JEFF STELLING is used to his freedom. Walking the length and breadth of the country and more for Prostate Cancer UK has been a regular occurrence in recent years. He’s rambled 750 miles for the cause.

From Hartlepool United to Wembley, then from St James’ Park in Exeter to St James’ Park in Newcastle, before completing four walking marathons in the four home nations in four days, Stelling has raised valuable funds for Prostate Cancer UK, increasing their profile in the process.

Now he’s stuck at home. There’s no Soccer Saturday with his sharp and lively panel. There’s no goals to report, no action to follow. He has long joked that the show is all about not showing goals and not showing incidents anyway, but this is rather different.

There really is nothing to show, nothing to do.

For Stelling, the back garden beckons.

“I’m lucky because we live in a village in Hampshire, my two sons and daughter are home so we have family dinners together again. We are in an area with few people anyway, so we are relatively used to a form of isolation,’’ he reflected.

“We have a garden and my heart goes out to those in a one-bedroomed flat with no garden. That’s so difficult, but still keep apart from people as much as you can when you go out.

“Being forced to stay in and complete lockdown can affect mental health. It’s over 30 days since I did any work, but I thank my lucky stars I’m fit and only being asked to stay at home.’’

This afternoon and Stelling would normally be in full flow with Phil Thompson, Charlie Nicholas, Paul Merson and co, jumping from game to game, from goal to goal: “Of course I miss the show and the banter. We text each other, we have our jokes, but it’s not the same and we miss it all.

“It’s a small price to pay to get on top of this thing and come through the other side.

“I follow every story, looking at the figures across the globe there is a way through it and we all hope there’s a quick way through it and it disappears as soon as it arrived.’’

The Northern Echo:

Born and raised in Hartlepool, Stelling helped to save his hometown club from oblivion two years ago alongside Raj Singh.

Just as it finally feels like Pools got it right on and off the pitch, the season has been halted. Progress has been made under Dave Challinor, results and performances were coming together and hopes were raised of making the play-offs.

But while some are frustrated by the lack of action, missing Victoria Park, the Riverside, Blackwell Meadows and St James’ Park, the Stadium of Light, the Brewery Field and more, Stelling is much more phlegmatic about the beautiful game and his club.

“We were getting a head of steam up and I’m as passionate about Pools as anyone, as the next man, but in the bigger picture it doesn’t matter. Well it does matter, but it’s down in the list at the moment,’’ he mused.

“I only hope when this is over we have a football club to go back to and that all of the clubs manage to survive an incredibly difficult time somehow.

“I feel so many decisions are being fudged – will this season finish, will next season start on time – and the big clubs and FA are not really coming to the rescue of the smaller fry.

“I would sacrifice a play-off place right now to guarantee we still have a club to support next season. That’s not just Pools, it’s every club, especially lower division ones.

“We had a big fanfare the other day of a £125m advance to the EFL and National League, but that’s all it is – an advance. It helps with cash flow and short term. But it’s 60 grand advanced then we have to find that at some stage in the future – it’s not a gift.

“Everyone has their hand out, but they need to do a bit more.’’

Pools will collect £58,333 in the National League, Darlington and Spennymoor a division below will get only £13,636. Every little helps as they say. And it really is little when it comes to clubs down the pyramid?

While the FA has called an abrupt stop to the seasons below National League North, the outcome of the three other divisions in the non-league pyramid are still open to debate to the extent that clubs are to be given the chance to vote on their preferred outcome next week.

“There’s no right or wrong answer and nothing is perfect for anyone,’’ he said. “The view I’ve gone with is that it’s best to call a halt now and then you can effectively mothball your club until there’s an idea of when it will start.

“Pick a start date, give people a chance to recruit – I think we have eight pros under contract for next season at Pools.

“But how long do you wait to decide? Restart in, let’s say optimistically the beginning of June, and where do we find players from? There’s surely some verbal agreement, but for clubs to find players at short notice it makes no sense.

“Divisions for me have to be synchronised, base it points per game. It’s not fair for everyone – not fair for us but maybe as good as it gets.

“Barrow have been top for a long time, they deserve to go up – but there isn’t a right answer.’’

The Northern Echo:

Football and footballers, or more so wages at the top level, was in the headlines last week as the health secretary called on them to take pay cuts. The PFA responded with a missive of its own. Players then came together this week with the #playerstogether initiative. The EFL has plans to finish their season behind closed doors within a 56-day period. Non league is half finished, under FA decree, the other half is decide between themselves.

