How Gary Sherrard grabbed his dream job

-Ben Clarke

Gary Sherrard was different from many of his friends when he was growing up: he knew what he wanted to do for a living.

“When I was younger my dad read the paper – he started at the back and read through to the front. And so did I. It was from then that I always knew I wanted to be a sports editor.”

Gary, who is now head of communications at Leicester Tigers Rugby Club, was telling the story to third year sports journalism students from De Montfort University.

They were sitting on the old wooden benches of the away team’s dressing room as part of a privileged tour of the Welford Road ground listening to Gary answer questions about his career.

Gary achieved his boyhood goal when he joined the Leicester Mercury as sports editor in 2000, his last newspaper role before he joined Leicester Tigers six years later.

His experience at the city’s daily paper he believes has helped him in his current job as he knows what the journalists covering Tigers are looking for.

Like many of the students who sitting in the spartan dressing room, Gary passed his NCTJ exams, but never went to university after deciding higher education was not for him, but says he does not necessary believe that you can do the job without a journalism degree.

Gary said: “When I started I had one question, and I still don’t know the answer to it; I wanted to know if you needed a degree to be a journalist.

“I’m still not sure about the answer but if I had to employ someone tomorrow, it would be someone from a journalism background.”

Gary began doing death knocks as a junior reporter, a role he could not see himself doing as he joked: “I don’t even ask people for directions in the street, I’d rather walk round town for 20 minutes in the cold.”

But he believes interviewing recently-bereaved people gave him the kind of experiences that changed him and gave him confidence.

However, when the chance came to leave the front pages behind and move to the back of the paper and cover sport for the Macclesfield Express, it was too good of an offer to turn down. Gary was on track to achieving his goal of becoming a sports editor.

Gary eventually left to join the magazine Athletics Weekly at a time when the sport was at its peak with stars such as Linford Christie and Ben Johnson in the news.

The switch to magazines was also a brilliant way to gather different skills but it didn’t stop him moving back to newspapers when the opportunity came to return to his native North-East and work at the Northern Echo.

Gary said: “I absolutely loved working there for three and a half years. I am a Newcastle fan and getting to cover them when Kevin Keegan was in charge and the excitement of being on my own patch was fantastic.

“It was a morning paper so the earliest shift finished late and I had absolutely no social life but I loved it.”

He never achieved his goal of becoming a sports editor at the Echo – he did become number two – but an opportunity to move back into magazines took him back to the Midlands and magazines and assistant editor of the popular football title Match.

Then in 2000, Gary finally achieved his dream job: he became sports editor of the Leicester Mercury covering three huge teams in Leicester Tigers, Leicester City and Leicestershire County Cricket.

During this time Gary was a season ticket holder at the Tigers and the opportunity came up in 2006 for Gary to head their Communications Team.

“The role at Tigers has changed dramatically in the last five years. We used to update the page twice a day so people would see it at work, now it is a 24-hour job because of social media. No-one expected that then.

“When Tigers won the Champions Cup in 2001 there was no-one doing the communications so one of the hardest challenges was to convince the players that press officers were needed.”

He added: “Nowadays though there is a real belief from the playing side that we are doing a good job.”

During his ten year spell at Tigers, Gary has built a team of three, who all contribute to the club’s media and public relations: Gary, Andy Mann and Rebecca Underwood do a bit of everything as well as have their own individual responsibilities.

Gary said: “Andy is from Coventry so doesn’t have much of an accent so he’s the voice and does all the TV interviews for the club, which I think he likes.

“Rebecca did her dissertation with video and has an expertise in it so she does the videos and comes up with ideas for that.

“There is no point them doing the same job as me.”

One of the new challenges Gary and his team face is the building work at Welford Road which will see the ground hold 26,000, leaving the media facilities restricted which takes great organisation on match-days with: journalists, television, photographers and overseas press all wanting to do their job in limited space.

Gary said: “Re-development does not happen overnight, personally my biggest challenge is finding somewhere for the photographers to sit.”

With Leicester Tigers in the play-offs and still in the Champions Cup, there is clearly a need for Gary and his team to manage communications, with interest around the club increasing with their hopes for success this season.

 

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