For the love of the game: Sportsister talks to football journalist Amy Lawrence
Amy Lawrence is deputy football correspondent at The Observer, reporting on Premier League matches and interviewing the league’s top managers and players.
Yes, she’s a woman operating in a predominately male world, but to stress that would be a cliché. What matters, Amy tells Sportsister, is knowing and loving the game.
Given that Amy’s love affair with football began when she was five years old, she’s had plenty of time to build up that expertise and passion for the sport.
“A combination of things happened at that time, one of which was going to my first match, at Arsenal,” she says. “It was a bit of a fever pitch moment when I walked through the turnstiles and the stadium opened up in front of me.
“It just blew me away. I didn’t even particularly understand the game at that point, because when I was growing up football certainly wasn’t really a girl’s thing so it’s not like you were around it as a matter of normality.”
Amy recalls another experience that helped fuel her love for football, “When I was five somebody bought me an Arsenal kit and I went to a fancy dress party as an Arsenal player. It probably wasn’t the best costume of the day considering some people went to a bit more effort than effectively wearing shorts and a T-shirt, but I won an award for best costume because the judge was an Arsenal supporter.
“That was a big thing for me, and I thought ‘this is cool’.”
‘Things were different back then’
She fell for the sport very quickly, and confesses to being a real anorak when she was a child, cutting out magazine and newspaper clippings and memorising facts and figures about players.
“And going on the bus to school wearing a football scarf was just, you know … I was clearly a weirdo, which is fine, but things were different back then,” she says.
But things have changed for the better, she says, drawing on two memories in illustration.
For example, she remembers being furious after getting a detention for kicking a netball around at school, pretending to be David Rocastle, who was a midfielder for Arsenal at the time.
“In fact some years later I went past my old school and when I saw some girls playing football I almost felt a bit cheated, but obviously it’s progress” says Amy. “It’s open to everyone now and it was slightly less open then.”
It’s hard to know if she told her parents white lies about going to the cinema when she was instead hopping on a bus to Highbury to watch Arsenal because – as a girl – she wouldn’t have been allowed to go, but for Amy those fabrications meant she could go watch football, and that’s what mattered.
Pursuing her passion became a bit easier when Amy moved away to university and was under her own steam, and she made a big effort to go watch football anywhere, she says.
This included making a stab at the 92 Club, where membership is conditional on visiting all 92 Premiership and Football League grounds in England and Wales.
Amy had her first go at writing about football when she was in her late teens, and submitted a piece to an Arsenal fanzine, The Gooner.
“I was a bit apprehensive and in the end I plucked up the courage and chose a really rotten game to write about thinking no one else would write about it,” she says.
The piece was accepted, and it got the ball rolling. She was “corralled” into being the sports editor of her university’s paper, which she says “lit the small germ of an idea that I might be able to a bit more of this”.
“I never ever while growing up thought that I could possibly have any kind of career in football,” she says. “Why would I? It didn’t even cross my mind and even when I started doing a bit of writing I still didn’t think it would really happen.”
From fanzine to FourFourTwo
But it did, although ironically her love of football, in particular watching matches live, almost prevented her from accepting the job that really kicked off her career as a football journalist.
It was 1994, the year that football magazine FourFourTwo was launched and a World Cup year, Amy was offered a job at FourFourTwo, but also fancied heading off to the USA for the World Cup.
“The choice was to do this job or to go the World Cup as a fan,” she says. “I’d been to Italy in 1990, which was amazing … If you’re that kind of football lover, and it’s in you and you go to the World Cup you want to go to every one, so it was natural for me to want to go to America just to be part of it.”
But it was one or the other, the management at FourFourTwo told her.
“So I didn’t go the World Cup, which was quite a big decision at the time, but probably the right one,” says Amy. “After a couple of years at the magazine, where I learnt everything about what you have to do to be a journalist, I was very lucky to get a chance to work at The Observer, and I’ve been there ever since.”
When asked about whether she feels like a woman in a man’s world, Amy says that although she is clearly part of the minority among football journalists, “no would be the answer”.
“At the beginning it was something that people always asked about. They made a big fuss about it at the time because football was really changing then whereas now it has changed,” she says.
“People would ask what it’s like and if people were being funny with me, if I had any special experiences, but I would have to say ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, but not really’.”
She refers to a “few isolated instances where I got a bit of hassle”, but puts that down to being young and new to the job, and says that her male peers would have experienced similar situations.
“I always felt that the bottom line was to prove to people that you know your stuff and you’re enthusiastic, and if you could do that I don’t think it really matters what you look like.”
To read some of Amy’s coverage of the Premier League, click here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/amylawrence
Susanna Rust, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine