48 games. 47 clubs. 6050 miles. Just a few stats from reporting another season with Sky Sports Soccer Saturday and a few matches chucked in for Sky Sports News HQ too! This is my personal experience of the 2016/2017 season…
Saturday 6th August, the sun was shining, it was a proper hot summers day. The type where you can wear shorts and not have to pretend to feel warm. It’s just a few weeks after I’ve had my appendix out and I am at Whaddon Road to cover Cheltenham Town’s return to the football league. If there was ever a good time to have your appendix out, it’s in the summer. I was off my job at Capital FM for a few weeks which was bad enough but I was just about ready to return for the first day of the football league. The smell of freshly cut grass and newly printed programmes (is it just me that loves that smell!). A goal inside 2 minutes and BAM…. the thrill of live reporting was back! Unfortunately, as can happen from time to time we had some technical issues, but the camera and tech guys worked their magic and had it back working again before full time ready to report on the second goal as the game finished 1.1. I interviewed Cheltenham manager Gary Johnson after and, funnily enough, saw him in a restaurant later that evening as we live in the same town. He looked very confused…hopefully he didn’t think I was stalking him!
The season was underway and I was enjoying being back reporting. Early in the season Bristol City V Newcastle United was a huge match. Ashton Gate was complete after its redevelopment and the atmosphere electric. As the temperatures began to tumble throughout October and November we began to really get a sense of where teams were at. The layers were on and the management merry go round was in full swing. Neil Warnock came in as the new Cardiff City manager, and has been good fun to interview. He came up to me the first time we met enthusiastically telling me how he’d seen me on TV which was pretty weird as I’ve obviously known all about him for many years. He’s done a top job at Cardiff City, and with a few more additions I really think they will be around the play-offs if not higher in the Championship next season.
Plymouth Argyle were once again establishing themselves as promotion contenders in League Two, and I have fond memories of covering their win against Doncaster in December. It was a few days after my birthday and our producer, the lovely Carly had shown Jeff a photo of me in the onesie my husband had bought me. However, both Carly and Jeff thought the onesie was a dog. Wrong! It was a sloth! So after taking some banter from Jeff for wearing it I made sure he knew it was a sloth…cue some terrible jokes from Jeff telling me I had been sold a pup! It’s these moments that make the job even more fun and allow people to get to know you just a little (yes I do adore sloths).
The sloth onesie (It’s a sloth Jeff!)
I experienced some new grounds this season, negotiating the London traffic to cover QPR at Loftus Road. I enjoyed going to the Madesjki Stadium to cover Reading V Huddersfield, and The Amex was very impressive. I went there a couple of times as Brighton pushed for promotion from the Championship. I also had my first visit to The Memorial Ground, home of Bristol Rovers. This is one of the more unusual grounds I have visited. To get to the gantry you have to climb out through the roof, up through a loft hatch! It is quite the spectacle bringing all the camera gear up and down, you almost feel like a pirate as you rope up and down huge cases full of very valuable and fragile equipment! Obviously most of the gantry’s we go on are high and it can be tricky getting the gear up and down the ladders, so I’ve had to learn to deal with my fear of heights!
Social media provides a good platform for people to get in touch after games, but sometimes it can be something you want to avoid. In January whilst covering the Cardiff V Burton match I had a small stumble, saying Burton had scored three in three in three before saying to Jeff, that made no sense! Jeff said my mind must still be in Dubai after my holiday and I thought nothing more of it. Whilst checking my phone at half time I saw my Twitter was alight with notifications. I saw all sorts of vile abuse calling me unrepeatable things, but far from letting it upset me I shoved my phone away and made sure the rest of my reports were as accurate as I could make them. These sad little people do pop up every now and then, stating how women should not be reporting and other such nonsense. It’s paticul The worst thing is if a man makes a small mistake they don’t seem to care. I personally think it was hilarious when Merse called Leicester City player Islam Slimani – Salami- but if a woman had said that you can guarantee the sexist keyboard warriors would have had a field day! I am very lucky though, most people are genuinely supportive and complimentary which is just an added bonus when you are doing something you genuinely love.
Picture above: Jeff calling me out for getting a tattoo on holiday…it was a henna!
On the final day of League Two Saturday 6th May, many places were still to be decided in the league in which I covered my first match 9 months ago. I was at St James Park as Exeter City played Carlisle Utd. It was a thrilling game. Exeter City already had secured a play-off spot, an incredible turn around after being bottom of the league in November. By contrast Carlisle had started the season so well and gradually fallen away. In the end after being 2.1 down Carlisle sealed a play-off sport winning 2.3 and will now play Exeter again in the play-off semi-final! At the other end of the league, it could hardly have been more dramatic. It was really sad hearing Jeff’s reaction as his beloved Hartlepool United were relegated as Newport beat Notts County to send down Hartlepool down on the final day. County were 2 minutes away from being out of the football league, but Mark O’Brien scored to put them 2.1 up. I really like Newport County, it‘s not too far from where I live and it’s where I did my first ever Soccer Saturday match so I have a soft spot for them, but it was still horrible to hear how devastated Jeff was, like so many other fans of relegated clubs this season. That’s just it; football is not just a game.
Football encapsulates everything; passion, tradition, pride, heroics and so much more. For me it can be researching who has scored the most goals, or how long it has been since they beat this team they are playing. It can be stats flying around in your head, turning to camera to speak to Jeff or Jules and saying exactly what just happened in the game without a replay, and composure as madness breaks out around you in the stands and terraces. But underneath all that, it’s the irreplaceable feeling at 3 o’clock when the referee blows their whistle because at the end of the day I too am a football fan, who just happens to be fortunate enough to report on it.
Now is the time to cast an eye towards the summer, and I am very excited to be supporting Jeff on his march from Exeter, St James Park to Newcastle, St James’ Park. He is walking 15 marathons in as many days… it’s mad! I am joining him to walk from Swindon to Forest Green for Prostate Cancer UK on Sunday June 4th. You can sponsor us here, anything you can give is much appreciated…
I am apprehensive enough about walking one marathon so I cannot imagine how Jeff might be feeling. I know he would really appreciate your support.
You can keep up with how the walk goes and what I am up to over summer on my Twitter @michelleowen7
Thanks for reading, this is just a glimpse into my personal experience of this season. I love being just a tiny part of an amazing show… roll on next season!