Tag Archives: merson

Soccer Saturday tour scrapped – Charlie Sale

Soccer Saturday tour scrapped… but no-one will say why

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UPDATED:

23:08 GMT, 13 November 2012

A theatre tour of Sky Sports’ cult programme Soccer Saturday, presented by Jeff Stelling, has been cancelled in mysterious circumstances.

Tickets for the four dates in Liverpool this week and Newcastle later this month as well as aborted shows at Wembley and Birmingham had been selling well after successful performances in Southampton and Bournemouth featuring Stelling and regular pundits Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson, Chris Kamara, Matt Le Tissier and Paul Merson.

But all the remaining tour dates were scrapped with no plans for them to be re-scheduled and refunds paid out to those who had already booked seats for the question-and-answer football chat.

Stopped: Soccer Saturday's theatre tour has been halted

Stopped: Soccer Saturday's theatre tour has been halted

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Neither Sky nor the roadshow promoter Mike Osman would comment on why the project had been axed with the expectation of forthcoming legal action.

Sky denied the termination was due to executives’ concern that they had no involvement or control over entertainer Osman using the Soccer Saturday brand for his commercial enterprise. However, that might explain why Stelling did not promote the theatre tour during his TV appearances as Osman had wanted.

FA Trio hunting for Bernstein's replacement

The hunt for an FA chairman to succeed David Bernstein, who has to stand down next May after his 70th birthday, is being led by board trio Roger Burden, who heads the national game, Middlesbrough’s Keith Lamb and independent director Roger Devlin.

But Burden’s involvement does not necessarily guarantee his unfailing support for the next chairman. The former Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society chief was also on the nominations panel that chose Bernstein, yet Burden famously said Bernstein had had a humour bypass in a pivotal speech supposedly endorsing an extension to his term of office before the FA council voted against the board proposal.

BBC gain from Fox failure

The fall-out from Fox Sports losing their Premier League rights in the United States to NBC will help the BBC in contract talks with Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who could have used Fox’s supposed interest in him hosting their PL coverage as a bargaining chip in his BBC talks. But the US rights from next season went to NBC for triple the money.

Benefit: The BBC might find it easier to keep hold of Gary Lineker after Fox lost the bidding war

Benefit: The BBC might find it easier to keep hold of Gary Lineker after Fox lost the bidding war

Blat to normal

The relationships between the FA and FIFA, which reached an all-time low after the 2018 World Cup vote debacle, have improved to the extent that the red carpet will be rolled out for Sepp Blatter when he visits St George’s Park next Wednesday.

FA chairman David Bernstein and his possible successor David Sheepshanks, chairman of St George’s Park, will be in Burton to greet the FIFA president. Next Tuesday, Blatter has invited Fabrice Muamba and Bolton chairman Phil Gartside for lunch in Zurich, where Muamba’s yet-to-be-decided role with FIFA will be discussed.

Leagues meet match

The Premier League and Football League have suffered a major financial setback with their joint venture company, Football DataCo, forbidden from charging media outlets, bookmakers and pools firms for publishing their fixtures.

The Appeals Court upheld the European Court verdict of March 1 that DataCo, which also involves the Scottish leagues, did not have the right to charge copyright fees for fixtures.

They're for everyone: The Premier League and Football DataCo lost in the battle to take copyright fees for fixtures

They're for everyone: The Premier League and Football DataCo lost in the battle to take copyright fees for fixtures

The decision, which will deny the football bodies hundreds of thousands of pounds, also ordered that any fixture fees paid since March be refunded as well as DataCo paying both sides legal costs of around 1.7million.

Quiet about Clive

Rugby World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward remains the elephant in the room at Twickenham, judging by PR advice given to stadium personnel before they were interviewed by Sky about England’s history in the build-up to the Fiji game. It is understood the RFU spin was that any memories of the 2003 triumph should stress the collective achievement rather than Sir Clive’s.

Edge of the box: England crash out as BBC boys arrive at tournament

Well that was worth the trip! The BBC boys arrive at the Euros… and England bow out

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UPDATED:

23:56 GMT, 24 June 2012

Well, the plan was to come into the tournament not doing it, but by the time Sunday evening came around, we just couldn’t help ourselves could we…England expected.

Equally, the BBC expected an absolutely massive TV audience so Lee Dixon went around and turned off all the lights, Alan Hansen switched off the gas, and Gary Lineker locked up behind them all in Salford as the Match Of the Day team headed off to Kiev for the quarter final game against Italy.

And again: England crashed out on penalties once again

And again: England crashed out on penalties once again

More from Mark Webster…

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Edge of the Box: Chelsea show the rest how to do Saturday night drama… and prove Britain does have talent
20/05/12

Stelling and Co provide perfect backdrop to 'Squeaky Bum Sunday' as Merson steals the show
13/05/12

Edge of the Box: The FA Cup is not what it used to be… but fair play to ESPN
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VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Which in its own way proved a little disappointing.

