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LONG READ: The Dode Fox Podcast story and how it became part of the fabric of Dundee United through humility and hilarity

Ronny Costello and Paul McNicoll are lifelong Dundee United fans.
Ronny Costello and Paul McNicoll are lifelong Dundee United fans.

Standing on the corner of Tannadice Street and Neish Street, Ronny Costello and Paul McNicoll bounce off each other like Csaba Laszlo and an English dictionary – it doesn’t always make sense but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

The lifelong followers of Dundee United run the Scots Language Award-winning Dode Fox Podcast and, unwittingly, give me a live rendition of the show right outside their church – Tannadice.

“It’s all very surreal. I still laugh when people mention ‘well done on yer award’. I’ve been recognised more,” McNicoll reflects.

“Yer six-foot-six that’s why,” the far smaller Costello quips.

McNicoll, ignoring his mate, continues: “Before games, when the world was still spinnin’ the right way, we usually go in the Heggie and lot of people come oer and speak to ye aboot it.

“It’s great – we’re always happy to speak to punters, hardly any of them buy me a pint right enough!”

Costello comes in again: “It’s a strange thing, people coming to chat awa’ tae ye, but at the end of the day they just wanna chat about United.

“They’re just telling you what they think and when they say a nice thing about the podcast then it’s a bonus for us.

“I dinna think we ever thought it’d be where it is. We thought 100 listeners would be all right.”

Backed up with the stats, McNicoll adds: “I think the first episode was massive and then the next week naebdy listened really and it was like ‘oh well, it’s obviously s***e’ and that’s fair enough.”

Ronny Costello and Paul McNicoll have become household names among the United support.

As much as the United-based discussion, the charisma and deadpan delivery of the dyed-in-the-wool Arabs is integral to the success of the podcast.

Forget listens in the hundreds; try hundreds of thousands – and a prize celebrating their Dundonian brogue to boot.

It’s been quite the journey for Costello, 38, and McNicoll, 43, since starting the show back in July of last year – which now boasts 70 episodes, nearly 250,000 listens and guest appearances from the likes of club legends Paul Sturrock, Hamish McAlpine, Andy McLaren and John Holt.

All that said, being voted Scots Media Person o’ the Year wasn’t on their radar.

“Not at all – I certainly didn’t expect to win,” McNicoll admits.

“My mum figured out the Internet I think.

“It seemed strange to me getting an award for speaking the way we do. It’s just natural, it’s no like it’s hammed up.

“We’re no going out our way to over-Dundonian anything – it’s great and the biggest thing for me is the fact we’re speaking about United and we’ve won an award for it.”

Costello adds: “We took the nomination for what it was and thought ‘well that’s kinda cool’ because we dinna try to be anything else – we’re just us.

“It’s how we speak and how we get picked up on our grammar every week – it disnae matter to us, our diction, we just let it go.

“A lot of people say it’s like speaking to yer mates in the pub and that’s kinda what it’s aboot.

“We’ve a’ done it before or efter a game.

“When people started saying they’d voted you think ‘ah that’s cool at least a couple of people have’ and then we went and won it on Saturday.

“There was no previous, we never got told and we were the first award of the night so it was quite a nice surprise.”

Representing the support

Surprised, perhaps, but they shouldn’t be shocked at the way they’ve been received by the support – they’re both one of their own after all.

It appeals to Dundee’s psyche – their people. Football is tribal and the modest humility around which The Dode Fox Podcast builds itself is a representation of a fan base and a city.

In fact, the show often features ordinary Arabs whom the boys have managed to keep entertained right throughout the coronavirus pandemic, reaching a point they never thought they would.

Dundee United legends like Paul ‘Luggy’ Sturrock have appeared on the podcast.

“Football fans are no daft and everyone’s got an opinion, right or wrong, we’re the same,” Costello explains.

“We’re just about to hit a total of 250,000 listens for the podcast, which is crazy!

“Dinna get us wrong but I never thought I’d be thankful for a global pandemic because the whole summer of us daein what we were daein kept us going.

