It's a funny old game and fiercely competitive to boot, but here is some helpful insight and advice if you are looking to break away from the opposition and make a run into the UK's bustling football industry. What advice does Manchester City's Senior Content Producer have for new entrants? What was it like for Walsall FC's Media Officer to make the transition from student to professional? I think I just heard the ref's opening whistle, so let's head down to pitchside to find out.
Mark Booth, Senior Content Producer at Manchester City Football Club
Image: Mark Booth with Moonchester and Moonbeam
Mark graduated from Liverpool John Moores University with an English degree in 2008. He freelanced as a Journalist with publications such as FourFourTwo and Champions Magazine before joining Man City in 2012. He says:
No two paths are the same, but I would say that I learnt three key lessons in the years between graduating and receiving my job offer from Manchester City FC.
1) Just write. When a job opportunity arises with us, I’m always surprised at the number of applicants there are without a body of work behind them or an online portfolio to point to. It’s a competitive job market and I was aware early on that I would have to write for publications voluntarily and to take the thrill of having a byline as payment. There’s so much good writing out there now and to expect to get work on the strength of a university degree isn’t enough. Like anything, you’ll only improve your craft by making mistakes and learning from them.
2) Carve out a niche. When I graduated, it seemed everybody wanted to write about the Premier League but I quickly learnt that it was difficult to attract any attention to my work in such a crowded content marketplace with already-established voices. I knew I had to differentiate myself and so I capitalised on my interest in European football and started to identify players and stories in different leagues which eventually led to being a regular contributor to the official UEFA Champions League magazine.
3) Be light on your feet. Only being able to craft a 1,000 word beautiful, lyrical match report won’t cut it anymore. I would tell anybody aiming to work in sports journalism to diversify and to develop more strings to your bow than solely writing. Whether it’s having a flair for social media and being on top of trends, being comfortable presenting in front of camera, learning to use Photoshop to create your own graphics, coding or video editing, you’re going to be eminently more employable if you’re multi-disciplined and if you’ve shown willingness to learn other skills.
Andy Watkins, Multimedia Manager at Queens Park Rangers FC
Image: Andy Watkins
Andy graduated in 2009 from the University of Brighton with a degree in Sports Journalism. He has worked in media and PR roles for the NHS and Macmillan Cancer Support, before joining QPR in 2012. He says:
Upon graduating, opportunities in the field were few and far between, just as many of us had suspected and were forewarned.
I decided to dedicate the first few months after graduation to unpaid work experience, wherever I could find it. This included time at FourFourTwo, writing and researching stories for their website and magazine. While it didn’t lead to a paid position at the end of it, it gave me experience on my CV and contacts within football which, ultimately, would prove invaluable.
There was only so long I could go without an income, though, so I moved into work in PR and communications – firstly within the NHS and then at Macmillan Cancer Support in London. Whilst this wasn’t in football, or even sport, it was still within media and experience of a busy press office.
In addition, I continued my work with a football betting website outside of my normal work hours – often meaning late nights in front of the laptop and little sleep! It wasn’t ideal but my belief was that if I put in the hard work now, it would pay off one day. That was the hope, anyway!
Luckily that day finally came when, through my previous work at FourFourTwo, I was recommended for a reporting position at London 2012.
After a few weeks training at the Olympic Park, I was based at the Ricoh Arena for the Games themselves, reporting on football matches during the tournament and giving me everything that I had been searching for.
Of course that came to an end after the Olympics but I didn’t have too long to get down about it. The role of Club Journalist at QPR came up soon after which, thanks in no small part to my time at the Olympics, I was successful with.
I'm now the Multi-Media Manager, in charge of the club's social media channels, which means I’m working, writing, watching, tweeting and Snapchat-ting about football pretty much 24/7!
What advice would I give to graduates now? It’d be advisable to get as much experience as you can and not to give up on your goal. Be determined to get the job you want, and prepared to put in the work elsewhere while you wait for it to come along. That and to build up your contacts – you never know when they might come in handy.
