Does Jeff Stelling shave cats?

It's been a while since IBWM was allowed near the bunsen burners - not since that 'incident' anyway - but hey, we are always open to science.  Here's a Saturday afternoon experiment you can try at home courtesy of David Hartrick.

It is not easy to stagger me but this week, my flabber was well and truly gasted. In a conversation with someone I would only count as a passing acquaintance, the following statement was made:

‘I don’t go to a game anymore because I prefer to watch it all on Soccer Saturday - £31 to go the game or 6 hours of coverage? It’s a no brainer for me’

Now two things struck me here. Firstly, the thought that people talking about football would be better than actually watching it is complete rubbish – given the choice would you rather listen to your team’s game on the radio or watch them live?

Secondly - 6 hours? 6 hours of Soccer Saturday? If I’m not at a live game I’ll watch Soccer Saturday to keep abreast of everything like everyone else but for 6 hours? By my reckoning in its total running time, Sky have about three and a half hours to fill when there’s less than 3 games actually being played, how on earth are they doing it? If I’m watching the show, it generally goes on at 3 o’clock and off at about 5, I can’t believe there’s more to it than that is there?

Intrigued, I decided to see if I could do six solid hours of Soccer Saturday. I’ve always treated the programme as a glorified version of Teletext with adverts, but maybe I’m wrong, maybe there’s a bit more weight and substance to it then I’m giving it credit. Time to find out -

12:00 - We begin and Jeff Stelling  introduces us to the ‘gang’ – Charlie Nicholas, Paul Merson, Matt Le Tissier, and Phil Thompson. I was 11 when I was last introduced to a ‘gang’ and they wanted me to shave a cat by way of initiation. I refused but I can neither confirm nor deny whether Stelling demands the same to enter his posse. If he did, I’m guessing Merson and Thompson would do it in a flash, Nicholas would pick the cat up and beat Stelling with it, Le Tissier would look on and possibly get involved if an easy chance presented itself to him to do so.

12:05 - Banter alert! Phil Thompson is teased about Liverpool’s poor week and everyone joins in, laughing slightly louder than normal to show they’re loving it and so should we. Television studio? They could be in a pub and be just like this, they’re all friends you see, they’re the gang, Stelling’s gang.

12:15 - Perhaps it’s the lack of scores that’s driving me to look for alternative entertainment but it suddenly strikes me – why have Sky built this studio in a working office? People are walking past in the background so regularly that either everyone’s on the mobile saying ‘can you see me now?’, or Sky have put the pundits desk just to the right of the toilets.

12.20 - 20 minutes in and we have our first moment of substance. Fresh from a report about the midweek League Cup games we’re going to have a look at the promising Chelsea youngster Josh McEachran. Now all I’ve heard and read about this boy suggests he looks like he could develop well, it’ll be interesting to see what the professionals make of him. Le Tissier is going to take the lead and immediately during a montage of the boy against Newcastle in midweek, he leaps straight in with by telling us McEachran’s very comfortable on the ball. Now admittedly this is a fair point but Le Tissier repeats himself for good measure. He then says McEachran is happy to get on the ball at any opportunity, which is basically just saying the same thing isn’t it? Any chance we could talk touch, control, movement, positioning, range of passing? No. Le Tissier finishes with the sentiments that he looks good, he’s got a ‘jink’ in him, he’s very comfortable/happy on the ball and that’s a good thing for a footballer to be. It’s just dawning me this is going to be a long 6 hours isn’t it.

12:45 - After a brief piece on Arsene Wenger containing about a minute of actual interview, the panel talk about Wenger’s midweek touchline ban. Somehow the subject of Paolo Di Canio pushing referee Paul Alcock over comes up despite being nothing like the push Wenger gave fourth official Martin Atkinson. I mention this because the Di Canio incident was incredibly high profile, nothing like it before or after has happened at the very top level of the English game, and most football fans can remember it in vivid detail – the anger etched across the Italians face, Alcock’s stumble backwards, Winterburn having a go back at Di Canio and then visibly filling a pair of Arsenal shorts as the Italian countered. Paul Merson must have been in one of his ‘dark times’ as he can only describe Paul Alcock (who will have refereed Merson more than once in his career) as ‘that geezer’.

12.50 - We now have a small montage of Jack Wilshere’s best moments and another chance for some substance amongst the banter. That hope is immediately crushed as Charlie Nicholas describes Jack Wilshere as comfortable on the ball, happy to get on the ball, comfortable receiving the ball, happy to run with the ball...

12.53 - Now this is why the majority of England fans believe we should win every international tournament we enter. Its statements such as the following Phil Thompson quote about Jack Wilshere – 23 competitive first team appearances in his career to date – that make my heart sink. When asked what his opinion of the undoubtedly gifted Arsenal youngster is, Thompson replies ‘well he’s our Xavi and Iniesta isn’t he’. Rather than just enjoy his talent and let him mature to hopefully become a very good Premier League and England player in time, we’re comparing him to two of the best midfielders in the world on national television. Madness.

13:02 - After the criticism of Alan Shearer last weekend, so far Paul Alcock’s been ‘that geezer’, Josh McEachran and Jack Wilshere have been comfortable/happy on the ball, and now when discussing Lukasz Fabianski’s flap against Spurs midweek, Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – 28 games on loan at Brentford last year - is described as ‘that Polish kid’ by Charlie Nicholas.

13:04 - I’m acutely aware there’s live football on a different channel, Manchester City v Chelsea no less. I’m watching this for an article - just who else is watching this instead of the match?

13.08 – Now so far we’ve not been overly troubled by bias - the pundits appear to be equally ignorant about every club, but Phil Thompson talking about Liverpool is extraordinary. Over the course of about 3 minutes discussing the club’s current plight we’re ‘informed’ that supporting Liverpool is an ‘inheritance’ passed down a family line from generation to generation (cue sepia tinted filter and string quartet). He goes on to say Liverpool’s issues aren’t just football issues – their suffering affects all sport, and everything comes down to the ‘all-consuming’ problems in the boardroom. Knowing the club’s financial situation it seems extraordinary but Thompson then insists that Liverpool should never be in profit in the transfer market – they should always be buying better players than those they sell. His closing statement on the affair is that Liverpool’s problems won’t just kill the club - they’ll kill all football. After the gross exaggeration that essentially if Liverpool struggle the whole football and sporting world suffers, he moves on to last Sunday’s game at Old Trafford. Thompson explains that John O’Shea should have got sent off, all United offered first half was a Nani half chance, and Fergie’s comments about United’s dominance shouldn’t be given ‘any credence by talking about them’. Finally he admits that he’s ‘got his Liverpool hat on’. I take it you all know the expression about Sherlock Holmes not having any faeces about his person don’t you? Good.

I can’t take anymore – I’m switching over and I don’t care. Just who sits down to watch this when live football is on at the same time? Just who sits down to watch this at all? I’ll continue to watch the live scores come in from 3 till 5 on a Saturday but I implore you, don’t watch anything else – it’ll wind you up more than a Geordie struggling to talk about a Frenchman ever would. The programme is not without its merits – I think it’s brilliant once the games have kicked off but before, during, and after? Don’t bother.

If you’d like to read more from David, please visit his fantastic blog, I know who Cyrille Makanaky was.

* IBWM would like to point out that we do not advocate the shaving of cats, nor do we imply that any employees of Sky TV do the same.  We love Jeff Stelling to bits.

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