Shooting Stars; Dirty Footballers, Topless Weather Reporters and Famous Players Making Fools of Themselves - Andrew Preston Discovers the Anarchic Magic of Soccer?AM

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Byline: ANDREW PRESTON

Soccer AM is the show that dares to tackle the burning issues in football that other programmes shy away from. For example, the 'What the Hell Happened to Johnny Foreigner?' slot tracks down world-class players who were famous when they first came to play in Britain but who have since disappeared from the game.

Meanwhile, 'The League of Mental Men' features the villains who have received the most red and yellow cards. And which other show would go to the trouble of hunting down a player's tooth after it was knocked out during a game?

At 9am each Saturday, the enthusiastic duo of Tim Lovejoy and Helen Chamberlain kickstart the soccerholic's day with three hours of goals, guests - think Ireland and Sunderland's Jason McAteer, Robbie Fowler, and even Noel Gallagher - gloriously trivial lists, in-jokes and more catchphrases than The Fast Show could shake a stick at.

'We take football seriously,' says Lovejoy, who is also the show's executive producer. 'But we don't take ourselves seriously. We haven't forgotten that football is supposed to be fun.' He says his inspiration for Soccer AM goes back to his childhood days and the TV coverage on the morning of FA Cup finals - heavy on celebrities and comedy, and light on debate about the pros and cons of wing backs or the flat back four. The anarchic children's show Tiswas was also a big influence.

Originally, the programme was aimed at children, but it soon became clear that the viewers phoning in attempting to win the top-class prizes on offer - a regular one is a 'Goochie' T-shirt featuring the former England opening batsman Graham Gooch - turned out to be students or people old enough to know better.

Soccer AM is cheap and cheerful television, and in a world where Premiership footballers can earn more than u100,000 a week, and many thousands more for promoting fatty foods or fizzy drinks, it's refreshing to know that the most inventive football show on television is produced on a shoestring.

Both players and supporters love the programme. Before he left for China, Paul Gascoigne was a regular viewer who was known to phone in. That Gazza was prepared to forgo his Saturday morning lie-in is quite an endorsement. Soccer fans also love it, especially supporters of the often neglected lower-division teams. It's a far cry from the Saturday evening shows that almost exclusively focus on Premiership football; here you can see highlights from all four divisions and even from Europe.

Every week, special attention is paid to lowly Lincolnshire side Boston United, who, simply because of their name, are billed as 'the only American team in the English league', and snippets of commentary from their matches are delivered American-football style: 'He scores the kick-strike past the point guard! …