Plans for a reunion are already afoot after the aging boyband behind football’s familiar Saturday soundtrack fell silent for good.
The new Premier League season will mark a changing of the guard at an English sporting institution: for the first time in a long time, none of Phil Thompson (66), Charlie Nicholas (58) or Matt Le Tissier (51) will be in the Soccer Saturday studio.
As Sky Sports emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, Chris Kamara – the nation’s darling-on-the-road – will still feature alongside host Jeff Stelling and pundit Paul Merson. But gone are the six-a-side team who for a generation have been harbingers of goals, glory and occasional gaffes.
Chris Kamara has opened up on feeling ‘gutted’ after three Soccer Saturday pundits were axed
Matt Le Tissier (2nd left), Phil Thompson (2nd from right) and Charlie Nicolas (R) were sacked
Kamara spent years building bonds from behind the camera and providing plenty of laughs
‘Obviously I’m gutted, absolutely gutted,’ Kamara tells Sportsmail. ‘And I know they are. I’ve spoken to Thommo and Charlie and I’ve text Le Tiss… we were such a good team and it was all going well.’
Like most, Kammy learned about the sackings only when they hit the headlines.
‘Decisions were made, we don’t have any say in those. Whoever made (them) has done it and the boys accept it,’ he says. ‘I can honestly say they are the best fellas you could ever wish to meet. They are top-drawer and it’s been a great time to have worked with them over the past 15 years or so.’
Those friendships will last forever.
Kamara was part of the team but only found out about the changes when they made the news
‘We’ve already talked about meeting up and having a night out together, reminiscing about all the good and funny stuff we’ve gone through,’ Kamara adds.
‘We’ll just get together and go for a meal – I hope that happens… I know Jeff, Thommo and Charlie definitely want to make sure it happens.’
Covid-19 will have to allow it, of course. But for a man who has spent years building bonds from behind the camera, surely a Zoom meeting will do?
‘It’s not the same is it?’ the 62-year-old says.
‘We cherish the friendships and the occasional nights out… but unfortunately things move on and they’re only memories now.’
The 62-year-old personality does plan to get together with his friends for a meal in the future
He adds: ‘My memory is really bad but Thommo, Charlie and Jeff – he’s a human computer – will bring up all the good times and the laughs.’
Together this bunch have created a highlights reel etched into English football folklore. All without showing a glimpse of action.
Kammy was typically the catalyst for hilarity. Now a much-loved TV personality, it’s easy to forget the storied career that earned him a pundit’s role. And yet nothing he did as a player or manager has stuck quite like his work around the grounds. Unbelievable Jeff, fighting like beavers, Anthony Vanden Borre’s sending off that never was… as another era replaces the old, is there one standout memory?
‘It has to be missing the red card,’ Kamara says. ‘If I go out today, someone will shout: “Unbelievable Jeff!” and “Don’t miss the sending off Kammy!”’
He believes the missed sending off of Anthony Vanden Borre is his Soccer Saturday highlight
Speaking to Sportsmail ahead of the new season, however, that unmistakable cackle and manic charm give way to more considered reflection.
Kammy is mourning the departure of friends from one show, and the chance to present another. Goals On Sunday, the highlights programme he has anchored for two decades, has been pulled – temporarily for now – because of the pandemic. Suddenly his familiar routine is off-kilter. Every Sunday he would head into work around 4am to begin his analysis and most Fridays, the Soccer Saturday six would meet in a hotel for last-minute prep and pre-match beers.
‘We’re all such close friends,’ he says. ‘What we hope now is that we can build the banter with the next lot, if that’s possible.’
He may also need this fresh bunch to join his charity golf tournament in Tenerife, which ran until a couple of years back.
Jeff Stelling has reportedly considered his future but may helm the new look line-up this year
‘The boys would always come along. We’d have a great time together. I don’t know how they’ll feel, if I restarted (it), about coming out again.’
The 62-year-old has been here before. When he first pioneered ‘Kammy Cam’ many moons ago, the likes of George Best, Rodney Marsh and Alan Mullery were in the studio.
They were phased out and, despite his devastation, Kamara admits now: ‘We’re owed a few more diverse faces around certain situations involving football. So why not? Let’s see how (the new generation) go.
‘Everyone’s got to have an opportunity – I was given an opportunity 22 years ago after getting the sack from Stoke City and 22 years later I’m still there.’
Though Sky are yet to name a new panel, news of the reshuffle caused a backlash with pundits such as Alex Scott and Sportsmail columnist Micah Richards caught up in the storm. It prompted Ian Wright to ask: ‘What does… (any) black pundit have to do with Sky’s decision to get rid of these guys? All because three middle-aged white guys got the sack.’
The news of the reshuffle on the show saw Alex Scott and Micah Richards caught in the storm
Ian Wright and Kamara have both expressed frustration that race was brought into the issue
Kamara echoed his frustration, even if he wished race was kept out of the story altogether.
‘It became a black issue… people were talking diversity and saying: “They’re being replaced for BAME reasons alone”. It took away people from thanking (Thompson and Co), for all what they had done’ he says.
‘For years and years, (TV) hasn’t been diverse and now it’s slightly catching up. That’s what people are offended by – that it’s catching up in a quick sort of way rather than a slow way.’
BBC 5 Live faced similar scrutiny after they jettisoned several experienced broadcasters in search of new ears. And on the pitch the winds of change are swirling, too.
Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of American police, Premier League players have been taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Premier League players have been taking a knee to support the Black Lives Matter movement
Campaigners insist meaningful action must follow.
But Kamara says: ‘If taking the knee makes people understand… that someone died because of the colour of their skin then keep it going for as long as possible until it stops. They might be taking the knee forever.’
The 62-year-old grew up in the only black family on his estate in Middlesbrough before facing years of racist abuse as a player.
‘The good thing about football is it’s a conveyor belt of positivity,’ he says. ‘The George Floyd situation, I cried when I watched the video. That’s how much it hurt. And I watched a (Channel 5) programme the other night that Mark Bright was on. Racism: My story… he talked about going to senior school and gangs waiting on the corners and stuff like that. It brought back awful memories.’
Back then, racism was ‘drummed’ into people.
‘If anything happened, the police would come round and arrest my dad and take him in for questioning,’ Kamara reveals.
Kamara has also opened up on the shocking racial abuse he suffered during his playing days
‘Half the people on the street were racist… they wanted to keep England white. They didn’t know better but they were being told that’s the way it should be and that’s how it happened. I’m sure most of those people weren’t bad people.’
That culture filtered into football. During the 1970s and 80s Kamara and other black players were targeted by supporters – including their own. After moving to Swindon, Kammy received death threats and required a police escort to the ground.
‘You’d get dog’s abuse because of the colour of your skin. That’s just how it was and you had to accept it,’ he says.
‘In the dressing rooms it became easier when people got to know you and found out what your character was like… you’d change their perception. In the same way Raheem Sterling is changing perceptions, him and all the other boys who are playing the game today.’
The same will go for the new generation of pundits when they step into those well-worn chairs.
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