This week, our member John shares with us his journey into a sports journalism career and gives his top tips for writing about his favourite sport – football! John is now taking steps to make this career freelance. 

By John Howard

As a boy my dream was playing football. I ate, slept and drank the game! Over the years though, I realised I hadn’t the talent, nor the dedication to follow that dream through and pull on the colours for both club and country.

So, I was never going to achieve the plaudits on the pitch, but I was determined to make my mark off it. Long story short, I left my mundane job at an insurance firm to join my boyhood team. A brief spell selling tickets was quickly followed by a spot in the media department. But my role wasn’t defined and I did not have a university degree, so I had to try and shape it.

I chose writing!

How I started

I took every job I was offered on a daily basis and performed my tasks to the best of my ability. I let my bosses know that I wanted to write and had a real interest. I earned a reputation as someone who could be relied on and before long, the content work was offered. Small, internal pieces those ‘busier’ than I never had time to write. As many have said, we all have to start somewhere.

Know before you write

I always did my research and will continue to do so. If you state facts, back them up. If you offer opinions, then be prepared to answer why. Also, get familiar with the style. Every firm, company, industry has their own style. Whether it be using capital letters in a title for every word (I have heard a few debates on this) to knowing the tone of the company you are writing for. Some may enjoy light-hearted takes on topics, while others not as much so.

Structure

For me, writing a piece comes down to the who, what, when, where, how and why and are usually in that order. If all those questions can be answered in your work, you have your piece. I truly believed that I would never learn this, but it becomes second nature.

Be thick skinned

As a then twenty-something who loved the game, when you write something on it, for your team, knowing this has a chance to make an official publication, then that is a special feeling. So, you can imagine my dismay when my boss pulled it to pieces. Devastated, bitter, upset, I could go on and believe me, at home, I did. But I had made a lot of friends who assured me that it is not personal and after that it become my philosophy. You invest a lot of time and emotion in writing, so a fresh pair of eyes is essential. We can always improve, and I see criticism as constructive and something which will ultimately improve me.

Be fresh and versatile

Even writing about one topic doesn’t have to mean you should stay regimented and make every piece sound the same. I have always tried to be creative and to keep things fresh. This can be a headline, finding someone different to interview or simply a new angle on an old formula.

There is always a story

If you look then it will be there. I managed to interview a famous Champions’ League winning footballer while I was at a charity event. My interview was shockingly nervous, but it let my elders and betters know that I was prepared to chase the angle and write about it. And in staying on that point, the big interview can also lead off into other angles. If you want a line on the event you’re covering, then go for it, but don’t forget that there is always the potential for more than one story from one interview.

Obviously, this is simply my opinion from what I have learnt from my journey (and is still learning). If you have a similar story or would like to leave a comment, email jfh1983.jh@gmail.com.