‘I’m not sure how many adults have beaten apraxia, but I certainly intend to be one of them’: Sky Sports legend Chris Kamara opens up on fighting his speech condition… and his selfie with Elton John!

  • Chris Kamara had admitted he was in ‘total denial’ over his speech condition
  • He finally opened up about living with Apraxia in public in March this year
  • The 64-year-old was taken aback by the support he received from fans
  • He shared a selfie with his ‘hero’ Elton John’ at Watford a few seasons ago

Chris Kamara has good days and bad. That is the way with apraxia of speech — the condition which, earlier this year, he revealed and finally confronted — you just never know when there will be a disconnect between voice and brain.

‘A bad day is struggling to get the words out,’ he says. ‘You speak and, sometimes, another word comes out.’

He takes it with the humour intended when I suggest he made his brilliant broadcast career from such slip-ups.

‘I did!’ he booms back, and today is clearly a good day. ‘But now, I know it’s not right. It was fun back then. I’m not sure how many adults have beaten apraxia, but I certainly intend to be one of them.’

Sky Sports legend Chris Kamara has opened up about his struggles with accepting his Apraxia

Sky Sports legend Chris Kamara has opened up about his struggles with accepting his Apraxia 

His resolve was not always so strong. For more than a year, the Soccer Saturday legend did not want to tackle the deterioration that was becoming increasingly obvious to all around him.

In February, at the Football Writers’ Association dinner in Kamara’s native North East, he won the Personality of the Year award. The former midfielder gave a speech — funny and warm, as ever — but, to those present, it sounded like he had had a couple of drinks. No harm in that, of course.

The 64-year-old admits there were countless other occasions when friends, family and fans made a similar observation. But it was only in March, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain with friend Ben Shepherd, that the father of two opened up about his diagnosis.

‘I was in total denial,’ Kamara tells Sportsmail from the London studio where he has just recorded an episode of his new BBC show, Kammy & Ben’s Proper Football Podcast, with Shepherd.

He revealed being in 'total denial' until he was persuaded to face the condition

He revealed being in ‘total denial’ until he was persuaded to face the condition

‘I did not want to accept it, but I’m no fool. Twitter, family, colleagues, when they’re all saying, ‘Are you all right? What’s the matter with you?’ Eventually, you think, ‘I’m going to have to face this’.

‘I didn’t want to. I thought I could hide it. Now, people tell me they knew there was something wrong, and I thought I was masking it. It was my therapist who said to me, the day I accept my condition is the day I will start healing. It took me a good 20 months to do that.’

Spend time with Kamara and his popularity is ubiquitous. Even in the canteen here, two men holler his trademark, ‘Unbelievable, Jeff’ just before our interview. But he wants to make a point about the affection he felt in the weeks after his condition was made public.

‘It has been crazy, unbelievable, lovely, and I thank the public for that and all of my friends and colleagues. It shows that people think fondly of me — so I must have done something right.

‘But you think, ‘I’ve not died, I’m still here!’ It just goes to show, the people you love, please give them a tribute when they’re alive. Don’t wait until they pop their clogs. Go and give them a hug and tell them now.’

The 64-year-old was taken aback by the support he received from the public

Given our chat is appearing in print, it is only right to convey how Kamara sounds. In short, great. His speech is slightly slower, but conversation rattles along and there is no compromise on the humour and happiness which have endeared him to millions.

‘Today is a good day, no bother,’ he declares. ‘But, every time I think I’ve beaten it, it comes back to bite me. Patience is a virtue.

‘Every day, I’m sitting in an oxygen chamber with hyperbaric treatment. I have microcurrents going through my body for seven hours. Everyone wants a quick fix, but it has to be done slowly.’

So, for a guy who is battling a speech condition, why embark on a new podcast series, with the emphasis on the spoken word? Kamara laughs.

‘I’ve always wanted to do a pod, a big one like this. And I’m sitting talking about football with some of the best characters in the game. That’s got to be good for you.

