League, Europa League and Conference League in June 2021.
Rushden was negotiating with Stan Sport’s executive producer Murray Shaw (formerly of Fox Sports) when he decided to float an idea across the Zoomosphere.
“I was chatting about doing stuff from the UK but then said, ‘why don’t I come over to Australia and do all of it,’ thinking [Shaw would] just say, ‘no, what a stupid idea. We’ve already got someone lined up.’”
“He went ‘yeah, all right’. We were like, ‘s**t – that actually sounds like a job offer’.”
The news got broken to employers The Guardian and talkSPORT, the bags got packed and, just like that, Rushden got sent to the other side of the world.
“If the pod hadn’t gone remote two years ago, I don’t think this would’ve happened,” he says.
Host Rushden and his “deep squad” of rotating panellists have recorded the mega-successful Football Weekly podcast online since the onset of the pandemic, easing the burden of his living transition.
Thrice weekly, the show’s producers write the script, then Rushden adds his flamboyant flourishes before letting the assembled experts analyse the football.
“It’s not easy, but it’s fun. It’s more fun than a proper job.”
Rarely does a person who statistically leads the world in their field seem to have so much fun doing so.
“It’s a bit silly, isn’t it? You just don’t take it seriously. You think, ‘surely there’s a bigger one somewhere. There must be!’”
“[People] come for the subject matter but stay for the relationships with the people. This sounds really trite, and Jaime will tease me after saying this, but you go on the journey with them.
“[Listeners] are part of the relationship with me, Barry [Glendenning], Philippe [Auclair] and his rants about FIFA, what Lars [Sivertsen] has for breakfast [and] Jonathan Wilson’s ridiculous knowledge of everything. Listeners feel part of that.”
Rushden became the Football Weekly host chair’s permanent owner following the 2017 launch of The Totally Football Show and coinciding desertion of previous host James Richardson.
His rise within ranks began when Football Weekly’s ex-producer – and Rushden’s former university classmate – enlisted Rushden for “one shift when James was away”.
“A lot of the audience saw me as this twat on a Saturday morning light entertainment football show [Soccer AM] – not an unfair thing to think.”
“Then Barry [Glendenning] made some really dark-humoured joke and I thought, ‘he’s funny’. So every time I did it, I enjoyed it.”
Glendenning and Rushden subsequently teamed up on a Sunday morning radio show – talkSPORT’s The Warm-Up – then, after five years, were brought even closer together.
James Richardson jumped ship one week before the 2017-2018 Premier League’s commencement and The Guardian was left with an important decision to make.
“Barry rang me and went, ‘look, Jimbo [Richardson] has left the pod. If you don’t get this job, you really are s**t.’”
“[It’s like] some cliché comparison about being a centre-forward. If you’re not in the position, you can’t score the goal.”
“[I’ve been] really lucky to take over a pod where the panel was great. We’ve broadened it in terms of getting more women on, getting more minorities on, et cetera, but still the panellists are brilliant.”
It’s this humility and expertly crafted balance between the serious and jovial which has lifted Football Weekly to an even higher pedestal – components of sports coverage which Rushden feels are present in Stan Sport’s UEFA Champions League coverage.
“Getting the guys from the pod on is really good for our coverage – they told me about how much they enjoy coming on and the tone we set.”
“I find a lot of live sport is delivered in a very straight way and taken so seriously. Clearly people care about football, and you’ve got to give respect to those fans, but at the same time, the results don’t actually matter. There’s always another season. I think we cover it the right amount of serious.”
Rushden is joined on the Stan Sport sofa by Mark Bosnich and Craig Foster: two widely lauded and well-loved analysts who, according to their host, are near-perfect in presentation.
“When I first saw that analyser machine, I [thought], ‘I’ve seen people be really boring on this’. Actually, [Bosnich and Foster] spend a very little amount of time, say quite a lot and break things down tactically – something that almost never happens.”
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done and hopefully we carry on doing that. That’s why people should get Stan.”
Hosting Champions League coverage is a role that comes with substantial prestige and even greater pressure. However humble he may be, Max Rushden’s dedication and charm make him the perfect person for the job, even if he doesn’t say it.
“I hadn’t done this on the TV before, so I’m just hoping no one noticed,” he says as our time together draws to a close.
“Now I’m here there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Just don’t tell anybody!”
It’s been a career filled with ridiculous stories, but, Max, this secret is safe with us.
Watch every minute of the UEFA Champions League knockout stages live and on-demand, exclusively on Stan Sport.
Image Source: Stan Sport