There’s too many different factions having their own say. It’s far from a united football front.

Stelling added: “Football is pulling apart in different ways. Conflict. Premier League big boys furloughing staff is totally unacceptable. Not all of them fall into the same financial bracket, but cash-rich big boys should not be doing it.

“Then you’ve got the PFA saying about paycuts and players shouldn’t take them, but then it’s a bit disingenuous to then say about the income tax they pay…. Nonsensical.

“It’s not doing football any good in the eyes of the pubic and most players would take a paycut if they felt it was paying non-playing employees or charity and they could guarantee that.

“Players seem to come last in all of this, everyone else squabbling with players taking the brunt of the blame.’’

And, speaking before the Jordan Henderson-led initiative this week which will see a collective Premier League movement to generate funds for the NHS, Stelling admitted: “The game might be viewed a bit differently for some people in the future. I think what will happen in weeks to come is that a lot of top-flight players will come forward with charitable gestures to help restore any tarnishing.

“It will be a different game ahead. We can’t see the amount of money in the game now being there, the number of big transfers won’t be there, salaries will come down, lower league and our level teams will be part-time.’’

Maybe it’s not just football which will be in a different light in the future, once the pandemic is eased.

It’s about society, the economy, the very people who stand on the terraces each week are the heroes, not necessarily those whipping balls into the six-yard area and those getting on the end of them.

Stelling added: “This situation affects our perspective of the jobs people do. We all know now. I sat in the garden the other night, a beautiful sunset, glass of wine. It’s fine for me, but there’s NHS workers coming home after a 10-12 hour shift who are absolutely wrecked and in turmoil.

“They will be doing the same the next day, the next day and the next day and the view of the really important jobs in life has changed. Footballers are well paid, movie stars the same because they are the best in their business, but I feel we will start to appreciate the doctors and nurses and ambulance drivers.

“Shop assistants at tills all day, so many people have my admiration in all this.’’

The Northern Echo:

Stelling has raised over £1m for Prostate Cancer UK during his three walking challenges. Over 400,000 men are living with prostate cancer in the UK. Covid-19 will have implications for everyone, and men with prostate cancer will be affected.

Charities at local and national level are being affected by the coronavirus epidemic. Their funding is down, their finances hit hard. There is a knock-on effect to it all in the weeks and months ahead.

Football has come together for the cause in the past and Stelling admitted: “Like all charities they are feeling the pinch and will be for the duration of this crisis and beyond then, for the best will in the world, there won’ t be as much disposable income out there.

“It’s ironic as Prostate Cancer UK is needed now by more people than ever before and we tried to get that message across over the years. People have had treatment affected, diagnosis affected and they are surviving on less funds.

“They are more than a charity - they are help on a number of different fronts. People have said over the years how much they have benefited from simply speaking to them: they are a hands-on charity.

“We want people to support the NHS, of course we do, but we can’t forget about charities and the role they play too.

“The future is scary for a lot of charities. How they will survive? I just don’t know. Charity tends to be, not low on priorities, but right now it seems to be – and quite rightly - NHS-based, but let’s not forget the others and what they do.

“Matt le Tissier tweeted the other day about a children’s cancer charity whose funding is down 60 per cent at the moment and battling to survive.’’

Heather Blake, director of support and influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “The impact of Covid-19 is being felt across the NHS, with some Trusts currently affected more acutely than others. We are therefore seeing a very varied picture in terms of the measures being put in place to ensure appropriate access to treatments, including for the 400,000 men living with prostate cancer in the UK.

“We know that some men and their clinicians are now having to make decisions about whether to delay or change prostate cancer treatments. This should be done in consultation with men, taking into account both their risk of Covid-19 infection and the risk of their cancer progressing. In the meantime, we are working with the NHS and professional bodies to ensure that the men most at risk continue to be treated as a priority.

“Men who have contacted us are particularly concerned about their risk of contracting Covid-19 and the need to self-isolate. We stand with and for men and their families at this particularly challenging time, and anyone with concerns about prostate cancer can visit where we have more information about the implications of Covid-19, or speak to one of our Specialist Nurses on 0800 074 8383.”

Prostate Cancer UK