International Women's Day: I'm here on ability, not gender, says Michelle Owen
"I'm a football reporter and presenter," says Sky Sports' Michelle Owen. "I don't prefix that with 'woman'. I hope I'm there on ability rather than gender."
By Michelle Owen and Charlotte Marsh
Last Updated: 08/03/19 12:18pm
On International Women's Day, Sky Sports reporter Michelle Owen reveals her path into sports journalism, how she handles discrimination and her hopes for women's football...
I've played football almost all my life and always wanted to be a reporter and presenter on the game I love. To cut a very long story short, I started volunteering at home in mid-Wales at my local paper and radio station before going to university where I did student, hospital and community radio.
I did work experience wherever it would take me, including here at Sky. Then when graduating, I was meant to be going to Cardiff School of Journalism but a local station I'd been volunteering at offered me a presenting role. It was part-time so I did that alongside travel news reporting.
While there, they had me presenting a sports show on a Saturday for a while and I'd volunteer to go to Cardiff and Swansea games around this and record match reports for the news bulletins. After a while, these built up and after a couple of years broadcasting, I sent my demo to some contacts I'd kept at Sky.
I didn't hear anything for a while but then Soccer Saturday took a chance on me. That was five years ago! I then started doing bits for Sky Sports News, and games were clashing with my job where I was then presenting at Capital. I had to make a decision about what I really wanted to do and the answer was sports broadcasting. So I took the jump to leave music radio - and here we are.
Putting it into writing like this of course doesn't tell the full story of the hours and money spent chasing the dream. I remember one month where I carried out work experience at a national radio station. It was Monday to Friday in London, except it wasn't really work experience - it was emptying bins and cleaning kitchens! I had to rent the tiniest bedroom in London and then go back to my place in Swansea and work at weddings as a waitress all weekend.
There were many weeks and months like that, working in the student bar until late then presenting weekend breakfast at 6am the next day. I don't regret any of it, as it all led me to where I am today.
"The best thing about being a woman in football is that, at half-time, you rarely have to queue for the toilet! In all seriousness, I don't think about it. I'm a football reporter and presenter. I don't prefix that with woman. I hope I'm there on ability rather than gender."
Michelle Owen on being a female sports reporter
I come from a family that doesn't even like football. They were so shocked when I said I wanted to try it, but here I am quite a few years later living my dream - I am so lucky. I've never wanted to do anything else and hope that I continue to be fortunate enough to carry on with this career path.
I did find someone as obsessed as me in my husband. If you come by our house and there's football on, I can promise you it's on our TV. Sky Bet League Two, or Premier League, or England winning the SheBelieves Cup. Football is perhaps the most important of the unimportant, and I feel so lucky to work covering the game.
The best thing about being a woman in football is that, at half-time, you rarely have to queue for the toilet! In all seriousness, I don't think about it. I'm a football reporter and presenter. I don't prefix that with 'woman'. I hope I'm there on ability, rather than gender.
'Social media can be a beast'
I remember at one game a man turned to me in the press box and said 'what would you do if I said 'get back to the kitchen?'' I was stunned, but luckily I had the chance to prove my worth with plenty of match reports right in his ear.
When I worked at one radio station, they wouldn't let me present the football show. It was OK for me to operate the desk but that was it. That was eight years ago; ow I look back and wonder why I didn't say more but I wasn't that confident at the time. I was presenting their drive show so it wasn't a question of ability, that's for sure.
Social media can be a beast. The comments that many get are 'why is a woman reporting on a man's game?' etc. The way I see it is these people are uneducated and small-minded - that's their problem, not mine. I found at the start of the year I was getting a lot of sexist comments and it was grinding me down but then when you take a step back from your phone and realise either these people are keyboard warriors or maybe even not real people, you gain perspective.
I offered one person who sent personal insults the chance to have a chat before a game. Needless to say they didn't turn up. If you have an opinion on there, some people think it's OK to be rude if they don't agree. That's so small-minded but ultimately you have to just read and ignore if they don't want a grown-up discussion.
I'm often the only woman in a press room, but that number is definitely improving. I firmly believe anyone regardless of gender should be in a job on merit, not tokenism. I've played football since I was three so I've always felt comfortable in a football and sporting environment.
There was a time where I was very shy walking into a press room before a game; now there's always a friendly face for a cup of tea and a catch-up, that's one of my favourite parts of what we do. I've made friends I now socialise with from grounds across the country.
'Women's football is just football'
For me, it's not women's football, it is just football. It's exactly the same as the men's game - same pitch, same amount of players, same shaped ball. I hope it gains better coverage but it needs someone to make it commercially viable. We need to show everyone the standard is fantastic.
However, there is still huge disparity between leagues. I've played in the Women's Premier League for Cardiff City and the teams above us in the WSL were miles ahead. The WSL is meant to be full-time but you have teams with players balancing full-time jobs with playing, then another club with players on full-time salaries. We've a long way to go but it's come on so much since I started playing.
When I had to stop playing with the boys at 11, there wasn't even a girls team. Luckily one formed but now it's normal and celebrated. I was bullied for loving football, I hope we've moved on since then for our children's sake.
Role models in the women's game can help with this, and the more coverage of the game the better.