“We were really lucky with some of the guests we had on right through. It gave us something to do and enjoy and the people that listened, too.

“They still had their Monday morning – which was the maist important thing for us.

“Even when it was three hours long with John Rankin or a short intro to Micky Mellon, it was a really good summer.

“I mind we hit 100,000 and we thought ‘this is mental’.”

McNicoll continues: “The plan was to take a break. If the pandemic hadnae a hit the world we were gonna finish.

“We were a wee bitty worried actually because Ronny was booked to go to Vegas at the end of last season, no along with the players, but I daresay he would’ve met up wae them.

“The plan was to stop then so we wouldnae have been anywhere near 70. The way things worked out we got to speak to some amazing guests.

“I’m no just talkin’ about ex-players or that, even the fans, like us. It’s just been class.

“We’re no right and we’re no wrong, it’s just the way we see things.

“That’s how we like to get fellow-fans on because they’ll maybe see things completely different.”

Wasted Little DJs

Costello, a former presenter on Wave FM and the matchday announcer at Tannadice, and civil servant McNicoll, admittedly, weren’t close pals before their podcasting careers began.

However, a shared love of the Tangerines, the local music scene and a discussion on Costello’s former podcast, These Are The Days, brought them together.

Costello expands: “He was the first time it was broadcast because the one I initially done was a bit too risky – ‘put the nice boy on first’.

“I thought ‘ach he’ll be all right on a podcast, he’s no that controversial’ then he drops an f-bomb within about five minutes. The explicit button is ticked every week.

“I was just looking for a creative project at the time with no working so much in that anymore – it was a wee break from the Monday to Friday day job to do something a wee bit different.

“I recorded one with someone and it was a wee bit cheeky so didn’t want to put it out first – it was about online dating, Tinder and aw that caper.

“I just got Paul up to test it, I knew him from United and gigs.

“We’d been at the same gigs in like 2007/08, but didn’t know each other, that was when The View were coming forward so I thought there’d be stories there.

“We got into that and he was slagging his old man off for thinking Line of Duty was fake or something?”

McNicoll chips in: “Farfetched, it was. But his favourite programme was Game of Thrones.

“It was great. I wasn’t really keen on going on but Ronny was like ‘you’re only speaking to me’ so I said I’d do it.

“It just gave me my wee wheelies and I was through at Arbroath on a Saturday, pre-season before last season, with my young lad and I text Ronny ‘how do we no just do a United podcast?’

“We agreed and said we’ll definitely give it a season, no matter how good or bad it becomes.

“It was done fairly quickly after that.

“We’re no even pals now, are we?”

The podcast pair bonded over a shared love of Kyle Falconer’s The View.

Costello continues: “He was just somebody I spoke to, you know, ‘how’s it going?’

“We needed to start then because if we didn’t start in pre-season we’d have been snookered.

“We had to commit every week from then on and it’s stuck with coming out on a Monday. When you put it aff now people are like ‘wit ye daein?’

“It started last July after the East Fife game and we were watching it like ‘that boy Scott Banks might be a player for wir, hope he hings around.’

“It’s been great that people make us part of their week.”

The Scrandesliga and the Accies are stuck in the bog

There’s no airs or graces about the lads or their show, especially with features like the away day food league table – the Scrandesliga – and musings on the fortunes of Hamilton Academical.

Costello explains: “We’ve got daft features – Paul’s turned one into a t-shirt.

“People love it and get involved every week. The amount of tweets that we get now!

“We had a league table last year?”

McNicoll adds: “I think it was the away food league table – that was its first incarnation and then Andy McAdam, a United fan that’s been on, tweeted us and said ‘Scrandesliga’.

“We thought ‘we’ll steal that but we’ll give him credit’ – clearly stolen from the Bundesliga but who cares?

“From that it’s got out of hand.”

Costello continues: “I would then ask Paul what he was eating at away matches and I think what won it was an overcooked pie at Arbroath?”

“It was delicious,” McNicoll maintains.

