Allow me to confess – I will sometimes switch on Soccer AM. I do it for the simple reason that it’s the only thing available, unless you happen to like cookery shows. I have a Sky+ box, but first thing on a Saturday morning is no time to watch a Guardian-approved megadrama such as The Wire, or Mad Men (The New The Wire) or Breaking Bad (The New Mad Men). When making breakfast and taking care of the washing-up, it fills a void that would otherwise leave space for unwelcome suggestions like weekend visits to B&Q or an impromptu spring cleaning. And damn it, I like football, and I want the weekend’s action to start as soon as possible. Is that so bad?
Either way, I will be blunt – Soccer AM is dreadful. It’s hard not to be enraged by its self-appointed status as arbiter of the modern scourge that is BANTER, and it is wrongfully proud of this. It represents literally everything loathsome about modern society, with absolutely no exceptions. It is presented to us without complaint. Questions should be asked – why is this allowed to happen? Why must this be accepted as our lot? Why must it be like this? As of the burgeoning influence of reality TV trash values, so too do we neglect to question why Soccer AM exists.
Each episode is an artless, pointless paint-by-numbers structure of flimsy integrity. Links are delivered in a flat, bored monotone, entirely deserving of the dross that follows. Revelling in jaded routine, it trots out the same toot every single week, a Möbius strip of perpetual mediocrity. It could be good, but it isn’t – as any football fan will tell you, such complacency is just not on.
The show is fronted by Max Rushden, a swaggering, narcissistic bozo who would surely trade the health of his own dear mother in exchange for a passable celebrity anecdote to call his own. A man who thinks self-effacement is some sort of skincare regimen, the best thing that can be said about him (I write, in anticipation of an invite to the Damning With Faint Praise Awards) is that he is not Tim Lovejoy. He once looked thoroughly embarrassed and pathetic when half-baked Bo Selecta ‘tribute’ man Angelos Epithemiou chided him over the fact that he only got the job because he had friends in the right places. What a pro!
But it is, as we are so often reminded, Helen Chamberlain’s show. Hamstrung by a lack of conventional beauty that would aid a career otherwise stagnant, she is entirely reliant on her sole stock-in-trade, that being her status as a ‘proper fan’, as if that’s anything more than the very least we should expect from the presenter of a show with ‘Soccer’ in its very name. She once simply stopped presenting the show momentarily during one broadcast, while she petulantly complained about getting fake snow in her unremarkable hair. What a pro!
The show’s modus operandi is to recreate a Big Breakfast-style dynamic, unperturbed by the fact that the Channel 4 show ceased airing in 2002. Hence we’re treated to the likes of bloated court jester Tubes, looking rightfully ashamed of his tomfoolery, each gibbon-armed celebrity encounter prompting a guilt-ridden flashback to law school expulsion. He’s been dining out on his stale white man MC gimmick for so long it’s truly a miracle he hasn’t contracted e-coli. He deserves his shame for the part he has played in hoodwinking a generation of football fans into thinking that this is in any way acceptable.
The rest of the crew are roped in to deliver comedy schtick so tired that it should be diagnosed with ME. Charmless tits caper for our dubious amusement, peddling the kind of common room guff that should be filtered out once puberty has wrought its closing swaths of acne and hormonal imbalance. So it is that we are introduced to ‘Pat McGroin’ on a weekly basis. And so it is that we are expected to laugh – which the crew unabashedly does each week without fail – at an undercooked parody of a scene from Byker Grove that is well over a decade old.
There is also ‘Rocket’ who smirks his way through his undoubtedly better-than-deserved life with an assurance smugly defiant of his woebegone hairline and similarly deficient charisma. He can barely conceal the sheer sense of triumph that he continues to chance his way through his flim-flam of a career, reading asinine tweets from an iPad in a feature that was clearly the only thing on the shortlist entitled ‘Things To Do On the Show That Necessitate The Use Of An iPad Because iPads Are Modern and Cool’.
The Crossbar Challenge limps on to our screens, pretending to be good television, as we watch overpaid dullards waddle up to the camera to banter us, the innocent viewers, in our very homes, before kicking a ball listlessly in the vague direction of a goal. It is a spectacle that would be poorly attended if staged at a school fete.
The musical guests shamble through an NME-sponsored revolving door of the deluded and fuck-haired, foisting their determined, studied nonchalance onto an uncaring audience. Thankfully they don’t play live, and are restricted to a mercifully brief video clip and an interview about how they once had trials with Walsall. Chamberlain and Rushden fumble their way through frequent awkward silences that might be forgiven of work experience kids, but not of seasoned, professional hosts.
Celebrity guests are the mercurial wildcard, the unpredictable variable upon which the hopes of the show so often fly or die. Some guests can be fun, charming, self-aware and other such qualities notable by their absence from the programme itself. The vast majority are dull dull dull. They walk on to hollow manufactured whoops that fool no one and are interviewed with less passion than sex between your miserable parents. As penance, they must sit on their sofa, ignored, unable to penetrate the alienating gladhanding and in-jokes of the rest of the gang, and consider the manifold reasons for their dullness, until they are allowed to go home and continue their lives.
Even the clips of football highlights are ruined with mostly preposterous music, a token effort at pandering to today’s yoof (now pronounced ‘yoot’). DOOFDOOFWUCKAWUCKASHOWMEDATGUUURLZZZ goes one song. DUBWUBDUBOOOHYEEEAHYOUKNOWDIS blares another. Whither The Life of Riley? Whither?
And whither, too, respectable football television? Perhaps in this contemporary age of media saturation, fragmented into ever-proliferating TV channels, podcasts, blogs, YouTube and Twitter streams, it simply shouldn’t matter. Perhaps there is enough choice out there to cater for everyone’s tastes, if only for the want of searching on the obscure fringes beyond the mainstream.
It would be possible to respond to the inevitable cries of ‘Don’t watch it then!’ if it wasn’t so offensive in its pointlessness, if more of the show was actually concerned with the business of football. Instead, the space is filled by juvenile, self-indulgent nonsense masquerading as football television; more crap for the pile, to be filed alongside similarly corruptible and hateful garbage as The Only Way Is Essex and Geordie Shore.
It could be that I expect too much from a show that isn’t trying, but it could be so much better if it did. Why not be angry? Or insightful? Or cutting? There is plenty about the state of the modern game to rail against: racism, homophobia, poor sportsmanship, extortionate ticket prices. Why not make worthy targets of such subjects, rather than punching down by playing the ass? The revolution will not be televised if Tubes is taking up airtime by rubbing various foodstuffs on his stout and sagging nipples.
To accept such vacuity would be like admitting defeat – it should matter, as otherwise the mainstream will become ever less daring, ever less challenging, ever less ambitious. Ever more like Soccer AM.