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GIRLS ALLOWED – THE OFFSIDE RULE FLIES THE FOOTBALL FLAG FOR FEMALES

By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES

IT’S A MAN’S GAME and if you haven’t played football you don’t really know the sport. Just two of the neanderthal opinions still held by some, the situation not helped when you Google “female sports writers” and “The 50 Hottest Sports Broadcasters In the World” is the first entry. Written by a female.

According to a recent survey, less than 10 per cent of sports journalists in Britain – including writers, subs, photographers, radio and television – are women, but there is an increasing female presence in the reporting and broadcasting of English football.

While Clare Balding is the sports broadcasting doyenne, Gabby Logan and Hazel Irvine have been familiar faces with the BBC’s football coverage. Jacqui Oatley and Eleanor Oldroyd are respected Five Live reporters with Jo Tongue producing 606. Georgie Bingham is a regular talkSPORT presenter. Rebecca Lowe and Kelly Cates are valued members of ESPN’s football broadcasts.

Julie Welch became the first by-lined female football writer, though when her match report appeared in the Observer, the sports editor received letters wondering if there was a misprint and it was actually Julian. Sue Mott was part of the Daily Telegraph’s daily sports supplement, the first of its kind in England; more recently Laura Williamson (Daily Mail), Alyson Rudd (The Times), Louise Taylor (Guardian), Vikki Orvice (The Sun) and Ann Gripper (Daily Mirror) and freelances Janine Self and Samantha Lee have become regulars in Barclays Premier League press boxes.

Helen Chamberlain co-presents Soccer AM, Sarah-Jane Mee presents Football First for Sky Sports while Sky Sports News has many female presenters, including long-serving FWA member Clare Tomlinson.

Last year, a new development gave football its first all-female voice with the launch of The Offside Rule, a weekly podcast which goes out every Thursday. Footballwriters.co.uk caught up with Lynsey Hooper, Kait Borsay and Hayley McQueen as they recorded the latest episode.

Lynsey Hooper (left): “My grand-dad was a scout for Wolves and I inherited my love of football from him. I’ve played football since I was eight. I studied sports science and English, wanting to go into journalism. I was approached by student radio and ended up pursuing a career in radio for six years before starting with Central News at ITV and BBC East Midlands Today plus ITN as a sports journalist. I now work as a freelance mainly for BBC’s Final Score, Sky Sports, ESPN and talkSPORT.”

Kait Borsay (centre): “My great-great uncle, Wilf Woodcock, used to play for Manchester United [from 1912-1920] so football’s been in the family for a long time. I went to England v Holland at Euro 96 which made me fall in love with the game…it sparked the fire. I got into Sky, worked for talkSPORT and I feel very lucky to be doing a job I enjoy so much.”

Hayley McQueen (right) “My dad [Gordon] was a footballer, turned manager, turned ex-manager, turned coach, turned scout and lover of football. I was very much my dad’s girl. I grew up with the game and fell in love with football. I studied journalism at university, thought about fashion writing, but decided to do something I knew about, having become addicted to it from my days on the terraces of Ayresome Park. I now work for Sky Sports.”

Whose idea was The Offside Rule?
Lynsey: Mine, but it started as a very different tool. The first few podcasts last year I did on my own to trial the idea of women talking about football. I interviewed people such as Faye White [Arsenal Ladies and England], Chris Powell and Lawrie Sanchez. There was a round table with a couple of colleagues…Kait came in a couple of times where we chatted about football matters. The round table idea attracted the most interest, particularly within the industry and this season the concept has evolved. Myself and Kait asked Hayley to become involved and it’s become a wonderful labour of love.

So the idea was to give a female voice in football?
Hayley: Yes, as broadcast journalists we rarely have the chance to voice an opinion because, male or female, when you are live on a news channel that’s not possible. So The Offside Rule was born out of our frustration of not being able to speak feely plus our love for the game. There is a lack of opportunities for women to have an educated opinion.

Kait: It’s unique in that it’s an all-female production. We have a few men on board to help with social media, but it’s very much about giving women in football a supportive platform. There’s reaction to the latest football results and three weekly topics up for debate. We aim to be accessible and enjoyable to male and female listeners alike, informative yet good fun. The podcast has regular updates from non-league, La Liga, Serie A, the Russian Premier League and the Bundesliga featuring female journalists around the world, creating a wide network that allows women who love football to work together.