“It was a daft wee thing – I went to Dens and threw them under a wee bit with a four,” Costello admits.

“Since games with no fans have come back it’s been the ‘Stay at Home Scrandesliga’ to have a bit of fun wae it.

“We’re getting pictures from all around the world people using #Scrandesliga and it’s just ridiculous.

“Somebody had a hot dog with cheese and curry sauce the other day and that’s hingin.

“There’s a lot of people on the fancy craft beers that I just cannae take.”

Dundee United’s Logan Chalmers in action against Hamilton earlier this season.

Explaining their chemistry, Costello takes the lead while McNicoll jumps in and out with wit, much like their on-air demeanour.

He continues: “We can be good cop, bad cop sometimes.”

McNicoll pipes in: “That’s your fascination with role play over Zoom, though…”

Costello carries on: “This week, particularly, I was fed up of going on Twitter after games – it was killing me and getting me really down.

“It shouldna but it was putting me in a worse mood so I decided to look at the positives this week and that’s kinda what I done.

“There’s not really any roles – I sort of lead in at the start to get us going but that’s kinda it.

“Paul’s got his own wee sections – the loan report and the Scrandesliga.

“We take turns but I take over the technical side because, as Paul will tell you, he’s no very technical.

“There’s some things we’ve said that have turned out funny and on t-shirts and mugs, which is bizarre.

“Like ‘Hamilton are the jobby that dinna flush’ – and it’s true!

“At the start I was probably quite controlling because we needed a bit of a structure and eh kinda had a bit of experience but now it’s chilled out and we ken whaur we’re going.”

McNicoll adds: “There’s never been any argument whatsoever. Ronny’s background is in that sort of thing, I used to work in a factory and I now work in an office so I dinna ken – I just show up and speak s***e.

“That’s my whole role.”

The Dode Fox Podcast – Live?

With their merchandise they’ve quite literally become part of the fabric of the club, however, the pair maintain they’d never do a podcast for the Terrors despite their now seemingly global popularity among the Arabs.

Costello says: “We sold merchandise this year purely to cover the cost because we’d had a lot of free trials on things before but we needed money in to keep daein what we’re daein at a good level.

“Microphones aren’t cheap so we thought ‘we’ll put the logo on a t-shirt and sell it’ because people were asking for months.”

McNicoll interjects: “I had my own handmade t-shirt to interview John Holt because I’m a bam.”

Costello adds: “People were like ‘where can I get that?’ and from there it’s been mental.

“The support in that sense has been crazy. People are kicking about with them on in America, Australia and all over.

“People have felt a real connection and given a voice to the fans they maybe can’t get from the club.

“The support from the club is there as much as can be, though.

“We’ve no been barred yet so we must be all right!

“We’re straight and to the point but it’s chilled out, we dinna tak’ ourselves seriously.”

Paul McNicoll sports his Scrandesliga t-shirt.

McNicoll adds: “We don’t speak for the fans, though. Some people say ‘you’re the voice of the fans’ but we’re no – I’m the voice of me and he’s the voice of him.

“If you agree, that’s fine, but we don’t speak for anybody – we just speak to people, I suppose.

“As much as we love United, we would never do a podcast for United because there would be certain things you cannae say.

“I know United have tried doing podcasts before but they’re a bit tame. We’ve got free reign to throw whoever under the bus!”

As for the future, perhaps not at Tannadice, the lads hope to do a live version of the podcast.

Costello explains: “We’d like to dae an episode live in front of 25-50 people.

“That’s where we were and that will happen but that’s been totally caned.

“It was going to be in January for our 83rd episode for winning the league in 1983 but with the Rep closed and the Gardyne no takin’ us for half an audience we’re having to postpone.

“That’s still the goal, though, to do a live show. It will wait just now.

“People would be amazed how straightforward it is!”

Another modest assessment of their talents as they bring their on-street performance to a close – one which you feel could be made a reality in time.

PODCAST: Dispirited Lawrence Shankland, a dropped Dundee goalkeeper and Dunfermline on the rise

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