Jeff Stelling made Soccer Saturday compulsory viewing

Cult hero Jeff Stelling transformed Saturday afternoons by making it FUN to spend hours watching the vidiprinter! His treasure trove of stats, sharp one-liners and the emotions of a true football fan will be missed

  • Jeff Stelling, 66, will step down as host of Soccer Saturday at end of the season
  • He has been a familiar face on the hugely popular Sky Sports show for 25 years
  • Stelling combined astonishing recall of facts and stats with brilliant humour
  • He anchored the show brilliantly while goals were flying in all over the place
  • There have been plenty of hilarious moments with studio guests and reporters
  • Stelling is a total one-off and Sky would be better served revamping the show 

Saturday afternoons just aren’t going to be the same.

It isn’t exactly a format that screams ‘must-watch television’ – a rolling list of football scores dominating most of the screen, four ex-players watching matches on TV monitors the viewer can’t see and a legion of reporters barking goal updates at you from Southend to Carlisle and all points inbetween.

Yet thanks to the genius of Jeff Stelling, Sky’s Soccer Saturday show has become compulsive viewing for all armchair football fans. 

Saturday afternoons will never quite be the same again as Jeff Stelling prepares to step down as host of Soccer Saturday at the end of the season

Stelling poses with the FA Cup with the classic Soccer Saturday panel of (left to right) George Best, Rodney Marsh, Frank McLintock and Dave Bassett behind him

Whether your allegiance was to Manchester United or Mansfield Town, you knew that between the hours of three and five every Saturday, you could not only find out how your team were doing but be assured Stelling truly cared about how your team were doing.

Hartlepool United’s most famous fan – who watched them beat Workington Town 2-0 at his first game aged six then saw them fail to win on any of his next 20 visits – was truly a scholar of the game.

His weekly treasure trove of facts and stats – for years, Stelling would escape to Winchester Services, like an Alan Partridge character who actually liked football, to pore over news articles to unearth his gems – was invariably combined with witty one-liners.

‘Nanny will be pleased,’ whenever Stephen McPhee scored, ‘Mido has been sent off and I can confirm he walks like an Egyptian’ or ‘it’s another proud day for the Trialist family.’

Stelling pictured with his son Robbie (left) and Hartlepool director Ian Stobie at a 2019 match

Stelling with his screens and sheaf of notes crammed with stats and info before going on air

The Soccer Saturday presenter gets a touch of make-up before a Saturday show

WHO WILL REPLACE STELLING? 

10/11 – Julian Warren

Safe pair of hands Sky Sports presenter who has stepped in when Stelling was absent in recent years. The clear favourite.

2/1 – David Jones

Sky’s leading football presenter, but surely unlikely to give up a comfy spot on the sofa with Neville, Carragher and Co to join the bedlam of 3pm on a Saturday.

6/1 – Hayley McQueen

The accomplished lead anchor on Sky Sports News. She is the daughter of Leeds and Manchester United legend Gordon McQueen, who was also a Sky pundit. 

8/1 – Laura Woods

A popular and talented Sky football presenter more than capable of restoring calm amid the chaos, given her role on talkSPORT.

12/1 – Kelly Cates

One of Sky and the BBC’s most popular presenters, the daughter of Kenny Dalglish has great rapport with pundits but might prefer to continue hosting big games.

100/1 – Chris Kamara

After Stelling the name most associated with the show, and the most fun – but there would be doubts over his ability to handle so much information coming thick and fast, given he once missed a red card in the game he was covering.

The quip ‘Oh no! Gareth Jellyman’s been sent off. I hope he doesn’t throw a wobbly’ would become the title for one of Stelling’s books.

So with this blend of encyclopaediac knowledge, humour and true emotion – especially towards the end of the season when promotion and relegation matters were being settled – Soccer Saturday became an unlikely smash hit.

It makes the news that Stelling is going to step down from Soccer Saturday duties in May, after more than 25 years in one of the busiest chairs in broadcasting, feel like the end of an era.

Sky would be ill-advised to try and find someone like Stelling. It would be nigh on impossible, he’s a true one-off. It would be better to revamp the programme rather than create a pale imitation.

When this reporter met Stelling in 2015, the interview went down a rabbit hole of niche stats about Arbroath and Stenhousemuir within two minutes and never really got back on track afterwards. Such was the depth and breadth of his passion for the sport. 

On those mad afternoons when the goals were flying in left, right and centre, the teams bobbing up and down in the league tables with everything on the line, it’s remarkable how Stelling holds everything together.

The voice of the producer in his ear must have been constant, the vidiprinter clicking away at an unforgiving pace and reporters at dozens of grounds fading in and out. But he never looks flustered.

The chemistry of the whole production was key. The banter between the studio pundits – George Best and Rodney Marsh at one time, then Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson, Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson and Alan McInally – was often priceless.

Then there was Chris Kamara, usually posted to one of the day’s, shall we say, less glamourous locations, who was usually a reliable reporter but became famous for replying to Stelling with the phrase ‘Unbelievable, Jeff!’ no matter how dramatic the event – and infamous for the odd gaffe that went viral.

This peaked when he absent-mindedly missed the sending off of Portsmouth’s Anthony Vanden Borre against Blackburn at Fratton Park in 2010.

