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FWA Q&A: Jacqui Oatley

JACQUI OATLEY of BBC Radio 5 Live on when she made Wenger lose the will to live…laughing at a guest’s name…and cold cabbage in Donetsk

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
Yes, I accidentally fell into intellectual property. I did a German degree before travelling round the world for a year, expecting to know what I wanted to do by the end of it. But I still had no idea. I didn’t realise that a career in football was a realistic option. I moved to London and, via a language agency, became sales and marketing manager for an intellectual property software company, later becoming key account manager protecting clients’ brands on the internet. But when I dislocated my knee cap and ruptured the ligaments playing football, I was told I could never play again. During my 10 months on crutches the football fires burnt inside me, so I researched the prospect of working in sports journalism. I started doing hospital radio, took evening courses in print journalism and radio production, followed by several months of full-time unpaid work experience (I’d given up my flat and job and was sleeping on friends’ floors) before moving up to Sheffield to do a one-year postgrad in broadcast journalism and freelancing as a non-league reporter for BBC Radio Leeds. I loved every minute of it.

Most memorable match?
I’m lucky to have been to so many top football matches, including major tournaments around the world. It’s incredibly difficult to pick out one match but commentating for BBC Radio 5 Live at the World Cup in South Africa was a real career highlight. I had to pinch myself that I was there to work, especially as it was in the country of my mother’s birth and I’d been there several times to visit family. My first match was England’s Group C rivals Algeria v Slovenia in Polokwane – a fantastic experience – and I followed it up with several more commentaries in different cities around South Africa, including the beautiful Cape Town. Another highlight was the 2012 Olympics and Team GB women’s victory over Brazil at Wembley in front of 70,000 people, demonstrating how far the game had developed both on and off the pitch.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
So many to choose from but I’ll go for Gazza’s wonderful goal for England against Scotland at Euro 96, but I’d start watching a couple of minutes earlier when Gary McAllister’s penalty was saved by David Seaman (justice was done as Tony Adams had won the ball cleanly from Gordon Durie). Cue wild celebrations all over the country.

Best stadium?
I loved both the Allianz Arena in Munich and the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, the latter because it looks like a spaceship at night. For old school charm you can’t beat Craven Cottage by the Thames. Their fans by the press box are always up for a friendly chat.

…and the worst?
That has to be Amstetten in Austria where England’s women played a World Cup qualifier in 2005. The venue was more of a community ground than a football stadium and my ISDN line, which I needed to report for 5 Live, was in the main building’s office about 50 yards away from the edge of the stadium. I could barely see any of the action, let alone the four goals England scored. The England women have had to play in some dreadful grounds over the years…

Your personal new-tech disaster?
The only real nightmare I’ve had, touch wood, was a lovely interview Arsene Wenger gave me for 5 Live before Arsenal’s final match at Highbury. This was in the days when he did separate interviews for radio, TV, written press, etc. A Capital Radio reporter and I had plenty of time with a relaxed, friendly Wenger as he waxed lyrical about the history of the famous old ground and the magical feeling he had when he walked into the Marble Halls to see the bust of Herbert Chapman. To my horror, I discovered afterwards that there had been a technical problem with the equipment and it hadn’t recorded properly. To compound matters, the Capital Radio lad had a hiss on his recording so neither was usable. Around 45 minutes later, after he’d completed several further rounds of interviews on the same subject, I persuaded a tired Arsene to give me a couple more minutes. It was a generous gesture from one of my favourite interviewees, but of course he was losing the will to live by that point and the interview was very different. A stressful day.

Biggest mistake?
Being unable to contain my laughter when I was presenting a non-league segment on BBC Radio Leeds in my early days of broadcasting. My telephone guest had an unusual name which still makes me laugh to this day. I was paranoid that I’d laugh when I introduced him and that’s precisely what happened. I was in bits while trying to sound normal and had to pretend we’d lost the line and move on. Embarrassingly unprofessional in hindsight, I just lost it.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
The tea lady in the Old Trafford press room. I’ve been mistaken for Juliette Ferrington a few times and she’s had the same, seeing as we’re the only regular female football reporters on 5 Live. Outside of football, I’ve been mistaken for both Anthea Turner and her sister, Wendy, but not for a few years.

