“I go like a teenager when it comes to football” — The Square Ball meets Jon Richardson

In 2017-18, Free, Leeds United, Subscribers by Emma Carrington

Transcribing a recording of an interview is usually a tedious job. When you’ve just sat and chatted with someone for an hour or so and already lived the conversation, then having to painstakingly go through it, second by second, word by word, typing it all up only to have to retype it all again into a format that makes sense in a magazine, it can be a bit mind boggling.

What makes the job a bit easier is when you’re genuinely laughing out loud at what you’re transcribing. This is what happened as I went through the recording of our interview with comedian and life-long Leeds United fan, Jon Richardson. After being mercilessly guilt-tripped by myself, Oddy, and Supporters’ Trust chairman Dave, Jon had agreed to meet us for a chat, a pint, and a few bar snacks in town.

We arranged to meet at lunchtime at the fabulous Indian street food restaurant Bundobust, and because myself and Dave obviously have nothing else to do on a weekday at noon, we arrive before the place even opens. As we’re lurking outside, the staff setting up inside are giving us some rather odd looks, gesturing and shrugging to each other, trying to figure out why we’re so keen to get in. I need the toilet, that’s why. When they finally open the doors I dash inside, thinking I’ll quickly order a drink then make a break for the bathroom. Jon arrives about thirty seconds later, so that’s forgotten about and we all introduce ourselves, order drinks and food, and find a table. As soon as we’ve all got settled, I remember what it was I needed to do. Argh. I have to ask Jon to move, and move all of his stuff, so that I can get past. Bugger. Not the best start.

“I text Sam Byram sometimes. I’m texting a footballer!”Jon Richardson

But once all that was out of the way and we got talking, it seemed like meeting in the city centre was quite handy. “I’ve just been to Wilkinsons and bought two toilet brushes and some drawing pins, in case you were in any doubt about the showbiz lifestyle,” Jon tells us with a grin. Luckily nobody stopped him and asked for an embarrassing toilet brush selfie, and he adds that he doesn’t really get bothered by autograph hunters much. “I’m at a level that I’m famous enough that people recognise me, but they don’t know who I am. By the time they’ve worked it out I’ve walked past. A lot of people stare. You start thinking you’ve got something on your face or hanging out of your nose.”

Looking around, though, I’m pretty sure at least two other tables have recognised Jon, because I’ve clocked them turning round and whispering to each other, trying not to make it obvious. But while we were talking nobody interrupted to ask for photos or anything. It seemed they were too polite to disrupt our lunch for a selfie.

Nobody tends to bother him at Elland Road, either. “I think a lot of people don’t care. Leeds is so much bigger than who you’re sat next to.” We talk a little about how being a Leeds fan is more about a state of mind than a physical presence — it doesn’t matter who you are, we’re all there for the same reason. So if anyone is going to get star struck meeting a famous person, it’s probably going to be Jon.

Despite his celebrity status and being on numerous TV shows, including 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, and being a successful comedian and going on tour all over the shop, he still gets blown away when a footballer follows him on Twitter. “It’s amazing, it’s like I’m ten years old!” Jon tells us, excitedly. “When Byram came down [to watch filming of 8 Out of 10 Cats] I couldn’t get my head round it. I text him sometimes. I’m texting a footballer! But I have to be really cool about it. It’s like a different world.”

And Byram isn’t the only player Jon has played it cool with. He once got talking to Dom Matteo on TalkSport. Matteo had been thinking about trying to organise a reunion of his Champions League squad and invited Jon along to it. “I was like… ohhhhh…,” he remembers. “I left it a little while before I messaged him and told him, well, if you do organise it I’d love to come, trying to act all casual. Like after the first date, you don’t respond straight away. But inside, I was like — seriously — I would walk there and I’d buy all the drinks! I don’t think he ever organised it, or if he did he never told me. Either way I haven’t chased him up on it.”

It’s not just being able to hobnob with his footballing heroes that gets Jon excited about Leeds. For him it’s more about actually being there and reliving that thrill of the first shirt, the first game, those feelings of awe and wonderment that come with walking into the stadium. “When you think about football, you remember when you first got into it,” he says. “I remember when I got a kit, I did my 11+ and I had a dentist appointment the same day. My mum got me my first Leeds shirt, the Thistle Hotels blue and yellow striped away shirt. It was my first ever one and it blew my mind to have a Leeds shirt because we didn’t have a lot of money. I remember getting that shirt and I still feel like that every time I go to a game. I can’t quite believe I’m there and I’m not jaded by it yet.” Which is good, considering everything Leeds fans have been through over the last twenty years or so — we have every reason to feel a little jaded.

That shirt and that feeling must have really stuck in his mind. Jon has gone vintage, wearing a 1995 Thistle Hotels home shirt that had been hidden under another buttoned up shirt, that was rapidly undone as soon as we sat down. No matter how much of a celebrity you might be, as a general rule colours are still not always considered appropriate for everyday wear. Unless you’re some sort of supermodel wearing a massively oversized shirt and posing provocatively in an Instagram post — then it’s okay. Or maybe it’s not, I have no real opinion on that, apart from that it’s something I could never pull off effectively without looking like I’d just put on my dad’s old shirt to do some decorating in or something. Not a good look. Writing this now, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think to ask more about replica kits in the wild, as I’m sure it would have made for some interesting points *makes mental note to remember for future reference*.

