Hells Bells and that unfunny bloke

by Kevin Henning

As the payer of the bills and therefore owner of the television, the first thing I do upon entering the house is to search the front room for the remote and press 405 for Sky Sports News. The only variation to this routine is on a Saturday morning when the ‘5’ is replaced by a ‘2’. I don’t know why I do this anymore, it just sort of happens.

Soccer AM has been a part of my Saturday morning for as long as I can remember. It’s probably been a part of matchday for most football fans throughout the country. Well no more. I’ve had a knee-jerk reaction. I’ve made one of the snap decisions that have seen me not buy a newspaper since October 2011 due to an article I disagreed with and resist lighting up a cigarette since September of last year because I could no longer see the point of smoking. I’m not watching Soccer AM anymore.

Soccer AM hit our screens in 1995 although it wasn’t until the arrival of Tim Lovejoy and Helen Chamberlain a year later that the show became cult viewing. It was different to anything on our screens. We were promised “Goals, Goals, Goals” but were entertained by a series of sketches, jokes and special guests. The show quickly grew and became essential viewing, swiping the traditional kids’ shows on Saturday morning terrestrial telly aside effortlessly.

If Soccer AM was a band, it’d have been Oasis, bursting into our concioussness in the ’90’s and enjoying huge success. Like the Burnage brothers, there was a double act working wonders. John Fendley was the creative genius who came up with the ideas and wrote the gags that would be delivered by Lovejoy who played the Liam Gallagher role. A cocky frontman with a swagger that bordered on arrogant. It was a dream team. Throw in Torquay United supporter Hells Bells and it’s easy to see why the show pushed all the right buttons for fans up and down the country.

The great and the good lined up to appear on the show. It was the new TFI Friday. It fused Rock ‘n’ Roll with the beautiful game. This was never more so than when, in 2006, Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno flicked up a ball and gloriously volleyed it through the inflatable target in the SKY studio car park. Even at this stage though, the shark that would in time need jumping was already on the horizon and moving rapidly towards the shore. The game that Pizzorno was playing had already begun it’s tranformation from a tribute to cult footballer Shaun Goater to a reminder that SKY hold the rights to the UEFA Champions League. The show was slowly mutating from televised fanzine into glossy SKY brochure.

Maybe the signs were spotted by Lovejoy and Fenners who would quit the show less than a year later. Lovejoy was replaced by a Southern Manchester United supporter who’s name escaped me during his first half hour onscreen. The same gags were trotted out as Soccer AM’s similarity with Oasis continued. It grew stale because of a stubborn refusal to change a once successful formula.

It wasn’t all bad, the Southern red was replaced by a Cambridge United fan a year later and guests such as Johnny Marr and the Cribs suggested that the show still wanted to be relevant. The jokes and sketches were looking tired though. Instead of a TV highlight of the week, the show started to feel like a glance through Helen’s SKY+ planner. “I’m A Celebrity….Get Me Out Of Here”, “The Hairy Bikers” and “The X Factor” were all creeping into a programme that had once felt like an escape from the unimaginative tripe served up on primetime TV. The new blood seemed to do nothing to shake things up as Max Rushden played Phil Neal to Chamberlain’s Graham Taylor.

Last Saturday saw the annual crew dance-off. A number of talking heads were asked to predict who they thought would take the prize this year and amongst these was one Rylan Clark. Why on earth football fans would be interested what an X Factor loser thought of the crew’s dancing skills, only the Soccer AM team will know. It was the latest attempt to force popular culture down our throats. Kye Sones (another X Factor loser) was a guest the last time I tuned in. We also have the nation’s most annoying catchphrase rammed into our ears every seven days. “Unbelievable Tekkers” is alongside fingernails on a chalkboard as the most horrific sounds known to man.

All in all, the show is losing the plot. It’s more maybe than definitely these days and we’ve lost our Saturday morning glory. The producers might consider changing it’s name to Soccer PM to indicate that the sun is setting on this once bright and glorious show.