Mark Lawson pays tribute to Soccer AM

TV critic Mark Lawson in The Guardian pays tribute to Andy Harris, a producer on Sky Sport’s Soccer AM, who died, aged 43, last week

In common with other shows that became broadcasting legends (Question Time, Desert Island Discs), Soccer AM (Sky Sports 1) was, when it began, a reluctant solution to a scheduling hole. Sky Sports 1 is supposed to show live sport but, even allowing for international time zones, as few games take place between 9am and noon on a Saturday, in 1995 the show was given three hours to fill with chat and features.

While it has strong visual elements – such as mishaps from the week’s football – the style is largely derived from the wireless. Wackily nicknamed members of the production team – “Tubes”, “Baby Elvis” – become on-screen characters and interviews are conducted at a length usually allowed only on radio. The selection of guests is also impressive, ranging from the hard-to-get – Craig David last week – to the hard-to-think-of: Savile Row tailor William Hunt was a recent interesting participant, a far-from-obvious choice.

If there’s a fault, it’s that the leering laddishness sometimes overspills, and questions to footballers about the showers and night-clubs are now routinely prefaced with the warning: “Bearing in mind the time … ”

Surprisingly, Soccer AM even survived last season’s departure of original bloke-host, Tim Lovejoy. It would have been appropriate if a football-obsessed programme could be ruined by the transfer of a key player, but new signing Andy Goldstein has slotted in alongside Helen Chamberlain.

I’m moved to write about the show now because one of its founder producers, Andy Harris, has just died tragically young and because it remains a weekly joy for footballing men and boys.

After 13 years, it’s the most inventive and informed magazine show on TV, apart from Harry Hill’s TV Burp. And there’s a lesson here. In a small-screen culture obsessed with whether audiences will “get” references, Soccer AM and Burp accept that – while few viewers could possibly get every allusion, gag or in-joke – most will appreciate enough of them to be happy.

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