Soccer Saturday legend Jeff Stelling: 'What's changed about football? These days you can go to the toilet without risking dysentery'

My Football with Jeff Stelling
(Image credit: Getty Images / FourFourTwo)

Jeff Stelling has been a mainstay of our Saturday afternoon television screens for almost three decades now, as host of Sky Sports' Gilette Soccer Saturday.

In the absence of 3pm Premier League live streams on UK television, millions have turned to the Hartlepool fanatic to keep us up-to-date on all the latest scores from across Britain until the quarter to five lull comes around.

What do you like most about going to a game?

The nervous tension. I also get some semi-friendly chanting aimed at me: “Stelling, Stelling, what’s the score?” Matches are nerve-wracking but a laugh, too.

Who from your club’s past would you bring back to play for your current side?

That’s easy: James Brown, so I could use my James Brown I Feel Good doll again on Soccer Saturday! He was a fantastic player but riddled with injuries. I spoke to managers who said he was the best player by a mile in training on Thursdays; unfortunately, he couldn’t walk on the Friday.

Where’s the best place you have ever watched a game?

The Westfalenstadion, to see Borussia Dortmund. I’ve been there about three or four times, but the best experience was when they beat Real Madrid 4-1 and Robert Lewandowski scored four. That was unbelievable. The Yellow Wall was absolutely packed to the rafters and it seemed like it was compulsory that everyone wore yellow or black – that you weren’t allowed in unless you did! You could get a beer from the stalls outside, and you could bring your drink inside with no aggravation. It was just a fantastic atmosphere.

How has watching football changed for you since you were a kid?

In a million ways. When I first started to go, we couldn’t afford to get in, so we would go in with 15 minutes left and just watch the last few minutes. And these days you can go to the toilet without risking dysentery – they used to be absolutely hideous places that you wouldn’t ever go near. 

Which player do you like even though they never played for your club?

I was a Burnley fan as a kid – Burnley and Hartlepool. Like a lot of youngsters in those days, I wrote to clubs asking for memorabilia. Most would completely ignore you, but Burnley used to send me loads of stuff back. Even though I didn’t know where the hell Burnley was, they were my favourite club, so it would be people who played for them: Dave Thomas, Steve Kindon, a guy called Frank Casper who played upfront. Then I used to sit next to George Best on Soccer Saturday, so he would definitely be right up there as well. George was a good mate of mine.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen or heard at a game?

We were playing an FA Cup replay at home to Gillingham last season, and
at half-time this message was blasted out over the public address system: “If there’s a Mr Eric Jackson in the ground, could he please report to the reception? His wife is waiting. She has been locked out of the house because he’s taken the keys.” It brought the house down! I imagine he got a pretty hot reception when he arrived there.

Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever met a manager or a player?

At the top of one of the water parks in Dubai – I think it was the Leap of Faith, which is the scariest of them all. I was standing there in my boxer shorts, and then I turned around and who should be standing next to me? Dennis Wise!

Tell us a fact we won’t know about one of your players or managers...

At Hartlepool you probably won’t know anything about any of them! But I do remember something from back in the 1970s, when I was a club reporter for
the local radio. The Hartlepool manager was a bloke called Billy Horner. When
I rang him, he’d always say, “Give me a minute, Jeff – I’ll call you back.” He’d go out of his office, out of the ground, to the phone box opposite the ground and ring me from there. Otherwise, he knew that the chairman was always listening to the extension on his phone…

If you could drop yourself into your all-time favourite team, who would you be playing next to?

Jan Molby, as I wouldn’t look quite as slow as I am. I think he had a similar pace to me!

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard from a player or coach?

I used to referee kids’ football quite a lot. At the end of an under-16s cup final, I shook the losing captain’s hand and he said, “Take some advice from me, Jeff: stick to Countdown.”

Which player, past or present, would you choose as your ideal room-mate?

Not Chris Kamara. I’ve shared with him before, and let me put it this way: it’s a bit off-putting when you’re in a bath and you look up to see Kammy’s bare backside facing you, after he’s strolled in to have a shave, stark bollock-naked. We shared a room in Japan at the 2002 World Cup and I’ve been traumatised ever since, so I don’t share rooms with people anymore!

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