For 23 years and roughly 83 billion episodes, Soccer AM has kicked off Saturday’s football viewing on our tellies.
Its iconic, red sofa has become part of the furniture in the metaphorical living room of Sky Sports, right next to the Chris Kamara shaped coffee table and the dishevelled Geoff Shreeves armchair in the corner. Since Helen Chamberlain and Russ Williams (me neither) introduced the format back in 1995, the Saturday morning show has accompanied every football season. Its peak years – the late nineties up to the mid-2000’s – helped to establish Sky as a must have for any football fan. The show’s best features all collectively shared the characteristics that saw it gain such an avid cult-following: simple, silly and entertaining. The annual dance-off became unmissable television, whilst seeing your team feature in the crossbar challenge or a skills school battle was inexplicably thrilling.
The decline of Soccer AM first became noticeable when iconic host Tim Lovejoy left the show in 2007. Generic Cockney Man United fan and personality vacuum Andy Goldstein stepped in and did everything he could to tear down the franchise, before being replaced by Max Rushden after just one season. Self-deprecating, unassuming and a supporter of his local team Cambridge United, Rushden was a far better fit and helped to repair the show’s status somewhat. His departure in 2015 saw John ‘Fenners’ Fenley brought on board to host alongside the much loved, ever-present Chamberlain, who after 22 years with the show, bowed out in 2017. Which brings us to its current state.
The decision to replace the legendary presenter with Jimmy Bullard and Lloyd Griffith will never, ever, ever make sense. To those unfamiliar with the show, picture your favourite childhood toy. Think of all the years of joy it brought you, the happy memories, the sentimental value it has accrued. Now imagine someone deciding you can’t play with that toy ever again and instead, you have to play with an ex-footballer who could barely play football, let alone host a television show, and a Poundland James Corden.
Once notable for its madhouse, fast-paced feel, the show now trudges along. Even the guests look bored as Griffiths spouts out as many words as he can in the hope that a few of them are funny. Fenners tries helplessly to piece together something that even resembles a television show, whilst Bullard sits there doing as little as humanly possible. The show’s once unpredictable charm has horrendously morphed into painstaking, awkward torture. Jokes don’t land, lines are forgotten and Griffiths just keeps on talking.
It’s not all bad. Tubes has developed from a one question mythical being into an excellent interviewee, whilst characters like parody American soccer coach Brad Bobbley provide some light relief. But the show as a whole is hit an unprecedented low. A return to past glory looks unlikely, with viewership dropping rapidly. In fact, BT Sport is so sure of Soccer AM’s demise, they’ve given Robbie Savage a chat show in the same timeslot.
Cancellation seems inevitable in the coming years and perhaps it’s for the best. Perhaps it’s time the red sofa was taken to the dump. Much like Arsene Wenger, Soccer AM was riding high in the mid-noughties, but failure to reinvent itself has seen it left behind. Thanks for the memories, it’s time to go.