16 March 2020
Faye Carruthers - has not lost sight of where she came from and how tough her journey to the top has been
Networking can be a nerve-wracking experience if you are not the most confident of people.
And even if you are, not everyone likes or feels comfortable making ‘small talk’ with a complete stranger.
Sports broadcaster Faye Carruthers was a case in point.
"Networking can be painful at times," says Faye, a regular on talkSPORT, Sky Sports and Guardian Football Weekly. "But if you really want something and believe you are capable of it, you have to try and push yourself out of your comfort zone."
By her own admission, Faye encountered many, many knockbacks in her "zig-zig career path", with her confidence sometimes taking a bashing along the way.
But Faye's sheer determination – and skill as a broadcaster – has finally paid off after a long, hard slog to get to her current position.
"I always loved sport and even though my dad had two girls, it didn't stop him wanting us to play a sport or watch as much as possible," she says. "I don't know any different, I've always been involved and passionate about sport and knew from a young age that I wanted to be a journalist. It was either that or an Interior Designer, but I quickly realised I wasn't that great at art, so my mind was made up that journalism was my thing."
Faye was accepted on a Broadcast Journalism course at Nottingham Trent University and she quickly got involved with the student radio station as it had a sports show. "It was a brilliant learning curve," she says. "Everything was very hands-on and I was given my first match as a broadcaster there."
It was a salutary lesson for Faye that has since stood her in very good stead. "It was an FA Cup first-round tie between Mansfield and Hayes," she recalls. "I sat in the press box giving reports on my mobile phone – a flip-down Motorola – but learnt a few important things that day that have been invaluable.
"For starters, I was stuck in traffic and also hadn't done much preparation as no-one had told me what was going to be needed. So for my first-ever match, I was late for my preview and panicking that I didn't have enough to say - not something I'm now known for! I learnt my lesson though and was then lucky enough to report on my own team, getting to watch Luton Town in action whilst learning the trade.
“When I left university, most of the opportunities out there for women were in news, not sport, but I didn't really want to go down the news route as it was always football for me, but I was repeatedly told I had a good news voice and I was afraid no-one would give me an opportunity in sport.
"I applied for a couple of jobs at Sky, including one as PA to a marketing director, because I thought I would at least be in the right place, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It didn’t take me long to realise I was a very, very bad PA, so I started networking as much as I could and managed to find the name of a woman who recruited production runners. I asked if I could be added to the rota and was thankfully given a chance as logger. I was working my normal day from 9 to 5pm and then again from 5pm or 8pm until midnight.
"Starting out as a logger or runner can be a really good way in; a logger is someone who works on matchdays or on specific events and their job is to sit and watch the action, logging on a sheet all the interesting things that happen, writing the time code down of key moments and flagging up anything that should be used in a highlights package.
"A runner will take the log sheets so they are put together for a highlight package, print off scripts – and generally run about doing all sorts of jobs to keep things running smoothly."
Having already got a foot in the door, opportunity knocked again for Faye when she was offered a chance to cover someone's maternity leave at Sky Sports News. Once the contract ran out, she took production shifts and and balanced that by working as a freelancer at Sky News Radio, doing her dream job "in the best place I could be."
But personal circumstances saw Faye take a 14-month break to go travelling, and after a stint freelancing at radio stations in Yorkshire, she ended up back at Sky after a former colleague contacted her about a job.
"This is where your network can be so important - making a good impression a few years earlier meant I was on the radar when a suitable job came up and I went back to Sky - it’s like they have a bungee cord on my ankles, I always end up back in Osterley!”
"Even though I was working in news, the shift pattern was such that when I was free, I would work sport shifts for radio, and then gradually got to know the TV Sports News desk where I then worked extra shifts as a bulletin producer."
Faye put together a showreel as she wanted to be on camera, rather than behind one, but didn't get the kind of feedback she had hoped for.
"I was told that I 'didn't translate' on screen, which I took as meaning I wasn't skinny enough or pretty enough, but I was not going to be put off," says Faye. Then opportunity came knocking in the form of talkSPORT.
Faye was approached to work as a newsreader on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast Show on talkSPORT, and in her quest to get her career path heading in the direction she wanted, she took the offer and spent 4 years at the station, while continuing to work on the Sky News sport desk at weekends, but she still had ambitions to be covering football on the ground.
"I had always wanted to go out and report on games, and although I did a couple of reports, at talkSPORT, I never felt particularly encouraged, which again affected my confidence, so I decided to set up my own business, go freelance and so set about contacting everyone I knew to see where I could get the work I really wanted to do.
"Pete Stevens at BBC London gave me the opportunity and, finally, after years of graft, I was going to games, and covering press conferences. I also worked for BBC 5Live, but again, they put me on as a newsreader and I really had to work to be allowed to cover any sport.
"People so often try and pigeonhole you because they have no idea what you have done or think about what you are capable of, but following my dream was more important than that, even though at times it had been a source of huge frustration."
But as Faye's presence on the airwaves continued to increase, so too did the speed of her journey.
When BBC Final Score reached out as they were looking to recruit more females, Faye was offered her first match reporting on Charlton v Doncaster. Excited, but nervous, she jumped at the chance, although any thoughts of a low-profile, gentle introduction on her debut quickly went out of the window.
"The game was controversially abandoned just after half-time because of waterlogging, it was a bonkers match and my producer at the time said that if I could report on that, I could cover anything! Finally, it felt like I was making progress."
Then, having broadcast nationally for a number of years, Faye’s hard work paid even bigger dividends and proved again that contacts are key.
"I had been working as the sports presenter on the Christian O’Connell breakfast show on Absolute Radio, and out of the blue, someone I had known when I started out as a 21 year old said Sky were looking for female reporters to work on Soccer Saturday, and he had put me forward and set up a meeting with the producer.
"I couldn’t believe it, I would never have dared to put myself forward, but it had always been a dream, and my Grandad had always told me I could do it and he loved watching Jeff Stelling and Bianca Westwood. I was so thrilled to get the chance, but absolutely gutted I lost my Grandad before I made my debut – he would have been so proud to see me on there.
"It has been a long journey to get where I am now, and I have gone a wiggly way, but I finally feel like I have broken through properly.
"I am now utilised as a Speaker advising young people coming into the industry, and helping them with their confidence. I wish I had access to mentors when I started out, so I want to give others the kind of support and guidance that would have been invaluable to me back then."
Faye is also on the committee for the Sports Journalists Association as Head of Broadcast Judges for the British Sports Journalism Awards and is regularly invited on panels to talk about how to improve the industry and the opportunities available.
“That is what I’m really passionate about, getting others to believe in their ability is so important and I love encouraging people to believe they can achieve anything. If I can do it, so can they, I now run my own successful voiceover business, and am back at talkSPORT - I host a women's football show and excitingly, I will be the station’s England Correspondent for Euro 2020 – it really has gone full circle.”
It may all be a far cry from visiting Kenilworth Road as a teenager, but Faye will not lose sight of where she has come from, and how hard it has been to get where she is now.
"I love to help more than I get the time to do, a lot of it is unpaid and I have become quite good at sussing out who genuinely who wants advice, and those who just want a short cut to a job. I can't endorse people if I've never seen them in a work environment, but if I do and they have gone above and beyond, I will give as much practical support and advice as possible.
"I know what people behind me need, and I won't ever forget either, as I've been that person."
In her increasingly busy schedule, Faye does still manage the odd trip to watch the Hatters, but it's not quite the same experience as before.
"I must admit, when I do get to go along as a fan I can't quite enjoy it as much as I used to because I commentate on the game in my head and analyse what's going on all the time, it makes it more stressful, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
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