Soccer Saturday v Football Focus

With return of the new football season brings two entertaining, yet completely different football shows aimed at arming fans with the latest news, ‘informed’ views and information which adds to every Saturday’s footballing experience, starting pre-match kick-off.

BBC’s Football Focus and Sky’s Soccer Saturday have been around a long time and whilst they are not in direct competition, they draw a very loyal fan base. Although there are similarities in some of the format, the two shows are quite different, running along at different speeds which attract a different type of viewer. Which are you?

Football Focus is the granddaddy of the football review shows running from 1974 as part of the original Grandstand from the BBC. In 2001, it became a show in its own right and, until the launch of Match of the Day 2, was many fans first chance to view Premier League action and analysis from the previous Sunday through Friday, if they did not have Sky TV access. The weekly review/preview show’s format is hosted by a main presenter, currently Dan Walker, and is joined by a host of BBC football pundits who are usually ex-players and managers, although sometimes they are joined by commentators too who serve to bring previews from around the various grounds awaiting kick-off. The BBC’s stable of football pundits on Football Focus are normally made up of Mark Lawrenson, Martin Keown and Lee Dixon. Very occasionally they may be joined by Alan’s, Shearer and Hansen although they are normally kept aside for Match of the Day duty.

The BBC show is slower paced in comparison to other shows but that is its nature and part of its charm. Unique feature pieces are where Football Focus excels over its rivals, which provide real interesting background information, footage and interviews from up and down the country, and from time to time, Europe and further afield. These are the parts of the show that the pundits have very little to do with. Coincidence? Football Focus finishes broadcasting before the 3pm Saturday games commence, making way for Final Score – which has tried in vain to copy and compete with Sky’s Soccer Saturday.

Soccer Saturday arrives on viewers screens during Saturday lunchtimes at 100-plus miles an hour providing a completely different type of experience than Football Focus to every fan. There are similarities however. Soccer Saturday’s panel is made up of a host and anchor, the excellent Jeff Stelling, who is joined by a selection of ex-player pundits. Most commonly used are Paul Merson, Phil Thompson and Matt Le Tissier. The show does provide some feature pieces from time to time but that’s where any similarities to the BBC show ends.

Soccer Saturday’s main purpose is to use the pundits in the studio to preview the upcoming days fixtures, using the previous weeks information, give predictions usually in the guise of banter between each other, then keep viewers up to date with the latest events and scores on the pitch whilst the matches play out. Whereas Football Focus ends prior to match kick-off and airs for around one hour, Soccer Saturday lasts for up to six hours covering the entire match period; pre, during and post. As the studio pundits provide feedback from usually the ongoing Premier League matches, they are joined by outside pundits and commentators who are ‘on-site’ at different grounds also supplying their feedback. Most notably, the excellent Chris Kamara who is extremely entertaining. Star of the show however is, anchorman Jeff Stelling, who seamlessly gels everything together at breakneck speed when required, whilst keeping his head, keeping the pundits in check and gives genuinely good banter.

I’m probably not alone in thinking that the insight most ex-players turned football pundit, give in this country are useless, and/or obvious to any supporter. Most are often scared to cause offence to ‘fellow’ professionals and friends in the game. I’m not just singling out the BBC here as Sky TV’s lot are just as bad, if not worse. Lawrenson’s attempts at being witty are often cringe-worthy, Keown’s ‘insightful’ information is often boring, which just leaves Lee Dixon as the most normal of the lot. Whilst at Sky, Paul Merson tries too hard to be controversial and ends up sounding like an ill-informed idiot, and Matt Le Tissier sounds like he has a chip on his shoulder.

Whilst neither show lives up to the heady heights set by Channel Four’s old Gazzetta Football Italia, or indeed Sky’s Revista De La Liga, apart from my major gripe with the quality of ex-pro football pundits reviewing the Premier League, both shows have their merits and serve their purpose well; to feed our ever-growing football hunger. But which one satisfies your appetite?

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