There's a wooden box in front of me with buttons so big it looks like it's been designed for my 2-year-old son.
I press the giant gray square with the green triangle.
"LOCAL BBC RADIO! THIS IS QUAY HOUSE AT MEDIACITYUK SALFORD! SQUAD GOALS FOLLOWS NEXT ON THIS CIRCUIT!"
My heart is racing, and this is booming out across the studio and in my headphones seeping into my brain. And it's accompanied by the dizzying techno-beat of the BBC News theme tune. I have two minutes to compose myself.
It's Good Friday, 4th April 2021. A blue-muffed microphone dangles in front of me, arching out of a desk that looks like something out of Star Trek from my wheelie chair vantage-point. Beyond that sits my socially-distanced co-presenter - ex-footballer Joe Thompson. We've had Zooms, two pilots and now here we are.
I look at my notes. There's a LOT of paper. The stat packs and facts are strewn across the desk. Joe describes it like a scene out of 'A Beautiful Mind'. I've listened to five EFL podcasts on 1.4 speed, binge-watched last week's highlights, read virtually everything EFL-related on the BBC Sport website, The Athletic and The Football League Paper. And in front of me is the most jam-packed Google Doc you could ever imagine.
Silence. "LOCAL BBC RADIO! THIS IS QUAY HOUSE..." The loop re-starts. One minute to go.
To my right is a laptop with Lucy Oliva on screen in what looks like a box room with white-washed walls and little to place a location. She's in 'London', somewhere, and across the socials, ready to feed in online reaction to the day's events.
Behind the glass is Liam Bradford, the architect of the whole operation. At some point during that interminable period of Zoom quizzes, daily briefings, and empty stadiums, he had the idea of a radio show that could be summed up as 'Soccer Saturday but on the radio'. Why had nobody thought of it sooner? That show on Sky for the last 30 years is essentially a radio show! And here we are, Squad Goals. It replaces a looped message about not having commentary rights online that has been otherwise been going out across local radio for years.
Deep breathing. I'm aware that I'm not yet calm. And I need to be. Or at least, calm enough to press all the buttons in a moment. It's not just talking. On the B of the bang there's one button to press, mic fade up, say something coherent, fire another button, pull the first fader down, press the button to stop that track playing, let the bed kick in from the second track I've started, pull my fader back up. 'Shit, have I pulled the other faders up? Yes, well, I have now. Is my script at the right place? Yes it is. Breathe!'
"Ten, nine, eight..."
I get a voice in my right ear, "Howay lads, have a good'un." Our producer Andy Bell with a Tyneside twang helps me snap out of my moment. He has been our guiding light and will continue to be so for the next two years - with reminders on the technicals like going for a trail or pushing local radio but also helping us not get bogged down and if it's not going well, giving us the direct and actionable feedback.
"Six, five..." SILENCE.
Let's fast forward 766 days. And at that exact same moment, it's time to start our final show.
We've said goodbye to Lucy and hello to Welsh wonder Gabriella Jukes this season. It's a triple-header for the EFL final day. Friday's League One carnage had Gabriella with us in the flesh but subbing in for League Two and The Championship is Josh Shreeve, on Zoom from somewhere in London, just like that first show.
And coming in for the brilliant ex-pro Calvin Andrew, who was with us for League Two, is Dan Ogunshakin. He's up from an early shift on the ground floor, helping produce the sport for BBC Breakfast. If I thought we were tired... he's been up since 4am.
These days, there is no intro script. I've been trying to do it in my head. It's all in there by now.
I fire the bed. "Good afternoon..." 'Oh ffs, come on Sanny. You've not faded yourself up! You're supposed to be putting in one final, faultless show and you've failed already. Wait no, this has happened before and it's fine, laugh it off.'
Dan is chuckling to himself. He knows that would have annoyed me. But only we know this, no-one listening does, and we've done enough shows now. Before I would have let those thoughts cascade but instead I pull up the fader. 1.5 seconds later than I should have done and we begin.
