Compared to what is going on in Ukraine, it might well be reckoned the most minor of blips on the news agenda. But the fact that Chris Kamara is stepping down – he hopes temporarily – from his role on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday is one of those moments that give you pause. Saturday afternoons are not going to be the same without him.
The show had been suffering an identity crisis with the defenestration of its golf-club-bar panellists Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson and Matt Le Tissier in 2020. When the brilliant anchor Jeff Stelling announced he, too, was going at the end of this season, it was another blow to its purpose and authority. But if Kammy was still there, verging from over-excited hyperventilation to stuttering confusion in a matter of seconds, as he brought us live updates from the less celebrated corners of the football world, all seemed well.
And then last Saturday, after many viewers became concerned about the way he was slurring some of his words as he reported live from the match between Rotherham United and Shrewsbury Town, he revealed that he was suffering from speech apraxia. This is a condition in which the brain knows what it wants to say but cannot plan and sequence the required formation of sound. As a result of the condition, he has decided he has to step down from his duties to convalesce.
“Unfortunately for you viewers this is not the end of me,” he announced with typical self-effacement. “But live TV may have to take a back seat for the moment.”
This is not the first time appearing on television has enabled him quickly to respond to a health issue. In the manner of Mark Lawrenson, who was diagnosed with skin cancer when a doctor spotted a lesion on his face during a broadcast, when he appeared on the One Show last year, Kamara’s wife, Anne, noticed he was not himself. He looked forgetful and lost and she suggested he seek medical advice. Fearing, like many an ex-professional of his vintage, the onset of dementia, he did so with some trepidation. It transpired, however, he was subject to an underactive thyroid, which can create a brain fog. Now comes the apraxia.
So he has decided to step back. And suddenly Saturday afternoons look a less entertaining place. Kamara is almost unique in broadcasting in the way his gaffes have come to define him. It is his air of vague bemusement that has been a constant for many of us across the last two decades. There are few broadcasters who have been made by a mistake, but his comical confusion when reporting on a sending off at Portsmouth in 2010 made Kamara’s television career. Or rather it was not the mistake itself which was so significant. It was his irrepressibly good-humoured reaction to it: not attempting to pretend he was anything other than completely lost about what was going on around him. In a world in which an assumption of omnipotence appears to be a prerequisite, his honesty was a delight to observe.