Freelance Sports Writer and Broadcaster | Andy West
We welcome freelance sports writer and broadcaster, Andy West. Based in Barcelona, Andy has worked for multiple clients including La Liga, FC Barcelona and BBC Sport. It was great to discuss his journey and experience to date.
Hi Andy, 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 started working in football in 1998 when I saw an ad in the local paper as programme editor at Reading Football Club, applied and got the job. I wasn’t long out of university so it was a perfect starting point and I was lucky that the club did really well, eventually getting promoted to the Premier League in 2006. That opened up lots of opportunities for me, as did the digital revolution which made online journalism extremely important. The club website was an afterthought when I arrived and many clubs didn’t have one at all. That soon changed.
Another stroke of fortune for me came in 2001 when the club’s chairman John Madejski decided to build his own radio station and gave them live commentary rights. The day before the first game they realised they didn’t have a commentator, so I was called in! And ever since then commentary had been an important part of my professional life.
I had always liked the idea of freelancing and in 2009 I decided I’d got everything I could out of the job at Reading and the time was right. I used the contacts I’d made during the previous decade to pick up various freelance work, writing and commentating, and in 2012 my wife had an opportunity to move to Barcelona with her work. I reasoned it wouldn’t be a bad place to work as a freelance sports journalist so we went for it and have stayed ever since.
My first regular work in Spain was with Sport360, a daily sports newspaper based in Abu Dhabi who were looking for a Spanish football correspondent. They are now online only, which very much reflects the trends of the industry, but I still work with them.
Then I picked up work with EuroLeague Basketball, which is based in Barcelona. And a few years later a broadcast company called Mediapro, also in Barcelona, got the contract to broadcast all La Liga games in English so they needed commentators. EuroLeague had previously worked with Mediapro so they knew me, and that has become an important part of my life.
When did you know you wanted to work in the football?
Simple answer and the same as most people I guess: when I realised I wasn’t good enough to be a player! And then when I left uni and got a ‘proper job’ in a PR agency, which I found excruciatingly boring, I became even more keen.
As a freelance sports writer and broadcaster for the likes of La Liga TV, BBC Sport and others, what does a ‘normal’ week look like for you?
Some of my work is routine. I generally cover one game for La Liga TV every Saturday and Sunday. On Tuesday mornings I record the voiceover on a highlights show for the Spanish basketball league. Thursday and Friday nights are EuroLeague games.
But other things come and go — with the BBC website, for example, I might go three months without writing a story but then write two in a week. So I have to be flexible and be ready to respond quickly, which is essential if you want to freelance.
What are the most enjoyable and difficult parts of your role?
I most enjoy commentating, because you are totally immersed in the game and really have to ‘live’ the action. You have to stay totally focused and there’s a fair amount of pressure because obviously it is live, but that makes it more enjoyable.
Probably the biggest downside to freelancing is that I’m a bit of an outsider and don’t ‘belong’ anywhere. I work for five or six organisations but to an extent I’m on the outside looking in, so I miss the sense of teamwork and camaraderie that was very much present in my job at Reading, for example. You’re also basically on your own — there’s nobody helping with my career development or giving me annual appraisals.
But then again, all that means I don’t have to get involved in office politics which is a definite big positive!
What’s been your standout moments/highlights so far?
It’s been a long time so there have been a few. Getting promoted to the Premier League with Reading was amazing, of course.
Since I started freelancing I’ve been lucky to have loads. Going to Clasicos and Champions League knockout ties are hard to beat. Most recently I was commentating on Atletico Madrid’s last game at the end of last season, when they won at Real Valladolid to become champions, so that was special.
Who are your favourite football writers or commentators at the moment and what do you think it is that makes them so brilliant?
Jonathan Liew at the Guardian is my favourite sports writer. He has a fantastic ability to find unique angles to very well known events or people, even when he’s writing match reports under deadline pressure.
In terms of Spanish football, Sid Lowe is incredibly good. In addition to his ability as a writer, he puts in so much time and effort, so his knowledge is unmatched.
In terms of commentary, most of the TV I watch is in Spanish and the main commentator for Movistar, a kind of Sky Sports equivalent, is Carlos Martinez who is superb. He has a great way of managing the tempo and rhythm of a game, and explaining what’s going on whilst also leaving room for his co-commentator to give fuller analysis.
But really, all of the commentators who stay with a big organisation for any period of time are very good. They wouldn’t last otherwise because it’s a competitive world. They might be more or less to your personal tastes but you can take something from everyone.
What general advice would you give to those individuals looking to pursue a career in football writing? What are the key skills required?
Firstly, go back to what I said about Sid Lowe. He is a genuine expert, so he has instant credibility because it’s obvious he knows what he’s talking about. If you want to be an expert in a specific subject area, gain expertise. And that takes simple hard work. It’s worth putting in the hours because there is no substitute for expertise, even in our new clickbait world.
It’s also important to be flexible and versatile. It’s now very unusual to work only as a writer, the media landscape just doesn’t call for it. So acquire new skills like video editing or presenting podcasts. The more things you can do, the more chance you have of getting paid.
A very important general piece of advice is to always be available, and always be reliable. If an editor calls you and you don’t reply, they won’t call you back. And if you fail to meet a deadline, you’ll definitely never get called back.
And of course, as a freelancer you have to be proactive. Opportunities rarely fall into your lap so you have to go looking for them, and using personal contacts is often the best way to get an introduction.
I’m sure you’ve sent countless pitches in your time. In your opinion, what makes a good pitch? Any key advice you can share with freelancers at the start of their journey looking to pitch their stories/ideas to editors?
Firstly, make them relevant. If you pitch a great story about the French second division to the editor of a website specialising in German football, you’re wasting everybody’s time including your own. So make the effort to ensure you are approaching the right person, which also means you can make it personal instead of the ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ approach.
The pitch itself should be as short as possible. A few sentences at the most, outlining the story. Also sell yourself — briefly explain why you are the right person to tell this story. What can you provide that nobody else can? Of course, that goes back to being an expert in your subject matter.
Working in sports can be hectic, so what do you do to switch off outside of work?
Music. I have played guitar since I was nine and play in a band with some friends. The Four Kings…not coming soon to any venues anywhere near you!
And finally Andy, where can people find you on social media to connect?
I simplify my online life because it can take up a LOT of time which can otherwise be used more productively, so I’m only on Twitter - @andywest01.
Sign up to the Freelance Football Opportunities newsletter to receive freelance football work directly in to your inbox every week: www.freelancefootballopps.com.