Do you chat to your co-presenter during commercial breaks?
Hayley: You are miked up at all times even if you aren’t live, so anything you say could potentially go out. But yes, when we throw to a VT we’ll often turn to each other to comment on a story, or just exchange a pointed look or shake our heads in disbelief. We’re sports fans so naturally some news lines are going to make us react. Away from the studio I have learned a lot from all my colleagues, especially those presenters who have been reporting for years pitchside. I’d like to think they value my opinion, too, even though some in the industry said I only got a job because of my dad. In fact I worked really hard to obtain a degree in journalism and media law.

American sports networks have a higher number of female reporters and presenters. Why has there been a general reluctance to give females more of a chance here?
Kait: Look how long it took Clare Balding to gain the recognition she deserves. She’s been at the top of her trade for many years. I think there’s an old school club which has existed at a high level in broadcasting who think other men find it hard to listen to women. We just have to keep plugging away.

But football is becoming more family orientated now…
Lynsey: The progress of the women’s game is helping while if you look around football stadiums now you cannot say it is so male dominated. More and more women are going to matches. The history of football, especially when hooliganism was rife, gave a mentality that it had to be macho.

How do you feel about those who say unless you have played the game you cannot really understand it?
Lynsey: Most respected football broadcasters haven’t played the game to a high level – and I don’t value their opinions any less..

Hayley: Being a presenter, you are hired more for your broadcasting skills than your opinions.

Kait: For the last five or six years, football has been the number one team sport for girls in schools. I never had that opportunity, for me it was netball, hockey or tennis. I’d have loved to have played football, but there was no local girls clubs either.

What is the attitude of male football writers to you?
Lynsey: When I first began reporting games five seasons ago I’d turn up in a press box and many of the elder gentlemen were lovely, but would ask: “Do you want the formation or any help with the teams?” Polite as they were it was a little insulting so I just smiled. I was at a game recently and a [male] journalist I know quite well said: “Do you know what the formation is?” I said they were playing 4-5-1 and he just took my word for it. Things have come a full circle in those five years.

Where would you like to see the programme in a year’s time?
Kait: At the moment it’s just the three of us, we use a flash mike which enables me to plug in into my computer and send it to an editor. My vision for the show is for it to be developed into a cross between Loose Women and Fighting Talk with a key big guest every week joining in the debate with us.

Lynsey: I’d love it to be a radio show including a big guest on Five Live or talkSPORT.

Hayley: I’ve found that people who listen to it for the first time go to the previous shows and listen to them, too.

Lynsey: I’m waiting for the Sian Massey moment when one of us gets a date wrong or makes a human error and some delight in telling us.

Can you see the day when football has a female pundit?
Hayley: The only ones I could think of right now are Hope Powell [coach of England women’s team] or Kelly Smith [Arsenal Ladies and England]. But I can’t see it happening for a long time.

Who are your three favourite broadcasters?
Lynsey: Definitely Clare Balding and Darren Fletcher [of Five Live] for his versatility. I respect people who have come up through radio because it’s a skill you can take onto television. He’s versatile and as much of an expert on boxing as he is on football. In terms of influence, Ray Stubbs was very big when I was coming through.

Hayley: Two of mine are Sky colleagues. Nick Collins, is the hardest working reporter I have ever known and a thoroughly nice man. Because of his experience he’s never flustered and comes out with information that makes me think ‘where has he pulled that from?’ He’ll be given a team sheet at the same time as everyone else and while others are trying to get their heads round the changes Nick will reel it off with stats and facts. And he doesn’t have autocue. He’s helped me tremendously, I think he’s brilliant and doesn’t get the recognition. Alex Crawford of Sky News is incredible. You see her at various war zones and is someone to look up to. She took time away from broadcasting to have a family, but has come back and is someone to respect. I admire Darren Fletcher, too. In many ways, it’s good when you don’t notice a presenter…he isn’t controversial, doesn’t try to be clever and is really easy to listen to.

Kait: I really enjoy listening to Tim Vickery [a Brazil-based sports journalist]. He sparks my interest in South American football and always take in what he says. He comes over so well and always leaves me thirsty for more. I always enjoy Danny Kelly [of talkSPORT] who is very natural while I like Clare Balding for the way she makes broadcasting look so easy after what will have been years of hard work and dedication.

You can follow @OffsideRulePod on Twitter. To listen to the show go to https://soundcloud.com/the-offside-rule or download via iTunes

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