Jack Wells, Social Media Manager & Media Officer at Swansea FC
Jack graduated from the University of Gloucestershire in 2013 with a journalism degree, joining Swansea City Football Club later that year as a Media Officer. He says:
My advice is pretty simple: get as much experience as you can and make the most of every single opportunity that comes your way.
I was very fortunate in that following my graduation from university, I didn’t have to go searching for a job – Swansea City Football Club offered me a position as soon as I finished my degree.
The lucky part of my story was that I was afforded the opportunity to work with some fantastic people during a two-week placement, but – without blowing my own trumpet too much – I also took my chance when it came my way. I made a really positive impression and did absolutely everything I could to stand out from the crowd.
From my three years of working in the industry and witnessing plenty of students come in for work experience, a portion of journalism hopefuls do not tend to be very proactive – they secure work experience that they can add to their CV, yes, but go through the motions and perhaps expect a job to fall into their laps upon graduation.
Employers obviously want people who can do a job for them, but they also employ people who they LIKE, which is a key reason for my pathway into the industry. During my placement with Swansea City, I got on with my colleagues really well and fitted into the department seamlessly, so much so that the club invited me to travel to away fixtures at Arsenal and Everton with the team, which was an amazing experience for a student.
Whilst university provides you with the raw skills that are needed to work in the media industry, nothing beats building relationships with key people in media. Whilst there is clearly much more to making a career for yourself in the media industry than the saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, there is at least some truth there.
After becoming a Media Officer at the club in 2013, I was promoted to the postion of Publications Editor a year later, in which I oversaw the process of producing content for the club’s official matchday magazine – and any other club publication for that matter.
I have since been promoted to the position of Social Media Manager, in which I am responsible for leading on the club’s brand development via social channels, the creation of content and the management of our digital strategy – to summarise my role as briefly as possible!
As part of my extended role within the media department, I also interview players and club staff for our YouTube channel Swans TV, write news articles for the club website, provide press releases for media whilst also liaising with members of the press on a daily basis.
Craig Martin, Video Editor at Liverpool FC
Image: Craig Martin
Graduating in 2008, Craig studied filmmaking at the University of Worcester. He joined Aston Villa Football Club as a Video Editor and Camera Operator in 2013, before joining Liverpool Football Club in 2016. He says:
My transition from studying filmmaking at uni to working in the sports media industry was something of an unplanned one for me. I'd always dreamed of working in the film industry, but as soon as I started working for Hayters Sports Agency five years ago I was hooked on working in sport. I enjoyed the huge variety in working for an external agency but I'd probably say that my experiences working firstly for Aston Villa and now Liverpool FC have been better suited to me. I would say it is definitely valuable to sample both sides of the fence in the football media industry; I have found them to be very different ways of working.
Relevant work experience and more importantly creating a strong showreel are essential if you want to work in camera operation or video editing. I'd definitely advise getting yourself out there as much as possible, even if it means on a voluntary basis as it could prove invaluable in the long run as you never know who you might meet. I have found that the old cliche 'It's not what you know, it's who you know' can be true in this industry, so networking is very important.
Jonathon Ogle, Digital Media Editor at Ipswich Town FC
Images: Jonathon Ogle / itfc.co.uk
Graduating in 2011 with a journalism degree from Staffordshire University, Jonathon began working with Nottingham Forest in 2010 as a Freelance Reporter, before then joining Ipswich Town in 2011. He became Ipswich Towns's Digital Media Editor in 2012. He says:
My transition from sports journalism student to working in the industry was pretty much built on hard work, and a little bit of luck. I actually got offered a role working in the media department at Ipswich Town on the day of my graduation, so that fitted in well! I almost immediately went from 'student' to 'journalist' after finishing university. Before that, I had been working on a voluntary basis at Nottingham Forest (my local side) reporting on their reserve and academy fixtures, as well as helping with articles on the website and matchday programme. This led to me being given my own column in their official programme for a season, which really helped develop my portfolio.
