Interview: Jeff Stelling on his life-saving work for Prostate Cancer

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Jeff Stelling

Last year, football favourite Jeff Stelling did a huge walk from club to club, all in the name of Prostate Cancer awareness. We got together with Jeff to discuss the journey, his choice in charity & even some of his favourite moments from his career.

What is it about this charity in particular that stands out to you & why did you pick it for this occasion?

Well you know there are so many fantastic causes Leonie, I mean I got involved in Prostate Cancer UK because of a friend really who works for the charity, nothing more than that. But over the last couple of years that I’ve been involved in the charity you know wherever I go someone will come up to me and say ‘oh thanks for what you’re doing, I’ve got prostate cancer or my dad’s got prostate cancer or my brother’s got prostate cancer or my husbands got prostate cancer so it just affects a phenomenal number of people.

1 man in 8 will be affected by this at some stage in his lives and if you’re black, it’s 1 in 4 and the phenomenal & the daft thing about it is if you catch it early, it’s the easiest form of cancer to cure, you know, but if you don’t, then it’s a killer.

I found out that a couple of my friends at Sky suffered from it; Eddie Hemmings and Bill Arthur who both work on the Rugby League there you know so that makes it all the more pertinent.

there are so many good causes and I’m lucky because I work on television and things like that, you know, I can put my name or whatever to good use and thank my lucky stars because I’m fit and healthy.

8 Marathons, a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro & all the other charity work you’ve done, why was it that on this occasion you chose to do a walk?

Well we did the walk first of all, last year and because what we wanted to do was when Prostate Cancer UK came to me and said ‘we want you to do a project’ so do you wanna do the great wall of china or go to Peru or whatever, but it was my idea that we would actually do something that was high profile in England & hit the sort of people that we wanted to get the message across to about prostate cancer. And that was men, basically, you know & football clubs throughout England & throughout Britain through to the football supporters. And I know these days, thank goodness, it’s not just men at the football matches. It was when I first started to go a long, long time ago!

But it’s a great way to get your message through to people, all types of people & raise more awareness.

So is that why you chose Manchester in particular?

I mean last year we went down the East side of England but you miss out because of the Western & particularly the North Western football hotbeds. So we decided this year we’re doing more than we did last year. Last year we did 10 miles in 10 days & this year we’re doing 15 & 15. But we wanted to go to manchester, we wanted to go to Liverpool and also you know we’re taking some of the smaller clubs as well where we get fantastic support whether it be the likes of Exeter, Fleetwood and Accrington and places like that, just to fit in as broad a spectrum of football clubs that we possibly can.

I wanted it to be something based in Britain so that we could get the media onside, the press onside, the local radio & the local TV, just to raise the profile of Prostate Cancer UK as much as we can. And the media has been brilliant to us.

Football clubs have been great supporters of Prostate Cancer UK. How many managers do you see who wear the prostate cancer badge? Which is fantastic because it just raises awareness. I’ve got somebody last year at the end of the first leg of the walk that we did, a man’s wife who said ‘you wearing the badges on soccerSaturdayy has saved my husband’s life, because we had no idea what the badge was, so we looked it up & it said Prostate Cancer UK’ so they looked at the symptoms & the wife decided that he had all of those symptoms and he went off to get tested and becasue he’d been tested, his life had been saved and now he’s going to make a full recovery.

Can you explain a little bit more about the route that you’re taking?

So we wanted to do something different so we worked out the route that would be 15 days and we’re taking 26 mile distances. So we’ll go up from bristol & eventually touch on the West midlands, then we head over to Chester, Liverpool, Everton, obviously Manchester, to United & City of course, then we go up to places like Rochdale and Oldham, then back up to the coast we’ll do Blackpool & Fleetwood & up to Accrington & then we cut across country again and eventually we go through Darlington & Hartlepool, up to Durham & then Newcastle.

You’re going to be knackered!

The good thing is that it finishes on the 17th of June & I will be then, putting my feet up for the rest of the summer!

Do you have anything to say about the media saying that you’re retiring?

It’s nonsense. I’ve got no intentions of retiring, none what-so-ever.

It was taken completely out of context.

Look, Phil Thompson’s on the panel with me. Phil Thompson is many, many years older than me!

So I’ve got no intention what so ever of retiring.

The Big walk isn’t until June, what is it that you’ve been up to at the moment?

I’m in Manchester recording a new series of an ITV quiz show called Alphabetical, so we’re in the progress of recording 20 episodes of that which will go out late summer or early Autumn, something like that.

Bit different to football but it’s really enjoyable.

Where did Soccer Saturday & your role in Sky come from?

The funny thing is Leonie, a lot of people now say ‘oh my god I’ve grown up with you!’ & I just think ‘oh NO!’ I feel old!

When the first idea for soccer Saturday came along it looked a lot different to what it does now, but I think the truth of the matter is that nobody or not many people really expected that it would be you know a success. Certainly, virtually nobody would have expected that you know more than 20 years later that it would have still been running and established itself as what it is now. I’ll be honest with you, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I had a boss that had some faith in me, asked me if I wanted to do it. I would be lying if I said I thought it would still be going 20 years later, I thought it had potential and here we are now.

Do you have any particularly favourite memories or guests that you’ve had on soccer Saturday?

Good question! Well, one of the keys to soccer Saturday’s success was Rodney Marsh. When Rodney used to be on the programme he was contentious, spikey & difficult & impossible & people watched for him. Because he was that way. But also George Best obviously, because, when I was growing up George Best was my absolute hero and to be able to sit next to him and work with him for years was just brilliant. So those would be the two really, I love the boys who are doing it now really, don’t get me wrong, but George Best even now to me, if people said to me ‘who’s the best footballer you’ve ever seen?’ well, you know, I love Messi & I love Ronaldo & all the rest but to me, still George Best.

George was on the first panel & basically carried on until a couple of weeks before he died.

Want to get involved?

Stelling is taking on 15 walking marathons in 15 days from June 2-16 for Prostate Cancer UK, strolling from Exeter City FC to Newcastle United FC. To support Jeff or find out about the charity’s new March for Men walking programme, which includes events in London, Leeds and Glasgow visit marchformen.org