‘We sense that this is a crucial time in Australian football’ – Ed Kavalee

Kavalee (middle) with Santo Cilauro (left) and Sam Pang (right) Photo: Melbournevictory.com.au

Ed Kavalee is a radio host, comedian, and one-third of the beloved Santo Sam and Ed’s Total Football. The TV show and podcast blended comedy and sport in a way that had never been done previously for the round ball game.

He has enjoyed a long and successful career on the airwaves (currently starring on Have You Been Paying Attention) but his love of football pre-dates his life under lights.

“I had a friend in high school by the name of Michael Luciano who I’m still good friends with today,” said Kavalee.

“He was an Italian lad and his dad… loved football and I started watching basically because of him.

“It always becomes about, ‘how did you get into football?’ As if football had something to prove to me.

“I like to look at it the other way where I was lucky enough to get on board with football from an early age, so I could have it through my life up to this point.”

Kavalee relates to the feeling that many 90’s fans felt, the need to defend your sporting passion in a culture dominated by other codes.

“It’s almost like an apology, no I LOVE football, I have since I was a kid and we just got the rating figures for the euros in America… the final of the euros rated higher than the NBA finals,” he said.

“I’m not trying to claim that football is bigger than the NBA in the U.S, but it is not even close to being challenged as the largest sport in the world.”

After a childhood of following his beloved Inter Milan on Sunday mornings, Kavalee is excited about the opportunities that kids in the modern world have to enjoy the sport. 

“It’s a hell of a lot easier, there is nothing that isn’t available. Every single match basically since the beginning of time if its been filmed is available to them,” he said.

“You can watch every league in the world, you can watch every highlight in the world… you can see every important moment locally and globally for this sport.”

Santo, Sam and Ed

As the host of Total Football and Cup Fever, Ed Kavalee is modest about his place in the sport. It is a fondly remembered show that landed a difficult balance of joking about something that they were all clearly passionate about promoting.

It had a loose unpredictable nature, combining player interviews and sketches such as the famed ‘Bresc’s Diary’.

“I was doing Thank God You’re Here, I was one of the ensembles so I was there every week,” he said.

“I got talking to Santo (Cilauro) one week and he said ‘what sports do you like?’ …I said ‘I’m an Inter fan’.

“It got to the point where I would be putting on a fake beard, trying to remember my lines and remember what I had to pick up and Santo would be over my shoulder going ‘you know I just don’t think Lentini’s knees are going to hold up’.

“I’d be like ‘oh no I get it, I’m still annoyed about Pagliuca taking Zenga’s spot but I’ve just got to go and do this for a second.’”

Poorly timed discussions about 20-year-old Azzuri selection headaches soon led to what became Santo Sam and Ed.

“So then he just called me one day and said ‘do you know Sam Pang?’ and I said ‘no’ and then he said ‘I think we could do a soccer show together’,” Kavalee said.

“If Santo Cilauro thinks I can do a soccer show I’d love to do it. It was that small an idea.”

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Kavalee is quick to point out the record of the people behind the show. The same team that gave us Frontline, Utopia & The Castle.

“When Working Dog (Productions) comes to you and says ‘would you like a bite of this?’ and hold you up a spoon, there’s been sometimes years of development going into that meal,” he said.

“We were live every night which was insanity. We would do this thing called Room of Doom before we would do the show, we would do our jokes to a room that only had Rob Sitch and Tom Gleisner in it.”

The program boosted the profile of the Australian leagues and the Matildas. It was an early champion of women’s football. Steph Catley first appeared in 2015.

The initiative was taken by the hosts themselves.

“Basically we always go along with who’s doing a great job in the space in the sport and who’s going to be good talent to get involved,” Kavalee said.

“Who’s going to help do what we want to do which is highlight how good Australian football is and how much fun it can be.

“There are some players… some of them just aren’t great talkers, they don’t have to be, that’s not the job but it doesn’t help anyone to keep pushing those people.

“As we’ve seen in American sports, if you focus more on the people who have got insight and who are entertaining your sport is better off, play the content, not the name.”

When finding athletes who look at ease on television, Kavalee says it is important they are eager to promote their sport.

“You never see it with V8 supercar drivers. They’re always great talent (on air) and why is that? Because they understand sponsorship, they understand selling it and they’re always great,” he said.

“The Matildas, to their credit, absolutely got that…it’s (about) hearts and minds.”

A lifelong hobby

A feature of the show was the host’s attire. Each wore a different football kit per episode and collecting shirts is one of his lifelong passions.

Among his favorite collectibles are, Germany 1990, A Soviet Union mid 80’s strip, and a lost PSG coaches jacket from the mid-’90s, something that left him “devastated.”

 As a fan, he owns every Inter Milan shirt possible. He is not fond of the new ‘snakeskin’ design.

“I honestly think it’s the worst jersey we’ve ever had,” he said.

“We’ve lost Pirelli. I understand the world’s changed, tires aren’t a thing anymore… Inter’s going to some sort of crypto-NFG-token company.

“I keep saying, this is going to end up being Dreamcast on the Arsenal shirt.

“They had Dreamcast on their shirt a year and a half after Sega had stopped making or selling them.”

There are few lengths Kavalee won’t go to acquire a collectible.

He recently witnessed somebody wearing something that could add to his collection.

“An Adidas jumper, one of the originals the green with the black stripes,” he said.

“I was in the car with my wife, I said ‘Pullover! ‘I was going to go over and buy it from him. By the time I’d driven around, he was gone.

“He was walking it on a rainy day, it was driving me insane.

“I have no vices. I am a very dull individual, the only thing I do is soccer shirts.”

“Apart from being funny we want to be champions”

The burning question for many football fans remains, will their favorite show be returning? Channel 10 features all three hosts and will have the rights to Australian football from August. The scene seems set.

“We’ve done different incarnations over time, (podcasts, things like that) but we’re always doing the show off the air,” he said.

“Today I sent Santo something that I’d noticed from the Italian celebrations.

“Italians are really good winners, It only takes a day for them to be in uniforms on stages with aged crooners belting out the classics.”

If the show returned there is one guest in particular, Kavalee would love to have on.

“(Georgio) Chiellini, for sure. Chiellini has made central defending one of the strangest professions you will see in your life,” he said.

“He’s both things. He’s ‘pick up Jordi Alba and give him a big hug’ and he’s also ‘pull back a shirt because that bloke’s through on goal and this is a final’.

“He copped some teeth from Luis Suarez and laughed about it pretty quickly.”

While things sound promising for a return of Santo, Sam and Ed, nothing is definite.

“Time is against us. Sam does a show about AFL, Santo’s got a million things (but) we are talking about doing something soon.

“We sense that this is a crucial time in Australian Football, with the new broadcasting deal and we do want to be a part of it.

“Apart from being funny, we want to be champions. We do feel that.”

“The biggest crossroads of my lifetime”

Kavalee is bullish about the future of the game and excited about the broadcast possibilities. After working in football across multiple networks, he has a good feeling.

“It’s a pretty simple equation. Free-To-Air means it’s easier for people to see and that’s great,” he said.

“The guys have done a really great job. I know that Channel 10 is all in for it which is great. I know the other streaming services are really up for it too.

“They’ve very much cottoned onto the idea that it’s an entertainment product. As soon as you hear that you think ‘that’s very good.’”

“(Football’s) place in Australia is at a really crucial moment, we are at the biggest crossroads of my lifetime with football in Australia.

“Everybody who is pushing the game and pumping up the game is going to play a really crucial role.”

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