Whilst working for nothing isn't something I particularly agree with, combining it with your studies is necessary in today's 'dog-eat-dog' world to help you get ahead of the competition. It certainly worked in my favour, as it led to the job at Ipswich. After a year of working as a Club Journalist at Ipswich, I was promoted to my current role – Digital Media Editor. In a nutshell, I head up all the digital and social output from the club and it's a role I really enjoy and that challenges me every day.
The key skills I have learnt during this time – and would strongly suggest to any budding journalists looking to move into digital – would be to keep on top of social trends within sport, develop a 'personality' (within reason) to make you accessible, friendly and engaging to supporters and really get to grips with video content, as that's the way the world is going now – everybody wants instant video content.
Working at a football club isn't as glamorous as it may sound. Let's just clear that up, but it is a highly rewarding job and each day is different. For a starting point from university, I couldn't have picked a better place to learn and hone my skills. I'd be happy to offer any more advice wherever I can to prospective candidates.
Billie Marshall, Media Executive at Coventry City Football Club
Billie graduated from The University of Huddersfield in 2015 with a degree in sports journalism. He has worked in various roles at numerous football clubs, including as Media Assistant at Rotherham United, Digital Media Assistant at Chesterfield United, and Digital Media Editor for Blackpool United. He joined Coventry City in 2016. Billie says:
The transition was one of gradual progression throughout my time at the University of Huddersfield. Work experience is vital as it gives you a platform to show what you can do, but also gives you a sneak peek as to what you're letting yourself in for.
I personally spent my second and third years working for Rotherham United and Chesterfield, respectively, and they prepared me for employed work after graduation. It is also always good to have work experience on your CV and it will undoubtedly help when you are looking for a job.
I think the key skills you need are determination, a high work ethic and a passion for the game. It can at times be fast-paced and full-on, but it is worth every second of the work you put in to get there.
Dale Moon, Media Officer at Walsall Football Club
Image: Dale Moon
Graduating from Nottingham Trent University in 2012 with a degree in broadcast journalism, Dale first worked for Walsall FC in 2012 as a Media Assistant. He has been a Media Officer at the club since 2014. He says:
My Broadcast Journalism course at Nottingham Trent University provided a great learning curve. A mixture of practical newsroom experience and theoretical lectures helped paint the media landscape for me and I began to realise my strengths and weaknesses over the course of the three years. I was fortunate enough to obtain work experience placements with talkSPORT and BBC West Midlands during my time at Uni and volunteered for Notts County doing match reports. As beneficial as these experiences were, it was more about building a CV that demonstrated a clear sense of direction. This was about having a clear idea of what I wanted to be and the steps I had to take to get there.
I graduated with a 2:1, thought I knew it all and was prepared to land the big Sky Sports gig. Then, all of a sudden, I was out in the cold. Neither BBC West Midlands or talkSPORT were hiring, and I didn’t have the family or financial infrastructure behind me to volunteer full time. I had to start earning. So I began working six days per week as a barman. 'It’s just a short-term measure,' I kept telling myself.
I’d made contact with Walsall FC and would commentate (voluntarily) for their subscription-based Player service. I’d work at the bar five days per week and on Saturday afternoons commentate free-of-charge for Walsall. Three months turned into six, and six into a year. Soon I was 18 months down the line and no closer to breaking into the industry. It was the most testing and frustrating period of my short career. I felt like I had so much to offer and nowhere to showcase it.
'Comparison is the thief of joy' is a saying that I can certainly relate to. Course mates were joining BBC, ITV and Sky Sports, yet here I was working as a barman and volunteering for a League One Football Club. My pride was taking a battering. I think this stage in a graduate's life it the most important. It will act as a sieve, shaking out the half-hearted, while the ones who refuse to go away will remain.
