You’ll most likely recognise Mark from your religious football viewing of Sky Sports. Well, that’s if you’re not at a match, of course. Having come out as gay back in 2014 whilst doing a job watched by thousands, it comes as no surprise that he states it as “…the hardest thing I ever had to do.” As the Covoid-19 virus grips the world, MODAN’s Editor, AJ, caught up via the phone to have a chat.
You’ve interviewed some pretty big football managers such as Wenger and Zidane. What’s it like to interview these kind of sportsmen? It’s all a part of the day job! I’m so privileged and lucky to do what I do and genuinely get excited every time I go to work. Interviewing some of the most iconic names in the world of sport is what I do the job for.
If you’re not on the field, in the arena or on the court then the next best thing is speaking directly to those that are. I’ve always had a passion for sport from a very young age and I competed in Trampolining and Gymnastics nationally, so have always had that passionate relationship with sport.
What would you say have been your favourite interviews? People often ask what my favourite interviews are and I always have to spend a long time thinking about it as I have been lucky enough to do so many. For me though, it would be easy to talk about the Zidane’s or the Rooney’s of this world but I always go back to two interviews that meant the most to me. The first, a man called John Jenkins who served in WWII and was also a lifelong Portsmouth fan, he was just incredible to meet. And sadly died not long after his 100th birthday.
Recently I met a man called George Taylor, who was 100 years-old in January and a former player for Crayford Wanderers in London. He was in the RAF and shot down over the channel by the Germans during WWII. These are the two most special interviews I’ve ever done, these two are the real hero’s, the people I’m more excited about meeting than anyone else.
Recently I met a man called George Taylor, who was 100 years-old in January and a former player for Crayford Wanderers in London. He was in the RAF and shot down over the channel by the Germans during WWII
Are there times when you are unsure of how to respond, such as speaking to the likes of Mourinho for example? The back and fourth of an interview is always a part of the challenge of our job. You need to be quick, witty and armoured with as many facts and pieces of information that you can store in your brain to be ready for the unexpected retort that occasionally comes back at you. I’ve found the more experienced I’ve gotten the more you’re ready for these. Your line of questioning always sets the tone for an interview too. Remember that.
Oh, absolutely! What about the mood of the interview, does that affect things? Not everything is positive and upbeat, there is always a losing side or inevitably a negative at some stage in sport. Every time I’ve met José Mourinho, he’s been at his charming best. I am more than aware that he can sometimes be spiky, but I wouldn’t be happy if my weeks work didn’t go to plan so I can understand the frustrations these people go through. They care so deeply about what they do. In journalism you’re the mouthpiece for the fans and you’re there to convey the information; you ask the questions that they want answers to, and sometimes they can be difficult ones to ask, and answer, but that’s part of the job.
Do you ever get nervous when you know you have these kind of interviews coming up in the day? I used to get nervous, but not so much anymore. I’m more relaxed and experienced now so I guess I feel less pressure in that respect. When you’re young, you want to nail everything and prove you’re good enough and deserve your position and opportunity, so you put pressure on yourself to do well. Now, I just have to prove to myself I’m still good enough, not anyone else.
If I’m filming a new show or series then I get more anxious but the day-to-day cut and thrust of news is not something that gets me too uptight. You can only do your best.
Do you think you’re quite the perfectionist? I care passionately about what I do and my work and everything has to be perfect. If that means staying late in an edit suite or re-writing something until it works long into the night then so be it.
How did you get into your current job? Did you always have a passion for journalism? Getting into TV and sports journalism is about two things; the first hard work, [and] the second, persistence.
I started writing for my local newspaper at the age of 14. I used to send in stories and articles on various local sports in the hope that they would get published; very occasionally they did. From that I went into local radio and then regional TV before starting my first jobs for Sky in 2006. My work with Attitude magazine started in 2016.
I always had an interest in film-making and TV from the age of around 13. I had a really creative mind and felt a connection to the industry from a young age. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else now, I don’t think I could ever get a normal job!
I don’t think people can ever comprehend just how tough this will be and how much of a burden there will be on the first openly gay professional player in the modern game
Even though it was back in 2014, your coming out in the sports industry is still important as it was then. Why did you decide then was the right time? Coming out was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Growing up, being continually bullied and developing a hatred for yourself sadly really shaped my childhood and teenage years. My sexuality became a really difficult internal fight. I didn’t want to be gay and the thought of living my life true to who I was, seemed impossible.
Was there a point where you just had to open up? I was around 21/22 when I told close family members and began the steps of feeling comfortable with who I was. It was around 5 years later that I felt totally at ease with myself and comfortable to talk to other people about it. Only when you’re happy in yourself and who you are can you start to tell others. No matter how old you are.
What do you think changed? I got to a stage where I stopped worrying or caring about what people thought of me. One day, I got a message from a friend, a professional footballer, who texted me totally out of the blue asking if I was gay. This was someone I perceived to be homophobic, someone that might have an issue with it but I replied and said yes. I nervously awaited his reply, which came through fairly quickly, and his response is a message I still have on my phone to this day. He couldn’t have been more open, supportive and caring. It was at this point I realised it was time to come out.