Just as so often happens on those more elaborate stag weekends, the ITV boys had gone out to the party early and were having a right time of it on their Warsaw balcony.

It would have been nice if when the BBC lads showed up, they’d taken the room below them so we might have had the prospect of Adrian Chiles and Roy Keane climbing down from above and mooning their BBC counterparts.

Then again, perhaps not.

Instead, the BBC took their place inside the Olympic Stadium, in a booth that provided not only a splendid view, but also plenty of atmosphere. And when I say atmosphere, I mean noise.

Sound seemed to be prove to be a nightmare for their technical team all night long.

Class act: Andrea Pirlo of Italy was on top form

Class act: Andrea Pirlo of Italy was on top form

Admittedly they had to deal with a PA announcer for whom all the way through the build up, silence was never golden, but even then Lineker and his team of pundits often sounded tinny and thin.

Perhaps they can get that room double glazed if they’re planning to stay there for the duration

Acoustics issues aside, there was also the editorial question of quite how big to go with the build up for this game To which the answer pretty quickly was, without sparing the horses.

‘Dare we start to believe’ asked Lineker at the very start of the coverage – a question which proved to be just about immediately rhetorical as we were soon rallying around the flag to a spirited piece of hip hop called ‘3 little Words’ and a rousing speech delivered by the imposing tones of Terence Stamp.

Pals: Joe Hart congratulates Mario Balotelli

Pals: Joe Hart congratulates Mario Balotelli

It felt that if we were indeed to go further in the tournament, the BBC would have had to find a way to cause all our TVs to explode with excitement if they were going to top that.

Mind you, if you were worried that the tone was going to be too over the top throughout, you needn’t have worried for long, because come the kick off, Mark Lawrenson was on hand for co-commentary duties alongside Guy Mowbray.

Now I don’t expect Alan Hansen’s regular straight man to be some kind of tub thumper or cheer leader, but his, shall we say, low key way of doing his business can somewhat suck the life out of a situation.

That was something that became particularly pointed when from the second half onwards, England themselves were doing little or nothing to alleviate the problem. Which is also when his, ahem, wisecracks certainly weren’t helping either!

While the boys in white were barely hanging on in there, Lawrenson was working the room.

Opposite number: Hart's counterpart Gianluigi Buffon made a crucial save in the shoot-out

Opposite number: Hart's counterpart Gianluigi Buffon made a crucial save in the shoot-out

We got a joke about Federico Balzeretti’s ballerina wife wanting a ‘tutu draw’ and a zinger to Mowbray’s question ‘what has Prandelli got up his sleeve’ – ‘his shirt’ – that will no doubt have them rolling in the aisles when he starts his summer season in Great Yarmouth. That, or trying to set light to their seats.

In the end, though, it was an older story than that joke that we were left with, and images of the two Ashleys probably the only thing that will be seen ad nauseam, and that anyone is ultimately really going to remember.

That is unless they decide it would be hilarious to make a commercial for a pizza restaurant, of course.

While Lethal Bizzle may want to consider altering a lyric in that ‘3 Little Words’ tune of his…to ‘not good enough’.

WEDGIES

Wednesday afternoon on Sky Sports News and the Spanish squad’s press conference took no chances in promoting their sponsors with tiny TV screens in front of their microphones rotating logo, and with giant bottles of Cruz Campo beer on the table…

Winner: Black Caviar (right) at Royal Ascot

Winner: Black Caviar (right) at Royal Ascot

Thursday on BBC 1 at Royal Ascot and Australia’s wonder horse Black Caviar’s amazing record is displayed on a graphic that includes the fact that ‘she loves swimming and going to the beach’. As I say, ‘Australian’ wonder horse…

BBC 2 on Saturday evening at the Olympic trials in Birmingham, and a victorious Dwayne Chambers goes on the charm offensive with a direct message delivered straight to camera. With perhaps just a bit too much emphasis on the ‘offensive’ part…

Edge of the Box: Chelsea Champions League win was real drama

Chelsea show the rest how to do Saturday night drama… and prove Britain does have talent

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UPDATED:

19:05 GMT, 20 May 2012

The telly has always been a great thing to turn to if you’re looking for some heightened Saturday evening drama. Over on BBC1, it might come from the fictitious city of Holby, where a builder could well be reassuring his workmates ‘don’t worry lads. That roof looks like it will take all of our weight, no problem’.

Or perhaps on Channel 5, from within a house full of hopefuls, where you may find a skinny fella in even skinnier jeans called Max, clutching a bottle of beer and pouring out his heart to an orange-coloured girl called Minxy through a fringe the size of a 747’s wing.

