Soccer, or as literally the rest of the world refers to it: football, is the most popular sport in the world. Because of this ubiquity and generations growing up around the sport, it becomes further ingrained in society to become much more than just a sport, with larger impacts than who wins and loses. Yesterday, I posted about my favorite NBA podcasts. As I compiled the list, I realized there are typically two types of sports podcasts:

  1. Quick news and highlights of recent events
  2. Deeper analysis of recent events

However, By Association falls into a rarely seen third category: analysis and discussion of the deeper societal impacts from sports.

Think ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentaries (and subsequent podcast), but instead of strictly storytelling from past events, By Association dives into soccer and its effect and importance as a cultural phenomenon. With episodes covering soccers homophobia problem and how soccer causes anxiety, By Association clearly separates itself from the “just another soccer podcast” group.

I got a chance to meet and speak with James who produces and hosts By Association. We touched on how the podcast got started, the challenges he faces as an indie podcast, the possible ramifications of the USMNT failing to qualify for the World Cup, and I even got him on the record for his World Cup champion prediction.

Discover Pods: What’s your podcast about?

James: A narrative podcast about football (soccer) and the human connection behind the beautiful game.

DP: What’s unique about your podcast?

James: Short, consumable and relatable football stories told in documentary style. It taps into the love all fans share for the game. Monthly, evergreen episodes. No news, results or banter.

DP: By Association seems to have made a conscious decision to be deeper than a simple sports podcast, covering actual societal issues like homophobia and mental health rather than scores and highlights. What aspects went into this decision and how was it ultimately made?

James: It was absolutely a conscious decision. I wanted to do something different and soccer lends itself so well to the narrative. There are so many great stories out there waiting to be told, as well as issues within the game that don’t always get the coverage they deserve.

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and people connect with it on a very personal level. And its global nature means it connects people together as well. So By Association is all about exploring and celebrating the human side of the game, why it captivates us and embeds itself in cultures around the globe.

DP: As an American, not qualifying for the World Cup could have large ramifications that set the popularity of soccer back decades in the country. How was this perceived outside the US or do you even care?

James: I actually care a lot about the game in the US. Australia is in a similar position in that soccer is not the most popular sport in the country but is experiencing a lot of growth. There are many differences too, but I feel very sympathetic towards American soccer fans because we share the same desires for the sport to thrive and achieve its full potential. The US is ahead of Australia in many ways as well but I think there’s a lot to learn from each other.

Making the World Cup is so important and I was gutted for the United States. I wouldn’t say it sets the game back, but rather, I think it’s just a really unfortunate missed opportunity. Much of the growth for the sport relies on the generational factor. The more kids that grow up with their local clubs and seeing their nation represented on soccer’s biggest stage, the greater the chances for creating passionate fans. The milestones along the way are great, but it’s that slow, steady growth and building history and traditions that’s going to see soccer thrive for the long term.

DP: You did an episode on soccer in movies. What’s on your must watch list?

James: Features:

– Escape to Victory
– Offside
– Wonderkid

Documentaries:

– Next Goal Wins
– Hillsborough
– The Four Year Plan

DP: What’s the biggest challenge you have as an indie podcaster?

James: That’s a loaded question haha! There are many, particularly in producing a show like mine. Storytelling/documentary podcasts are a lot of work and I’m doing this all on my own. But I really enjoy the creative process so the workload is just a reality of making a show like this.

So I’d say the greatest challenge is finding great stories. I know there are plenty out there but seeking them out isn’t always easy. It’s a combination of my existing knowledge, research, listener pitches and luck. Even once you have a story, or think you do, how you go about telling it is another process itself and varies each time.

DP: What are you five favorite podcasts?

James: Again, it’s tough to narrow it down. But in no particular order:

– 99% Invisible
– Imaginary Worlds
– Lore
Twenty Thousand Hertz
– MuggleCast

DP: Anything else you’d like to add?

James: If you like the sound of By Association, also check out:

Howler Radio
– Short Time, Long Time

And Australian podcasts in general, including some top picks:

– Cosmic Vertigo
– Human/Ordinary
– The Real Thing

DP: What equipment do you use to record?

James: Hardware: Rode NTG2, Zoom H5, Rode Procaster, MacBook Pro.
Software: Pro Tools, Audacity.

DP: Lastly, who’s your World Cup pick?

James: It’s still very early and qualification spots are still being decided. But I’ll say Italy – even though they’re yet to qualify!

DP: Where can listeners find you?

James: byassociation.audio