Has it affected your job or do you feel it has been more positive? It may sound strange now but at first I think it had a negative impact on my career. I was one of the first openly gay sports broadcasters working in this country at the time. This was new for everyone and I was a test to see how people would react; particularly those in football.
And what about recently? Over the last few years, huge steps have been made by the FA, PL, EFL and Sky Sports to show that sport, and football, is a safe and inclusive place. I’ve never felt more comfortable with who I am and being a gay man working in the sport I love.
There is a real awareness now about homophobia in sport as that gets raised, fans views, opinions and attitudes have changed. Like all these things a lot still needs to be done but we’re on the right track.
I presented a series last year taking openly gay people into the world of sport. It was received so well and whilst filming all 5 shows we never once heard any homophobic abuse. It shows just how football and the world of sport is changing to the diverse world we live in.
How else do you support the LGBTQ+ community with your work? I actually feel that sometimes I don’t do enough. It’s very difficult to talk about my sexuality openly when there’s no crossover in what I do day-to-day. The biggest thing I can do to show support is be visible and carry on doing what I love as an openly gay man.
I’ve spoken to groups of kids about my work and who I am and never hid from the truth about my sexuality. I’m still amazed at the amount of emails and DMs I get from people that find my journey a source of comfort to their lives. I’m always humbled when people, young and old, reach out to me. Helping others and making people’s lives happier is the greatest thing anyone can ever do, no matter how they do it.
There are currently no out gay players in the premier league. Sexuality shouldn’t matter anyway, but how do you feel the impact will be if or when it happens? When I came out in 2014 I said it would be 5-10 years before we had an out gay footballer. I think it’s closer than ever before but I still think it could be some time away. The impact of this will be huge. Defining. It will change the game for the better. It will be tough, bumpy and challenging to begin with but it will move the football industry forward, for the better.
What perhaps would be the best scenario for it to happen? I don’t think people can ever comprehend just how tough this will be and how much of a burden there will be on the first openly gay professional player in the modern game. If there were two or three that came out together, that would be the best scenario imaginable. Share the pressure, the media and the spotlight. Because that spotlight for that first player will be huge.
The impact of [an out gay player] will be huge. Defining. It will change the game for the better. It will be tough, bumpy and challenging to begin with but it will move the football industry forward, for the better
On a personal level, do you feel that a footballer coming out will be the right thing to do? Will there be a supposed ‘right’ time? Coming out, regardless if you’re a footballer or not is only the right thing to do if you’re happy and comfortable in yourself. Some people do it at 13, some at 57. The only time that it is right is when you’re ready.
I think the support networks are in place now to make this as smooth a process as possible. I actually think people will be surprised at how supportive football is. It’s been waiting for a chance to show how ready it is and now they just need the first brave player to take the first step.
What about from you, how would you react? The first footballer to come out will have my full respect. It will take serious levels of courage to do this; I can’t even put into words just how much courage they will have had.
Whilst we wait for the “first openly gay player” to be out I always like to point out Justin Fashanu who came out many years ago whilst playing for Norwich. Every day that goes past without a current out player makes you appreciate his strength and courage just that little bit more. He was a true legend, a hero and someone ready for the world way before his time.
There are plenty of LGBTQ+ supporters’ groups for the top tier football clubs. Do you feel these have a positive impact? These have a massive impact. They do so much amazing work and it’s incredible how far these organisations have come in such a short period of time. They’re building links to their clubs, they’re shaping charters and constitutions that enhance the lives of LGBT+ football fans around the country and making a real difference. They’re educating, directing and changing the game for the better. They understand the issues that many in the boardroom at clubs don’t; they’re level and measured voices in a very unprecedented situation.
Currently there is no football to report on because of the virus. Are you still keeping busy in your job*? I’ve actually not worked for 15 days in a row at the time of this interview. Which for someone who generally tries to work 6 days a week is very bizarre. I’m slowly running out of things to do around the house. The sporting world has shut down due to the corona virus outbreak and it makes you realise how important sport is to us.
How do you think this virus will impact football for the rest of the year? It’s quite hard to comprehend the impact this will have on the world of football. If we get back up and running with every club still intact I think that will be a huge achievement. I’m worried about lower league clubs and how this will affect them. Most clubs are on the edge financially anyway, let alone with things like this upsetting that delicate balance. It’s going to be a time where the communities around clubs have to pull together to get through this ordeal.
At the end of the day people’s health is the most important thing in all of this. Football can and will come back, sadly some people won’t.
Okay, we need to know – who is the team you support and why? I support Bournemouth because I was born in Boscombe, where the club is based. It’s simple really… I had a soft spot for Arsenal growing up and as I was a goalkeeper and David Seaman was England number one he became a hero of mine. Even with the moustache and ponytail, loved it all.
So what do you do in your down time away from work, which obviously there’s a lot of right now? I’m actually very boring away from work and work seems to take up a huge proportion of my life. Being paid to watch football, why not?!
I love design and property development and have ambitions to design and build my own house one day.
The other big passion I have is art. I collect contemporary, modern and pop art and my house is filled with weird and wonderful things. I love visiting galleries and discovering new artists from around the world. I buy art because it’s like buying vitamins for my eyes.
Words by AJ and photography by Amy Maidment
*Interview was done during the first lockdown