Hi David, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. Firstly, can you tell our readers about yourself, what you currently do and how did you end up where you are right now?
I would like to start off by thanking you for this opportunity. I am glad to be in a position where I am interviewed here.
Born in Jamaica, I have lived in Canada for basically my whole life. I started football freelance in late 2021 as a writer, initially doing previews for the EFL Cup, FA Cup, and the UEFA club competitions. Last year was my first full year in the freelance business.
Since starting, I have covered a wide variety of topics in the football world. Much of my work is about UEFA’s club and country coefficients system, but I regularly do feature pieces, previews, match recaps, short news pieces, and even transfer news. I aim to be as versatile as possible, which has allowed me to touch on a plethora of different aspects in the world of football.
The other thing I do is a spreadsheet where I project which teams will qualify for UEFA’s club competitions, which round they would start, and, based on their coefficient, how far they will go (up to the group stage). I always start around this time of the season and go until the season’s end.
When did you know you wanted to work in football?
It was pretty late on, honestly. I have been doing the spreadsheet for a few years now, and in 2021, I took part in an interview where my expertise was called upon. That really got me going.
I had stayed an extra year of university to complete some things, wanting to earn some money doing something that would interest me. Little did I realize that becoming a football writer would change my viewpoint on what I want my career to look like. So, by the time I graduated from university in June of last year, my mind was set on doing a career in football journalism, since football is what I live and breathe.
Maybe others who have known me for a long time will say that I am destined to work in football. There have been many occasions where I am talking with my mates and I bring up teams from countries most will not have heard of. Sometimes it actually sparks a conversation. More times than not, though, they just ridicule me for even possessing such knowledge. Either way, I have had that feeling for a while that I am built for football.
As a Freelance Football Journalist, can you explain what a ‘typical’ week looks like?
Due to the various topics of the game I cover, each week is something different. Whenever I am not at my part-time job (in retail), I spend most of my time doing something football related. There is no set schedule, per se, as each day, week, and even month differs according to where we are in the football season.
Giving you an example, there was a Monday last October where I woke up to a leaked document, containing new information on UEFA’s club competition reforms. I spent that day digesting the document, taking some notes, writing an article on it, and then that night I did a Twitter thread where I broke it down to explain what it all meant. That is just one unique day in the freelance business.
Furthermore, living in North America, the UEFA Champions League draws happen at 6AM where I live. So, that leaves me waking up for that time. When the FIFA World Cup was going on in Qatar, the earliest games went on at 5AM here, so I was up for those matches. I also do much of my work at night where I am often most productive.
In the summer, I watch and report on the qualifying rounds in the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League. There are some Thursdays where over 50 matches are played across the latter two competitions. That can go on from 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening. I may not watch all of them, but I do stay up-to-date on what goes down, knowing I will have something on it to write about. So, all in all, my schedule moves around quite a bit.
What is your biggest achievement so far in your journalism career?
I would say that my biggest achievement was getting a hold of the at-the-time unreleased access list for the UEFA club competitions for the next cycle in 2024. UEFA sent out their press release, claiming they had reached an agreement on the final access list. Unfortunately, the list itself was nowhere to be seen.
However, the next day I reached out to a source, who provided me with the document. Having that document really allowed me to gain a larger following, thereby making my work more seen. Since then, I have been interviewed on my findings, found and have kept several important contacts who work behind-the-scenes. Some of my contacts have even been able to let me in on some of the other points that have been less discussed. I feel that was the first time I truly made a name for myself in receiving, and being entrusted, with such information.
When you decided to go freelancing, what were the initial challenges or worries you faced?
I think I initially started off by dipping my toe into the water. Looking back, I remember feeling so nervous about getting it right. Because it was all brand new to me, I had qualms about unintentionally plagiarizing. Thankfully, I seldom worry about that anymore, as I have grown into the field and better understand it.
I also mulled over how to get myself out there and earn something from what I do. That is a common concern among fellow freelancers. It is one of the few worries that never goes away, unfortunately. We all have to make a living somehow, so that is always something that comes to mind.
Finally, it became a challenge to time-manage how much focus I put into just one league or one team. Due to my versatility, I have to remember that I can no longer just sit and watch my favourite teams and leagues only. While I may specialize in a league or two, I know that in writing about different aspects, I constantly need to be able to soak in information about teams and leagues that might not always be my go-to. I would say that has become easier with time.
How do you generally go about finding new work/clients?
I am always looking for opportunities. As someone looking to go full-time in this field, I often scour the internet looking for a chance.
Whenever I come across something that I am interested in and/or would be a good fit, I take a bit of time to think things through. I visualize how I should tackle my pitch/application, then I put thought into email or text message. Lastly, when I am satisfied with what I have down, I send it in. I usually keep my phone or laptop close by, so I can respond to messages and emails as soon as I can.
An important one to note is when I am going about looking for new contacts. Building trust is key, but also, I try to relate to whoever I am making contact with. For instance, I have met people from lesser known countries.
Oftentimes I will bring up something football related from where they are from. One would be surprised with just how effective this is. It has helped me greatly when looking for sources who can provide me with information. I do not just do so to warm up to people though. Many times it actually leads to an interesting conversation.
Who are your favourite football writers or journalists at the moment and what do you think it is that makes them so brilliant?
This is a great question and my answer will likely be very broad.