“I always want to be 15, when I didn’t know the chairman’s name”Jon Richardson

It was Jon’s dad that got him into Leeds. “I was trying to impress my dad,” he tells us. “When I was getting into football my dad asked me who I supported, and I remember being in the garden and I didn’t have a team. So I asked him, who do you support? He said oh I support Leeds, so I said I support Leeds. It’s just been a curse that’s stuck with me since!” Unfortunately Jon hasn’t been able to get to many home games, only four or five a season due to work and living too far away. He has recently moved and now lives much closer, so he’s looking forward to being able to go to more matches and getting to know the city a bit more.

“I’ve only really come into Leeds for matches, I drive in and drive out again. I come in on my own because I don’t know anyone else who’s a Leeds fan. I park up, and because I’m a creature of habit I always park in the same place. Last time I got boxed in and I was sat there for an hour and we had lost. It was when promotion was over and I just had to sit in my car, I just wanted to go home! I was in such a bad mood.”

Jon might have someone to go with later in the year, though. His wife, Lucy, follows Hull “a bit” he says, and as there’s a handy home fixture against them on 23rd December it might be an ideal Christmas present? Maybe not. “She takes the piss out of me,” he says. “I go like a teenager when it comes to football, so when I was coming here today she was like [puts on a sarcastic voice] ‘You off to do your interview for your football magazine, eh?’ She thinks I’m like a little boy about it. Which I am.”

It would be quite nice to be able to be a kid again when it comes to football, Jon thinks. “I always want to be like I was when I was fifteen. I didn’t know the chairman’s name, it’s just the players are gods and you get to watch them when they’re on telly. The more you get involved the more you get to hate it. That was the worst period, knowing all about GFH and all that. You just think, I don’t want to know all of this, it’s madness. It should be like the old days when the chairman was just like a local warehouse owner who stuck a bit of money in and it all looks after itself.”

We don’t really go into the finer points of chairmen, managers and everything else that comes with the politics of Leeds United. Probably for the best. Once you start on that side of football it can become quite a dark place, and Jon’s thoughts are that we need a bit of positivity, even though there are some hardcore fans who go online and on the forums and create negativity. “On every Yorkshire Evening Post article I read, the comments are just vile,” he says, sounding disappointed.

“I still feel like that every time I go to a game”Jon Richardson

On the plus side, though, he has his TV colleagues to cheer him up and keep him laughing, regardless of what’s going on at Leeds. We have a bit of a chat about 8 Out of 10 Cats and Jon tells some tales about what happens while filming. “You have no idea what anyone else is going to say, especially Sean [Lock]. That’s the joy of Sean, anything could come out of his mouth at any point. Sometimes you’re laughing so hard at what they’re doing you forget that you should be joining in now, you’re supposed to be doing something!” he laughs. We ask how he manages to keep a straight face on screen, and Jon explains that during the clock sequences on Countdown he takes the game so seriously he often doesn’t notice what else is going on. “It’s only when we watch it back sometimes I think, I didn’t even notice that naked guy walking across!”

So does Jon get the chance to watch much TV, besides Countdown? Now his daughter is almost a year old he and his wife finally have more chance to watch telly together, but the real question is, do they watch Vikings? “Is that a series?” was Jon’s response. Right. So in our normal fashion we go on to explain how awesome Vikings is and how he really should watch it, but I don’t think he was convinced. Worth a shot though. But the next thing he says, quite unexpectedly, is, “My wife is a Viking. She’s blonde and blue eyed. She’s traced her family back to that so she’s convinced she’s a Viking.” Excellent! Jon hasn’t watched Game of Thrones either, but he has seen Fortitude, so we filled him in on Rune Temte’s interview in a previous issue of TSB (think he was a bit impressed with that).

When Rune came over to Leeds to watch a game, he brought with him a Scandinavian drink called Akvavit. “I’ve got some Akvavit!” Jon is full of surprises. “I’ve just got into it… I have a little nip before bed. I like mentholly herbally stuff, like Vermouth. I’ve got very camp drink tastes, I drink like a seventy year old woman,” although he’s now on his second pint. At lunchtime. On a weekday. “We used to drink vodka and Red Bull at uni, three pounds for a triple vodka, frantic nights!”

Frantic nights may be a thing of the past for Jon now. His free time is spent changing nappies and trying not to break the baby. “I might have been scared of breaking her a bit,” he admits. “I’d love Elsie to get into football, but I don’t want to push too far because I don’t want to be one of those parents that pushes their kid into fulfilling my dreams.” But it has begun: his daughter has two Leeds outfits already, and Jon thought maybe a trip to a Leeds Ladies game might be her first Leeds match.

Jon chatted away to us for over an hour and by that point we’d polished off most of the food and decided that okra fries are possibly the best thing ever invented. He seems well chuffed with the snap, and because he’s planning on spending more time in Leeds, Jon is going to be bringing his Mrs through for some more spicy snacks. Unfortunately I had to leave, so he and Dave stayed to finish their drinks. Whatever came of the rest of their conversation I don’t know, and I didn’t ask, so I’ll leave it at that. I also don’t know whether he buttoned up his shirt again to cover the colours for his journey home. Being able to get to more games now, hopefully we’ll catch up with him again at Elland Road this season. You won’t need to go on your own any more, Jon. Peacock at 12? Marvellous. ◉

(artwork by Lee Shackleton)