The Jeff Stelling Interview
Jeff talks about Soccer Saturday, scones, Ronglish, being the new Parky, on beating Jamie Harvey at darts, his greatest gaffe and picking his commentating dream team.
Soccer Saturday Jeff, it’s radio on television isn’t it?
You don’t see any shots at goal. You don’t see any goals. You don’t see any real action. It’s just like watching West Brom.
Tough job though. You’re widely known as the sauvest man in Hartlepool. Do you ever panic?
[Chuckles] It’s like the old swan isn’t it. Look nice and calm on the outside and I’m paddling away underneath. I don’t panic as much as I used to though.
How do you juggle all those screens and guys in your ear? There’s fellas on Irish telly who can’t even read the autocue. Strikes us not many people could do your job.
I don’t know. I think anyone could given time at it. I’ve had seven years practice. Basically, there’s a computer screen which you can use to access anything. There’s a vidiprinter screen on another side and an ear piece which gives me access to the director, the producer, and the statistician. To be honest, after a while you only hear the things you want to hear. You get a bit selective in your hearing. I tried do that with Rodney as well, I try to be very selective with my hearing with him.
Can you blame the producer for this one? “Yeovil v York. This game is the first time that both teams have started with that letter.”
[Laughs loudly] Most obscure line of the season, eh? Tell you what, we blamed our statistician, Dave Todd for that one. He was particularly proud of it. There are odd occasions when he’ll give me a line that he absolutely insists I use. They’re normally about Colchester because he’s a Colchester United fan. I feel a bit of compassion for him in that sense, so I try to use them when I can.
Do you still do your research on that filling station on the M3?
Yeah. Wincester Services. Although, for a bit of variation, sometimes I go to the south-bound branch. [Chuckles] I’ve got three small children – five, four and one. And they can’t understand that dad needs a day of peace and quiet and I can’t go and play football in the back garden or can’t play with their Thunderbirds, so I go to the service station. It’s very nice I must say. Coffee is excellent. Two pounds twenty nine a cup for a medium late. Couple of those last me all day.
And a scone maybe? Or a doughnut?
Actually I’m a scone man.
Bit of strawberry jam?
No no, ordinary scone. Plenty of currants.
Bit of butter at least surely?
Yeah, little bit of butter on there, but I’m not into this jam and cream business.
That’s a bit much alright Jeff. You certainly seem to enjoy your work anyhow.
Well it’s hard work, but everything’s relative isn’t it. My day was a steel worker and came home from his shifts with all kinds of crap on him and bits knocked out of him, so relatively speaking, it’s not really. It’s every schoolboy’s dream job isn’t it? Particularly as a I was a useless Sunday morning footballer. Too short, too fat, and too slow. Like Chris Kamara really. To be able to sit with legends of the game like Frank McClintock, George Best and Alan Mullery, it’s a dream job really.
We thought Frank McClintock was only there to save himself the price of a season ticket. Does he insist on watching Arsenal every week?
Ha ha ha. We let him watch Arsenal every week on the basis that if we gave him another game, he wouldn’t know who was playing. The great thing about some of the guys is that they don’t pretend to be anything other than fans. We would never suggest that Frank should be anything other than biased towards Arsenal.
Any new panelists this year?
Phil Thompson is back. Remember he was with us a few years ago before he had a spell out to coach Liverpool. Him and Rodney had some ferocious spats. They were like a snake and a mongoose. You never knew who was going to come out on top. That should be fun.
Speaking of Rodney, what’s happened to RodMarsh.com? It’s closed down.
Has it? To be honest, I’m not a regular viewer of RodMarsh.com. Rodney’s diary was always illuminating wasn’t it? Monday: Got up. Ate. Went to bed. Tuesday: Got Up. Walked dog. Went to bed.
It was worse than that Jeff. Remember: Got Up. Sat on toilet for 20 minutes cos had diarrhoea from eggs.
[Recoils] Awwwww yeah. It was tedious. Still, seriously, I get on well with Rod, even though we have our moments on the show. He’s as spiky as a porcupine. I’ve never known a more opinionated, difficult character. But inside the spiky exterior, he has a heart of gold and he’ll do anything for you and the show’s not the same without him.
Suppose you do miss him when he’s not there alright.
You definitely miss him when he’s not there. And then after a few weeks, you’re aching for him to go away again.
Can you ever see Big Ron turning up on the Soccer Saturday panel?
I was asked about my ideal panel last year and Ron Atkinson was one of them. That was before the latest controversy. Over the years he’s been entertaining and witty and I’ve always enjoyed his contribution. He’ll serve his sentence for his misdemeanour and come back one day but it’s not for me to say whether it’ll be on Sky.
Can you speak Ronglish?
Ha ha ha. I’m sure I could learn. He’s brilliant. One of the great quotes of all time was from Ron wasn’t it? “I couldn’t kick a ball as far as Carlton Palmer could trap it.” And he was a friend of Carlton’s. He’s a character, like some of our panelists really. We’ve tried a lot of people and some of them can be articulate but dull. And that’s not what you want over six hours.
Do you fancy any other jobs in television. You could be the new Parky maybe?
[Laughs.] Yeah. Look, I love sport and TV but yeah, in terms of the chat show, I’m not sure if it isn’t dead you know.
You could revive it, Jeff.
Yeah, maybe. Ha ha. You’re very kind. Well, I’d like to have a go at something else alright. Seriously speaking, it’s about getting the right kind of vehicle, isn’t it. Des Lynam tried to branch out into all sorts of things but it didn’t really work did it? Mainly because the programmes were crap really and it didn’t matter who the presenter was. You look at Gabby Logan who’s branching out into quizzes and what not. Gabby’s a mate of mine and I hope it goes well for her, but you’ve got to be careful what you get involved in.
