On the face of it, this sounds absurd. How can a show where middle-aged men in ill-fitting suits, sitting in a cosy studio, talking about football – for six hours – possibly be considered superior to every other show on TV?
These reasons may not convince you, but they may make you consider this argument as surprisingly sane.
It revels in its ridiculous format
And what a daft format it is. Viewers aren’t even watching any actual football. They’re watching a programme on the telly, where some blokes are watching football and talking about it – on the telly!
Rather than be daunted by this ponderous prospect, the panellists on the show embrace its perceived lunacy with such infectious enthusiasm it turns a concept that seems inferior to watching paint dry into essential viewing.
The dynamics of the show are spot on
The laidback Matt Le Tissier, the kiddish Paul Merson, the partisan Phil Thompson, the grouchy Charlie Nicholas. Put them together and they complement each other like bangers and mash. Plus, with dozens of other reporters across the country updating viewers on games, there’s always another personality never far away from adding something into the mix.
It’s impossible to predict
It’s an age-old cliché, but football’s a funny old game. You only have to look at Leicester City’s improbable Premier League triumph last season as proof. It’s packed with thrills, spills and even more ham-fisted words a second-rate writer doesn’t have room for to fit into a coherent sentence. So imagine taking all that drama and excitement, bottling it up and popping it open over nine months. Quite simply, unmissable.
It embraces its moments of incompetence
Most TV shows today aim to run seamlessly, with unnerving precision. It’s like the broadcasting equivalent of a well-oiled machine. As admirable as it is, an overemphasis on this can often result in a show putting out the mercurial flame of spontaneity.
Not Soccer Saturday. With so many games taking place across the country, the odd balls-up here and there is inevitable. Rather than try and sweep it under the rug, the programme champions these moments. Paul Merson’s tooth falling out, an on-air fire alarm, Chris Kamara confusing a red card for a substitution… the list goes on and is as substantial as it is celebrated.
If an actor can carry a TV show, then host Jeff Stelling drives Soccer Saturday around in an Aston Martin DB5: with class, style and sophistication. As for questionable fuel consumption, you’d have to ask him personally.
Stelling is Soccer Saturday’s rock, as integral to the show as Bryan Cranston and James Gandolfini were to Breaking Bad and The Sopranos respectively. With more facts up his sleeve than a QI researcher, his masterful handling of seemingly endless football results, coupled with his razor-sharp wit, makes Soccer Saturday deserve more than its flippant billing as a sport panel show. It’s a programme of undeniable skill, infectious camaraderie and exemplary insight. Or, as Chris Kamara would say, “Unbelievable!”