Soccer Saturday stumbled into the new season with pundits on trial

Sky Sports have committed to change without being sure of what they want with their new Soccer Saturday panel… they stumbled into the new season with pundits on trial who lacked on-screen chemistry

  • Soccer Saturday has changed after three long-standing pundits were sacked 
  • The team represented a more diverse, politically correct group this weekend
  • But the familiar format and Jeff Stelling’s patter meant the show only felt so fresh
  • The old boys’ banter that has built up over so many years was notably missing

‘The Premier League is back, the Football League is back, Soccer Saturday is back, I’m back, Merse is back, but not everyone is back,’ announced Jeff Stelling ominously.

There followed a brief pause. Was it for dramatic effect or a moment’s silence for absent friends?

‘The crowds are not back,’ added Stelling, finishing his sentence.

Jeff Stelling made a light-hearted joke about absentees in the first Soccer Saturday this season

Anchor man Stelling and the other survivor, Paul Merson, in the studio with Tim Sherwood

See what he did there? It was a nice, if contrived, nod to the controversy surrounding Sky Sports’ long-running Saturday afternoon football show and the sacking of Stelling’s old mates Matt Le Tissier, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas from the panel.

The old gang has been broken up, changes have been made and tears have been shed.

Instead, Sky went into the new season with a 3-3-1 formation. Anchor man Stelling and the other survivor, Paul Merson, in the studio with Tim Sherwood on this occasion.

Elsewhere in ‘The Circle’, whatever that means, Tony Pulis lined up alongside Glen Johnson and Clinton Morrison. Sue Smith appeared from Cheshire.

It was a more diverse, politically correct, team for sure. But a familiar format and Stelling’s patter meant it only felt so fresh.

BT Sport have been woke for a while now. Over on their rival show on Saturday, they managed to get six in a studio with Chris Sutton, Jermaine Jenas, Rachel Brown-Finnis and Robbie Savage socially distanced from Darrell Currie and Jules Breach.

Sky, on the other hand, seem to have committed to change without being sure of exactly what they want.

Tony Pulis joined by Glen Johnson and Clinton Morrison. Sue Smith appeared from Cheshire

Former Stoke and West Brom boss Pulis did a solid job but is hardly a fresh face at the age of 62

It’s important in football to know your best team and they have stumbled into the new season with everyone except Stelling on trial. Other guests will be given a go in the coming weeks before Sky decide on a more permanent line-up.

Of course, what they have lost by axing Le Tissier, Thompson and Nicholas is the old boys’ banter that has built up over so many years. Maybe that was the plan but it made Soccer Saturday more watchable.

On-screen chemistry takes time, even more so when four of the cast can’t even see you. For a while, Pulis, Johnson and Morrison didn’t know whether to stare down the lens or look to their right as though they were addressing Stelling.

Johnson looked most uncomfortable of the three while covering the Crystal Palace v Southampton game. He described Kyle Walker-Peters ‘hovering his leg up’ in the tackle that brought a rescinded red card, and at one point towards the end didn’t realise for several awful moments that he was live on air and expected to speak.

Matt Le Tissier was last month axed from his role on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday show


Phil Thompson (left) and Charlie Nicholas (right) also got the chop from the programme 

Morrison has a rather breathless style and could do with taking some pointers from the more composed Smith.

Pulis did a solid job but is hardly a fresh face at the age of 62. Then there was Chris Kamara, coming to us from Derby versus Reading like a comfy old blanket.

Stelling ribbed Kammy over his neckerchief that doubled up as a face mask among the attempts at humour that brought rather awkward laughs from his new team.

Watching it for five-and-a-half hours on a Saturday afternoon is an acquired taste, and not for everyone – even when Sky have gone to such trouble to freshen things up.

‘There you are,’ said Stelling when it was over. ‘That wasn’t so painful was it?’

Speak for yourself, Jeff.




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