Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Soccer AM- (Refusal To) Change Is Not Good?

The Soccer AM logo (via Wikipedia)

It would seem that Soccer AM could be facing relegation from the Sky Sports schedules, come the day before the end of the current Premier League season- amid confusion over whether or not it's been definitively canned. Co-host John Fendley insisted the show is merely subject to a period of consultation over its long term future and most other media outlets reported it’s conclusively earmarked for the chop…

 

 

But how did it get to plumbing these depths, having been something of a critical darling during its late Nineties/ early Noughties heyday under the stewardship of Tim Lovejoy and Helen Chamberlain?

 

Perhaps, however inadvertently, the answer lies in an inversion of one of their Yorkshire News sketch's key catchphrases- change is not good!

 

Tune in on a Saturday morning now and what you're greeted with too often feels like a pale imitation of what went before, the jokes feeling a bit tired following season after season of similar laughs.

 

It’s therefore almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that those upstairs have decided the time has come to put them out of their misery, the rest of the world- which is to say football itself and the wider culture Soccer AM itself once felt like a key part of– having moved on while the show itself steadfastly refused to.

 

Against which backdrop the decision to pull the plug after almost 30 years on air, having first gone live in 1995, on the surface feels right.



Soccer AM has played an important role in our coverage of football for the past three decades, and we continually adapt to the evolving needs of our customers.

We now go into a period of consultation to discuss the proposed changes with our people. We are unable to provide more detail while these consultations are underway.”



While we wait on a definitive outcome to these discussions, there has of course been a burst of nostalgia for those gloriously anarchic early days. Who better to ask what it was like to be front and centre of it all than the woman who spent so long at Lovejoy's side on the sofa?



He couldn’t say five words without tripping over the autocue. I glossed over all of his mistakes and he suddenly realised, ‘Yeah, I need this woman sitting next to me’. We just clicked from there.

Tim had brought in a producer called Andy Harris, who said, ‘We want every Saturday to be like cup final day; we want chaos. We don’t want in-depth analysis, we want to celebrate everything that’s good about football’.



But there is another side to the coin- if indeed it does go, what will fill the resulting void?

 

After all, surely a large part of classic-era Soccer AM's appeal was its ability to feel like the pre-match breakfast and walk to the pub with your mates before going to the game itself. With more than a hint of a sort of grown-up Tiswas, say, thrown into its more surreal sketches before the tropes they mined felt increasingly lazy and were in most cases quietly escorted out through the Frank McAvennie Car Park, named in tribute to the former West Ham man after his attempt to steer the ball through the Iron Curtain, resulting miss and second kick in frustration hit one of the “TCCP” substitutes full on in the face!

 

In a sense it never fell, variations on a similar premise underpinning the actual football skills sections of the programme just as well as the likes of Taxi did for the comedy, allowing us to engage in the simple pleasure of mocking a lack of skill- see also The Nutmeg Files for maximum revelation in the art of threading the ball through someone's legs…

 

Equally good for a laugh, Third Eye is at least still running, bizarre moments on and off the pitch, highlighted for posterity, that you might otherwise have missed even if you were watching a game at the time.

 

But still it feels like a diluted cousin to what went before minus the organised chaos of, say, the EASY- chant spawning World of Wrestling sketch or Arsenal's Wengerbus.

 

The laughs are still there, you just have to look harder to find them… With the addition of Jimmy Bullard as a co-presenter alongside Fenners, following the departures of Lovejoy and Chamberlain then also Max Rushden and Andy Goldstein, inevitably you might expect a greater focus on actual footballing skill!


The shift towards that arguably started to happen around 2015 when the likes of the annual crew dance- off and Soccerette were given the order of the boot. 

 

As an interesting side note, Natalie Sawyer, who herself appeared as one of them in 1999 while on work experience with Sky at the start of her broadcasting career, has penned a piece for the Times suggesting that the feature was simply a product of its time, a result of the rise of self- styled “lads mags”.


Several PR people have zeroed in on that, one, Mark Borkowski, going so far as to tell the Daily Mail that ‘It’s had to tone down from the Lads' Mag era because times are now different.

If people are not watching it, it’s because that sort of irreverence is being done by YouTubers now.

A lot of celebrities as well are frightened of going into a space – like Soccer AM was – which had a bit of a brash and laddish reputation in case there is backlash.

It’s of an age where it can’t be what it wants to be.’



And now, the man who won more of those dance-offs than anyone else, Rocket (on the crew between 1998 and 2017), has given his take on what's happening having previously revelled in pushing the boundaries...



Speaking to the Sun , he said Sadly I don't know if that show can exist now because if there's a reason to complain about something, generally someone will. They'll take offence. 'There's so much you could have taken offence at. We pushed it to the line a lot of the time.”



But underneath all that was a simpler desire.



We were a bunch of blokes just messing about on a Saturday morning. I think all we wanted to do was make people smile.”



Who knows, perhaps Sky Sports will end up deciding that it’s not yet time for the last laughs of Soccer AM after all.

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