Hi Pat, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. Since retiring from your playing career, you’ve been heavily involved in the media. Can you just share with us your route to that path and was it something you had always wanted to pursue?
I had studied for a degree in Glasgow before I played football and English had been my passion at school, so writing was an obvious route. I had columns and contributed to magazines, fanzines and newspapers while I was a player (always self-penned), so journalism looked a possible next career even when I was 20.
By the late stages in my football career, I was writing for the Observer, and The Sunday Times amongst others, but had also been asked to ‘Co-comm’ for Radio 5 Live. I took this seriously and studied the games and players intently to ensure I could give the best information to the listener.
How did you find the transition initially from being a professional footballer to a freelance broadcaster?
It was quite easy to be honest, I worked for Channel 5 along with Radio 5 Live while also having a column for years in the Mail on Sunday in Scotland as well as some other newspapers. It helped that I have never been nervous in my life, so felt quite relaxed in a studio. I also learned as much about the technology side of television and made sure I could also be comfortable being on open talkback. It was a useful skill to have at the time, or if I had branched into presenting, sadly I was never asked.
You’ve work for many outlets in football media, such as BBC Sport, Chelsea TV and all the newspaper publications you’ve contributed to — can you explain what a ‘typical’ week looks like in your world?
It changes every year and being freelance would I imagine be awful now for anyone trying to have a life without constant fear and pressure. The landscape changes so quickly, that last season looked one way, but this season is totally different. Having worked for one company for over a decade in three capacities, I was dropped from all three without explanation…but I do not complain because that is the nature of freelance work in this industry. It is time to move to the next thing. So at the moment, I go to one or two games per week for 5 Live, write a Monday column for the BBC Worldwide Newsletter and I have had a couple more offers I am considering. Last season, there was work almost every day, but it tends to come randomly at a moment’s notice, so this season may fill up my time just as all the previous 25 have.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a freelancer and how have you overcome them?
The challenge is to not take it personally. The media business changes and what is wanted changes. So if you are not what is wanted and you don’t fit, it doesn’t matter how hard you try or indeed how talented you are, you will be jettisoned. It isn’t personal, it is just the business. Learn to deal with that and you will manage, if you can’t, then look for another industry with more certainty.
What tips and advice can you share for individuals aspiring to freelance in football, whether as a journalist, analyst or presenter — any role! Are there any lessons you’ve learned along the way that you could share?
As above, but it must be also accepted that it simply isn’t fair, or doesn’t feel fair to most people. Very few people have long term careers in this industry and I think that is becoming ever more the case. I was lucky, quarter of a century involved, but the vast majority of others struggle to get that long. It is incredibly competitive, especially if you aren’t very competitive by nature…oddly enough I am not. So I was super lucky to survive.
You’ve recently released a new book — Football and How to Survive It, can you tell our readers a little bit about it and what to expect prior to reading it?
This is my second book in two years, the First ‘The Accidental Footballer’ was a Sunday Times best seller and this is the follow up. They are memoirs of my life, but it isn’t just about football, there is my love of music, my fairly unusual positions in life, attitudes and politics for a footballer, the media work, very much from both sides, I was Chairman of the PFA and then Chief Executive of a top level Scottish club, while I was still a player. Hopefully within my writing, there are messages, such as, it is OK to be different, hence a chapter on homophobia in football.
The recent book, Football and How to Survive it, is an extreme ride, which readers have told me reads like a thriller as it progresses to a rather extreme ending. It gives an insight, from an outsider as to what it is like at all levels inside another ultra competitive industry…there are a lot of surprises!
What would you say are your biggest achievements so far in your freelance media career? Any standout projects or memories you wish to share?
Good question. I think the documentaries I have made were special to me, both on radio and TV. I would like to have gone down that route, but sadly didn’t get the opportunity. In the end, lasting so long and (hopefully) not becoming a bore who says the same things, and hence the longevity, is in reality the standout. Most projects are a lot of people working together, but writing, be it articles or books is all your own work, so they have a special place, and I always wanted to be a writer anyway.
How do you approach networking and building professional relationships within the industry? Has it been beneficial to your career growth?
I don’t, ever. Maybe I should network, but I can’t be bothered. Maybe it would have helped, but I have got by with people just contacting me to work for them. I wouldn’t recommend anyone follow my path there!
Can you share 3 useful tools or resources which you find helpful to fulfil your role?
1. I am helped by extensive reading, not just on football, but on every subject to give a wider understanding of life. Read books, it helps.
2. Kindness and consideration to others working with you, especially those coming through. Bitter, selfish and protective of their own status types, are the bane of the industry…sadly they are often quite successful too, Kindness however will keep you sanity and help this or any industry. And guess what, people notice in the end.
3. Keeping up to date and relevant, without being a slave to every single new fashion, turn or idea.
Working in sport, can be hectic, so what do you do to switch off outside of work?
I go to see gigs, movies, plays, opera, ballet as well as read for fun. I do play golf and am a committed runner. Spending time with family and friends is of course a real joy.
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