Jeff, Robbie, Merse, Thommo and Charlie are game for a laugh
It's the football show with no football, the weekly six-hour comedy sitcom with no script.
Four former footballers sitting in a studio wearing headphones watching matches we can't see, with a Hartlepool United fan giving us the latest scores from around the country (with the help of more ex-players watching matches we can't see).
Does it sound bonkers Oh yes. But that's just why Sky's Soccer Saturday works so well….
Must-see TV: Jeff Stelling, Robbie Fowler, Paul Merson, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas
It is 10.30am on Saturday at Sky's
studios in Brentford, west London. There are just 90 minutes to go
before the show goes live on air – not that you would know it, as
everyone is so relaxed.
Presenter Jeff Stelling is browsing the day's newspapers before he goes and retrieves his James Brown doll from his locker.
The singing puppet makes an appearance whenever its Hartlepool namesake gets on the score sheet.
Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler looks a little nervous and another Scouser, Phil Thompson, is doing his best to put him at ease.
Ex-Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson is deep in a copy of the Racing Post, busy predicting the day's football results.
Each pundit picks a winner each week and the five 20 bets go into an accumulator.
They haven't won for 'about two years' but they keep an eye on their teams throughout the show.
'People don't realise, but we're ribbing each other if one's letting us down,' explains Thompson.
'If Jeff's is down we'll all be staring at him and then rip him apart during the ad breaks.'
Telly buddies: Jeff lets Laura into Soccer Saturday secrets
Former Arsenal and Celtic striker Charlie Nicholas is the last to arrive, breezing in with a diamond stud in his left ear and wearing dark glasses.
It is non-stop from the moment they are together.
So who takes the longest in make up, then
'Thommo – powdering that hooter!' says Merson, whose unique take on the English language comes in for the most stick.
Norwich City suddenly had a player called 'Cinnamon Jackson'.
'Rangel Angel' has also been known to play for Swansea.
'The worst thing is we know what he means,' notes Nicholas.
He's not the only one, mind you. Fowler manages to label Per Mertesacker 'Metzelder' and describes 'Terry Henry' scoring Arsenal's winner agains t Sunderland.
'It's like football dressing-room banter,' explains Nicholas, 'and Jeff chairs it well and winds us all up.'
Thompson adds: 'People look at us and it's just like a bunch of guys sitting in the pub having a laugh and taking the mickey out of each other.
'I'm the big-nosed biased Scouser, Charlie's the Scotsman with an earring in who still thinks he's 25, Merse just can't get a name right and Jeff is the biased Hartlepool Monkey Hanger.
'But we do have our own opinions about things. We've maybe bridged that gap, between a sports show and an entertainment show.
'Certain people in the game said, “Oh, it's the comedy show” but isn't that what sport's about: fun and enjoyment It was a back-handed compliment.'
Merson spends the first 55 minutes drawing a picture of a house while the panel give their opinions on a tumultuous week in football.
Steering the ship: Stelling keeps the panel under control (usually)
The commercial breaks are spent ordering food from the studio runner (or, in the case of Fowler and Merson, trying to catch Maltesers in their mouths).
But there's a serious side, too.
This is a results service, after all, and there are frequent updates from the day's early kick-offs, before Stelling really gets into his stride at 3pm.
He starts preparing the Tuesday before each show, devouring the bundle of statistics provided by Trevor Simmons, who feeds extra titbits of information throughout the show, which Stelling weaves in almost effortlessly.
Making it up: Merson gets a makeover
It really is a military operation.
Director Karen Willmington, producer Ian Condron and their crew members keep tabs on myriad screens showing games throughout the country, plus the information on the vidiprinter, while the studio pundits and roving reporters shout and scream about goals or incidents in their particular games.
'We all enjoy our football and I think that's what makes it so exciting,' said Thompson.
'When the three o'clocks kick off and it's all flashing round, it shows proper passion for the game.'
The constant drip-feed of controversy, upsets, goals and red cards provides an enthralling storyline to which Stelling must react.
Stelling is Soccer Saturday, the unflustered front man who keeps it all together without the help of an autocue, and you wonder if there is life after Jeff for the programme.
The fact he supports a League One side has helped to mould the show's success: it doesn't just focus on the Premier League with a few token lower-division results thrown in. It encompasses English and Scottish football, plus some non-League football, too.
Stelling said: 'I used to sit and watch Ceefax, the pages clicked over and you waited for your team's score to come through. Being a Hartlepool fan, you weren't going to hear your team's score on national radio or anything like that and it was the same for most football fans.
'We don't give equal treatment to lower league sides but we give them as much as we can. I love it, because some of the best stories out there are from the lower leagues, or from Scotland.'
Even Stelling admits he is still surprised by the success of a programme he has presented since 1998.
He knows: Thommo gives his opinion
about Jeffs make-up (right)
'If somebody had said to me that we would still be going strong, I'd have thought they were crackers,' he said.
It really should not work, yet it does.
The blokey humour, opinion and insight is both entertaining and informative. It's a cosy little club, but that's part of its charm.
Stelling laughs when it is suggested Soccer Saturday has become as much a part of the weekend football routine for some people as a pie and a Bovril.
'They should really go to a game, shouldn't they' he says.