"Good afternoon, it's five to three, it's EFL time."
"I'm Joe and he's Sanny and this is Squad Goals!"
We've hit those timings well. If Joe doesn't come straight off me saying, 'EFL time', it sounds clunky. Andy once said you could park a Mondeo in the space we'd left. That blue Ford flashes up in my mind.
And we're away. I wrap around our team with intros, fade out the High Flying Birds track that sounds like we're going to war and remind everyone that commentaries are on DAB, FM, Freeview and for some, Medium Wave. Oh, and don't forget we're on the BBC Sport website and App too! I always name-drop the journalists covering the EFL live page. On a day like today Ian Woodcock, Matt Newsum, Luke de Costa, and Adam Lanigan deserve a mention. The goals go in, it's brilliant, beautiful, beguiling chaos. Millwall are in the play-offs, then it's West Brom and finally Sunderland steal the show.
We get listeners getting in touch from all over the world. Andrew hiking in the Alps sharing the show with his son listening in Newcastle. Stephen shouting out loud as Gustavo Hamer gives Coventry the lead. He's on plane from Austin to Orlando! Tracey, on her honeymoon in Turkey messages throughout - she ended up dancing around a restaurant as Sunderland secure sixth spot. They've all made Josh's job look easy. Brilliant.
We go out on a high.
Our third voice has also been vital. The show wouldn't work without them. Lucy Oliva was just superb when she started. It took 45 minutes of the first pilot to change her role from off-air to on-air and the show never looked back. She was a hard act to follow but both Gabriella and Josh made it their own and in their own ways. It keeps the show moving really well.
In amongst all this is a Tuesday team too. It's been great tuning in to Henry Liston together with Natalie Pike, Calvin Andrew and Lucy Inman. It has a different vibe and fewer games. It helped me learn that there are different ways to do the same show and there are lots of bits I stole. The biggest one being remembering to have fun.
I've found out a lot about myself too. How I work, why I do things the way I do. When you're constantly assessing your performance and on such a public platform, it really does hone in on your failings and strengths. How can you box smart to not expose those failings and what can you do to fix them? Does that even help you outside the studio too?
For me, Squad Goals is the absolute vindication of giving new voices a chance. There's no denying that radio and broadcasting has a diversity issue. Visual and socio-economic. The programme hasn't been a panacea, but it has shown that you can take underrepresented voices and with the right platform and guidance, they can produce something that speaks loudly and proudly to a diverging audience who have a pick n mix of choice for entertainment.
We've had so many new voices as our guests too. Diehards with passion, just needing a platform. And we've of course, taken a moment to highlight issues they may face in football. Like Aaron Diskin the Oldham fan who told us about going home and away as a powerchair user, or Hannah Kumari the Coventry supporter who's created a one-woman show on life as a female British Asian football fan in the 1990s. Like me, Charles Commins our Northampton Town fan thought his chance broadcasting had passed him by but he's one of our best voices. First and foremost however, all our contributors are there to share their love of football and shout out as soon as the ball hits the back of the net in their designated division.
And that's the thing isn't it? It's not about diversity for the sake of it. How many British Asian presenters are there presenting Saturday sport? How many ex-footballers from Joe's background have been given the mic outright, rather than sitting solely in the pundit's chair? How many football fans out there are just needing the smallest of pushes to share their story? Are they good enough? Well, there's only one way to find out.
And that's where our journey ends and a new one, for new voices can begin. Squad Goals has been the perfect place for me to learn how to be a better broadcaster and beyond. That radio desk no longer feels like the Starship Enterprise. It's time to let someone else boldly begin in that big chair.
Reviewing The Championship and League Two's final day. This time I did need a bit of help getting everything together in time for BBC Sportday - with Chetan Pathak!
It's June 2022 and I'm on our first full family holiday. Me, our 4-month-old, 3-year-old, and my wife... and I've abandoned them all. Well, only temporarily. I've got a Zoom with Refresh Sports which, due to me wanting to hit the ground running, I'm taking from our hotel balcony, whilst Katie keeps the kids happy.
