Stepping-stones are often hard to come by. The next one may be in sight but difficult to jump on to. It’s important to bridge that gap.
Recently, after graduating with top marks in Sports Journalism, the opportunities weren’t there – the stepping-stone often requires a leap of faith.
That leap of faith – for me – was Winchester City Football Club.
We all know about experience is key and all that nonsense but after many tough weeks writing copy at local newspapers, countless websites and student publications and making tea, the chance to work for a semi-professional football club seemed a smart one.
Leaving university with a degree in Journalism is just not enough. Many old hacks solely believe in the NTCJ qualifications and will discredit university education, insisting that experience is more useful.
After graduating with that piece of paper, thoughts materialized that I wanted more from my degree, after all journalism is not the most lucrative paid profession. This led me to public relations and thoughts of becoming a media officer.
From there an opportunity arose and I grabbed it with both hands and progressed to that next step.
Now, with my involvement, Winchester City are up-to-date with social media platforms, have a brand new website to boast about and are getting regular, and full, coverage in the Hampshire Chronicle and Daily Echo.
Those old hacks are right though. Experience is vital and most importantly, dealing with individuals, players, managers, associates is not nature to a university education. Experience is something that can’t be taught.
After five months, the manager, ex-Portsmouth and Brighton defender Guy Butters, speaks openly to me after games; the players are often bantering me about this or other and the owner trusts me to make my own impact.
These are valuable experiences. In five months, I have mingled and spoken with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier, ex-Portsmouth Paul Walsh and ex-Liverpool Phil Babb. You never know who you would meet at your local Non-League ground.
And even on special occasions you can see ex-QPR and Southampton defender Mark Dennis flip burgers at the Denplan City Ground – an ex-Premier League footballer flipping burgers!
Fortunately, drawing on previous experience with other jobs, these interactions went rather smoothly, it’s all about making links and networking.
However, some of these skills are still lacking amongst more recent graduates, as many are spoon-fed and don’t take the initiative.
Non-League football is always looking for help, promotion and publicity and any aspiring sporting professionals should get involved, you never know who you have the chance of meeting.
Since my time with the ‘Citizens’, I watch and report on games for the local papers, maintain the current website and try to increase viewership.
I raise awareness of the club, the venue and its community through liaising with the local and national sporting media, website management and development, creation and management of the club’s social media platforms and creation of a range of e-communications, match-day programmes and other literature.
My aim is to encouraging more people to come to the venue more often to support the players or host their events, driving ticket sales, merchandise sales and raise the profile of the club and the league.
Sports Journalism students from the University of Winchester are involved filming games and students come up from Southampton Solent University to write up match reports. It’s all about experience.
It’s easy to report on a Manchester United or Arsenal game as you have all the information ready, you have instant replays, and detailed programmes. At non-league level, you have no replays, very little detail and no names on shirts. This level you have to really watch the game and it is a real research exercise.
I learned by talking to fans, speak to other local journalists, and speak in detail with the manager and his coaches.
Non-League may be unflavored but it certainly can help prospects of getting real work experience and getting your name out there.
This is all going on my CV and portfolio and the one thing I would argue in an interview: I’m doing all this for free and proving a great success, imagine how good I would be if I was paid for it?
Steven Woodgate is studying a MA in Public Relations at Southampton Solent University and is also Winchester City FC’s Media and Public Communications Officer.