Broadcaster Jeff Stelling says being made an MBE in recognition of his work with the Prostate Cancer UK charity is the “icing on the cake” for his incredible career.

Stelling is best known as the highly animated presenter of Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme, which he anchored for 25 years until stepping down at the end of last season, and for lending his first name to his colleague Chris Kamara’s often-used phrase “Unbelievable Jeff”.

But it is his role as an ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK, where he has walked 34 marathons and been the spearhead for raising more than £1.7million since 2016, which he takes most pride in and has now received recognition for in the New Year Honours List.

The Northern Echo:

“I am very proud to have had the opportunity to do it,” he told the PA news agency.

“It’s been great to help raise awareness, but the fundraising has been done by the hundreds and hundreds of people who come and walk with me. All I do is put one foot in front of the next one and lend my name to the marches.

“People think they’re going to be pretty miserable affairs but they’re not, they’re a celebration of life. Every day doing it is a day of joy.

“I’m doing a job that most people would give an arm and a leg for. So whilst I’ve had a wonderful and fortunate career, I’m glad that the MBE is in recognition more than anything of the charity work.”

The charity’s chief executive Laura Kerby said: “We’re thrilled that the ‘unbelievable’ Jeff Stelling has been honoured. For nearly a decade, Jeff has been an incredible ambassador to Prostate Cancer UK, helping us raise crucial awareness of the disease throughout the footballing community.

The Northern Echo:

“During his years in the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday studio, Jeff proudly wore our ‘Man of Men’ badge every week, inspiring football fans to learn more about this cancer which affects one in eight men, and many of them have taken an action which has saved lives.

“On behalf of Prostate Cancer UK, and all the men and families we represent, we are so proud to have Jeff on our team and thankful for his selfless efforts. This honour is richly deserved.”

Stelling himself recalled one such encounter where simply wearing the charity badge had saved a life.

“At the end of the very first day (of the first of 10 marathons from Hartlepool to Wembley in 2016) we ended up at Marske on the north-east coast, blistered, shattered, not knowing what we’d let ourselves in for and thinking we couldn’t possibly do a second day,” he said.

He was introduced to a woman who said she had seen Stelling wearing the badge, discovered what it represented and then read on to find out the symptoms of prostate cancer.

“Lo and behold her husband had all the symptoms. He went and got tested, got treatment,” Stelling said.

“She just wanted to say thank you – that just by wearing the badge you have saved my husband’s life and he will be OK.

“The cancer was so far advanced that had she not Googled it then, he would have been dead. Over the years since then, it’s a story I have had repeated to me time and time again.”

The Northern Echo:

Stelling was renowned as Soccer Saturday’s presenter for the amazing statistics he always had at his fingertips.

Asked how he achieved it, he said: “It was the old ‘painting the Forth Bridge’ job. As soon as one programme finished, you started on the next one.

“I would throw myself into the statistics, probably from the Wednesday I would spend almost exclusively doing statistics and my wife thought I was the saddest man in the world.”

One stat he was particularly pleased to have up his sleeve was the fact that Gareth Jelleyman, then at Mansfield, had never been sent off. At least not until the Stags’ League Two match at Cheltenham on October 29, 2005.

“Then there it was, in the 90th minute,” Stelling recalled.

“I could use the line I’d been waiting about a year to use – ‘Gareth Jelleyman’s been sent off. Let’s hope he hasn’t thrown a wobbly’.

“What I do for a job is not a matter of life and death. I’ve had a lot of fun and my only ambition is to carry on having fun.”

Stelling did recall an instance where the essentially light-hearted programme proved more significant.

“One day I got a staggering letter. It was from a young woman who was in the depths of despair and considering ending her life, she said she was just in a long, dark tunnel and she couldn’t see a way of getting out of it,” he said.

“Her brother was a football fan, she was not at the time. He put on Soccer Saturday. She said she saw this raving buffoon swinging his arms around and shouting at the camera and coming out with all sorts of wild statistics.

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“And she said it would be an achievement if next Saturday, when Jeff’s on, I’m still alive. She said the next Saturday she was still alive, and the Saturday after, and it became a sort of bizarre game between her and death, to try and reach the next week.

“She managed to climb out of that tunnel. She has gone on to be a nurse, saving other people’s lives. It was the most inspirational letter. At times (presenting the programme) you thought ‘what are we doing here? It’s fun and it’s frothy but it’s all a bit worthless’.

“But when you get a letter like that it does give extra meaning to the programme.”