This time, he’s not joking: Jeff Stelling has finally hung up his boots at Sky Sports.
His performance on his final Gillette Labs Soccer Special was quintessential Stelling: sharp, funny, long-suffering, self-effacing, in total control. Surely there cannot be a live broadcaster – in sport, in anything – to top him over the last 25 years.
His wordplay will be missed. Space and decorum mitigate against a reproduction of the full shocking rap sheet of Jeff’s most heinous puns, but let us salute the following few.
“Henrik Ojamaa has scored for Motherwell. He has a brother who plays in Estonia, so they’re a pair of Ojamaas.” Outstanding, as was the suggestion that “goalkeeper Dean Gerken was momentarily in a pickle”. My personal favorite remains the description of Mansfield’s Gareth Jelleyman getting a red card with “Jelleyman’s thrown a wobbly”, or perhaps “a goal for Dean Parrett, Dean Parrett.”
Jeff’s sense of fun has illuminated countless weekend afternoons. The montage on Sunday showed him in the garb of a fireman, a rapper with a backwards hat, a bright pink wig. Over the years we have seen him lose his internet connection due to an enthusiastic dog, get caught eating a packet of crisps, celebrate a goal so enthusiastically that his tie-clip microphone fell off, meaning that he had to deliver his next few remarks to Paul Merson’s chest, punch the air about Hartlepool, rant about Middlesbrough.
We have seen him deal with firefighters turning up at the studio, receive a phone call on air from Sky broadband customer service (hopefully he had more luck than the average punter), retrieve a half-eaten Twix from Merson.
He is a father of three but has parented dozens more. Another of his major contributions has been dealing with the chaotic delights of Merson, Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson et al, as well as ex-pros of more recent vintage like Kris Boyd and Clinton Morrison.
To regularly get something halfway coherent, or at least broadcastable, out of some of his co-workers for so many years has been nothing short of heroic. Morrison, Boyd, Merson and Michael Dawson rose to give him a standing ovation and there were recorded attaboys from former stalwarts like Clive Allen and Matt Le Tissier.
Stelling revealed he’d had a phone call from Sir Elton John, and of course there have been fulsome tributes from Chris Kamara, with whom he will be forever associated.
Mark Pougatch summed up Stelling’s brilliance when he tweeted: “The hardest thing to achieve in sports broadcasting is longevity and relevance. Chapeau to the brilliant Jeff Stelling for doing both with such style, humor and authority.”
He bows out still in his pomp. Sunday found Jeff having to explain to Merson that Everton have a player called Yerry Mina and not the Minamina about whom the Magic Man was babbling.
He answered Geoff Shreeves’s “cheers Jeff” farewell with a “cheers Geoff”. He apologized to Gary Neville for being mean about Salford. He did not apologize for a recent passionate plea about eating disorders and mental health.
He described Sue Smith as “the ultimate Everton fan, as nervous as a kitten.” He reciprocated to Alan McInally telling him “I love you by the way Jeff” by saying “the feeling is mutual – I have to say that because he is bigger than me.”
With BT Sport’s version of the show also coming to a close yesterday, and the accessibility of goal videos online, it seems possible that the end of the Stelling era might be the end of the format.
Soccer AM also bowed out this weekend; the only surprise being that it was still on at all. The naff morning magazine show has limped on since the 2017 departure of its mainstay Helen Chamberlain; it would be a shame if the panel-and-goals format lingered Jeff-less, a pale imitation, although one wouldn’t want to see Merse released into the wild.
Stelling said a few words of thanks at the end, adding as a modest aside, “this is a bit of a monologue isn’t it?” In truth he was no mere soloist, but a great conductor.
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