From the dressing room to commentary box

By Bobbi Hadgraft

There’s always an air of excitement when one of the founders makes an appearance on campus. When Gary entered our teaching environment the buzz was more concentrated. As a journalism student with a huge interest in sport – football in particular – it seemed surreal to be presented with such an opportunity only weeks into the start of my first year at university. However, Gary seemed to share the same excitement. Despite a busy schedule, he was eager to share his stories, perched on a stool facing the class as if a student himself. He quickly began to share insight that can only be acquired through years of experience in the industry. 

As a player, Gary lived through periods of drastic change for sports broadcasting. I remember gasping at the fact that before 1992 and major investment from Sky, merely “one [football match] a week” was televised. He addressed this change as something that required players of his era to quickly adapt, with increasing interview requests and a transparency which led to a feeling that nothing could be hidden. When discussing these changes, he spoke of Alex Ferguson, a pivotal figure during Gary’s career. Ferguson did not take well to these changes which occurred during the latter stages of his managerial spell. He found it difficult to accommodate the frequent demands modern media, across radio, television and social media of late. 

Social media itself is something that has proven to hugely disrupt the industry during the last decade. In fact, Gary labelled its growing appearance the biggest change he experienced, with a growing impatience for new content a consequence of advancements in mobile technology. This conversation branched off into a discussion of Gary’s own football club, Salford City. A bit like our own university, the approach to club management of Salford could be argued revolutionary, with the ongoing filming of a behind the scenes documentary meaning that players are covered even more intensely than the industry standard. Gary discussed how players are now engrained with awareness of their duties off as well as on the pitch, in engaging responsibly with the media and maintaining a reputable presence online. 

Speaking of his own experiences where dressing room stories had been blown out of proportion, he discussed the infamous incident between Beckham and Ferguson’s ‘flying boot’. Gary described how this event provoked a storm on the outside, as if “the world was ending”. Meanwhile, the clash has already been internally dealt with. He used this as an example of how the media can “blow up [an incident] one hundred times”, which can affect player morale. He noted how negative press can “erode [the] confidence” of players, something that had affected him earlier in his career but now processes “through one ear and out of the other”.

Now a familiar face on Sky for our nation’s football fix, Gary is a natural TV pundit, however he insisted the transition was more difficult than perceived. Asking questions was a skill he took “four or five years” to perfect, substituting a rigid, quickfire interview approach with a more conversational style as he gained confidence. As he closed the session, he made a link between his media career and his personal life, stating how he favours moving to a new house every three years and justifying his aspirations to transition to a presenter role with Sky.   

Gary delivered an important piece of advice relating to his career at Sky. He described their ethos as “[developing] and [learning] yourself”, something that is indisputably important as students hoping to enter the industry. It’s vital to use mistakes as opportunities for self-improvement and to remember that even the very best make mistakes. So, if you accidentally call “Brighton’s left back Gaetan Bong [instead of] Fernando”, try not to dwell on it. 

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