Our next guest is The Guardian’s women’s football writer, Suzanne Wrack.
Hi Suzanne, thanks for taking the time to speak to Freelance Football Opportunities today. Can you tell us about yourself, your journey and how you ended up women’s football writer for The Guardian?
I have taken an unusual route into sports journalism. I studied architecture at university with every intention of being an architect. I’ve always loved sport and football in particular but sports journalism never even crossed my mind as something I could do or that people like me did. After my three years at university I worked in an architecture firm for a year as an architectural assistant and while I loved where I worked I fell out of love with the industry. I went and worked for a youth organisation that campaigned against unemployment, for free education, against racism and more and did a lot of their communications and design work.
From there I got a job as a sub-editor at the Morning Star. After a while I started helping out on the sports desk and going to the odd match and that lit the sports journalism fire in me. I went to every event about getting into sports journalism I could, wrote as much as I could and networked as much as I could.
I applied for a job at the Guardian as a sports sub-editor but didn’t get it. On the advice of the late Vikki Orvice, I asked for shifts and the rest is history. I started doing layout shifts and a bit of sub-editing and in June 2017 was asked to start a weekly women’s football column. Now I write full time on women’s football.
It’s no secret that working in sports can be a 24/7 job, if there is a ‘normal’ week, what does that look like for you?
There is no normal week. I suppose the closest to a normal week in season is that I’ll spend Monday to Friday speaking to people, doing interviews, going to press conferences (in person or Zoom depending on pre or during the pandemic) and then go to a match on Sunday.
Social media means you have to be alert to the news and keep your ear to the ground pretty much 24/7. There’s very little down time. Even when on holiday. But I love my job.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Great question. My favourite stories are ones that can have a wider impact on sport and in society. Football is a much loved sport and that makes it hugely powerful, so I suppose my focus is to elevate voices and ideas that encourage the sport to be used for good.
What is the most enjoyable part of your role?
I love talking to people. I’m actually quite introverted (though people I work around may say different) but I love sitting down one on one with an individual and chatting. My interview style is, I hope, quite relaxed, like you would have over drinks or a meal and I like to think that makes people a bit more comfortable opening up.
What is the most difficult part of your role?
Wordcounts and the intensity of the job. I’m terrible at sticking to wordcounts and, as I’ve already said, the job is 24/7, there is no switching off. That can be a bit mentally exhausting sometimes.
When did you know you wanted to work in football?
I was aware I wanted to work in football after dipping my toe in at the Morning Star. Though I think if someone had said to me that it was a job that people do I would have realised a lot sooner. I can’t really explain it. I read newspaper sports pages and watched sport, but sports journalism wasn’t something I was ever aware of.
Throughout your career to date, you’ve interviewed many players and covered big football tournaments, any standout interviews or fond memories you’d like to share?
Covering my first tournament, the 2019 World Cup, was a highlight. I’m writing this from a hotel room in Japan as I cover an Olympics during a pandemic so I’m sure that will be added to the list. In terms of interviews… so many. Megan Rapinoe one on one in New York for her being named the Guardian footballer of the year in 2018. Ada Hegerberg is always wonderful to speak to. I love everything about Lucy Bronze’s personality and the way she carries herself. But really it’s the less know people that I like talking to the most, the Afghan women abused by the president of the federation, the girls from Football Beyond Borders — women whose stories need to be told and heard.
Who are your favourite writers at the moment and what do you think it is that makes them so brilliant?
I love the work of my colleague Jonathan Liew. He has an incredible turn of phrase and great wit but also is so unbelievably unerring in his criticism of the darker side of the game. Marina Hyde for the same reasons. In terms of women’s football writers, Molly Hudson at the Times, who I’ve seen grow as a journalist alongside me to a certain extent.
What general advice would you give to those individuals looking to pursue a career in football writing? What are the key skills required?
Hard graft and lots of networking are key. Don’t expect to apply for a job and get it, there are many freelancers in this industry that will likely get a permanent role ahead of you because they already do the job. The best advice I was given was to ask for shifts when rejected. Get your foot in the door and go from there.
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?
A unique idea and good writing. Be humble. If they don’t like it, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, go away and come back with a better idea. Persistence is important.
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