The Highs & Lows of a Newbie Hockey Journalist

An amusing look at how one of our girls got on when she entered into the world of journalism.

Back in June last year, I was in London at the 2016 Champions Trophy at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre in Olympic Park. I was there covering the final weekend games for Worksop Ladies and the Women’s Sport Network and was fortunate enough to get to interview some of the Great Britain girls, as well as some of the other world-class players.

It was my first experience of covering a tournament as a journalist, and on the way to the stadium on the Saturday, I was surprised to see Sam Quek and Susannah Townsend outside in the shopping mall having a coffee. I was a bit star-struck to be honest and shyly asked them could I get a picture with them. They were such lovely girls and didn’t hesitate to accommodate, and looking back, I think they were a little thrilled to be recognised.

Me, with Sam & Susannah

I hadn’t intended to be a journalist, it happened purely by chance. My hockey club, Worksop Ladies, roped me into managing their website just because I work in IT. So, once I started running it, I thought I’d try and attract more visitors by writing about hockey. After publishing a few articles, the Women’s Sport Network contacted me and asked me would I like to provide some content on their behalf, and that was that. I took my first step on the yellow-brick road.

Anyway, back to the story…

When I arrived at the venue I had to have my photo took so they could make me a press pass, and when I went to the gate they just let me through. I’d bought tickets and I didn’t even need them! (My first newbie error). I bought a load of merchandise on the way in and then they directed me round to the back of the stadium to the Media Centre.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so out of my depth!

When I walked in I was so nervous. People were buzzing around, or sat at desks fervently typing on laptops, so I just tentatively walked up to what looked like a reception desk and started asking all manner of questions. I think that they felt sorry, and maybe slightly amused at my obvious novice line of questioning. They were lovely though, and really helped me out, being very patient with me. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so out of my depth!

Everybody seemed to know each other; they’d obviously been on the circuit together for a while, so I felt like a total newbie. After explaining how new this was to me, the Hockey Makers (the event volunteers) told me about where to go, what to do and who to speak to.

They showed me the media rooms and the tunnel where the players come out (that’s how we got out, too!) One of the rooms, called the iZone, as they explained, was where you interviewed the players. Oh. My. God. Interviewing players?! Apparently all I had to do was give this guy with a clipboard the name of the players I wanted to interview after each match and they would be brought to me!

I was then taken to the press boxes, which have the best views in the house, and there I was able to plug in my laptop and try to get to grips with how it all worked. I was sitting next to a lady from England Hockey who was filling in a match sheet as she went along, so for the next game I made sure I had one of them too. I was alongside journalists from all over the world, from organisations and websites that I’d visited on a regular basis as a subscriber. It was all a bit surreal.

It had been a busy day, and by the end of it I’d conducted post-match video interviews with Sam Quek, Susannah Townsend and Argentina’s Carla Rebecchi. Whilst watching the games in the press box I was trying to get down as much information about the games as I could so I could write my match reports, and I noticed that the more experienced journalists alongside me were writing them as they went along, simply pressing submit after the game had finished. I was a little too awestruck and inexperienced to write more than just notes.

Remember to press record!

After the final game of the day I went back to the hotel to write up my match reports and upload the videos. I was still on a high after interviewing some of my heroes, but when I went to playback the videos, I only had the Carla Rebecchi one! It turns out that for Sam and Susannah’s interviews I hadn’t set it to video, and instead had just taken a photograph when I thought I’d pressed record.

I was devastated and mortally embarrassed at the same time. What a newbie error! It took me ages to get over it, but I persevered with my match reports (through the tears), pulling together detailed write-ups from my almost illegible notes.

The photo that should have been a video

It must have been midnight by the time I was finished. I was exhausted, but what a day it had been. A baptism of fire, somewhat. I vowed that the Sunday would be a better day and that I’d make some changes in the way I approached it. Firstly, I was going to take my laptop and write as much of the match reports in real time, and secondly I was going to double, triple check that I pressed record before starting the interview.

