HARTLEPOOL United fan Jeff Stelling is in line to land one of the top jobs in sports TV following the departure of two controversial figures this week.
Sky Sports duo Richard Keys and Andy Gray lost their jobs after being caught up in a sexism row. It was sparked by inappropriate comments over a female referee’s assistant in the recent game between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool.
Further video footage of the disgraced pair being caught off camera making similar remarks were then broadcast, leading to ex-Scotland striker Gray being sacked and Keys resigning from his position as the channel’s anchorman.
Keys’ job, which saw him host Sky Sports’ Premiership football coverage for 20 years, is widely regarded as one of the leading roles in sports broadcasting and commands a wage reported to be as much as £1m a year.
Keys, who told Sky of his decision to quit on Wednesday, said in a statement: “I am deeply sorry for my remarks and the offence they have caused.
“It was wrong and should not have happened. I have thought long and hard and reached the decision that it is time to move on. Going forward without Andy would have been almost impossible.
“I am and will remain proud of our work with football at Sky Sports and grateful to the many people who have worked with me. I wish Sky Sports continued success in the future.”
And town-born Stelling, who currently presents the hugely-popular Soccer Saturday for Sky, has been installed as the bookies’ favourite to move into the hotseat.
The Paddy Power bookmaking chain rates former Mail reporter Stelling, 55, as a 4/1 chance to land the job, though bosses at Sky are remaining tight-lipped as to who will get the job.
Stelling, a former pupil at Rift House School, started his journalism career at the Mail before moving into radio and then television.
As well as hosting the football show on Sky, he also fronts Channel 4’s teatime show Countdown.
Dad-of-three Stelling has been named as Sports Broadcaster of the Year for five successive years by the Sports Journalists’ Association of Great Britain, and in March last year was made a Freeman of the Borough in recognition of his work promoting Hartlepool.
Other names in the frame include Ben Shephard, who moved to Sky from GMTV, current Sky Sports News presenter Ed Chamberlin and Sarah-Jane Mee, who presents the football highlights programme for Sky Sports.
Stelling was unavailable for comment when the Mail tried to contact him yesterday.