A day in the life of a Premier League Football Reporter: What will the new normal look like?

Alison Bender   Football  

My favourite saying is this: “Work hard when you don’t have to, so you don’t have to work hard when you don’t want to.”

I trot it out at every career speech, I use examples when I speak to students, and I’ve written a book about it. It is so true of so many situations, but I never thought that a more accurate version would end: ”so you don’t have to work hard when you can’t!”

I’ve always seen my industry as being bullet proof. I’m so lucky it has provided me with endless work. At many times in my career I wished there had been more of me, so I was able to do all the interviews that came my way, and present all the shows I wanted.

Never did I expect a situation like this though. Of course, no one could have predicted it. No football! None!

As a Premier League presenter and reporter, unfortunately this left me with no work. Of course I could have been inventive, interviewing players on Zoom and writing articles on football’s return, but it’s easier said than done when you are freelance and most companies are struggling to provide their staff with enough work.

Instead I sat tight, keeping across it all, working on my book and a documentary series I have coming up, home schooling my children, exercising more than I ever have and just hoping it would return…when it is safe to do so!

On set ready to present my show

And then they announcement we were all waiting for: a provisional start of June 17th. I can start to get excited, but it got me thinking about how different things will look when I return.

I want to tell you about a typical match day for me as a reporter for the Premier League so you can see just what I mean.

Premier League reporting at Arsenal on the opening day of the season

The first thing to say is that of course we know there will be no fans, but it’s amazing just how many people are involved on a typical match day. I still stare in amazement at my call sheet at the sheer number of people involved.

For me preparations begin a few days before. I’ll get an idea of the teams form by watching clips of their last games and reading stats and match reports to refresh my memory. I’ll go to the club’s website and local newspapers looking for little gems that only those who know the club intricately might know. I’ll go to the manager’s press conference and ask a few questions and perhaps interview a player, trying to get a feeling for what the week’s training has been like and any team news I might need. The night before I’ll pore over the Premier League stats pack and make my own notes, recording it in the same way I’ve done for over a decade, so I know where to look to get my facts when time pressure is on.  

On the day of a game I get to the stadium early, often three or four hours before kick off, depending on my ‘hit times.’ Most clubs provide a wonderful spread, especially Chelsea, so I have to make time for that. I’m always multitasking so I usually eat whilst reading the programme notes trying to get a bit of inside info. for my match report.

There are numerous catering staff, some on main meals, some on teas and coffees, taking orders and clearing up. I know there will be no catering in the new set up, with journalists encouraged to bring their own food so this will be a big change.

By this stage I’d have already spoken to at least 20 people: The bag searchers upon entry; a few Chelsea fans who say hi; and the lovely Brian and Thresa on the door who give me my accreditation. It’s worth noting these individuals are over 60 so perhaps at greater risk. Then of course there are the journalists inside the room. It’s hugs and kisses to a bunch of Chelsea TV crew who I haven’t seen in ages, plus the travelling journos from the away team, who I may only come across a few times each season.

I check in with my match manager and floor manager and any guests that I might be interviewing pre match to discuss themes and topics. I then head out pitch side to work on some scene setters.

The technical area pitchside

As you can see already the number of people I’ve come into contact with is vast, it will be so different when I next set foot inside a football stadium. It’s so natural to shake a hand, or give someone a hug but I’ll have to be so restrained. I suppose there won’t be as many people anyway.

As I head down the tunnel I see 5 or 6 security staff, liaison officers and a big team of ground security, who are having their briefings. Most of these are essential because of the fans, but with no fans, most of these would not be present.

Out pitch side I’ll head over to my camera position where I’ll introduce myself to my cameraman and the audio guy, making sure all my technical equipment is ready. Obviously this involves close contact, feeding wires down my back, clipping microphones to my lapel etc. There are usually a few fans here too so I’ll have chat with some and get an idea of how they are feeling. There are more technical staff rigging and getting set up so usually this area is packed.

At this point I often see Jason Griffin and his ground staff getting the pitch ready and have a little chat with them too.

A few backroom staff are usually strolling around by now, so I’ll perhaps have a chat with the doctors, physiotherapists, stats guys and scouts and other members of both teams who I know.

I then head back inside to find the press officers and see if there is anything I need to know about today.

Busy press room with journalists and cameramen

By this point the room is filling up, I’ll have a chat with the club photographer and some other presenters and reporters before sitting down to write my pre match stand up.

Even though I’m sitting with my head down, usually a few people will come up to me to say hi and we chat about what we’ve been up to.

If I need the loo at Chelsea there is only one toilet, a really tight space that is so small that you feel embarrassed to wait inside if someone else is using it, so you step outside, but that puts you in the food queue.

It’s funny how every journo has “their spot.” By habit certain journalists gather in certain areas, for example the guys who cover Chelsea exclusively like Liam Twomey, Dan Levene, Paul Lagan etc. gather together and talk shop a little behind the desert area. I just read that Paul is in hospital, which is terrible news. He’s been reporting on Chelsea for longer than I remember and is always a familiar face in that press room.

I usually do my PTC (piece to camera) just as the players are coming out to warm up and then it’s back inside to get team news.

My pre-match Live

In the old days we would huddle together to hear the list read out to us by the press officer. Thankfully today it’s done on an app so it is released to us and we mark it down in private. We still all gather though to discuss changes from the last game and formation suggestions, usually with the world feed commentators.

Then it’s back outside to the camera to deliver my team news to the studio and watch if there are any changes in the warm up, any injuries or anything we need to be aware of. If I see anything it’s back inside to put my question to the press officers before finally settling down in the press box ready for the game to begin.

As you can see this would be an absolute disaster in terms of trying to avoid the spread of COVID-19, which is why I wanted to make the point of how different things will be.

Of course so many of these people we usually see at matches will not be present, as it will be a stripped down version. It will feel like an eerie post apocalyptic version, with people wandering around looking completely different despite only being away from our consciousness’s for a few months.

I guess in many ways it’ll feel like the first match of a season, though with nine (or ten games) to go players will need to get into gear fast as there’s so much at stake. No wonder they wanted a four-week pre season rather than the 3 that was given.

The post match interview: close up in a small room pre COVID-19

Each individual that is present will have to be so mindful and only do things that are absolutely necessary. It’s easier said than done when you are under stress and time pressure and have done the same thing a certain way for hundreds of matches, but it must be done.

I’m excited football is back, and I’m curious to see how it might look and feel, but it will certainly not feel like the football we are used to. It’ll be ‘The New Normal’ but I’m not sure I want it to be, I love my job, as you should love someone…just the way it is.