Jeff Stelling is stepping down from Soccer Saturday on Sky. A football nation mourns.
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today, the end of an era for football fans.
At the weekend, Jeff Stelling announced that he was leaving Soccer Saturday after 27 years hosting the show.
And quite frankly, it’s unbelievable Jeff.
Because a whole generation of football fans has grown up with the show, with Jeff Stelling our constant companion.
It started in 1994 as Sports Saturday before it became Soccer Saturday, introduced by Sky as a way of keeping viewers up to speed during the 3pm blackout on showing live football.
And it’s a laugh a minute.
Chris Kamara: “The move was just scintillating Jeff, their football Arsenal is on another level, but Spurs are fighting like beavers, defending for their lives, it’s a terrific game, still 1-0.”
Jeff Stelling: “Did I hear that correctly? Fighting like beavers? Hahaha! Not tigers, or lions but beavers! Those ferocious little devils!”Jeff Stelling speaking on Sky Sports Football
You see, Jeff is the ringmaster. He’s the one who holds the show together: managing the pundits, cueing in the reporters from the grounds, setting the pace and making us laugh in the process.
Which gets us to the puns.
Jeff Stelling loves them, as his memoir, Jellyman’s Thrown a Wobbly – makes clear. The title is a throwback to his famous line from the show when Mansfield Town’s Gareth Jellyman was sent off for dissent.
“Mohammed Isa is the man who has got the goal, er, joined for 1.3 million pounds from Bristol City. Now is Isa a good investment…erm well he’s opened his account today that is for sure. I think you can bank on him and if he goes on this way there’ll be lots of interest in him as well.”Jeff Stelling speaking on Soccer Saturday, Sky Sports Football
Inevitably, things go wrong. It’s just the nature of the beast with fast paced, live TV like Soccer Saturday. But Stelling somehow turns those gaffes into the best bits of the show.
Jeff Stelling: “We’re off to Fratton Park where’s there’s been a red card, but who for Chris Kamara?”
Chris Kamara: “I don’t know Jeff, has there? I must’ve missed that! A red card?”
Jeff: “Chris! Have you not been watching? I haven’t! I don’t know where that’s come from Chris, I have no idea what has happened there. What’s happened Chris?”
Chris: “Er… I don’t know Jeff! The rain must have got in my eyes Jeff.”
Jeff: “Chris, Chris, let me tell you…according to our sources, Anthony Vanden Borre has been sent off for a second bookable offence! Get your fingers out and count up the number of Portsmouth players that are on the field.”Soccer AM
He’s been described by The Telegraph as a “Live TV genius” and who can disagree?
Part of his appeal is that he gives us a window into his own fandom. He makes no secret of the fact he’s a Hartlepool United supporter.
“Did I see the Hartlepool final score go through?”
“No. They’re still playing.”
“They’re still playing? Goodness me, come on ref, what’s going on here? It’s five o’clock! Where is the full time score? Are they playing in a different time zone? There’s 12 minutes of added time! And Hartlepool… oh my goodness!”Jeff Stelling, Soccer AM
With that, he seems like one of us. A football fan, having a laugh with his mates, experiencing the highs and lows of the game in real time.
But he’s doing all of that while holding down a high-pressure job. News is flying in from around the grounds every second and he has to process it.
And so what looks easy, natural and effortless to us, is really what the Telegraph says: it’s a work of genius.
Whoever takes over has big shoes to fill.
It might be wise for his replacement to present the show in his – or her – own way. Doing “a Stelling” will only invite invidious comparisons.
So farewell, Jeff. You have been a welcome guest in our living rooms for so long – and it’s not an exaggeration to say you’ve changed the way we watch The Beautiful Game.
The fact you won’t be with us next season is quite simply, unbelievable Jeff.
“By the way Charlie, you know that slogan, on the end of betting adverts, when the fun stops, stop? If that applied here, I’d have been gone a long time ago.”Jeff Stelling, Sky Sports Football
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.