Unbelievable, Jeff: Stelling to leave Soccer Saturday role at end of season

Jeff Stelling is to step down as host of Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday programme, ending his 27-year run as host of the unlikely success story which became a core part of weekend television viewing for many football fans.

The journalist made the announcement on Saturday afternoon’s edition of the programme, saying he had come to the “incredibly difficult decision that this will be my last season” and would step down from the host’s chair in May.

The 66-year-old added: “This is my decision. There has been no pressure. Sky have been absolutely brilliant with me, as they always have done. I am not intending to retire but it is time to let somebody else have a go at what is the best job in the world.

“I wouldn’t want to get to the stage where I’m calling Raith Rovers ‘Roth Ravers’. I’m going to be here until May, when I’ll be leaving the show and the company,” he said to a standing ovation from this week’s pundits.

Soccer Saturday sees a series of former footballers watching matches that the viewers can’t view while giving updates on goals and key moments from across the UK’s football leagues. The format helps Sky cope with the ban on televising live football matches between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on Saturday afternoons. It also helped make cult stars out of pundits such as the perennially baffled Chris Kamara, while clips of Stelling’s unusual turns of phrase often went viral on social media.

Stelling, who was committed to days of detailed research before each programme, did not give a particular reason for departing, which he has hosted since 1994. However, last year he was publicly upset when the longstanding pundits Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas and Phil Thompson were sacked from the programme by Sky Sports, amid speculation bosses felt there were too many old, white pundits on the programme.

Stelling told the Guardian at the time that the departed pundits were his “best friends” and that he had considered resigning rather than host a “diminished product”. He ultimately decided to stay a little longer: “I’m an employee and I do what they tell me. If I don’t like it, my alternative is to leave.”