The proudest moment of your broadcasting career?
Ooooh, [thinks for ages] that’s a good one. Let me see. In television terms, it was probably the first time I presented a programme. That was at TVAM. I’ve got this habit that, wherever I’ve been, I’ve managed to close the station down. Keysy was there at the same time. Mike Morris was there and Ulrika was the weather girl. I did an hour and a half sports programme on Saturday morning with no live sport and no real features of any kind – bit like Soccer Saturday really.
We reckon your greatest achievement was when Besty had a bit of trouble during the week and you said he wasn’t on the show because he “wasn’t feeling two grand.”
[Laughs]. People enjoyed that. To be honest, I thought about it twenty minutes before the show and all the time I was in makeup, I was thinking “should I use this or not?” How will it go down? I think it’s funny but will anyone else?”
It was genius Jeff.
Well George thought it was funny and that was the main thing. George has his critics but in my experience he’s a nice guy and has a good sense of humour. For someone who was such a fantastic player to be able to laugh at himself, that’s great.
You seem to get on well with all of the lads on the panel?
Yeah, well apart from Rodney. The thing about Rodney is you don’t want to take him too seriously because he’s slagged off everyone in the world. Last season he was on the front pages of Wigan’s local paper in a clown’s outfit. He’s said they’d no right to be in the Premiership or something. But you can’t carry on for five or six hours with some outspoken opinion, and Rod certainly provides that. I think 442 magazine described him this week as an ‘intolerable loudmouth’. I thought intolerable was a bit unfair. The rest was about right.
Anyway, let’s get your commentating dream team. What if you were the Roman Abramovich of TV and you could choose anyone you wanted…anchor first.
Well Des Lynam’s always been my hero and he still would be.
Right. Two Pundits to go with him.
Let’s see. Of the people around at the moment, I like Niall Quinn a lot. And I’m a big fan of Alan Hansen.
Quinny? Are you sure Jeff? Is old DiscoPants not just a little, shall we say, too reluctant to criticise anyone?
Wellll, maybe, But I think he’s got a charm and a grace and respect as well. I think that makes up for that. Anyway, I don’t think you have to be ultra critical to be a pundit. Some people make the mistake of thinking they have to go for the jugular every time. There’s a lot of good pundits around. I’m a great fan of Chris Kamara and Rodney Marsh and I think Andy Townsend has improved beyond recognition over the last few years.
To be fair, I’ve got an awful lot of time for Martin Tyler. Him or Clive Tyldesley.
Clive? Really? Only when he’s not doing Man U surely?
Ok, co-commentator then.
Well, it’s got to be Kamara doesn’t it, He sees the game differently to other people. He’s played the game. He’s opinionated. He’s grown to be an integral part of the program in recent years, with his own…. well…. Unmatchable style…. I think I’ve been there seven years now – it’s fantastic – we’ve never sent Kammy to one bad game. They’ve all been unbelievable, fantastic and great. His enthusiasm is well…
One word. Motty or Davies?
Can I pick “Or”. Ok, Motty. Davies is too sophisticated, too….[racks brain] schoolmasterish.
More lawn tennis than football?
Yes, Or hockey.
Or the boat race?
Best commentary of all time?
Most memorable has to be the 1966 World Cup final. Whether it was the commentary or the occasion, I’m not sure, but that’s the one that sticks in my mind.
Ohhhh. There have been loads over the years. Do I have to pick one?
No, no, we’ve got all day.
[Long silence. Thinking hard.]
You could just make up the name of an old Hartlepool centre forward if you wanted. We wouldn’t know the difference.
Actually, I’ll tell you. My Hartlepool hero was a guy – you’ll never have heard of him – called Ernie Phythian (kindly spells name for us). He was a centre forward in days of Brian Clough. It was in my embryonic days when I was 12 or 13 and I used to stand on the terraces. He was an absolute sensation.
Other than Ernie, it would be Tony McCoy, who’s an absolute genius and a charming nice guy with it.
You like a bit of racing?
Oh yeah, Frankie Detori same thing. They’ve transformed the racing. Jockeys used to be so unapproachable. Steve Cauthen was the first but Frankie took it to another level. Sixties Formula One driver Jim Clarke was another hero.
Greyhound racing or darts?
Oh darts for sure.
Would you be a Phil Taylor man? Or Bobby George or one of his crowd?
Bobby George! [Sounds indignant] Bobby George is a show pony. Phil Taylor is, ohhhh… [sounds a little delirious]. In terms of sport, there’s never been a sportsman in any sport who’s dominated like he has. You think of the Borgs and McEnroes in tennis but Phil Taylor…
Can you a throw a dart, Jeff?
Well, I once beat Jamie Harvey, the Scottish darts player. It was four o’clock in the morning in Blackpool, fuelled by a couple of bottles of Scotch. I should add a rider to that. Jamie was throwing his darts backwards, with his back to the board. But I beat him.
A win’s a win Jeff. You can only beat what’s put in front of you.
Ha ha. Or behind you in this case.
Finally Jeff. What’s the biggest gaffe you’ve made?
Well, it’s not very funny I suppose, but one I made was after the Lee Bowyer trial. I said something like “Bowyer, back at his old stamping ground at Charlton.”
It really was unintentional. But that’s the one that lives with me anyway.
Very finally Jeff. We’ve got a new feature lined up called Bond, Jeff Bond…
[Laughs long] Very funny.
Nice of you to say. Anyway, we reckon you could do a job as Bond. What do you think?
Ha ha. Somebody once wrote to the producers saying I should be the next Pierce Brosnan. The next time they want a short, fat, graying James Bond, I’m their man.
Jeff, thank you and good night. You’ve been a gent.