Or it may even happen on ITV, where a performing dog called Pudsey has so captured the nation’s heart, a certain bear with an eye patch is furiously dialling his agent from his front room to find out if they can sue the multi-talented mutt for copyright, or unfair trading, or deformation of character, or something!

Real drama: Chelsea's players celebrate after winning the Champions League

Real drama: Chelsea's players celebrate after winning the Champions League

However, none of the above will ever likely match the real human drama that took place on Saturday evening inside a giant lampshade in Munich, when after a day of footballing thrills and spills, it came down to an extraordinary penalty shoot out to prove that Britain HAS Got Talent!

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VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Of course for both ITV and Sky Sports there were hours of fun to be garnered from their mutual coverage of the build up and Champions League Final game itself.

Of the former, the terrestrial channel had some really decent pieces, including Ned Boulting’s Arjen Robben interview, during which Ned told us Munich’s ‘flying wingers are barely on speaking terms’, that after Arjen had told him ‘I don’t want to talk about it’.

He does have an eloquent left foot though, Ned.

And there was also a really chirpy chat between Christine Bleakley’s ‘former TV husband’ Adrian Chiles and her actual boyfriend Frank Lampard.

Which had both men perched precariously on a massage table, during which a laughing Frank informed us ‘ear flicking has been around for ages’, whilst managing to resist leaning over and giving the Chiles lug hole a little tweak.

During the game itself, both Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend were as ever, on their game with the lead man prophetically suggesting ‘Chelsea really do need a hero now’ after the Bayern goal, and the former Chelsea man exclaiming of Drogba’s header ‘that is a bullet’, through what was left of the poor fella’s croaking voice’.

However, they couldn’t quite match Martin Tyler and Gary Neville’s response to the Chelsea equalizer over on Sky Sports.

Real excitement: Both ITV and Sky commentators showed their emotions when Didier Drogba leveled late on

Real excitement: Both ITV and Sky commentators showed their emotions when Didier Drogba leveled late on

Tyler managed to add at least 342 extra ‘a’s to the end of Didier’s surname, and was joined about half way through his ‘Drogbaaaaaaaa’ epic in near perfect harmony by the new England assistant coach, who let rip with the kind amazing primal scream that Tarzan would have been proud of.

Was it me, or were they quite excited

This sense of excitement, and indeed occasion was then owned, for me, by Sky’s men in the booth.

As Tyldesley rather abstractly threw to an ad break with the words ‘you won’t miss a single moment of the drama’, Sky’s anchor Jeff Stelling was setting up Jamie Redknapp, Ruud Gullit and Graeme Souness to bring a genuinely tense, emotional, first-hand insight into the theatre of the 12 yard stand-off.

Fully kitted out: John Terry wore his Chelsea strip to collect the cup despite being suspended from the game

Fully kitted out: John Terry wore his Chelsea strip to collect the cup despite being suspended from the game

Gullit admitted with a nervous laugh that he couldn’t stand ‘the walk from midfield to the penalty spot’, but added that when you get there ‘you must smash it as hard as you can’.

Souness then recalled that in his own Liverpool European shoot out experience, ‘(as) I put the ball down to take my penalty, I felt this is not a problem. Whether I was kidding myself..’

While Redknapp was analysing the players on the field and spotted an ailing Schweinsteiger: ‘(He’s) gone down with cramp. I’m sure he’ll want to take one (but) running up, I know it’s like a three or four yard run, but it’ll feel like a marathon’.

Heartbreak: Bastian Schweinsteiger is consoled after the game

Heartbreak: Bastian Schweinsteiger is consoled after the game

A ‘marathon’ in which, we soon discovered, the unfortunate German would fail to cross the finishing line.

From that point, both channels could of course share a fabulous kaleidoscope of images that ran through the full marathon of emotions: There was Schweinsteiger on his knees, head hidden in his shirt and buried in the grass.

Chelsea’s old guard of Lampard, Drogba and John Terry in an emotional hug (when I was a kid, I used to wear my kit under my clothes to go and watch football, too, JT).

Riding high: David Luiz and Fernando Torres celebrate on the crossbar of the goal

Riding high: David Luiz and Fernando Torres celebrate on the crossbar of the goal

Roman Abromovitch texting (‘on to Drogba’s agent’, quipped Neville).

Ivanovic riding the crossbar like it was a bucking bronco.

Ashley Cole, lip trembling, asserting ‘THIS is the reason I come here’;

Boswinga’s mambo through a Blue-shirted guard of honour; and Roberto Di Mateo lifted aloft by his players to hold the trophy even higher.

OK, so that little lot may not be a dancing dog, but it wasn’t half bad.

