Sky Sports' Chris Kamara tells The Sun he fears the chop after pals Matt Le Tissier and Phil Thompson were axed

FAVOURITE footie pundit Chris Kamara is one of our most unlikely pop stars.

After his Here’s To Christmas album was a surprise Top Ten hit last year, the 62-year-old is back with a follow-up.

And he has even won over his Sky Sports pals, including Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling and ex-colleagues Charlie Nicholas and Phil Thompson, who love to take the mick.

In an exclusive chat, Chris says: “I told them that I was doing a Christmas album. I always remember, I was at a bar with Charlie, Thomo and Jeff and I played them Let It Snow.

“And Charlie’s voice initially was about to go into a giggle, and then he started to listen to it and he went, ‘Flipping hell, it’s good’.”

The success of the former player and manager — known to the football world as Kammy — has even led to suggestions he should follow 65-year-old pal Jeff’s lead and treat himself to a bit of Botox showbiz magic.

But Anne, his wife of 38 years, is having none of it.

Chris says: “My wife would kill me. She would absolutely go crazy if I even suggested it on my craggy old face. I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to get rid of that divot in the top of my head’ and she said, ‘Don’t you dare even think about that sort of stuff’. She loves me as I am.”

Despite not following in Jeff’s footsteps, Kammy likes to pay tribute to him in one of his songs. He jokes: “Jeff’s a massive supporter of the album. He actually gets a mention on it. When we sing the Christmas song where it goes, ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’, I sing, ‘Jeff’s nuts roasting on an open fire’.”

The former Brentford, Swindon and Leeds midfielder is known for his sense of humour and banter-filled punditry.

‘This is serious, serious music’

But he and his songwriter pal Richard Scott, who has worked with Robbie Williams, agreed the music should be taken seriously as a singer.

Kammy said: “Before we put the first album out, everyone was thinking, ‘Oh, what’s it going to be like? Is it gonna be a mess? Just a bit of a jokey-type album’.

“But Richard didn’t want to be involved in even me having a little play with Frosty The Snowman.

“He went, ‘No, no, no, no, no, this music is serious. You can do it with a smile on your face, but you don’t joke. I don’t want to be part of an album that is a bit of a joke. This is serious, serious music’.

“So I followed his path and so far, so good.”

That album reached No8 in the charts and paved the way for a tour that was due to take place in November and December but was cancelled due to coronavirus.

The new songs he recorded for those 21 gigs have now been put together into his new album titled  . . . And A Happy New Year.

It includes a cover version of Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, featuring the band’s singer Roy Wood, 74.

Kammy says: “I’m quite critical of people who do covers of iconic songs.

“I said to Richard, ‘As it was a swing version and you know Roy Wood, would you play it to him once we put the vocals on it. And if he likes it, then let’s go for it’.

“So Richard said, ‘Yeah, deal’.

“He played Roy the song, he loved it and he said, ‘You’ve got my consent. Not only that, I’ll introduce Kammy at the top with those iconic lines, ‘OK, you lot take it away’, but he says, ‘OK Kammy, take it away’.

“It’s just surreal. It really is. It’s like, flipping hell, pinch me, it is really happening.”

The ten-track album, out today, includes two brand new songs, Mr Claus and Happy New Year, written for Kammy by Richard and Kelvin Andrews.

Chris says: “I’m just so lucky. The arrangement of the music, I think it’s been done to suit my voice as well.

“Richard knows my tone, knows what it’s about, knows the song that we should sing. And there’s nothing where I’ve got a screech a big, massive high note that takes me out of my comfort zone.”

Unfortunately for Kammy, he will not be able to see some of his Sky Sports pals’ reactions the second time around as Sky rejigged its line-up in the summer — a move Chris admits shocked him.

Stalwarts Phil Thompson, 66, Matt Le Tissier, 52, and Charlie Nicholas, 58, were given the boot in August as part of cost-cutting measures and to bring in a more diverse line-up.

Former Bradford City and Stoke manager Kammy said: “I was absolutely devastated.

“You just think, ‘Crikey’. Being honest, when I started working at Sky I could never see the end of Rodney Marsh, George Best, God bless his soul, Frank McLintock, Alan Moore, Clive Allen.

“They had such good banter and you thought they were going to be there for ever. Then Sky made the change to bring in Charlie, Thomo, Le Tiss, so that acceptance that it had to be them this time around took me by surprise.

“But I’d seen it before. I’m just fortunate I wasn’t on the end of it as well. The boys accepted it. We were hoping to all go out together this Christmas. But that’s not going to happen now because of Covid. We’ll get it sorted next year.

“They’re great people, they’ve been fantastic to work with all the time. We certainly had a lot of banter together and a lot of camaraderie.”

In their place came Sue Smith, 41, Clinton Morrison, 41, and Glen Johnson, 36.

The silver lining for Kammy, who experienced racism during his 21-year playing career, is that he believes more diversity is definitely a good thing.

He says: “To be honest, it has been overdue, but the problem that people have got with it is because it’s happening so quickly.

‘I’ve turned down Strictly and the jungle’

“So that’s why people are not happy with it. It’s taken this long for it to happen and now it’s flooded in.

“Initially it’s a bedding down process. Eventually it will settle down and become an acceptance and Sky will find their level and the companies will find their level. People will find that level and they’ll go back to not normal, not like it went before, but normal as it is, as it should be going forward from now.”

Kammy has been with Sky Sports for 22 years now, which he compares to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger’s tenures at Manchester United and Arsenal respectively.

Me and Jeff, we’re not expendable, so we feel our time will come

But he admits he and Jeff could be the next to get their marching orders.

He says: “I could have went in the last one. Me and Jeff, we’re not expendable, so we feel our time will come. We are getting old as well.

“These are young bloods coming through.

“And there are people who think we were great a few years ago but probably think we’ve done our time now and let’s bring in the youngsters. But if it all ended tomorrow at Sky, I can honestly say that they have been fantastic to me.

“To be with a company for 22 years, you don’t get a manager’s job 22 years unless you’re Sir Alex or Arsene Wenger.”

Kammy, who also co-presents ITV series Ninja Warrior UK, adds that he is so thankful for the loyalty Sky has shown him over the years that he has turned down annual offers to star in Strictly Come Dancing and I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here!.

He says: “Football’s my life. The reason why I haven’t gone into the jungle or anything like that is because I couldn’t physically say to Sky, ‘Can you give me six weeks off from my job?’.

“I’d hate to be in the jungle. I couldn’t do like Harry Redknapp a couple of years ago in Australia, and be away from it. But I suppose Harry’s not really tied to a company like I am.

“I’m a loyal person. Sky have been loyal to me, so I should be to them. They gave me my chance 22 years ago.

“I had football people who I knew at the time were doubting my credentials to be on the TV, and I understood that.

“I understood that I didn’t have a glittering playing career.

“So I understood how they felt. Certain players who got caps for their country or played to a higher level, I could see the envy in their faces and stuff like that.

“Why should I be doing a job like that?

“If social media had been around, then maybe I wouldn’t have survived.”

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