Soccer AM Sky Sports 1, Saturday 9am
WHEN it's good it's very, very good. When you wake up early enough on a Saturday to see it, and not so hungover that you can't face opening your eyes, and you're beginning to think about the match you're going to that afternoon, Soccer AM is pretty much the ideal start to the day.
It's chopped up into any number of little items, so doesn't tax the attention span, and if one little item is not to your taste, never mind, another one will be along in a minute. What's more, over the 13-year course of the show some of the little items have hit it big.
Remember those Save Chip banners at matches? Remember when 'bouncebackability' briefly became the most used word in the English language? Or when your team was winning and everyone started chanting "easy, easy" while clapping their hands above their heads?
Soccer AM started those crazes and many others. (Well actually, there is an episode of Pingu in which the eponymous penguin does the "easy easy" chant, and it predates the masked wrestler doing it, but we'll let that one lie for the present).
Presented by Helen Chamberlain and Max Rushden, the show retains the lighthearted fanzine format it has had since its earliest days. If you've watched it for a long time you may feel that it's become a little bit too self-indulgent, and certainly there's a smugness to some of the in jokes. But if it grew up too much it would lose its raison d'etre, which is to chat away about some of the daft things that happen at football matches.
Sometimes, of course, there are not nearly enough daft things to fill the three hours for which the programme runs. It's a hostage to fortune in that sense: if it has been a quiet week items such as "Third Eye", which shows mishaps from the margins of matches, can be extraordinarily dull. How many times, after all, can you watch some ballboy falling over while chasing a ball before you find it completely unfunny?
One way round this problem, or so you'd think, is to watch the highlights package, Soccer AM: The Best Bits, which is shown on Monday and Tuesday mornings. Curiously, though, it's just not the same ripped out of its Saturday-morning context. On a schoolday, when your life is a bit more ordered and you're not sprawled on the settee thinking about the game you're going to, watching the best bits becomes a bit of an academic exercise.
And of course, labelling anything as the best bits leaves yourself wide open to a predictable jibe from senescent cynics who are way past the target age group. To wit, jibes like "If these are their best bits I'd hate to see what their worst bits are like".
This week at least, however, there was only one section of the show which provoked such a reaction, in this reviewer at least. Yes, the worst bit of the best bits was undoubtedly the arrival of the two very unfunny spiders.
These are two men dressed up – you guessed it – as hairy black spiders. They're white guys, and their faces are blacked up to match their bodies, which makes them eerily reminiscent of The Black And White Minstrel Show.
And they speak in camp English accents, and they turned up halfway through the appearance of this week's Soccerette, so no-one wanted to see them anyway. Also you'd have to be on major hallucinogenics to be even mildly amused by their jokes, though even then you'd probably still want to punch their lights out.
Soccerettes, incidentally, for anyone who has never seen Soccer Am, are young women dressed in the football strip of the club they purport to support. They turn up on the set, there follows a couple of minutes of soft-porn ogling by the camera while the blokes in the audience make lecherous noises, and then they perform a skill. Last week's Soccerette was Laura Muirhead, a beauty therapist from Dunfermline who did a bit of aerobic skipping and claims she can down a pint in ten seconds.
In an age when women make up a larger percentage of the football audience than at any time in the history of the sport, and are playing football in ever greater numbers, this all reeks of old-school sexism. Having said that, I should add that I have just been on the official website (www.skysports.com/socceram), looked up their poll to find the Soccerette of the season, and voted for Ms Muirhead. Twenty times.