The production team at Sky Sports deserves a knighthood for their Gillette Soccer Saturday show, writes Jonny Hall…
The show – presented by Jeff Stelling – runs from 1200 until 1800 on Sky Sports One and Sky Sports News every Saturday and sometimes in the week.
Every goal from every game up and down the country, Soccer Saturday is a god-send for football fans who cannot get to or afford to go and see their favourite team in the flesh.
As well as all the updates, ‘Jeff Stelling and guests’ look back at the week’s events, including interviews with all the big names who are involved in the big stories.
Why have 90 minutes of football when you can have six hours of it at the press of a button? If you have Sky, press ‘ON’, key in 401 or 408 at midday and wham, bam, thank you ‘Mam, sit back and enjoy.
When fans are having to pay anywhere between £20 and £50 to watch their team, it’s no wonder so many are content to sit on the sofa. Soccer Saturday certainly does wonders for the ‘coach potato’ argument.
So why is Gillette Soccer Saturday just so satisfying?
1) Scheduling: The men in black at Sky Sports Towers are doing a grand job with some very clever scheduling. The show begins dead on 12 O’clock, straight after the hugely popular fun-and-frolics of Soccer AM sadly finishes.
By pencilling in the Soccer Saturday programme to follow on, there’s no reason not to stay tuned to Sky Sports for a very long time.
Because once Soccer Saturday comes on, there’s no getting it off. Every second of a 90 minute match is precious, as we’re only too aware.
You wouldn’t want to miss an 89th minute winner for your team, would you?
2) Man-time: This leads us on to our man-time, or if you want for a better word, ‘escapism’.
A time when men can be left alone to make football the most important thing in their lives for six hours of a Saturday afternoon.
A time when the missus gives us some space to become one with the TV.
We verbally abuse the TV, when there’s a goal scored for us we cheer and when there’s a goal scored for them we curse.
They understand our needs – or I hope I think they do.
I mean, come on. We give them their Ground Force, their Changing Rooms and their Location, Location, Location (Christ, how many more do they want?)
3) Humour: Despite the fact the guest panellists in the studio and the reporters at the match have to be on the ball every minute, they always manage a giggle.
In fact, there’s times when there are a whole lot of laughs.
This brings us back to Chris Kamara’s cries of ‘OWW!’ ‘ARRGH!’… (10 minutes later)… ‘OWW!’ as he, like any football fan, cannot contain his excitement at the match he’s watching and reporting back to us. (I spotted Chris in Tenerife last summer soothing his throat with a couple of well-earned beverages).
And then there is the banter between panellists, who seek to make a more intelligent comment than the other time and again in a battle of wits.
4) Star line-up: Alongside McLintock sits the never-out-of-the-press, George Best.
The former Manchester United idol has been employed as a guest pundit for a couple of years now, which some argue is morally wrong but you can’t escape the fact that Best pulls in viewers.
Tony Cottee, Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas, Alan Mullery, John Gregory and Gordon McQueen have all also become familiar and popular faces in the studio.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects, Alan McInally, Nigel Spackman and Dickie Davies are all out and about as roving reporters giving viewers in-depth reports from around the grounds.
5) The Main Man: Take a bow, Jeff Stelling.
This one man holds the front of the show together with expert ease.
As the goals, bookings, sending-offs and incidents fly in, Stelling keeps his cool and relates the events to the viewer with the help of the onscreen vidi-printer.
His ability to jump back and forth between matches is crucial to the flow of the show. His knowledge of football in general is second to none and his never-ending research in days prior to matchdays clearly shines through.
Message to Sky Sports Executives: Jeff Stelling is vital to your continued success.
6) Behind the scenes: The amount of production that must go into the making of Soccer Saturday is enormous.
It’s not just what’s happening on our screens, but what’s happening off it that makes the show run so smoothly.
Sky Sports have a reporter sat in every ground at every game around the country keeping tabs on the score and scorers, ready to call home with an update in a flash.
7) Online service: And it just gets better as this season Sky Sports have expanded their Gillette Soccer Saturday service by making it available online at www.skysports.com.
The ‘Score Centre’ launches and up pops every goal from every game, both on a Saturday and when there are enough midweek games to warrant the service (likewise with the TV service).
Talk about being ‘interactive’, as you can simply click on any team and up pops their starting line-up, subs, bookings, and goal information.
All the information you could want at the squeak of a mouse.
So there we have it. Gillette Soccer Saturday is good. It’s very good. It could even be better than sex. At least in this case there’s a guaranteed orgasm or two.