The following article appeared in May’s edition of the Everton magazine. In it, Jeff Stelling, host of Soccer Saturday, explains why he has taken on the March For Men challenge in aid of Prostate Cancer UK. You can support Jeff by visiting prostatecanceruk.org/marchformen
"I’ve been watching Josh McEachran, the former Chelsea lad who’s now at Brentford, for an eternity. He’s played 148 career games and he’s never scored a goal. He’s a holding midfielder, to be fair, but every week he plays I cross one more off. One day he’ll score and I’ll be there with that number.”
Jeff Stelling is letting us in on the secret to his seemingly endless supply of stats. The answer is simple. He is, by his own admission, a football geek.
“I stick my head in all sorts of stats packs and read every newspaper and website that I possibly can so that I’m the bloke who can tell you that Rudy Gestede hasn’t been on the winning side in 43 Premier League games, or that Fulham have missed nine of their last 13 penalties, or that Glenn Whelan hasn’t scored for club or country since November 2011. I mean, I am just as boring as that! Ninety-nine per cent of the stats that we have every week, you’ll never use. But the one time you need them, it’s nice to know they’re there.”
Taking the McEachran story into consideration, Everton magazine asks at what point Soccer Saturday’s quick-witted anchor stopped keeping tabs on one Tony Hibbert?
“To be fair to Tony, if you looked at every full-back in the country you’d really be struggling,” he laughs. “You’d need a lot of fingers and toes to count the number of games without a goal for a lot of them, not just him.”
We’re speaking to Stelling as he’s very soon to be a special guest at Goodison Park. On 7 June, the 62-year-old will finish the sixth of 15 marathons he is aiming to walk in just 15 days in aid of Prostate Cancer UK. It is a second outing for the ambitious charity challenge, which last year saw Stelling accomplish 10 walking marathons in 10 days, raising £420,000 in the process. The aim this year is to at least break the £500,000 mark.
“A friend of mine worked at the charity and asked me to do a couple of small scale things, which I did,” he explains. “But they’d never done anything on the scale of the walk before and they were looking for some sort of project that I would get involved in. They offered one or two nice things – did I want to go to The Great Wall of China or do the Inca Trail? But I decided I wanted to do something much closer to home. There’s no point in being thousands of miles away when you’re trying to get a message over to people in the UK.
“The money we raised was a nice by-product but I felt it was all about raising that awareness so that the people whose bums are on the seats at places like Goodison now will be the same people in five and 10 years’ time.”
This year’s March For Men will begin at St James’ Park, the home of Exeter City, on Friday 2 June before Stelling visits more than 40 football clubs on a 400-mile journey that will end at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park exactly two weeks later.
Day six will start at Chester’s Deva Stadium and finish at Goodison, taking in Tranmere’s Prenton Park and Liverpool’s Anfield en route.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Everton and they’re being really supportive, so I’m looking forward to visiting,” he added.
“I’m hoping Graeme Sharp is going to be there and maybe Graham Stuart and one or two of the other boys as well, and I’m going to encourage them to take part for a bit if I can.
“To be at what is one of the most atmospheric grounds in England – and I think everyone would agree with that, regardless of who they support – will be fantastic.”
Thanks to his role with Sky, Stelling’s Everton contact book is conveniently well-stocked.
Sharp and Peter Reid have regularly been guests in his studio, while Tony Cottee is a fellow Soccer Saturday stalwart.
“If you want a game to end 0-0, you send Tony Cottee,” Stelling chuckles. “For a bloke who scored so many goals, we send him to so many games where there are no chances whatsoever.
“Reidy has been on the show a lot over the years and what a great character he is. I think of when he was down at Plymouth and he helped them out financially out of his own pocket and that was just a brilliant gesture. He’s definitely got the gift of the gab, too.
“And Sharpy could have done a lot more work for Sky Sports had it not been for his allegiance to Everton, but he just loves it.
“They’re all great guys and I’ve been lucky enough in my lifetime as well, not to know people like Howard Kendall, but to have bumped into him many, many times. We’re talking one of the all-time greats as a player, manager and bloke.”
His stats, his unwavering allegiance to Hartlepool United and his favourite Premier League team (he insists he doesn’t have one) are just three of the things Stelling reveals fans always want to speak to him about upon meeting him. The other? The irrepressible and chaotic Chris Kamara.
“’What’s Kammy like?’ That’s always one of the first things I’m asked and, also, why is it he sometimes calls me ‘Carly’. Carly Bassett, who’s Dave Bassett’s daughter, works at Sky Sports and one of her jobs is to keep in touch and co-ordinate all the various reports that are coming in.
“Kammy, being one sandwich short of a picnic occasionally, he doesn’t realise he’s already on the air and he’ll be shouting ‘Carly, Carly!’ We’ve got a standing joke about that – ‘please don’t call me that in public, Kammy’.”
Being able to call on a wealth of celebrity friends is no bad thing, however – especially when it comes to his fundraising. Last year’s march saw names such as Dennis Wise, Francis Benali, Gareth Ainsworth and Alastair Campbell show up for certain stages of Stelling’s journey, not to mention a surprise appearance from an England cricketing legend.
“It was a horrible day and we were on a leg between Doncaster and Scunthorpe,” he recalls. “At halfway, suddenly this enormous figure looms over me and there he was, Sir Ian Botham, with his wife, daughter and their dog.
“Nobody had expected him and it lifted spirits, which were really sagging. He had time for everybody and he was just absolutely brilliant. I think people are going to be like that again this time around – there will hopefully be lots of celebrities who just turn up unannounced. That’s a big help.
“I’d ran eight marathons previous to last year’s walk but somebody said to me beforehand that walking a marathon is tougher than running one. I thought they were just trying to wind me up but at the end of the first day I knew how right they were.
“My sons then did the last day with me and they said, ‘Dad, you’re cruising through this now.’ I wasn’t exactly cruising but I did feel as though I could have done more.
“A part of me, in this masochistic way, is really looking forward to doing it again but then part of me is approaching it with something like dread.
“But the fact that football clubs, managers, ex-players, the public, people with prostate cancer, people who had recovered from it and even people who were dying from it all absolutely flung themselves into this project last year was overwhelming, really.
“And that’s one of the principle reasons I’ve agreed to do it all over again.”
On average, 251 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Liverpool, and the money raised will have a huge impact on the lives of those affected by the disease and will help bring us one step closer to stopping prostate cancer being a killer.
For more information about Jeff’s March For Men or to show your support, visit prostatecanceruk.org/marchformen