Class of 2019: For the love of the game – the football journalist breaking new ground in the coverage of women’s sport

In the latest of our Class of 2019 series, which highlights some of the best feature writing by recent graduates from the Journalism course at De Montfort University, Renuka Odedra  meets the first full-time women’s football writer on a national newspaper in the UK

KATIE WHYATT

This year the women’s World Cup will be played in France, where women on the pitch will bid to write their own histories, but one woman has worked her way through to making history herself.

Katie Whyatt, a 21-year-old who only months after graduating from Leeds University worked her way to become the candidate chosen from many interviewed to grab the job of her dreams.

2006 was a year in which many extraordinary things happened. Facebook opened to the public for the very first time, the very first tweet was sent, a whale was spotted on the river Thames and Pluto was declassified as a planet. But for Katie it was the year she fell in love with football: “The World Cup in 2006 in Germany is kind of when I really, really got obsessed with football, because the first game I ever watched was the 2006 FA Cup final between Liverpool and West Ham and Steven Gerrard just basically played insane in that game.

“My parents knew I was interested in football, so the following year they got a season ticket for Bradford Football Club and I then I started following and watching them and keeping up with the football the same as any other football-mad kid.”

Katie reminisces to the time when she used to play football, where the divisions between gender in the sport started to surface an ugly side to the beautiful game. Her biggest challenge was not wrapping her foot around a football but her head around the thinking behind a ban by the Football Association. “When I was younger the FA wouldn’t let boys and girls play in the same team after under 11’s. So, me and my brother are twins and we used to play in the same team and I would train with them, but I wouldn’t be able to play on the matches on Sunday. It was a big commitment from my parents to take him to his own games and them to my own games.”

When she was younger Katie did have the chance to play the sport in a professional capacity: “I did have the opportunity to play and it wasn’t certainly something that I thought would be a possible career although I had opportunities to play for clubs that are now semi-professional and professional. Also, growing up I sometimes remember feeling that I was the only girl who wanted to play football or the only girl in the park playing football.”

So she turned towards her love of writing and her journey into football journalism by starting a blog about Bradford City Football Club, called The Width Of A Post. “As I got older, I started writing a blog about Bradford, just a chilled-out thing in my bedroom that I wasn’t taking seriously or thinking too much about and then that just led with opportunities on other sites and a chance to write about other teams.

“I did work experience with places like the BBC and it all just kind of escalated from there really. I think it was quite an organic route just as anybody else had.”

She stumbled upon the first ever role of its kind at the Telegraph on Twitter where the job was well advertised, but when applying Katie doubted that should would land the job. “My mindset at the time was I probably won’t get it,” she says, “but putting the application together and seeing the sort of stuff I’ve done and how it fits together, could lead to an experience of getting an interview which would really stand me in good stead.”

Impressed with her application she got through to the interview stage where what she puts down to everyone being on “the same page” on how women’s football should be covered might have been the big tick beside her name.

Katie Whyatt tweet

Katie remembers the first game she covered in her new role: “It was October 6th, England vs Brazil, so I started in October and it’s been nearly three months.” Seeing her by-line of the first article published in print “was a relief”, she explains. “The first one you do you’re thinking ‘what if everything goes wrong, what if there’s a last-minute goal and I have to do a re-write and what if I don’t know what I’m doing?’ I felt like a bit of a fraud, so I just felt relief like okay the first ones done and it wasn’t a disaster.”

One of the strangest things for the writer is sharing the same platform with some of her favourite football writers, the likes of Sam Wallace and Paul Hayward: “That first piece I did I think was on the same page as Sam Wallace’s column who I’ve read since I was like 13 or 14, when he was at The Independent and a really good football writer, that’s the weirdest thing, people like Paul Hayward who I’ve read for ages and ages and now we just text each other, it’s so weird.”

Katie Whyatt articles

The team at The Telegraph have been a huge support for Katie and despite her age, she encourages any young journalist who may feel like they cannot approach senior journalists. “When I say to them that oh I just feel like a bit of a fraud and I’m going to get found out and that I don’t deserve to be here. Everyone says, ‘oh everyone feels like that,’” she laughs. “Even journalists who have been working for five, 10, 15 years. It’s because it’s that kind of job where you can do a really good story and someone else leaks it first or an interviewee might pull out.”

When asked if she has ever experienced any incidents of sexism in her football journalism journey, she responds “yes”, but politely declines to go into any detail. In 2016 Women In Football in their report on sexists incidents experienced by women in football during a football season found that 61.88% of women in the industry experienced sexist ‘banter’ or ‘jokes’. 15% had been sexually harassed and 24% had been bullied.

In recent years high-profile sexism incidents in football such as BBC Sport reporter Vikki Sparks being told by then Sunderland manager David Moyes: “You were just getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself. You still might get a slap even though you’re a woman. Careful the next time you come in” or even Andy Gray’s and Richard Keys’ infamous comments made against a match official, Sian Massey. These incidents have all happened in the past decade.

But Katie suggests that although progress is being made, sexism within the industry still exists: “I think women now don’t expect to go into a press conference and expect any sexual abuse or anything like that, but I know it does still go on. In a way, our generation can receive this sort of sexism easily as seen with the case of Karen Carney, where someone can easily send a simple tweet or message out on social media.”

Asked if she has any advice for anyone who wants to get into sports journalism, she says, “your journalism course isn’t going to be enough, or studying it won’t be enough. You have to have done the hands-on experience, to show people that this is what I’ve done of my own back and will stand you out from the other hundreds of people on your course.”

Read Katie’s coverage for the Telegraph here.

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