It is a turnaround befitting of long-time sidekick Chris Kamara’s iconic catchphrase: “Unbelievable, Jeff!”
Almost five months after announcing he would retire as lead presenter of Soccer Saturday at the end of the season, it was revealed on Monday that Jeff Stelling would be staying for at least one more year.
The veteran broadcaster, who has been at Sky Sports for 30 years, shocked bosses last week by telling them he had a change of heart just as they were lining up someone to replace him.
Stelling said: “Sky Sports is my home, and the Soccer Saturday team are a big part of my life. As the end of the season approached, and I was preparing to say goodbye, I realised that I was not ready to blow the final whistle and leave the best job in the world. I am thrilled to be staying, and excited about moving the show forward and creating more special Saturday afternoons on Sky Sports.”
Stelling’s departure from Soccer Saturday was set to leave a gaping hole in a flagship show renowned for his impeccable presenting, management of pundits and ability to sell the crucial moments of the day.
The likes of Mark Chapman, the Match of the Day 2 presenter, had been linked with the job in recent weeks but he and others now face a further wait before filling the void.
Stelling has presented what is now Soccer Saturday – originally known as Sports Saturday – since 1994 and was also the main host for Sky’s live Champions League coverage between 2011 and 2015.
His exit had been set to follow the high-profile and recent departures of his close friends and colleagues, with Phil Thompson, Charlie Nicholas and Matt Le Tissier all being replaced among the panel of pundits in recent years in an attempt to give the show a new lease of life.
Stelling, who was unhappy with how their exits were handled, told bosses he wanted to stay on around the same time as Kamara decided to take a break from the show for health reasons.
After many viewers became concerned about the way Kamara 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.
“Unfortunately for you viewers this is not the end of me,” Kamara announced with typical self-effacement. “But live TV may have to take a back seat for the moment.”
Sky Sports managing director Jonathan Licht said: “Football fans everywhere will be delighted that Jeff will continue to host Soccer Saturday.
“He is a massive part of Saturday afternoon life and everyone at Sky Sports shares the joy this news will bring.
“We just can’t get enough of Jeff, and can’t wait to bring more of his broadcasting magic to our viewers.”