Legendary professional footballer, manager and pundit Chris Kamara has spoken of his admiration for Britain’s Armed Forces and how he owes his football and TV success to joining the Royal Navy.
Kammy, as he is affectionally known, joined forces with Tickets For Troops and BFBS for a free online video chat hosted by broadcaster Hal Stewart and spoke about his time with the senior service and how he really feels about the phrase he is most associated with - “unbelievable Jeff”. When asked how often someone shouts it at him, Chris said:
“Daily but to be fair, since lockdown, it’s few and far between…”
VIDEO: Kammy speaks to Hal about how crucial joining the Royal Navy was to his career
With live events being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tickets For Troops and BFBS wanted to ensure that the UK military and their families continued to feel entertained and supported so set up the Zoom chat with Chris.
The Sky Sports pundit did not see a career in entertainment in his future when he left school at 16. Instead, his plan was to become a professional footballer.
However, his former Royal Navy-serving dad, Albert, was keen that he and his brother should join the Armed Forces. At the time, Chris’ family was one of the first black families in Middlesbrough and so, to protect his sons from racial abuse where they lived, Albert did something which Chris vowed he would never do to his own children.
First, Albert “marched” Chris' brother to the recruitment office to join the British Army and, even though Kammy had been offered an apprenticeship at Middlesbrough FC, he insisted the talented footballer join the Royal Navy. He said:
“My Dad was so worried about me being involved in Middlesbrough because, obviously, we were one of the first black families in Middlesbrough and one of the first black families on our estate, so he said, 'you’re not going to any good around here, I want you to join the Armed Forces'.
“And to be fair, I was quite happy to join the Royal Navy and that’s where the good fortune came about.”
Desperate to continue playing football, Chris was thrilled when he discovered the Royal Navy had a team and they trained where he was in Torpoint, Cornwall. He immediately asked the coach if he could join in but, because he was a recruit and had not yet served for six months, he was told no. As luck would have it, one day Chris went to watch them, and they were two players short, so the coach said:
“I’ll play on one side and you play on the other, but I’d better warn you, that these lot will kick lumps out of you and all sorts."
Kammy had played football since he was 14 so that did not bother him at all. After scoring a couple of goals, the coach asked for special dispensation to put him in the Royal Navy football team and the rest, as Chris says, is history. It was a game against Portsmouth FC that completely turned his life around. He said:
“We played Portsmouth [who] bought me out for £200.
“It still goes down as the worst deal in the club's history and they sent a letter ... to my Dad saying they’ll take me back if it doesn’t work out as a footballer, so he was happy.”
Kammy went on to have a 22-year career in professional football and, when that ended in 1998, has worked with Sky Sports ever since. He said:
“My career has been fantastic from start to finish. I’ve played for some great clubs. I’ve played for some great managers.
“Luckily enough, my final club playing-wise was Bradford and Lennie Lawrence who was the manager for them made me player/coach and then I became player/manager when Lennie got the sack and then I had a little go at Stoke.
“And then moved into TV and I’ve had 22 years of, what can I say, unbelievable times.”
It was at this moment during the zoom call that Hal’s face lit up with delight. Chris had referenced his iconic catchphrase “unbelievable Jeff”, a remark he made during matchday commentary on Soccer Saturday in 2010. He is used to everyone he meets saying it to him, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to that. About how often he hears it, he said:
“Daily but to be fair, since lockdown, it’s few and far between so come on, let’s hear it…”
Not wanting to disappoint the viewers Hal does a great impression of Kammy who said:
“It’s great to have a catchphrase.
"It’s great to see people around now because when I go to grounds or go out on the street or whatever, people have a smile on their face when they see me.
“It’s not a gift but it’s nice. It’s something, I can only think how privileged I am.”
VIDEO: Kammy speaks to Hal about the infamous "unbelievable Jeff" moment
The infamous moment would not have happened if it was not for a health and safety advisor.
The gantry, used by match day commentators to give them a better view of the game, was closed that day over health and safety concerns. The only person allowed to use it was Kammy but because it was raining, the health and safety advisor asked him to come off, saying:
“If you’re too close to the pitch and the players come off the pitch one of them might get electrocuted"
The health and safety advisor was worried the camera cables and rain would cause electrical problems and was told: “no, don’t be daft, that’s impossible. These cables are not live”.
However, he was not going to change his mind so Kammy was moved to the corner of the Fratton End which meant his peripheral vision of the game was not ideal. Needless to say, moving his head from the camera to the action over and over again meant he missed some crucial moments. Jeff Stelling, Gillette Soccer Saturday presenter, came to Kammy and said:
“According to our sources, Anthony Vanden Borre's been sent off for a second bookable offence.
“Get your fingers out and count the number of players on the pitch.”
It was this hilarious moment that Chris credits as being the rocket that launched his mainstream TV career.
VIDEO: Kammy explains to Hal just how thankful he is to the Royal Navy for being the launchpad for his career
Meanwhile, Kammy has never stopped supporting the Armed Forces. He is incredibly passionate about remembering where his career started and knows that his life might have turned out very differently if he had not joined the Royal Navy. He said:
“If I had taken my apprenticeship at Middlesbrough Football Club I just think, where would I be today?
“There was seven of us given the opportunity to be apprentices.
“The only player who turned it down was a fella called Bill Athey who decided to become a cricketer instead.
“The other five all never made it and three of them were exceptional players at our level at that time and they ended up playing non-league football for the rest of their careers so you just think, well, if I’d have followed their course would I have made it? Probably not.
“Where would I be today? Who knows?
“The path of history took me to the Navy and fate took over from then onwards.”
The footballing legend is incredibly thankful he was in the Royal Navy and that they allowed him to play football, saying:
“Because I was good at sport that’s basically all I did. I didn’t do hardly any ‘Navying’ whatsoever. I never went on a ship.
“The only ship was HMS Nelson and it had one in the forecourt of the compound in Portsmouth but that was it really.
“Thankful for the fact that I was in the Navy.”
Meanwhile, with Christmas just around the corner and following on from the unprecedented success of his debut album ‘Here’s To Christmas’ last year, Chris has released album number two ‘… And A Happy New Year’, which is available to buy now.
At the time of the first album's release in 2019, people took to social media referring to Chris as Britain’s answer to Canadian singer/songwriter, Michael Bublé, famous for his Christmas songs.
Listen to Chris' latest single, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’, below.