Most media friendly manager?
As I mentioned, Arsene Wenger is great to interview. He’ll hardly ever snap at a reporter or refuse to answer a question and gives fully considered answers. Although I was at the pre-Bayern Munich press conference last season which shocked a few of us. He was angry about a newspaper headline that day. Roberto Martinez is a gem – such a nice, calm, friendly man who treats reporters with respect.

Best ever player?
Difficult to tell as I didn’t see enough of Pele, and tragically nobody got to see enough of Duncan Edwards, but Maradona was the greatest when I was little and remains so. Messi may well become the greatest ever but not before he’s won the World Cup, or at least come close.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
This would be easier to answer if I were 100 years old. Barcelona around 2011 were phenomenal, although it’s impossible to say they were the best as football has evolved so much in different ways since Manchester United in the 60s, Ajax in the 70s and AC Milan in the 80s. Then there’s the United side which won the treble in 99, they weren’t too bad. In terms of international teams, I’ve seen videos of the Brazil 1970 team and the likes of Pele, Jairzinho and Tostao could play a bit. Wow. Although so too can Xavi and Iniesta and they’ve won three major trophies in a row.

Best pre-match grub?
It’s between Arsenal and Chelsea…..I’ll go for Chelsea because of the variety on offer. Salad, hot food, sandwiches, etc.

Best meal had on your travels?
A restaurant in Shanghai, China, at the Women’s World Cup in 2007 with other media folk. I remember being starving for the entire tournament as we were travelling and filming so much between matches, plus I was working for radio too, so was always on the go. We could never just find something quick and easy to eat so often went without.

…and the worst?
My hotel breakfast in Donetsk after a Spurs match the night before. It was more of a youth hostel than a hotel. I slept on a mattress on the floor and there were no windows, no power sockets and the shower didn’t work so you could imagine the standard of breakfast. I was famished as I couldn’t get late dinner the night before and found there was cold cabbage and other similarly unappetising offerings for breakfast. Again, I went without.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
I’ve always wanted to go to the Masters golf at Augusta. That course always looks stunning so to see a British winner there, preferably Justin Rose or Luke Donald, would be perfect. I’d also love to see England win an Ashes Test at the MCG in Melbourne. I’ve seen an Aussie Rules match there and I’ve watched England beat the Aussies at Lord’s, but an Ashes victory at “the G” would be lovely, thanks.

Last book read?
“Footballer” by Kelly Smith, England’s greatest ever female player. It was frustrating to read about the struggles of such a richly talented footballer growing up in an era when women’s football wasn’t respected in England. She had to go to America to become a full-time professional where her talent was recognised, although she suffered with several injuries as well as alcoholism. A very good read.

Favourite current TV programme?
In terms of football it would be Football Focus. I don’t get much time to watch non-sport programmes but I do like Location, Location, Location, usually while hanging up the washing and entertaining my toddler at the same time. Have I Got News For You is another long-standing favourite. I love satire.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
Not one item in particular apart from signed shirts from my own club. I also have signed Fulham and Blackburn shirts from my first ever Match of the Day commentary which evoke mixed memories.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Work extremely hard and treat people well. It’s a very tough profession to make a living out of so when you’re starting out you can’t afford to pick and choose which days you fancy working around social commitments. You have to be prepared to travel to where the work is, maybe move to another part of the country or beyond and work all the anti-social hours going. Oh, and you may have to do it for very little pay, if any, initially. Those with an aptitude for the job and the confidence to make contacts and ask for phone numbers will progress, those who don’t fancy working too many Saturdays and moan about their lot won’t get very far. Also, a sense of humour definitely helps in this business.

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