Jeff Stelling: Why He's So Much More Than Your Saturday Hero
"Sorry, I was just doing my research for Saturday. You see, Josh McEachran, of Brentford, hasn't scored a senior goal, it's his 150th game on Saturday. I'm a sad bastard."
They were Jeff Stelling's opening words, in the middle of his busiest day of the week, as he agreed to take time out to speak to LADbible. From 9am until 7pm he's studying in his office.
"Fridays are busy, too," he explains. "You've got commitments to Sky Bet and Digital Media. Then you're in production meetings, and of course there's gossip to catch up on.
"I'll spend the rest of the day scouring as many websites as possible, looking for quotes, ready for ammunition. Then I'll go to the gym, and to the bar afterwards with Charlie [Nicholas], Thommo [Phil Thompson], [Alan] McInally and Kammy [Chris Kamara].
"It's not a drinking club, it's an exchange of ideas."
Yeah, sure, Jeff, we believe you!
Jeff anchors the Soccer Saturday show, which involves four pundits (traditionally: Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas) watching football matches, as well as reporters around the grounds, relaying the latest scores and results of the afternoon's action.
In one of his books, Jeff describes the set-up as an odd one. He wrote: 'You're not watching football on the tele; you're watching four men watching football, on the tele'.
It works, though, and brilliantly so. It's a Saturday staple.
"Merse has the best banter by a million miles," says Jeff. "He's always been up to something. He's razor sharp.
"Charlie has the worst. If I hear him say he likes 'midfield runners' ONE more time..."
Here's a timely reminder of Charlie's epic fails on banter...
Credit: Sky Sports
But what about 6pm when the cameras switch off?
Jeff is a family man. He likes nothing more than going home and doing nothing. He'll kick back, have a few drinks and watch TV - sometimes not even football.
"I'll usually watch the Goal Rush on Channel 5, but that's only if Hartlepool [Jeff's team] ever win. So, I rarely watch it," he jokes.
"My dad was a north-east steelworker; he'd turn in his grave if he heard that, but I genuinely like doing nothing. I'm exhausted."
Jeff is also a big charity man. He has run eight London Marathons, climbed Kilimanjaro, and completed several walks in aid of raising money for prostate cancer.
"Someone I knew at the charity asked me to do something, then asked me to do something bigger," he explains.
"The marathons are just personal challenges. Kilimanjaro was to help raise money for the Finlay Cooper Trust [set up in the name of the son of ex-Middlesbrough centre-half Colin Cooper, who sadly died from choking aged just three years old].
"I was nagged by my kids to do it. It was shattering, but uplifting and I'd recommend it."
Although Jeff has never suffered any serious illness himself, he believes in the power of helping others.
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"There were hundreds on the walk last year who were living with it, or had recovered from it," he tells us. "One of my mates who has it said it's the most humiliating, emasculating illnesses you can imagine.
"One man in eight will get it, that's when it hits home and you realise.
"The first thing is to check if you're in a vulnerable group. Your immediate family's past, that can make you more at risk.
"Then it's knowing the signs. Like if you can't piss up the wall, that's a pointer."
The Hartlepool-born presenter says it's even harder to encourage men to get it checked from his local patch.
"The north east and Scotland are real blackspots," he says. "North east blokes don't want to go to the doctor for anything. If it's below the waist, then definitely not. It's about changing that attitude.
"If you catch it early, it's one of the easiest forms of cancer to cure.
Credit: Prostate Cancer UK
Last year, Jeff raised £420,000 on his walk from his beloved Hartlepool United to Wembley Stadium and was joined by the likes of Kammy, Merse and Trevor Sinclair.
"I'm flattered I can spearhead these campaigns," he replies. "I'm lucky; I'm sitting down watching football with my mates and if I can do something a bit more worthwhile then I will. It's a couple of weeks per year, and provides me with that opportunity within men's society.
"It's about awareness more than the money. But the money is a side-benefit."
In 2017, he's stepping it up. It's from St James Park to... St James' Park. That's Exeter City to Newcastle United - 400 miles.
Effectively, 15 marathons in 15 days.
Along the walk, Jeff meets many people, from all walks of life, but there's always that classic moment.
"We were walking a stretch of canal with Merse," he remembers. "He dropped his case containing his very expensive designer sunglasses into the water.
"One walker wanted to strip off and get in, but instead we created a human chain down the verge until one walker, dangling head first, could reach the glasses with a stick.
"Merse was relieved. He opened the case only to find the glasses weren't inside. Then we looked up. There they were, sitting on top of his head.
"Glinting in the sun were his fucking sunglasses. They'd never been in the case."
This Saturday, he'll be back anchoring the show again.
"We head into make-up just after 11," Jeff explains. "Well, Thommo goes in earlier, there's more work to be done for him.
"We don't rehearse, it probably shows, but it's better that way."
As with any football expert, though, you should question just how well they know the game...
"Every weekend, we pick a five-team accumulator," he says. "One team each, £100 on, £20 each. It's coming up to the third anniversary since we last won.
Jeff chairs a panel of "hopeless" pundits. Credit: Sky Sports
"You do find it influences the coverage. Last week, we had Millwall and they conceded late on. We had loads of tweets saying we were against them. We're not. It often means one of the accumulator teams has scored against them. We're hopeless."
The man, who many would be lost without between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday, is clearly more than just a shouting, comical, knowledgeable TV presenter.
He's a LAD with others' best interests at heart. He wants to raise awareness for the everyday issues. He's celebrated and wants, as the Prostate Cancer UK charity states, 'men united'.
Featured Image Credit: Sky Sports