It's a meeting that's been a long time coming, the fact I've scheduled it during my holiday probably sums up last year! A lot of saying yes, putting in the hours, gaining experience and learning... at the cost of seeing my family as much I should have. But perhaps things may change off the back of this chat...
Fast forward to May 2023 and I'm sitting on the ground floor of the University of Salford's MediaCityUK campus building signing up with Leon Mann and his Refresh Sports team, led on the 'talent' side of things by Lauren Ferdinand.
It's been a completely bonkers few years since I re-trained and left teaching. And it's been challenging. I get a lot of messages from young journalists asking how I've got here and as I'll no doubt repeat on this blog a lot, it's through a combination of sheer luck, hard work, reflecting on my practice and luck again. It's also been through a lot of sacrifice. I think making Out of Our League worked out at about £1 an hour (a 10-part podcast series for BBC Sounds on Bury FC/AFC) and I missed seeing Byron a lot during that time. He was around 2 and would come into the bedroom to say goodnight, whilst I was on a Zoom with Mark Crossley with a shared screen of Adobe Audition. And that was every night for about 6 months during the pandemic. Going back to university to re-train and picking up shifts in local radio was a brilliant grounding but also left us struggling to stay afloat and that was still the case going into presenting BBC Squad Goals.
These are the sorts of issues that freelancers can regularly face. Or at least, the experience of it then feeds the fear of that situation arising again. And that’s partly the drive of the freelancer to say 'yes' to all the shifts going. You're constantly at the crease, batting away and either scoring runs or holding on until the light fades.
I've come into this with no connections in journalism. No friends or family that can hook me up with some work experience. And no direct line to any decision-makers at any football club, media organisation or newspaper. My childhood dreams of becoming a journalist had long-since faded. The only reason I'm here at all is through BBC Local Radio's New Voices search in 2019 and through gaining a fee grant from The Journalism Diversity Fund. That and luck, coincidence and just so happening to be in the right place at the right time.
So here we are - how much longer can I go it alone? Well, basically until today. This is as far as I have taken things in three and a half years, going pretty much non-stop, mostly through necessity and also, through a desire to be better and roll the dice with this journalism malarkey and see what happens. And what a journey it's been! If it doesn't get any better than this then I can say I've had a good run.
At some point in this media world, you hit a ceiling. You get stuck. It's not just media though - I was at that point in teaching. And it can coincide with life getting in the way anyway. But it definitely exists in this industry. I think I probably have the bloody-mindedness and sheer force of will to break through eventually. The cost though, may be too great. The amount of energy to keep posting, emailing schedulers, meeting people, cold emails, waiting for a phone call that may never arrive... it actually takes away from you being a better broadcaster. It gobbles up your downtime and has stopped me being a better dad, a better husband and a better friend. Sports broadcasting can take a lot from you and to allow the hustle to take the last of you, is quite a difficult prospect. And after all that, you don't have all the answers either!
So, what if (keeping up that earlier cricket analogy) you had someone, at the other end of the wicket batting with you? Someone who's faced every type of ball coming, and can have a word in your ear whilst changing ends and give you just the right advice at the right time? What if (and I'm giving up that analogy now) you have someone in your corner who already has all those doors open that you're banging on and they already know who you may be the perfect person for, and can knock on doors you didn’t know exist?
That's my general rationale with getting an agent and I’m really excited about Refresh. Leon has been on a similar path to mine and did it at a time where hearts and minds were not as open as they are now. They are pushing and succeeding in doing things differently at a time where that's really needed. Having journalists and broadcasters that have a wider range of life experiences, outlooks and backgrounds helps the industry stay relevant. After all, it's broadcasting not narrowcasting. And having come through the JDF, it's something I care deeply about. The diversity imbalance in our newsrooms is something that needs redressing. And when you look at the Refresh roster, diversity is a part of that but the sheer talent and brilliance of all those signed up is what shines through and it’s quite unbelievable to be able to be put up anywhere near them. But enough of that…
I'm excited for what happens next and keep developing, working hard, having someone to bounce my ideas and pitches off and keep on this rollercoaster - with the added help of Refresh Sports. And if it means I can focus my energies on being a better broadcaster, a better father, and a better husband (not in that order!) then it can only lead to better outcomes all round.