Upon leaving the hotel the next day, I was in the lift with a man and woman. The woman looked at the Champions Trophy press pass around my next and said, “Ooh, so you’re off to the hockey. My Sam plays for Great Britain”. I was stunned. She was continuing to explain to me who ‘her Sam’ was but I interrupted her with, “Oh my god, of course I know who Sam Quek is. And you’re her Mum and Dad, wow?!”

Sam’s Mum & Dad were so proud

Well, that was it. We were off, talking about Sam, and about where we lived in Liverpool (where I’m also from). What a lovely woman Marilyn (Sam’s mum) was. You could feel the pride oozing out of her about Sam, about how she’d worked so hard to get to where she was.

Her dad, Albert, didn’t say a lot, but to be fair he couldn’t have got a word in edgeways if he’d have tried. It made my day and I was telling her about how I’d interviewed her the day before but forgot to press record. She said Sam had mentioned that she’d seen my tweet about it. I felt a little foolish once again, but we parted, wishing each other luck with our day.

Day 2, seasoned pro

Well, I walked into the Media Centre like a season pro. I knew where everything was and where to go. I had my laptop all set up and typed avidly as the games progressed. There was still a little tidying up to do after the games, but it was a lot more organised than the previous day.

Then came the moment of truth, another interview with Sam Quek. When she walked in, I told her about meeting her mum and the god-awful fail of not pressing record. She said, “aw, no way!” and she made sure I had it running before we started. You can actually see at the start of the video she says, “Are we on?” Bless her for checking I didn’t do the same again.

 

As well as Sam, I also interviewed Kate Richardson-Walsh, USA Manager Kelly Knapp and gold medal winner Carla Rebecchi. It was a thrill to talk to Kate, where we spoke about what it must be like in her household with both her and Helen living and breathing hockey.

Kelly Knapp’s USA team had defied all odds to claim the bronze and she was absolutely ecstatic. However, as she came over she said, “I’m really nervous, I never get asked to interviews”, so I said to her, “Don’t worry, I’m new at this, let’s just talk about hockey”. It was a great interview, and as soon as we started talking hockey, she relaxed and completely forgot she was being filmed. Come to think of it, my initial nerves from the day before were also soon forgot when I just started talking about hockey.

It was a delight to talk to Carla Rebecchi again, this time with her gold medal around her neck. I’ve admired her, and the Argentinian team for a long time, and to get to talk to one of my heroes just as she’d come of the pitch after winning a gold medal, has to be one of the highlights of my fledgling career so far.

Thankfully, all of the videos turned out that time and the disappointment of the day before was soon forgotten. The only regret I have is that I never got to interview Susannah Townsend again. The interview the day before had been really good.

When I look back to then, before our gold-winning exploits in Rio, it’s hard to believe that only the avid hockey fans like myself would spot our girls in a crowd. Even Sam’s mum was trying to explain who she was. Now, it’s a different story. Now we have them all over the place. Sam on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Susannah mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, Hollie Webb on Strictly Come Dancing and Kate on BBC Sports Personality of the Year. I’ve always loved our girls and it’s so good to see them getting the limelight now. I just hope it continues.

It was difficult, and a little embarrassing being the newbie, and probably one of the steepest learning curves I’ve ever had. But, thanks to the likes of Sam and the girls, and all the hockey-makers, I got through it. This is what is so great about our sport and that’s why I’ll keep coming back for more.

Since then, I’ve done a lot more writing and was asked to join the team here at The Hockey Family. So, it just goes to show what you can achieve if you’re willing to give something a go. If you’re a budding newbie hockey journalist, why not get in touch with us here at The Hockey Family and tell us what you’re passionate writing about; and who knows, we may even invite you to join the team.

Joanne Pilson

Joanne Pilson is from Doncaster, England and is the Communications Officer for Worksop Ladies Hockey Club, writing original, topical content about hockey and women's sports. Joanne plays hockey, cricket and football and enjoys them with a passion, although she's only done so for the last five years. Sport has done so much to enhance her life, she continuously encourages others to take part and does all she can to promote it..