For years, Soccer AM had been must-watch viewing for almost every football fan. Saturday mornings on Sky were dominated by the hit show that was jam-packed with laughs, sketches and challenges. But since its recent rebranding, the show has fallen from the giddy heights it once held and genuinely scars everyone who is unfortunate to have seen it. Viewing figures have plummeted and hosts have been unnecessarily and controversially changed and the show has been shortened to under half the time it once filled in its heyday. So why was it popular in the first place and what has contributed to its sorry downfall?
Helen Chamberlain was the stalwart of Soccer AM for 22 years, co-hosting the show with various other co-hosts but she has since been relieved of her role to make way for the likes of Jimmy Bullard and Lloyd Griffith. Another extremely popular host was Tim Lovejoy who hosted the show with Chamberlain for 11 years and that partnership was what made the show so popular. Max Rushden took the reins from 2008-2015 and carried on Lovejoy’s legacy with the show constantly hitting high viewing figures. However, the addition of Bullard and Griffith to the hosting team seems to have lowered the quality and humour of the show because of their personalities. They are joined by John ‘Fenners’ Fendley who has never been as popular as Lovejoy once was. The loud northerner simply does not have the charisma that allowed Lovejoy to connect and entertain so many.
This season, a sketch of a sports shop named ‘Premier Sports’ is simply not funny, despite the best efforts of Fenners and Griffith. Now I’m no comedian or director, but surely someone at Sky must have said to the production team that the 10-minute sketch is poorly written, badly performed and cringey. The loss of features such as ‘Away Days,’ where Adam Smith would play Frankie Fryer and go around a ground and the surrounding area, including members of the public to add comedic value. Another popular segment of the show was ‘Unbelievable Tekkers’ where a clip would play of a footballer doing a skill in a game, proceeded by Andy Ansah saying the phrase. I can’t name many features in recent Soccer AM shows because they really aren’t very memorable or worthy of any comment. Sometimes, the sketches and features were so good that they’d leave you with tears of laughter but instead, today’s shows actually make you want to cry.
The outdoor challenge has also changed down the years. At the end of every show the guest fans would compete in a football challenge on a small pitch outside the studio. The challenge which was arguably the most popular was the Champions League challenge where contestants would aim at 5 different holes, each representing a football competition, starting with League Two and ending with the Champions League. The fans would have a time limit to try and hit all 5 targets in ascending order and their result would feature on a leaderboard that was kept on set throughout the season. Other popular challenges were the Wembley Challenge and World Cup 2002 where there was simply one hole but it added to the suspense and atmosphere produced by the crowd. Nowadays, the fans simply have to volley the ball past a keeper and it’s just not as engaging and also overuses football clichés such as ‘top bins’.
Tubes’ role in the show has diminished despite being probably the funniest character on the show in the past. His weekly question and awkward interviews with famous footballers would prove incredibly popular among people of all ages. His comedic style and ability to keep a straight face would add to the hilarity but Tubes is also a very good footballer, often surprising viewers with impressive skills. Tubes would feature in an annual dance-off with fellow members of the production team and it would be the pinnacle of the season on the show with a public vote deciding the winner. This Christmas Special has since been scrapped, I presume, unless it’s been hidden from us to keep Sky’s dignity alive. The show, that was once the staple of Saturday mornings, is a shadow of what it once was and I can’t see it getting any better. The quicker it’s scrapped the better, I say.