‘We’re off to Fratton Park where there has been a red card, but for who, Chris Kamara?’ said Stelling.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=tAN8g7Fd2Cw%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1

‘I don’t know Jeff, has there? I must have missed that! A red card?’ replied the baffled Kamara, who thought Vanden Borre was being subbed off.

Cue howls of laughter from Kamara, Stelling and the studio panel.

Just once in a while, Stelling let the mask slip. 

When Hartlepool’s 96-year Football League status came to an end in 2017, Stelling, wearing a Hartlepool replica shirt under his waistcoat, had been jumping around moments earlier when Devante Rodney – or ‘Rooney’ as Merson kept calling him – scored what had looked to be the goal to keep them up. His panel were jumping around in delight too.

But a few minutes later, when Mark O’Brien’s late winner for Newport kept them up at Hartlepool’s expense, Le Tissier said ‘Jeff, Mark O’Brien has just scored an unbelievable goal for Newport’ with all the graveness of a BBC newscaster announcing the declaration of war with Germany.

Stelling was magnanimous in a dark hour. ‘It was a great finish,’ he conceded.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=9Uvl-EOsKJY%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1

Even Newport fans at the time wouldn’t begrudge Stelling that explosion of joy because he’s a true football fan like all of us. And he is Hartlepool’s club president after all.

Stelling is 66 and couldn’t go on forever but you feel the beginning of the end probably came with the sacking of the old guard panel of Le Tissier, Nicholas and Thompson last year.

It looked suspiciously like a cull of an old, white and male cast.

Stelling tweeted: ‘One of my saddest days ever at Sky Sports with the departure of three of my best mates. They have been part of a team that for me was the best.’

The good news is that we can enjoy another seven months of Stelling before he moves on to other things – not retirement, as he has made clear.

He received a standing ovation from the panel on Saturday when he announced the news live on the show, a message lightened with jokes and self-deprecation. Come May, he should receive a tickertape parade out the building.

The 66-year-old received a standing ovation from the rest of the panel on Saturday lunchtime

Someone once invented a Soccer Saturday drinking game, where you take a shot of beer every time a goal pops up on the vidiprinter and a shot of spirit for every sending off.

Other rules include mandatory drinking whenever Kammy appears on camera and three shots of beer whenever Hartlepool score. Arguably quite a good way to enjoy your Saturday afternoon but not remember your Sunday.

So you’ve a good few opportunities between now and May to get the beers in and toast Stelling.

To paraphrase a certain hapless reporter: ‘It’s been unbelievable, Jeff!’

Five of the best Soccer Saturday moments  

‘There’s been a red card at Fratton Park. But for who, Chris Kamara?’

Probably the most well-known moment in Soccer Saturday history, when Chris Kamara was caught not paying attention when Portsmouth’s Anthony Vanden Borre was sent off against Blackburn Rovers back in 2010.

Stelling teed up Kamara, who was seen looking around to the pitch to figure out what had happened. ‘I don’t know, Jeff, has there? I must have missed that. A red card?’

You can hear laughter from the studio panel as Stelling gently chides Kamara, telling him to ‘get his fingers out and count up the number of Portsmouth players.’

Kamara eventually admits he thought Vanden Borre was walking off to be substituted.

Chris Kamara is left baffled after missing a sending off at Portsmouth back in 2010

‘Maybe you should go to Specsavers too!’

The joke about going to Specsavers is usually reserved for referees but Stelling was on the receiving end after he challenged pundit Charlie Nicholas over a dubious offside call in a game between Stoke and Blackpool.

Nicholas believed DJ Campbell was offside but Stelling disagreed, saying ‘you should have gone to Specsavers, Charlie, because I tell you what, he’s not offside, he’s bang in line.’

The irate reply from Nicholas escalated very quickly and is all the funnier for his stuttering delivery, as though unsure whether he’s about to cross a line.

‘Maybe you should go also then Jeff because you couldn’t see driving home the other night because you don’t even wear your glasses on TV in case you get slagged off, so you just stick to Specsavers and I’ll do the game.’

https://youtube.com/watch?v=c5FsadHcoVA%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1%26start%3D57

‘Coronation Street style terraces and call their mushy peas guacamole’

When Middlesbrough came out top in a survey of the worst places to live in Britain, Jeff wasn’t having any of it.

He sounds like a cross between Alan Partridge and that Norwegian commentator who said England took ‘one hell of a beating’ but it’s brilliant to watch as the studio panel egg him on…

https://youtube.com/watch?v=X55A-2C7IOY%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1

‘I wouldn’t have believed it possible’

Stelling keeping his calm like a true pro as goalkeeper Jimmy Glass saved Carlisle United from relegation out of the Football League with pretty much the final kick of the 1998-99 season.

The Soccer Saturday cameras went from showing jubilant Scarborough fans celebrating on the pitch at the McCain Stadium believing they’d done enough to them in absolute despair as news of Glass’s dramatic goal filtered through.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=iYY0hEwwiXc%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1

‘Where have they got 12 minutes from?’

The funny moment from 2015 when Stelling interrupts Alan Lambourn reading out the classified results to loudly celebrate a Hartlepool victory.

The game had finished late because of 12 minutes of stoppage time, leading Stelling to point to his watch and ask what was happening.

Lambourn, the ultimate pro, simply pauses and then continues reading the scores as if nothing has happened.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=I3hzoDl477M%3Frel%3D0%26showinfo%3D1



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