Our latest guest is with Football Journalist, Adam Bate.
Hi Adam, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. Can you tell our readers about yourself, what you currently do and how did you end up where you are right now?
I have been a football journalist with Sky Sports for over a decade now, initially working in the Leeds office before moving to London. Since the pandemic, I have been based in the Midlands where I grew up. My main role is to write features and do interviews for Sky’s digital platforms but I also cover games and contribute to our podcasts.
I had started a blog in early 2010 with my old schoolfriend Oli Baker that just built out of our long arguments over email. Some of the pieces were well received and alarmingly quickly I made the decision to abandon accountancy (I had passed 13 of the 14 exams required to become a qualified chartered accountant) and sign up for the NCTJ course instead. It was a bizarre move really but it is probably an indication of how disillusioned I was at the time.
I managed to pick up freelance work with When Saturday Comes, FourFourTwo and various other football magazines that have long since folded. Through my blog, I reached out to Ian Watson at TEAMtalk about going up to Leeds for a week of work experience. They were owned by Sky at the time with the editorial for the Sky Sports website being done from the same building. That led to freelance shifts, a fixed-term contract and eventually this job.
When I think back, two factors stand out: desperation and privilege.
Desperation because I didn’t want this to work out, I needed it to. I was a bad accountant and had just reached the point where I knew that I had to at least try to do something else with my life. I recall doing five-hour round trips to Leeds for freelance shifts, probably spending almost as much money on fuel as I was being paid. I would never have described myself as a driven person but that feeling that I had no choice but to succeed because I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do next really pushed me on.
Privilege because having moved back to Wolverhampton from Brighton, I was able to live with my parents while studying for the NCTJ full-time and I don’t recall my late mother ever asking me what the hell I was playing at. Also, the one-year course only cost £200 thanks to some sort of scheme from the outgoing Labour government, which was amazing really.
When did you know you wanted to work in football?
Football had always been an obsession but I didn’t think that journalism was for me, hence going into accountancy. It was not that I couldn’t write, I enjoyed constructing arguments in essays. I just felt that I lacked the confidence to knock on doors or pick up the phone, elements that seemed to be at the core of the job. I got over that when I became desperate.
As a Football Journalist with Sky Sports, what does an average week look like for you?
I have just been back to London to do a couple of days in the office for the first time in two years, meeting some new colleagues for the first time and catching up with old ones.
Just looking ahead to the next fortnight, I have two games at Old Trafford sandwiched between two games at Molineux, where I’ll be writing the match report, player ratings and feeding colour into the live blog on the website.
This week, I am interviewing a Leicester player. Next week, I’m hoping to meet up with an England coach at St George’s Park and I’m planning to have lunch with an agent from abroad who is in Manchester to get an update on what’s happening with some of his clients.
Interviews are a 50–50 mix of those arranged by myself and those I’m fortunate enough to have assigned to me by my boss through the Premier League rights deal. Sky speak to a player and coach from each team before they appear in a live game, so I keep Fridays free for that.
What are the most enjoyable and difficult parts of your role?
Covering tournaments is great and I try not to forget how lucky I am to attend big games. I have not done a World Cup final but I have ticked off all the other big ones, I think. I suppose it is a bit like being a wedding photographer except that you really are witnessing the best days of people’s lives.
Aside from that and the opportunity to speak to so many interesting people, I love the whole process of putting a piece together. Coming up with the idea, figuring out who I need to speak to, getting hold of them, and then deciding how to frame the quotes.
I wouldn’t say anything about the job is bad but there are elements that come less naturally to me. There is an onus on everyone in the industry to become multimedia journalists these days so the broadcast side of it is something I’m having to work on to improve.
You’ve interviewed many professional football players and managers in your time! Any that stand out, you wish to share?
I am very fortunate to work for Sky given the access that we have. For example, it occurred to me the other day that I have done five one-on-one interviews with Pep Guardiola in 18 months and there are many more talented journalists who would love those opportunities.
Jurgen Klopp and Brendan Rodgers are particularly good because it feels like there is no bad question with them, they talk well on any subject. Away from the Premier League, it was an honour to help Leigh Nicol share her story about being the victim of intimate image abuse.
Who are your favourite journalists at the moment and what do you think it is that makes them so brilliant?
I don’t really view them as favourites, it’s more of a pathological jealousy that eats away at my very soul. I would love to have Jonathan Liew’s turn of phrase but it is beyond me. Michael Cox’s knack for reading a game would be useful. It would be nice to write with the empathy of Stuart James or Daniel Storey. I long for Kate Burlaga’s ability to craft an interview. The job would be easier if Alex Bysouth and Robert Kidd stopped writing pieces that I wanted to write before I knew that I wanted to write them.
Rory Smith encapsulates all of the above better than anyone else, although it would be remiss not to mention that Nick Wright shares a job title with me at Sky and is rather better at all this than I am. I hate them all.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
I do think the industry is still quite London-centric at a time when that makes less sense than ever. I suppose that ties in with issues of gender and race in that there are still entire communities of people for whom a career in journalism feels impossible. That is a huge loss.
What general advice would you give to those individuals looking to pursue a career in football journalism — what are the key skills needed?
Any advice from my personal experience would probably be out of date because the industry changes. If I had listened to the advice telling me to do five years of court reporting on my local paper before thinking of writing about sport then I would have missed out. But I think the principles of working hard, being determined and reliable will always hold true.
Don’t be discouraged by the quality of the best writers. Larry David did a great tribute speech for Mel Brooks in which he joked that Brooks had not got him into comedy, he had kept him out of it because he was so good (view video below). Never think you know it all but don’t get sucked into that way of thinking either. Some lucky sod has to do this job, it may as well be you.
Working in sport can be hectic, so what do you do to switch off outside of work?
Travel is important to me so I’m glad that the world is opening up again. I have a couple of city breaks booked and a golf weekend lined up with friends. I have just bought a house in the same village as my sister so my nieces keep me busy too. This job can be all consuming but Sky are a fantastic employer and they do their best to help with the work-life balance.
And finally Adam, where can people find you on social media to connect?
I am on Twitter as @ghostgoal — which is a relic of my old blog of the same name and serves as a useful reminder to me of where this journey started.
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