Harlequins and England loosehead Joe Marler has enjoyed talking himself in a new direction...
My day off… Podcasting with Joe Marler
TALKING EXCLUSIVELY rugby on a podcast would not float Joe Marler’s boat. Well, that’s putting it without colour. Ask the man himself if he’d considered starting a rugby pod and he says: “You know there are certain things you have to do, like taking the bins out. But if you do a podcast, I wanted to do a podcast that sort of made my d*** hard.”
And like that, we are off and rolling. Yes, we can talk to the England and Harlequins loosehead prop about joining up with the national squad for the Autumn Nations Cup. Or the Premiership season. Or how his view of his own game has evolved over time. And some of those things do come up while chatting. He is very appreciative of what rugby has brought him in life.
But it is clear the forward is throwing himself headlong at a podcast, The Joe Marler Show alongside Tom Fordyce, which is decidedly un-rugby.
The premise? The pair interview folk from totally different walks of life and see what they can find out. Astronauts, zookeepers and psychopath experts have come in for questioning. Curiosity can take you to places you never thought possible, even if in that place you chat about animal poo or aliens.
It’s not quite like the future co-hosts’ eyes met across a crowded room in Japan, but the seeds of this relationship were sown at the Rugby World Cup, when Marler was representing England on the field and Fordyce was working from the wings with BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I was 5 Live’s man in the England camp, which basically meant I’d have a succession of pleasant five-minute chats with three different players each day,” Fordyce says. “So, then Joe and I had a half-hour chat that covers all these topics, including the cast of Neighbours, or before he went to Japan whether he thought ramen was what the posher end of Quins’ support was called” – the old gag earns a theatrical eye-roll off Marler.
“It was the best chat I had in Japan. Then Joe obviously wrote his book. The publisher was the same as the Peter Crouch book, which I also wrote (with Crouch), and we had done a podcast off the back of that. They asked me if I’d consider doing a pod with Joe.
“You know you are meant to make loads of careful analysis of decisions like this and scratch your chin and go into it. But actually, you definitely know straightaway. I just went ‘Yep!’”
Marler offers his side of things at this point: “Um, it wasn’t overly quick.
“With the publisher, when I first met them, they had this vision, ‘Look, we want you to write a book, and we’d love you to set up a podcast as well.’ And I was kinda like: I haven’t got a book. They said, ‘No no, we would like you to write one.’ Oh, okay.
“Then they said ‘We’ll pay you this,’ and I said ‘Pardon?!’ “What if I write it and it’s a really s*** book? Do I have to pay this money back? They said, ‘No, you don’t have to pay it back’ and I went ‘Okay, fine yeah, I’ll happily write a book and do a podcast.’ Because it was something different.
“I guess I am at the point in my career now, where I’m 30. I’m not getting any younger. I’m clinging on for dear life on the pitch. And now it’s been dawning on me quite quickly that I need something else.
“What next? If rugby stopped now, what else can I get my teeth into? Me and my wife have got a bit of a project we want to get stuck into and in order to do that we have to come up with some other streams to provide that.”
Candidly, Marler says he is aware that so much has revolved around him, his needs, his schedule throughout his relationship with wife Daisy. In order for elite athletes to be, well, elite, sacrifices have to be made. Often that word ‘sacrifices’ actually means making many things about you. And so promoting a book and a podcast means the attention falls on the prop once again.
But as the ticking clock of a career gets harder to ignore, Marler talks of the family dream: a coffee shop or café that sells infants’ clothes and toys. A nirvana for fatigue-fighting parents, you suspect.
“We’ve had one of our episodes pulled by James Bond’s bosses”
Compartmentalising is also something Marler believes he can be quite good at. It’s unlikely his two working worlds, of rugby and podcasting, can ever interfere with each other, because his three-hour commute to and from training offers him ample time to segue from thinking about one to the other.
