Stelling and Co provide perfect backdrop to 'Squeaky Bum Sunday'
22:12 GMT, 13 May 2012
If it's the box for you on a Saturday afternoon rather than the being there then for you, like many a football fan, the next best thing is provided by watching a bunch of gentlemen of a certain age, watching something you can't watch, for you.
I think it is safe to say for a format that was clearly borne out of sheer necessity, Sky Sports' Soccer Saturday coverage – on this Sunday, Gillette Soccer Special – is now a genuine telly phenomenon, led by the imperious plate-spinner of pundits, games and facts that is Jeff Stelling.
It has become compelling viewing for fans who want, yes, goal updates, but also a real sense of occasion to go with it.
Rollercoaster ride: Stelling and the team brought all the thrills and spills
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And what better way to finish yet another humdinger of a season than with, as Jeff put it as 3pm arrived, 'squeaky bum Sunday' – with titles, relegation and Champions League spots all up for grabs.
For the show, Stelling had his favourite far-from-flat back four in place: namely (from right to left) Charlie Nicholas in black jacket and grey tie, his sparkling diamond stud occasionally catching the studio lights from his left earlobe.
Phil Thompson, in a tie of the palest salmon pink; Paul Merson, man in grey, his neckwear featuring what appeared to be a 633 Squadron formation; and Matt Le Tissier, ever the cavalier, his shirt defiantly open-necked.
Mind you, in all of the days these
lads have had together, I think it's comfortable to say that they’d
never had one quite like this; a couple of exhilarating hours during
which Jeff Stelling continually endeavoured to update the standings.
But was more often than not
interrupted by a scream or a yelp from the panel as yet ANOTHER goal
went in to change the picture as it was being described.
And it all kicked off, well, when
they kicked off – the first few minutes of the day providing nearly as
much drama as the last (well..).
No more than two minutes were
underway when Merson, in the middle of describing how The Etihad was
'rocking', found himself rudely interrupted by the scream of 'it's a
goal' from his next door neighbour.
It's a goal! The temperature was raised early in the piece through after Adebayor scored for Spurs
Thompson – covering the Tottenham game – who no sooner having crowed 'are you watching Arsenal', was trumped by Le Tissier with an even higher-pitched screech of 'oh Jeff, it's a goal', as Benayoun put Arsenal one up at The Hawthorns.
Fifteen minutes on, and Jeff managed to get in one he had prepared earlier, telling us it was Elvis day at Swansea, then adding 'but a little less conversation from me' as he threw to Charlie who confirmed 'squeaky bum Sunday had come alive' with United going one nil up. The day was indeed living up to its billing.
Indeed, so into it was Matt, at 3.30
The Saints favourite son positively saw the light at The Hawthorns,
letting rip with a Gospel shout and raising his hands in praise to the
god of football as he proclaimed 'Oh Desmond! It's in. 2-2' (Tutu, for
the great unwashed).
In fact, there may indeed have been
Greater Forces operating when a few minutes later, Ian Dowie – over in
the Potteries – was suddenly frozen solid in his gantry and the screen
turned black as Merson brought us a City goal from The Etihad with a
quick, throaty burst of 'blue moon, you saw me standing alone'.
Stelling's explanation for this loss
of pictures was 'there's a lot of wind, I'm told. not from Ian Dowie,
from Stoke' which raised a chorus of approving guffaws from his quartet.
That was pretty much it for a
scintillating first set of 45's – save for Merson saying Toure was so
crocked he was 'moving like Tiss used to'.
Drama! Makckie's goal put QPR in front at the Etihad Stadium
Of which Tommo pondered aloud, 'that quick' – and after a much-needed half time breather, we were straight back at it.
At 4.08, the cry 'Goal! Goal! GOAL! The title race is back on again' went up, as QPR equalised.
Stelling then gave Nicholas an opportunity to describe the corresponding atmosphere over at United's game, but no sooner had he begun to wax lyrical on the subject, than the increasingly frantic Le Tissier was in again – hollering 'Oh my God, goal – shut up Charlie' as Arsenal took the lead and pushed themselves back into third place.
Never normally one to miss out on the melodramatics, Joey Barton was now to make his entrance stage left as Merson proclaimed 'red card Joey Barton. Oh no, as he’s going off, he's knee-ed Nasri, he's head-butted De Jong' – thus being absent when QPR took a remarkable lead.
This found Stelling in his pomp as he summed up the day so far: 'City-itis – will it strike again But QPR are down to ten men, with barely a player on the field (Barton) didn’t assault'.
More approving laughter from his four top pundits.
Final result: City's late comeback sealed the title to send the fans into raptures
But of course this was not to be the end of the drama, which went all the way to the last few seconds of what Stelling breathlessly described as 'an astonishing, incredible, amazing day' – his team of pundits all now drawn to the screen bringing the final whistle, and thus the title to the blue half of Manchester.
'As long as I've been watching football, this is the most unbelievable thing I have ever seen', exclaimed a bemused, exhausted Merson.
Something I can echo having thoroughly enjoyed watching it through his, and his fellow pundits eyes. Phew!
Monday on BBC2, and John Inverdale and Sir Steve Redgrave are perched by the side of a river for the Rowing World Cup in Belgrade, like two anglers short of some tackle…
Tuesday night on BBC2 and Louis Saha was on Newsnight to bring some thoughtful reflections on the French election, whilst adding that in comparison to many countries, England 'was paradise for footballers of any colour'…
Wednesday on Channel 4, and the racing show from Chester spotted Michael Owen offering some tips to fledgling owner Wayne Rooney, Perhaps prophetically, his horse didn’t win…