Jeff Stelling is the hugely popular host of Soccer Saturday, Countdown and, from the coming season, Sky Sports’ Champions League Football. Here, I spoke to him about his career in the media, thoughts on Soccer Saturday and his views on all things Manchester City.
View From A Blue: How did you break into the media?
Jeff Stelling: My first job was at the Hartlepool Mail when I was 18. I eventually broke into radio and then television, firstly at the old TV-am, and started working as a freelance at Sky in 93. I arrived for a day and have been there ever since.
VFAB: Is it something you always wanted to do?
JS: I told my headmaster when I was 12 that I wanted to be a journalist. He was not impressed. But I can’t think I would be much good at anything else.
VFAB: Soccer Saturday, in theory, shouldn’t work – the viewer is looking at four men who are looking at TV screens – what do you think is the key to its success?
JS: The key to Soccer Saturday is that it provides, hopefully, a score service plus! The most important thing for fans is to know how their team is doing: we add the oohs and aahs, a bit of banter and a dollop of debate, and it’s the mix that makes it what it is. Of course you need the right pundits otherwise it could be dull as I understand some other channels demonstrate!
VFAB: What is your dream Soccer Saturday panel?
JS: Well, given any choice it would by Cheryl Cole, Kylie and Danni Minogue and Rachel Riley! But if it has to be pundit based, I’d be very happy with what we have now. Don’t get me wrong: there are some outstanding pundits on other shows and channels – Graeme Souness, Jamie Redknapp, Alan Hansen and Lee Dixon – but our current four are perfect for Saturdays.
VFAB: Do you have any standout moment from Soccer Saturday?
JS: There are plenty of stand-out moments but my favourite was when Jimmy Glass, the Carlisle goalkeeper, scored in added time to keep them in the Football League at the expense of Scarborough. I have to say the final day of the most recent Premier League season has to be right up there too.
VFAB: Do you miss not being able to go to Hartlepool matches because you’re presenting on a Saturday afternoon?
JS: The best way to follow Pool is from about 200 miles away! Yes, I do miss not seeing them play but as I have the best job in the world I can’t complain too much.
VFAB: You’re hosting Sky’s Champions League football, how do you think City will fare in it?
JS: The first season in the Champions League is always tough, but look at how well Spurs coped. City have players with bags of European experience, a manager who knows the European style of play inside out and have a chance of doing really well. There are two provisos though: Tévez has to stay and play and Balotelli and/or Dzeko need to prove themselves as consistent goalscorers. I’d also love to see Mancini have a bit more belief in Adam Johnson.
VFAB: City fans aren’t happy with Gary Neville’s appointment to the Sky panel – how do you think he will cope with a City v Liverpool match for example?
VFAB: Where do you see City in a couple of years time?
JS: Given the backing City have now, they have to be a major force in the Premier League. I expect them to challenge next season as long as they can cope with playing in the Champions League as well. In European terms, everyone is light years behind Barcelona, but City should be able to establish themselves as a side that no-one wants to be drawn against.
VFAB: What do you make of Mario Balotelli?
JS: I don’t get Balotelli at the moment. People say he is super-talented but I haven’t seen enough so far. However, he is young and people who know a lot more than me say he will be a star. He certainly needs a good PR man!
VFAB: 3rd Jan 1976 in FA Cup Round 3: City 6 – 0 Hartlepool. Do you have any recollection of that game?
JS: I was at Maine Road that day and I remember being three down early on, so it was game over. But my main recollection is our defender George Potter nutting Dennis Tueart who retaliated and they were both sent off! Mind you, looking at the team we had at the time, your lot should be ashamed of only scoring six!
VFAB: Who is your favourite ever City player?
JS: I’m not just saying this, but over the years City have had some wonderful players – the obvious ones, Colin Bell, Franny Lee and Mike Summerbee, even Big Joe Corrigan. More recently, the Goat, Kinkladze, Ali Benarbia. Possibly Dennis Tueart in his heyday. Now of course we all admire Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and David Silva. But Tevez has to be the one for me.
Many thanks to Jeff who kindly gave up his time to speak to me. Let me know below your thoughts and any reaction to what Jeff has said above.