As a self taught journalist and football writer, Mark Pitman is a perfect example of making your passion a full time and successful career. From the pitch to the press room Mark has worked for various organisations, starting off as a volunteer at Port Talbot Town FC and working his way up to the likes of the Football Association of Wales and UEFA. He speaks to us about what it takes to become a football writer and how to make it happen.
Football has always been a passion of mine, but it was never a realistic career plan. In fact, I have no journalism qualifications, and my professional career didn't start until I was in my early 30's. As a teenager, I initially volunteered at my local club, Port Talbot Town FC, just to be involved in the local football community. I performed various jobs from serving behind the bar to running the club shop, but in 2000 I found my niche. I created the media officer role and held the position as it evolved over the next 10 years. With responsibility for the official website and match programme, I made a lot of contacts in the local and national press during that time, as well as within the Football Association of Wales (FAW). In 2010, Port Talbot Town qualified for the UEFA Europa League, and I was approached by a couple of popular football blogs at the time to contribute towards their Welsh football coverage. I then built up a strong online profile to promote myself as a football writer over the next year having stepped down from my club role. The FAW has always been keen to help those who have volunteered in the domestic game, and in addition to this leading to opportunities within the association, their support also helped me become the Welsh football correspondent for UEFA in 2013 as well as a UEFA Venue Data-Coordinator (VDC), and that was how it all began for me.
I work closely with the media department to produce content for the FAW's digital channels and printed publications. This includes content for the official website and social media accounts as well as the international match programmes and the match programmes of domestic cup competitions. This can range from previews, interviews, match reports, historical features etc, and covers the men's, women's and the intermediate teams, while I have also helped out as media officer with the U21 and U19 teams when required, working in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. It's always interesting to follow each qualifying campaign by talking to the respective team managers and players at each stage in order to understand how things evolve behind the scenes. It's important to put out a positive message, and covering it from the inside really helps to put the story across in a different way to how the press and public may see it.
I was approached by Nordeus in 2018 to help with their 'Top Eleven' football manager game as they wanted a football writer to provide and suggest changes to their content in order to add an extra level of realism and authenticity to the product. Obviously, the game is played by football fans, and that requires the language of the game to mirror that of a real football environment. I review the proposed content for the game as new tournaments and updates are released, so it's certainly something different from a journalism perspective, but interesting and fun all the same.
Obviously, things are very different for everyone at the moment, and there is no typical day as things can change very quickly. There are always short and long-term projects to work on, especially as international breaks can be very busy and very intense. The pandemic has meant that international windows now involve three games instead of the usual one or two, so the demands in this particular area have increased in terms of creating content for the website and the additional match programmes. Also, I can be asked to travel to cover different games at short notice as UEFA VDC. Being well-organised is the key to staying ahead.
I think freelancing can be a good way to start in that it will help you build up a network of industry contacts, and making good contacts is vital. In addition, freelancing for a number of different companies does take away the risk of relying on just one source of income. However, it does come without the same security that you may get as a full-time employee, so there are lots of different elements to take into consideration, and a lot will depend on the nature and character of you as an individual. There is no right or wrong route to take, and these are uncertain times for many different industries anyway.
Mark with Thierry Henry
I was initially asked by Sportskeeda to write a regular column for their website in 2017. I was attracted to the idea as the website has a large audience reach and it enables me to write about topics other than Welsh football, so it has been a good platform to showcase another side of my writing as I can offer my perspective on different stories from across the European and world game. It's an opportunity that has enabled me to expand my network of contacts on different social media platforms.
If I had to choose one, I would say this one. I was asked to contribute to the official match programme for the UEFA Champions League Final in 2017. It was pretty special to have my name and work featured in such a high-profile publication that forms a little piece of European football history.
It's a role that involves a wide-range of different tasks. I provide regular content for the official UEFA digital channels and printed publications. The main focus of my work revolves around international football, with comprehensive coverage of both the senior men’s and women’s teams, together with all of the intermediate teams and domestic clubs in European competition. This can range from providing editorial support for online features to producing live match opinion and analysis on the Match Centre. I also perform regular post-match flash interviews and 1-2-1 interviews for UEFA TV and their broadcast partners. In addition, as UEFA VDC, I am responsible for providing and verifying all match data and statistics from various games in UEFA competition.
Interviewing Chris Coleman during his time as Wales Manager
I covered Wales at EURO 2016 for UEFA and ahead of the semi-final against Portugal I was one of only a handful of people who could sit down with Gareth Bale for a 1-2-1 interview to discuss the tournament and the game just a couple of days before it took place. At the time he was the world's most-expensive footballer, and he was about to come up against Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo for a place in the final. It was an extremely privileged position to be in, especially when you consider how many tens of thousands of sports journalists around the world would have loved to have had that opportunity. As for nerves, I think there's a fine line between excitement, anticipation and nervousness, and I think you need to feel a little of all three. Planning ahead is crucial, and it will make you more confident knowing that you are well-prepared, which is a quality you need to express when you are face-to-face with high-profile figures.
With Gareth Bale ahead of the Euro 2016 semi-final
Subject knowledge is obviously huge, so it's important to focus on your particular niche area and become an expert in it in order to earn credibility. You also need to trust your own opinions and not be swayed by what you read on social media in particular. I also think it's important to be respectful when you need to criticise individuals, and to always offer a balanced argument backed-up by facts. There is a lot of noise in football media at the moment as websites chase clicks with dramatic headlines and stories of very little substance, but rising above that level now will be far more rewarding in the future. The ability to simplify a complex issue or argument is a skill that can also be valuable.
As a football fan, it's the privilege of being involved behind the scenes on a professional level. From high-profile interviews to just having a platform to share your thoughts and opinion on the game, it is all very special and humbling in a number of ways. In the current climate, just being at a game when so few people do not have that opportunity is a huge privilege in itself. You also become part of a new community, and there's plenty of support around if you need it.
Taking the above into account, it's hard to describe any of it as difficult. Of course, there can be a lot of travelling and it does involve working unsociable hours as well. Plans can change very quickly and you have to adapt to that, which can be frustrating, but that's the nature of the job.
You will need a lot of luck, but you can make your own luck too. My advice would be to always be open to any opportunities that arise, however diverse, and build a strong online presence for yourself to showcase your work and versatility when it comes to using different platforms. Network as much as possible, as making the right contacts will be crucial in such a competitive industry. Believe in your ability, but be open to constructive criticism too, and invest time studying the landscape to understand what potential employers are looking for in their writers both online and in print. I hope my journey shows that there is no set path to getting the right opportunities if you have a genuine passion for what you do, as ultimately, this will shine through in the content that you produce.
It's impossible to predict how things will change in the future. Social media hasn't been around that long and look how that has changed so many different aspects of our daily life. We don't know what the next thing will be, so it's important to adapt to whatever changes take place and try and stay ahead of the game in terms of how people consume content. Therefore, it's difficult to set any particular objectives other than to continue to make the most of whatever opportunities may arise.
Content Researcher: Sascha Gustard-Brown
Sascha is highly experienced within the area of Supporter Engagement, having held the positions of Head of Supporter Engagement at Luton Town Football Club and Supporter Liaison Officer at West Ham United. She is currently working on small supporter engagement projects in sport and freelance writing in football.