WEDGIES

Tuesday morning on BBC News, and Dickie Bird was at the Palace picking up a much deserved OBE and apparently explaining the LBW law to Prince Charles in the process…

Wednesday on ITV’s London Tonight, and Perri Shakes-Drayton not only helped Will Smith improve his hurdling technique, she also delivered a pretty decent rendition of the ‘Fresh Prince Of Bel Air’ theme…

Friday on Sky Sports from Lord’s and Bumble – stylish new hairdo on show – explained to Nick Knight how he knew fans had been queuing outside HQ since 4.30 am: ‘I’m always up once or twice in the night – it’s me age’…

Paul Merson and Jeff Stelling provided perfect backdrop as Manchester City won – Edge of the Box

Stelling and Co provide perfect backdrop to 'Squeaky Bum Sunday' as Merson steals show

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UPDATED:

09:29 GMT, 14 May 2012

If it's the box for you on a Saturday afternoon rather than the being there, 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.

Scroll down to watch Paul Merson's reaction to Man City's winner

What a scream: Paul Merson reacts to Manchester City's winner against QPR

What a scream: Paul Merson reacts to Manchester City's winner against QPR

Keeping it together: Jeff Stelling is the main man on Sky Sports' football show

Keeping it together: Jeff Stelling is the main man on Sky Sports' football show

More from Mark Webster…

Edge of the Box: The FA Cup is not what it used to be… but fair play to ESPN
06/05/12

Edge of the Box: Kings of The Crucible make sure we're all snooker loopy at the World Championship
30/04/12

Mark Webster: BBC show off the city during London Marathon ahead of Olympics
22/04/12

Edge of the Box: ESPN and ITV should deliver Cup cracker after Wembley warm-ups
16/04/12

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15/04/12

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09/04/12

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26/03/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

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: 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 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 Stadium was
'rocking', found himself rudely interrupted by the scream of 'it's a
goal' from his next door neighbour.

The team: (from left) Matt Le Tissier, Merson, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas

The team: (from left) Matt Le Tissier, Merson, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas

It's a goal! The temperature was raised early in the piece through after Adebayor scored for Spurs

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 1-0 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, Iain 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 45 – save for Merson saying Yaya Toure was so
crocked he was 'moving like Tiss used to'.

Drama! Makckie's goal put QPR in front at the Etihad Stadium

Drama! Makckie's goal put QPR in front at the Etihad Stadium

Of which Thommo 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.

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 10 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

Final result: City's late comeback sealed the title to send the fans into raptures

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!

WATCH VIDEO OF MERSON'S MAGIC MOMENT

WEDGIES

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…

Behind the scenes at Soccer Saturday

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

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

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)

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

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)

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.

Paul Merson summonsed to court to face drink-driving charge

Merson handed court date to face drink-drive charge after high-speed crash

Former England midfielder Paul Merson has been summonsed to appear in court to face a charge of driving with excess alcohol following a motorway crash.

The 43-year-old Sky Sports pundit was arrested after his Mercedes collided with a lorry registered to the Ministry of Defence in the early hours of October 12.

Merson later claimed he had fallen asleep behind the wheel before colliding with the central reservation at 3.12am.

Patched up: Paul Merson was seen with what looked like blood on his shirt

Patched up: Paul Merson after his crash with what looked like blood on his shirt

Lucky escape: The Sky Sports pundit crashed at 70mph on the M40

Lucky escape: The Sky Sports pundit crashed at 70mph on the M40

The former Arsenal player was breathalysed at the side of the M40, near Warwick, before being taken to hospital for treatment to a cut to the head.

A Warwickshire Police spokesman said: “A 43-year-old man who was arrested following a collision on the M40 in Warwickshire on October 12 will appear in court to face a charge of driving with excess alcohol.”

Night of the crash: Paul Merson had attended

Night of the crash: Paul Merson had attended “An Evening with the Stars” in aid of Children in Need

Merson is understood to have been returning to his home in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, after a charity event in Battersea, south London, in aid of Children In Need when he crashed on the northbound carriageway. He later said he was “lucky to have survived”.

“I fell asleep and just hit the central reservation,” he said. “I banged my head on the windscreen and the car is a write-off.

“I”m very lucky to have survived. I managed to get out by myself and the emergency services were brilliant.”

Officers said he was “de-arrested” following the crash rather than bailed because he had not been held in custody at a police station.

A spokesman said: “Blood tests were taken and sent away for analysis.

Popular figure: Merson was an Arsenal fans

Popular figure: Merson was an Arsenal fans” favourite and played for England

International class: Merson won 21 England caps and scored three goals

“The results have been received and the man will be reported by summons to appear in court at a date to be determined.”

Merson – who also played for Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Portsmouth – was pictured leaving hospital after the crash with bloodstains on the sleeves of his white shirt and cuts on his face.

He appeared to have had stitches for one wound above his eyebrow.