‘But I was leaving Sky and, initially, I was going to quit everything — Ninja Warrior, Cash in the Attic, the whole lot.

‘Then, as soon as I revealed my condition, ITV said, ‘No, we don’t accept it, you’re staying’. Channel 4 and Channel 5 were exactly the same, and BBC offered the podcast. Some days, I sit down and think, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, it’s all too much’. But then, every new day comes around, and I love it.’

He first revealed his condition in public on Good Morning Britain with Ben Shepherd

Kamara will forever be synonymous with Sky’s Soccer Saturday and Goals on Sunday shows. The latter was cancelled in the first Covid lockdown and it was confirmed in April he would leave the broadcaster for good.

‘My time at Sky was done. I had 24 unbelievable years. I started out when there was no diversity — it was ‘sink or swim’. If you’re OK, we’ll accept you. If you’re not, move on. Thankfully, I managed to survive for two decades. Once they cancelled Goals on Sunday, there was no real place for me. But it hadn’t run its course.

‘It was a great show, everyone loved it and viewing figures were good. Someone decides to change it. Would you believe that that is when the apraxia came on?’

It is not bitterness you detect. More disappointment, surprise. The same when it comes to the makeover of Soccer Saturday, which has seen the likes of Phil Thompson, Charlie Nicholas and Matt Le Tissier axed as pundits.

‘We loved each other’s company and it worked brilliantly on TV. Someone comes in and decides change is needed, and they bit the dust. It happens.’

He is admits he is not sure how many have beaten apraxia, but 'intends to be one of them'

He is admits he is not sure how many have beaten apraxia, but ‘intends to be one of them’

There will always be gratitude, though. Kamara is recognised the world over for his hilarious updates from around the grounds on a Saturday afternoon. He has two stories he wants to tell.

‘I was in Las Vegas old town with my wife, Anne. A fella with a dummy is stood collecting money. The dummy says, ‘Unbelievable, Kammy’. Me and my missus think we must have misheard. We walk on. He does it again.

‘So, we walk back and this American guy behind the dummy says he spent three years at university in England — and watched Soccer Saturday every weekend. We couldn’t stop laughing.’

Another tale.

‘I love Elton John, my hero. I was at Watford a few seasons back and he was in the directors’ lounge. I’d never met him before, so I had to try to find him.

‘Anyway, as I creep closer, Elton shouts, ‘Kammy!’ I said, ‘What? You know my name?’ ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘When I can’t get to the game, I watch Soccer Saturday. I love you on there!’ I said, ‘Can I have a picture with you?’ He said, ‘On one condition, I can have a selfie with you!’ It was brilliant.’

I tell Kamara that, like the Vegas ventriloquist, my university week revolved more around watching him on a Saturday than lectures.

‘The number of people who say, ‘I played the Soccer Saturday drinking game every weekend at university — I got smashed so many times because of you, you’re my hero!’ I don’t know if my two boys did that — if they did, they never told me!’

He shared a selfie with his 'hero' Elton John' at Watford a few seasons ago

He shared a selfie with his ‘hero’ Elton John’ at Watford a few seasons ago

It should not be forgotten that Kamara was also a fine footballer. ‘If I could relive my playing or broadcast career, it would be playing every time. That was the dream.’ He has led a charmed life.

‘At 16, I had the opportunity to be an apprentice at my hometown club Middlesbrough, my dream, but my dad would not allow it. He marched me down to the recruitment office and made me sign for the Navy.

‘My stroke of luck was that the Navy football team were training in Devon and I played against Portsmouth and scored two goals, and they bought me out of the Navy! It’s all fate and luck along the way.’

Even his early TV career was aided by Gerry Francis getting stuck in traffic on the M4 and Kamara doing six hours of punditry during a Sunday double-header broadcast. He has been on our screens ever since.

‘I wouldn’t change a thing,’ he reflects. ‘The apraxia won’t stop me, either. I don’t want to be seen as a victim. There are millions of people worse off than me. I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world.’

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