Our next guest is Freelance Football Host and Presenter, Alison Bender.
Hi Alison, 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’m a freelance football host and presenter with over 20 years in the industry. When I say this, it makes me feel very old, and the truth is, I’m the age of most managers these days, but I still feel about 30, where does the time go?
I always knew I wanted to work in TV and straight after University I got a job as a Broadcast Assistant at a News Channel, CNBC. I worked there for six years, editing, producing, script writing, rolling autocue, doing everything really and I learned some valuable skills that are needed to be in TV. I ran the news desk and booked guests and worked on forward planning before eventually deciding to ‘take the plunge’ and try my hand at presenting. I gave myself a one-year deadline and tried all sorts of presenting to gain experience - quiz channels, shopping TV, fashion, music, the lot!
I then landed a role to launch Real Madrid TV in Spain in 2005. They wanted a producer and a presenter and I ticked both boxes, I’d never have got that job if I hadn’t spent all that time behind the camera, so I always tell people this experience is invaluable.
After two years in Spain I returned to England and got a job presenting Sky Sports News and then worked in-house for another club channel - Chelsea TV for 6 years.
After that I had more roles at ITV sport, Al Jazeera and a long stint with the Premier League where I was part of the launch team for their brand new channel. I was a pitch side reporter and also hosted the news show, a fan phone in show and several other shows.
Freelance life is full and varied and I’ve been lucky to have some great roles, some abroad including ESPN in America, and Astro Malaysia.
When did you know you wanted to work in the football media world? In particularly presenting and reporting?
I knew when I was ten years old, but I was discouraged by teachers, who wanted me to choose ‘a proper job’ and so it was a long journey of discovery. It wasn’t until 2005 at Real Madrid that I knew this was no longer a ‘stepping stone’ but what I wanted to do forever and I’ve been trying to stay in the industry ever since.
Each year it becomes harder with new faces, new bosses and new styles of presenting, so I’m constantly trying to adapt and reinvent myself, but that is so important in this industry, it moves on, and so you have to as well. For example this year, I started a TikTok account, to try and engage with a younger audience, it is honestly one of he best things I ever did, I love the platform so much.
A reporter for BBC, contributor for talkSPORT and a presenter for Chelsea amongst other projects, what does a ‘normal’ week look like for you?!
There is no normal week as a freelancer, but I do try and have some structure in my week so I can plan and prepare. The one thing I will say is you have to work every day, even on your ‘day off.’ News moves so fast and you have to be across it all so I always start my day reading papers and social media and making sure I’m across everything.
I’m a mum of two small children, and want to be an active parent too, so it involves a lot of multi tasking and juggling, but I refuse to choose one over the other so this is what I have to do.
I usually get called most days to be on BBC 5live and often with little warning, so it’s good to be prepared. Same goes for Good Morning Britain, I get asked to be a panelist in a debate.
Thursday and a Friday are my busiest days - media and prep days, getting ready for match day, so I spend a lot of time on my stats and going to press conferences (these days they are on zoom so I can go to both rather than having to chose one!).
Matchday is a big one, people don’t realise what a long day it can be. I aim to arrive two to three hours before kick off because I do lives in front of the camera and social media content and like to factor in time for traffic or any other delay. For a 3 o’clock kick off I leave the house in the morning, especially if it’s out of London. After the game I wait around for post match interviews, my wrap videos and other social media so often I won’t be home until after dinner and often around midnight. 90% of the season is cold, so be prepared for that too.
You have covered some of the biggest events in the world. European Championships, World Cups and Champions League games. What’s been your standout moments/highlights so far?
I’m so lucky, I’ve had some big stand out moments. Being pitch side at World Cup and European Championship finals always feels huge. I was in Russia for ESPN in 2018 and adored watching England’s journey. I saw us beat Colombia on penalties, which was such a moment to be a part of. Reporting at the King Power when Leicester won the league was huge too, it was such an historic moment I felt so lucky to be a part of that. Sir Alex Ferguson’s last home game was emotional too. There are just too many to list.
You’ve also interviewed many players and managers at the top of the game, any interviews that standout?
Interviewing Pele was massive as he is such a legend. I got a whole ten minutes with him (which is rare) and he was so gracious, It felt so special.
I spent the day with Steven Gerrard at Ibrox, he showed me round, we went into his office, he showed me the trophy room and we even went on a car journey just the two of us through the Scottish Highlands. It’s rare you get a chance to interview a player or manager without press officers so that was special.
Then there are the firsts, interviewing Frank Lampard when he became Chelsea’s top all time scorer, or Leicester players when they won the FA Cup and the league. I love being at manager’s unveilings, I’ve been to so many, but Jurgen Klopp’s and Frank Lampard’s stand out. 19–20 and 20–21 were weird seasons because of Covid, but for that reason it felt extra special to be allowed in Stadia. I was at Liverpool’s long awaited trophy lift. That felt surreal and wonderful.
Who are your favourite TV presenters and reporters at the moment and what do you think it is that makes them so brilliant?
It’s been really great to see some fantastic younger female presenters break through, because I know how tough it can be as a woman in this sport but for every great newbie I think it’s important to remember those who have been doing it for so long, because longevity is tough in this industry, so to stay in it and have the same passion is important. For example Michelle Owen is a breath of fresh air at Sky and always comes across as well prepared and knowledgeable, but we can’t forget people like Bianca Westwood who have been doing this role for years and still manage to have such a great energy for it.
I’ve enjoyed watching Laura Woods too, she has a very calm way about her and doesn’t try to do ‘too much’ which is a trap many women fall into, trying to prove themselves. Kelly Cates fits into that same bracket of calm and self assured.
This Euros, I loved watching Emma Saunders, she has a wonderful energy, and a youthful and effortless charm that makes the players feel at ease with her. Honestly I don’t want to leave anyone out as there are so many I admire. Generally I like people who are themselves and not trying to be like someone else.
Earlier this year you started a podcast called ‘Talent Takes Time’ can you tell our readers a little bit more about that and how it began?
It was born out of lockdown. Football was cancelled and my work dried up, and I missed presenting so much. I thought I’d launch an IGTV series to help grow my Instagram organically and be doing what I missed. It got some great feedback and a podcast company approached me and asked me if I wanted to turn it into a podcast. From that point I found my ‘podcast voice’ I love the medium so much.
What general advice would you give to those individuals looking to pursue a career in football presenting and reporting — what are the key skills needed?
I have so much advice and I give a lot on my social media channels. I always say there is no one route, it’s really all about your individual journey. Some start behind the scenes (which I encourage). It’s so important to be able to edit and write and know all of the skills required to make TV. The biggest advice I have is be patient, everyone wants to rush but you need to learn the skills and make the contacts. If you want a long career, you should be prepared to wait for it to blossom.
Where do you see your career in the future? Are there any specific objectives you hope to achieve?
Well it’s tough to stay in it and I’m always having to re-invent myself as there are fewer opportunities, so I always stay staying in this industry is the goal. I’ve started to write more and I adore podcasting and documentary producing. But my true love is hosting live shows and so I’m waiting for the right opportunity in that area. Reporting and interviewing are great but nothing beats the rush of being on live TV, that’s where I have the most experience and what I love most.
I’ve written a book so at some point when it’s the right time I’d like to get that published. I also love working with creative people and doing collabs. So I have a few ideas of something a little bit different, all football of course.
And finally Alison, where can people find you on social media?
I’m the same name everywhere, @alibendertv on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Follow me I’d love to connect.
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