A former course mate who worked for a Sports PR agency back in Nottingham contacted me and said they had a Multimedia Editor role going. I couldn’t get on the train quick enough and after having a very informal interview in a café, finally I had the opportunity to work in sports media! Admittedly it was a PR role; the money was poor and there were aspects of the position which I wasn’t suited to or enthused by, but it was a baby step in the right direction. It allowed me to understand the mechanics of sports media; observe the constant fight for information between press officers and journalists and the importance of building up contacts while never burning your bridges. I enjoyed two years with the agency and met some great people.
I had to move back to Birmingham and Walsall needed someone to come in for three days per week on £50 per day to do their filming and editing. Again, it wasn’t Sky Sports but it meant I was back in football! I then went full-time but under the proviso that I had to work in the sales department for three days per week. I couldn’t sell a thing, but it meant I was in the building for another three days in the hope it would lead to something more. And it did. Eventually, I managed to make enough of an impact to justify a salary as a Multimedia Officer and was promoted to the club's Media Officer within two seasons.
And here I am.
It’s a very busy and demanding role. Eat when you can. Sleep when you can. You’ll be expected to do two or three peoples' jobs at a smaller club. You won’t be paid vast sums of money. Accept it, because there’s a long line of people, waiting in the wings who would do your job for free.
Be willing to do what others won’t. Work longer. Work harder. Make contacts. Take inspiration from the best. Swallow your pride and ask for help and guidance. 'Fake it til you make it.' Look smart. Think smart. I’m still learning every day. I’m in such a privileged position and because of how fast-paced and busy it is, it’s easy to forget how hard it was getting here. You’ll get there in the end, but be under no illusion, it won’t be straightforward and it won’t be easy.
Matthew Joule, Media & Communications Assistant at Mansfield Town FC
Image: Matthew Joule
Graduating in 2014 with a journalism degree from Sheffield Hallam University, Matthew's footballing media career began in 2013 as Sheffield Wednesday's Youth Team Reporter. He joined Mansfield Town as their Media & Communications Assistant in 2015. Matthew says:
I graduated and had no idea what I really wanted to do with the degree. I knew I wanted to work in football, but that's it. So I set myself the task of writing to the head of media at every club I could realistically commute to for work experience. I wrote to around 30 clubs and luckily the first one that got back to me was Mansfield Town – I live five minutes away from the ground!
So to cut a long story short, I did five weeks full-time on an unpaid basis. I really enjoyed myself, made a good impression and a couple of good friends – it was invaluable.
I went off, did bits at my local paper, BBC Sheffield and online news agencies without being offered any paid work. So living at home and getting under my parents' feet, I became a supply teacher. It was a learning curve and I made a decent amount of money from it.
The school year came to an end and a few days later my phone rang – head of communications at Mansfield Town. So I answer and he basically says that his assistant has left and he needs someone to help him out with the upcoming season – so I step in and do yet more unpaid work.
He said my writing was a 5/10 when I started, and he taught me a lot, for which I will forever be grateful for. I did four weeks unpaid work, interviewed for the job along with a number of other candidates and got the job! In that four weeks unpaid, he said my work had gone from a 5/10 to a 9.5/10.
I can't emphasise enough how much you learn AFTER university. Knowledge is power; use your degree to get unpaid work and you will learn all you need to know from going out and taking things from different people and organisations.
Be determined. If somebody says no, ask them why. Tell them you'll work hard, get that chance; you never know where it might take you.
We have loads of work experience students come in to help us out and I was one of them once upon a time. If I didn't treat my placement like a full-time job, work hard and show that I wanted to improve as a journalist, would I be where I am today? I highly doubt it.
Nearly everyone above makes a note of the fact that they had to first work on an unpaid, voluntary basis with football clubs when starting out in their careers. As always, it is incredibly important to create your own content and build a portfolio to show prospective employers what you can do.
Football is a thriving industry. It is projected that English Premier League clubs alone will grow their collective revenue streams by over 20% in 2016/17, to over £4.3 billion. Football has a thriving economy, which makes for more employment opportunities, but also for an increase in job competition.
So get working on crossing some creative opportunities into the box.