Channelling his inner Liam Neeson, he says of his rugby that he has “a particular set of skills – I can’t get much better to be honest, I’ve got a baseline”. Perhaps overly modest for someone who has played in a World Cup final and worn the red of the British & Irish Lions, but we take the point. He is saying that he has learnt where his strengths lie and how best to get the optimum out of himself. Nothing about his rugby is going to radically change now, so on his way back to home base he can muse over pod plans.
As it turns out, that sense of stumbling on a job that you then give your all presented itself in a novel way during lockdown. When home-schooling son Jasper, he found himself relishing preparing plans for the next day, getting a ruler out and designing tables on the page. Of course, the best-laid plans and all that, he found that the real challenge was corralling his son to the desk for prolonged periods.
The conversation doesn’t sit still either. Over the course of 40 minutes topics pop up, like the black market for buying dogs in Covid times, chicken sexing and being “accused by a knight of the realm of being the reason for losing a final,” in reference to Sir Clive Woodward being grumpy about Marler and Dan Cole not being stoney-faced in a pre-World Cup final press conference in Japan.
Yet by his own admission, Marler used to find it hard opening up. Press events were seen as something of a duel. Fordyce has ghosted a number of athlete’s books – including cricketer Chris Gayle’s gloriously-named Six Machine – and feels that over time, when the big life questions arise, such people can open up. But in real life, isn’t it the most human thing to talk about the smaller things?
Marler replies: “Yeah, definitely, but there’s also the other side of it where players then worry that if they do start talking about irrelevant or different things, they can be accused of not concentrating on the job.
“Hang on, can’t there be an understanding that you can do both?”
As a younger man, Marler says, he had his guard up with the media. The assumption being that whatever happened, the predisposition was to go for the negatives and the flashy headline. But after well-documented run-ins with the press and the rugby authorities, he soon decided that “if I’m always looking at this as ‘you’re all bad people,’ nothing will ever change, my outlook will never change”. And so he sought to talk with everyone he encounters on a ‘human level’ to see where they are coming from. Analysing his own early podcast performances, Marler has had back-and-forths with the team involved. Evidently, he tries to hone his craft.
“He’s a quick learner as well,” Fordyce adds of his co-host. “There will be points where I’ll say, ‘There’s a little thing that we can do here where you can do this or try doing this’. And he gives you a Joe look and nods his head. But then he’s doing it in the next episode without you having reminded him. I don’t want to blow smoke up his arse but I think he’s a bit of a podcast natural.”
Joe interjects with: “Podcast nause.”
Every day is a school day, if you are willing to learn, and lessons can come from anywhere. Marler explains that Fordyce was too aggressive when he asked a stuntwoman straight up how much it would cost for them to set their arm alight – that’s too personal a question, say Marler. Fordyce concedes.
Then there was the one episode that both men loved but that was lost to the world forever, as Fordyce explains: “We did an entire episode with someone, and it blew our minds, but because of the Official Secrets Act we’ve had to pull it. It’s been pulled.”
Hold on… Here Marler comes back in: “I can see your face, ‘Alright, these lads have come up with a plan… just made up bull****’. No, we did this. It was one of my favourites. And then, about two days after, Steve (Jones, from Crowd Network) said: ‘Bad news guys, you can’t hear that episode. It has been pulled by the Secret Service.’
“That was a gutting one but at the same time it was quite cool because, well, we’ve had one of our episodes pulled by James Bond’s bosses.”
At this stage, no one wants to overthink how things can evolve too far into the future (though the pair do joke about a roadshow with Marler’s Volkswagen Caravelle). Once they throw around ideas about the best people to talk to and formulate a plan, Fordyce explains, they just rattle in to chat with each other, see where it goes.
For Marler, it is an exciting avenue to explore while he is still at the very sharp end of rugby. What a great excuse it is to meet interesting new people and learn things along the way, asking whatever comes to mind.
Sitting at a desk or in a van, staring into space, you can probably appreciate that. Because, hey, what the hell is a ‘penetration tester’?
This article originally appeared in the December 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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