I was shocked to receive a text message from my good mate Nell on Friday, to inform me that his close pal Andy Harris had passed away suddenly during the night. Tragically Andy will be laid to rest on Tuesday, when he should have been celebrating his 44th birthday the day before.
Footie fans in the UK and Ireland who've watched Sky's Soccer AM on Saturday mornings over the years will have undoubtedly heard Tim Lovejoy & Helen Chamberlain refer to "Shandy the Gooner in the Gallery". Although there were occasions when Shandy appeared in front of the cameras, in pastiches of the likes of Postman Pat Butcher and Mike Reid, it was for his work as a producer for the first few seasons of this relatively groundbreaking footie show that we all owe Andy a debt of gratitude.
If I'm honest, there've been occasions in recent times when I've whinged at the way Soccer AM has stuck so rigidly to its original formulae. Yet I'd invariably be annoyed if I missed my favourite bits of the program Soccer Locker, Showboat or the Third-Eyes, either because I failed to wake up in time, or because of leaving the house too soon, to travel to an away game. Moreover the incredible role call of celebrity guests and professional players who were happy to give up their Saturday mornings, to spend several hours squeezed onto the orange sofa in Sky's Osterley studios, in the shadow of the M4 flyover in West London (hardly the most glamorous of locations) stands as testament to the amazing mass market appeal of this TV show and the way in which the combination of fan based silliness, casual conversation and the occasional insight into some of the private and dressing room habits of many of our footballing heroes, managed to plug a yawning gap in the landscape of football related TV scheduling.
You only have to look at the way many of the program's catchphrases and Tim Lovejoy's slapstick routines have entered the lingua franca of popular culture, to appreciate the massive influence of Soccer AM's Saturday morning shenanigans. Only at Eastlands last weekend, when we went two up after 25 minutes, I found myself waving my hands above my head shouting "Easy, easy!"
Meanwhile aside from his TV work, Andy was husband to his wife Lucy and father to his two kids, Thomas and Joseph. Although I had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions, usually at the Arsenal's annual pre-season friendly at Underhill, I would've felt a bit of a fraud offering some sort of "Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well" type tribute. As a result it seems far more appropriate to include the thoughts of those who were closest to him, by way of the messages from Andy's oldest mate, the text message terror that is Jonathan "Nell" Moser and his colleague and pal since their days working on the Big Breakfast, Tim Lovejoy :-
Nell Moser - "My friendship with Andy goes back many, many years. The one common thread running through all those years of friendship was our devotion to Arsenal. We shared so many fond memories of our time as Gooners that whenever we got together, we would spend literally hours reminiscing.
Only a couple of weeks ago, we met for lunch and proceeded to spend the entire afternoon discussing obscure Arsenal players, from Geoff Barnet to John Matthews to Trevor Ross to Brian Hornsby to Ritchie Powling to David Price to John Hawley. We discussed how, in those days, every London football fan would follow the progress of their team by listening to Sportswatch on LBC 261, presented by Dominic Allen.
His favourite or most vivid memories as an Arsenal fan?... Well, here's a few that we talked about recently.. Terry Neill's first game in charge of Arsenal (1976- we lost 1-0 at home to Bristol City and Supermac also made his debut that day), our amazing hat-trick of FA Cup Final appearances (1978/79/80- when the FA Cup actually mattered), all those semi-finals v Liverpool, Alan (Alan) Sunderland running off like a madman having scored THAT last minute winner, Paul Vaessen v Juventus, Willie Young v Hadjuk Split, Charlie Nicholas' League Cup Final winner v Liverpool (1987, having beaten Spurs in the semi), the Gus Caesar Cup Final (1988 v Luton), Anfield 89 (obviously), and George Graham finally losing the plot in the early-mid 90's. Andy would often recall George's latter years at Highbury by reciting his favourite poem: "Morrow, Selley, Hillier, has there ever been a midfield sillier?"
Just as his father had passed on his passion for Arsenal to Andy, Andy did the same for his kids, Thomas and Joseph, to whom he was so devoted. I'm not sure if Lucy ever did or ever will fully understand what it was all about.
Somehow, going to Arsenal will never seem quite the same again. I'm still waiting for his next text message, rejoicing in Chelsea's demise.
'Shandy' Harris, a true Gooner legend, gone but NEVER forgotten.
It was a privilege to have been his friend."
Tim Lovejoy - "Andy Harris or Shandy The Gooner In The Gallery, as Soccer AM fans will remember him, will be sorely missed by everyone. In all my time in TV I've never known a death cause such a stir. It seems everyone knew him and no one will ever forget him. I first met Andy working on the Big Breakfast, the first thing he wanted to know was which team I supported. I told him Chelsea, he laughed and then spent the next 13 years taking every opportunity to tell me we're not as good as his beloved Arsenal.
When I got offered the job of producer and presenter of Soccer AM I needed someone to help me and Andy was my first choice as he was a great producer and loved his football like me. He was tenacious and persuasive and pushed the show further then I ever would have. If it wasn't for Andy the show would never have been as big as it became. The show back then was run on pure passion of football, we had many arguments and they were normally about Arsenal vs. Chelsea.
My memory of working next to him was him sitting holding a new Arsenal shirt that we got in to feature on the show. He was smelling it and saying things like "smell that it's perfect", "you'll never know what it's like to be a fan of the Arsenal" and "it's so sad, you'll never have this experience". He honestly believed he was blessed being an Arsenal fan. He took me to see Arsenal V Coventry once insisting I came to see what a real club was like, a "big club" as he called it.
I had been to Highbury many times as an away fan, but he wanted me to see his experience. I remember him being so proud of showing me the Arsenal fans in his local pub, his stadium and his seat, he couldn't understand why I didn't think that he was the luckiest man alive because he was a Gooner. A couple of drunk Arsenal fans decided to have a go at me for being a Chelsea fan and it got a little out of hand. Andy was horrified, he lost his temper with them and got the situation under control. He was deeply upset that a couple of Herberts would pick on me when clearly I was just there to watch the game, he explained that they were not proper Arsenal fans.
He was a proper fan, not an idiot "real" fan, but a proper fan, who took as much pleasure in hating Chelsea, Spurs and Man U as he did in loving The Arsenal. His banter was always spot on and he knew when to send a text to give maximum misery to me. After we had won the league he was always telling me the Chelsea's bubble was going to burst, after a string of poor results last season, I got a simple text message which just said "POP!". I'll truly miss the ritual of losing a match and 2 minutes later receiving "I love football" or "it's a good day for football" text. Andy was a great friend and a true Gooner."
ANDREW EMMANUEL HARRIS 1964-2008 RIP
PS. Please don't hesitate to add any messages of condolence, or any personal memories in the comments section and I can add them to this post for everyone to read