If I am going with my favourite football commentator, I would have to say Peter Drury. He has this innate ability to come up with the perfect words to describe what we are witnessing. I particularly enjoy listening to his pregame thoughts as he comes off as a very cultured man. He definitely spends quite a bit of time doing his research. Lastly, he speaks so eloquently. His vocabulary seldom ceases to amaze me.
Since I follow Belgian football closely, I also must mention Peter Vandenbempt. He is a commentator and analyst. I often read and listen to his work and I must say, he really knows his stuff. You can tell he gets the game, and from his analyses, I am always well-informed.
Closer to home, I grew up listening to multiple Canadian based pundits and journalists, but Kristian Jack has always stood out to me. Like Vandenbempt, Jack’s detailed eye on the game is spectacular. I have met him already and even took in a Canadian Premier League game alongside him. His knowledge and instant ability to notice the minute details are top notch.
As for people I have worked with, Alex Barker (commonly known as Euro Expert) and Ben Griffis are excellent in player analysis and tactical breakdowns. I enjoy working with them and reading what they write. Whenever I speak to them, I know I am in good company, because they really know their stuff.
Finally, if there is one person in this field who I really respect, it would be Fabrizio Romano. His dedication to the beautiful game is practically unrivalled. In some ways I find myself like him. Both of us breathe football in a way most do not. I watch all his videos on YouTube and regularly read his articles and tweets. If there is someone I would strive to work with in the future, Romano would have to be one of, if not my first choice.
What general advice would you give to individuals looking to pursue a freelancing career in sport/football?
I would start off by saying that you are going to get knocked down, some of which will be some painful blows. There have been countless occasions where I was told that I would hear back from a client/company, and that did not happen. Whatever you do, do not let that get to you. Know your worth, set standards for yourself, and keep going forward with your goals and objectives. That has been something that I have managed to do in order to keep dishing out more work.
Another thing I would advise is to be as versatile as possible. When all is said and done, there are always going to be people who can talk about the Premier League, for instance. While it is great that you can talk about the Prem as well, that can only go so far. Take the time to learn as much as possible about other leagues, regardless of its size and popularity. You just never know when it will become of good use. I quote an editor for a site I contribute to: “do not confine yourself to the dogmatic view of a commercialised footballing world which tells you which leagues and players are relevant and which leagues and players are not.”
My last piece of advice is to find a niche within the football world and become an expert at it. To my previous point about being versatile, if you are going into something Premier League related, try to find something that is not covered by the masses at the moment. For instance, my niche, being UEFA’s coefficient system, is becoming more prevalent due to the changes coming in the near future. My timing just happened to be right when joining the football journalism world, plus it gives me an advantage over most when covering the topic. So, find your niche, and become one of the best at it.
Can you share 3 useful tools or resources which you find helpful to fulfil your role?
Because I spend so much time on Twitter, that would naturally be a go-to resource. There are always people looking for fresh ideas, unique perspectives. Most of my success has come from Twitter, so that would be a good choice.
Next, LinkedIn. I regularly see employers looking for people there. While I have not gotten too many gigs via LinkedIn so far, it is an invaluable tool. I have met some of my football contacts on LinkedIn, so that is a great space to do things like that.
Finally, I definitely recommend Freelance Football Opps as a proper resource when looking for football opportunities. I have been subscribed to them for nearly a year now, and they always find employers, regardless of the circumstance. I have found several chances via Freelance Football Opps, so I would strongly encourage people looking to go into football freelance to subscribe. It will very much be worth it.
Working in sport can be hectic, so what do you do to switch off outside of work?
Who says I have time for anything else outside of football? (chuckles). Jokes aside, I do have several other outlets that keep me going when I am not at my part-time job or doing something football related. For starters, I do follow other sports. I keep up with the other forms of football (futsal, beach soccer and arena soccer/mini football) whenever I can, especially futsal. Outside of football, I also watch tennis and the NFL a lot. I do try to play some footy whenever I can (my favourite position is the 10).
I do not play too many video games nowadays, but the one game I do play is called Haxball. It is an online futsal game where you play with people from all over the world. It keeps my mind off of football I find, especially since I often play with friends. I have been part of a Discord community called WorldWide Football for more than 2.5 years, where I have met many awesome people there. I am there daily, where we have plenty of interesting conversations. Sometimes it is the lads from there I play Haxball with.
Outside of sports, I grew up with a fondness for geography and languages (both of which I connect to football in some way). Along with my French minor, I am conversational (to some degree) in five other languages, excluding English. On top of that, I understand two other languages quite well. I spend my fair share of time improving the languages I speak by conversing with others, reading, watching videos/TV, etc.
My degree in university is actually in music, so I do spend a considerable amount of time listening and playing music. I also have a diploma in music performance via jazz piano. I did music theory to a pretty high level, so many times when I am writing an article or a Twitter thread, I am also listening to some music. In fact, I still find myself analyzing what I am listening to while working on other things. It is amazing how the brain works.
Finally, as someone who strongly values making time for those important to me, I do spend as much time with my family and friends as possible. While I do keep myself occupied, I rarely am too busy for those who mean the most. To that point, there are several occasions where I am doing something football-related and I am holding a conversation with one or two others. It seems like a love to multi-task, but it is all a matter of getting used to it.
And finally, David, where can people find you on social media to connect?
I am on Twitter pretty much daily (@dpnina10), so feel free to connect with me on there. I am also available on LinkedIn and Discord (dnina#1961) should anyone wish to get in contact with me, especially for any opportunities.
Sign up to the Freelance Football Opportunities newsletter to receive freelance football work directly in to your inbox every week: www.freelancefootballopps.com.