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Q&A: Dan Bardell, Freelance Broadcaster and Presenter

Q&A: Dan Bardell, Freelance Broadcaster and Presenter

A lifelong Aston Villa supporter who first got involved in football media producing fan content about his local club, Dan Bardell has spent the last few years cementing himself as a familiar face in the landscape of UK football broadcasting. For several years, he presented The Athletic Football Podcast, before going on to work on a freelance basis for TV and radio broadcasters such as Sky Sports News and Talksport.

As part of our series of Career Interviews, we caught up with Dan to talk about his route into the football industry, his approach to broadcasting, what he's learned from other pros that he's worked with, and the advice he would give to young people looking to break into football media.

What were the first steps you took in football broadcasting?

"I started out doing fan media. I'd been writing about Villa for a few years on fan websites and started getting good numbers and engagement on Twitter, just as a season ticket holder writing about Villa. YouTube and fan channels took off and I ended up getting involved in what was the first Aston Villa fan channel, and when you're the first person to do something, it's always an advantage. My following grew, my presence on social media grew and I started becoming the go-to person to speak to if something happened at Villa and Talksport or Sky wanted to speak to a Villa fan, which was good for networking and getting to know people."

"Later, The Athletic came along, which was a really big deal at the time. I was doing a Villa podcast and at that time, The Athletic were very focused on doing a podcast for every single team in the Premier League. Villa had just got promoted and the guy they'd hired as an Aston Villa writer recommended that they get me involved, so I started hosting The Athletic's Villa podcast, which gave me a foot in the door at a big sports media company."

What was it like working at The Athletic during such a pivotal time, when they were having a major impact on football reporting in the UK?

"It was brilliant for me. I was recording in a proper podcast studio every week in central London, having a producer for the first time — I'd never really had that before because I was basically just doing my own thing on YouTube — and I was lucky that there were people there that liked me and rated me. When I look back now, my ability and confidence was nowhere near what it is now, but I had potential at that point and The Athletic people liked me." 

"I'd been doing the Villa stuff for 18 months to two years, and I was always on to them about wanting to do general football stuff as well, because I thought I was competent enough to do it. Thankfully, a guy called Tom Hughes believed in me. I'd been persistently asking Tom if there was anything else I could do at The Athletic, and when they decided that during the Euros they were going to do a daily Euros podcast, Tom gave me a huge opportunity that changed everything for me. He got me involved as a joint host on their daily England podcast. Mark Chapman was supposed to do 50% of them and I was gonna do 50% of them, but because Chappers is obviously such a good broadcaster and does so much stuff, I probably ended up hosting 75% of those shows that summer." 

"At that point, my media career hadn't accelerated like I'd wanted it to, I'd had a few knockbacks, and I felt quite close to giving up in all honesty. I literally got that phone call and it turned it all around for me. England obviously did really well at the tournament, so I hosted these podcasts for the whole month, which made people aware of me. I did a few shows with Chappers, and just working with him and watching how he worked and how relaxed he was helped me become a better broadcaster."

What did you learn from Chapman during that time?

"How affable and relaxed he was — he's just a normal guy. When I first started doing it, I wasn't that relaxed. Although I was doing a good job of it, I feel like I maybe wasn't being myself, I wouldn't make a certain joke because I was worried that it wouldn't go down well… but I remember doing a show with Chappers where I was more of a pundit and he was presenting, and he just made everything look so easy and relaxed. I was like 'I wanna be like this guy!'"

Do you adapt your approach to broadcasting depending on the platform?

"I feel more established now and I won't change my personality. I'm still nowhere near where I want to be but I feel relatively established within the football industry because I've worked for some big companies. But when I do my own Villa stuff, for example, I'm less impartial; ultimately I'm a Villa supporter and I still go every week as a season ticket holder, so I talk in a different way than I would if I was on Sky talking about another team. Everyone knows I'm a Villa fan, so there's no point in me trying to hide it. But I don't think my demeanor changes from place to place. I like to think I'm relatively consistent with how I am, and I think that's what people want. It used to be a bit taboo who you supported, but now, people want you to be authentic."

How much has the landscape been changed by people being able to put out their own content on social media and YouTube?

"I think people in fan media think that you need to be a certain way to get clicks and engagement, but I never wanted to do that. Fan media can be very nuanced and it can give you a good grounding; I'm probably one of those people you can look at and think 'He's started in fan media and look at what he's gone on to do'. Actually doing something for yourself gives you a better grounding than any course can. I think starting in fan media and then going into proper broadcasting gives me a unique standpoint as well, because I sit somewhere in the middle. [Entering mainstream sports broadcasting], I didn't wanna just be seen as the Villa guy, I wanted to talk about all football, but actually it's given me a level of authenticity that maybe other people don't have, because I've done fan media and also worked for the companies that I've worked for."

What are your goals for the future?

"Over the last two or three years, I've made consistent progress. I've gone through The Athletic, I've done lots of stuff for Sky Sports News, which when I was younger was my dream, and now I'm doing a weekly show on Talksport 2, and I absolutely love it. But I want to improve and I always look at what's next, and if I don't know what's next I find it difficult. Ultimately, I'd like to be presenting the news on Sky Sports News, that's what I've always wanted to do. I love that feeling of being a presenter. I can sit there and talk about football all day, but the pressure of being the one leading and presenting, I love that. When you're presenting, it's not all about you, but you can still insert your opinions into things and have a debate, and I like how football media is becoming less serious and more chatty; you still have to be precise and on point with your punditry, but I like that everything feels a bit more relaxed."

"I don't know if many people understand how difficult it is to get in the industry; it's not always about how good you are, you also have to be in the right place at the right time. And it can be a dangerous industry for your mental health; I work with so many brilliant people and I'm genuinely always so chuffed when someone I work with achieves something new, but you sometimes get that voice in the back of your head that says 'I wanna be doing that, how come I can't get there?'"

You've worked with some of the biggest platforms in football media. What advice would you give to people starting out on their broadcasting journey?

"I can't overstate how much doing my own thing helped me. Doing your own thing, there's no pressure, you're learning every week, and you can build up contacts and make connections with people. You should never give up, because there are times when I thought 'This isn't gonna happen', but all it takes is one call, one moment, and your pathway can completely change. The more you do your own thing, the better you're going to get. And surround yourself with good people. I've met so many brilliant people, and if you surround yourself and network with the right people and you've got talent, eventually you will start to open doors."

Follow Dan Bardell on X (@danbardell) to keep up with his work.