Ask most sports fans about their preferred listening on weekday afternoons and it is fair to assume that most would choose Hawksbee and Jacobs on talkSPORT, three hours of well-informed banter, interviews and carefully-considered set plays.
If it sounds like two mates having a chat with a few friends dropping in, then they have succeeded in their aim according to Andy Jacobs, a fervent supporter of Chelsea, Albion’s opponents at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. “A lot of people think that we just turn up and have a laugh but that’s the smoke and mirrors,” he says. “There’s a lot more goes into it than that.
“We both get up early, read the papers, then write and prepare stuff. Paul reads most of the books that people are bringing in to talk about and I read some but also do other things. There is a division of labour. Except when Michael Parkinson came in, because he’s probably the best interviewer ever so I thought I should read his book from cover to cover.”
The partnership formed when both worked on Frank Skinner and David Baddiel’s Fantasy Football League TV show in the 1990s. “Frank thought we might need some extra help with about 18 shows to do in three weeks and suggested I call Paul Hawksbee because he knew a lot of people.
“I was the producer but I’m also in some of the Phoenix From The Flames scenes and so is Paul. Avi Cohen was my finest hour, I think. I was dressed as a Rabbi.”
Once the show had run its course, Hawksbee and Jacobs began laying the foundations of their present double act but overnight success stubbornly refused to happen.
“After Fantasy Football League finished, we spent a year in an office staring at each other, trying to come up with ideas for our production company but nobody wanted anything we did.
“We listened to talkSPORT and I wrote to them. They said to come on down and we just did on air what we’d been doing in the office for a year, games like the Fools’ Panel that we’re still doing today.
“We’ve done 19 years of the daytime show, 20 years on the station in all. We’re planning a live show to mark our 20th anniversary, to coincide with a book. We’re looking forward to that.”
Neither makes any secret of their footballing allegiances – Paul Hawksbee is a Tottenham fan – or pulls any punches when discussing their clubs. Andy, for example, is on the side of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich against the British government’s reluctance to renew the Russian’s UK visa.
“Abramovich has been a great owner and it’s a disgrace that he can’t easily get into the country when you think of all the jobs he has provided, the tax revenue he has generated, the part he has played in the transformation of football,” Andy says.
“It’s wrong. All you hear from people who have dealings with the club is that he’s a thoroughly decent bloke. He didn’t go to Salisbury and poison the Skripals. It’s just spiteful and I’m told he’s very angry and I don’t blame him.
“It is causing Chelsea a problem. It is hard when an owner can’t be there and we have felt it this season because in the last year he has taken his eye off the ball a bit. I gather he isn’t planning to sell up, but we have all heard the story about Jim Ratcliffe being interested. And why wouldn’t he be?
“Chelsea is now a prime club with a good European record and a worldwide profile. I’m sure Abramovich could get what he wanted for it if he chose to sell but whether the new owner would be as good for the club is another question.”
Anyone who thinks Andy is merely an apologist for the club he has supported since he first saw them in 1959 (a 3-1 victory over Everton at Stamford Bridge) has never heard any of his fierce criticisms of the present team manager, Maurizio Sarri. He has been on record as saying that he thinks the team would do better with Emma Hayes, the coach of the club’s women’s team, in charge.
“Yes, and I honestly believe that,” he said. “It has been a source of frustration for fans that we have this incredible academy that is producing so many brilliant kids who won the FA Youth Cup five years in a row but don’t use them. And that’s why I don’t like Sarri.
“I watched the pre-season games and Callum Hudson-Odoi was brilliant, the club’s best player. He roasted Hector Bellerin in one game and you thought he had to play if Sarri had seen him. Nothing. And he said: ‘Well, I have Pedro and Willian.’ They’re 31 and have seen their best days and have been poor this season.
“We could lose Hudson-Odoi because Sarri never plays him. Andreas Christensen is one of the best young defenders in Europe and has played three games this season. The transfer ban could be the best thing that has ever happened to this club because it could force us to use all that young talent.
“I’d take sixth place for the next few years if Frank Lampard and Jody Morris were in charge but played the kids and were building towards something sustainable. I’d be happy with that. But Sarri has put me off football. I can hardly bring myself to go and watch them, it’s so tedious.
“The game at Everton was Chelsea’s season in microcosm. We dominated the first half and could have been 5-0 up but didn’t score – we’ve hit the woodwork 20 times this season, which is just bad finishing – and in the second half Everton came out, couldn’t be as bad as in the first half, built up some confidence, scored a goal and that was it. Against Wolves, who only had defending in mind, he played three holding midfield players.”
He is only cheered up a little by Albion’s dismal record away to the big six – no points so far – and against Chelsea in particular: seven defeats in seven league meetings. “I think it’s lucky that Brighton are better at home,” he says. “But it could still change on Wednesday.
“If Chelsea go ahead, everything will be fine. But I promise you that if Brighton score first, that’s game over, because Chelsea don’t do comebacks. We are a team that anybody can beat on the day because we can be so flaky. We’ve got a manager with no plan B.
“They say that madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome, but that’s Sarri he always makes the same substitutions. Ross Barkley for Matteo Kovacic after 70 minutes or the other way round.
“Paul said he was enjoying watching Barkley play for England the other night and suddenly had the awful idea that Gareth Southgate might somehow bring him off for Kovacic. Sarri reminds me of Theresa May, he keeps doing and saying the same thing and wondering why no-one agrees with him. No compromise.
“I think Jorginho has had a bad press, He’s a good player but playing in the wrong position. He should be where N’Golo Kante is and vice-versa. How can you take a player in Kante who is the best in the world, a World Cup winner and double Premier League champion, and put him in a position where he’s not even the best in the squad?
“Ruben Loftus-Cheek would be ten times better in that position. Olivier Giroud is France’s third-highest scorer and he just won’t play him except in the League Cup and the Europa League. Why? Eden Hazard plays better with Giroud. Then he buys Higuain, who is fatter than me.”
Albion fans will, of course, hope that Andy is proved right about Sarri’s football acumen at Stamford Bridge this week. But who was his favourite Chelsea boss?
“Jose Mourinho was the best, obviously. After winning three league titles, how can he not be? And Carlo Ancellotti was great and was treated very unfairly by the club. Antonio Conte was excellent too – he came in and won the league at the first attempt against Guardiola and Mourinho but then didn’t get the backing he was entitled to.
“He wanted better players than the ones they gave him, like Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater. They cost £50m between them but they should have spent that money on one really good player. That drove Conte out.
“That was the fault of the people below Abramovich. They don’t want the managers to be too powerful. I think it would be different with someone Abramovich loves, like Lampard, if Abramovich stays in charge.”
Favourite players and matches? “My childhood hero was Peter Osgood. Then Zola, Lampard, and Drogba of course. My best match was the 2012 Champions League final in Munich and my two best Chelsea moments were Drogba’s headed equaliser against Bayern and his winning penalty in the shootout. My son loves Drogba too and wanted to call my grandson Didier but his wife wouldn’t let him!”