It's been a rollercoaster few weeks! From presenting and producing in Salford for BBC Sport to getting out and about for 5 Live and Sky Sports. In amongst it all, I found a few moments to do what, I guess was the precursor to this blog and made a thread with some advice, written spontaeously whilst sat on the sofa and it blew up!!
It was inspired by a load of positive interractions - particularly at Rochdale, where I returned after two years away but this time with 5 Live Sport and not BBC Radio Manchester. My reception was lovely and the staff that I'd known from what felt like a lifetime ago, where just as warm and welcoming as always, despite the club on the vergue of League Two relegation.
The other inspiration were some, perhaps less positive interractions. Nothing too bad - maybe the way a couple of people carried themselves that just caused me to reflect on how they had come across and re-affirm my own outlook of being positive and respectful as a journalist.
Brilliantly, somebody got the Thread Reader App to put it all together for me, so here it is below!
Three and a half years into this #journalism broadcasting malarkey, I thought I’d share some tips. ?
1/ Don’t be a d*ck.
This one’s obvious right? Well, you’d be surprised. Being decent and courteous with everyone you meet can only be a good thing. And people remember.
2/ You aren’t the story.
99.9% of the time the reporter is not the story. In fact, most people don’t know who you are, no matter how good you may be. So spending your energy trying to steal the show, as opposed to using it to be better is, in my opinion, futile.
3/ Be better.
Watch & listen to your stuff back. Think about how you could have improved it. Ask for proper and specific feedback. Share your work and receive criticism with an open mind. Understand the ‘why’ in the feedback and act on it.
On the way to the Leeds United presser, listened to four podcasts on my drive. I’d already watched all the goals, made notes and spent an age on what I’d ask the manager and why. And here’s my match notes for updates for @5liveSport - written as if I was commentating. twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
5/ Prepare more.
Yes you don’t have to do all that, it’s unsustainable in some respects BUT the habit means that when asked at short notice to report, your brain is wired to quickly work on the most essential prep you need. At Rochdale last Tues for example. twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
6/ Put in the time to hone your craft.
I still have a long way to go on this front. And I’m grateful for what I’ve had so far. But I’ve also shadowed for free, written for free, worked at a loss and worked in sport after a full day of my previous day job. Take all opportunities.
7 / Loyalty.
It’s cut-throat and fast-moving I know that. But respecting who you work for is important. Especially as they are investing in you and giving you the chance to develop. Be honest if opportunities come along. Think about whether you are ready or need more time.
8/ Get out of your head.
The double edge sword of being a reflective learner is that it’s easy to get full of self-doubt. Parking that is a skill in itself. I’m still working on this.
9/ Ignore the haters.
As a journalist, you may have to make peace with being disliked. As a broadcaster, it’s almost inherent that you want to be liked. It’s hard to juggle those two! And it’s a competitive industry. Try to ignore rumour and rudeness. Not a vibe.
10 / Say Hello.
You are not too busy or too important to not be decent enough to say hello to people. Whether it’s in the office or in the press box. Some of my opportunities have come along just by merely making that initial connection of saying hello!
10 Say hello pt2.
Use LinkedIn, share your work, make connections on Twitter. And if you see one of your Internet connections in real life, say hello, and introduce yourself! Even if it’s just to put a body to your floating head. And you never know where it may lead.
11/ Don’t pull the ladder up.
I’m not a spiritual or religious person really. But let’s say it’s good karma to help others if you can. And you never know when one day, you might need a good word putting in. This is a random photo.
12/ Graft - and don’t be a flake.
It’s hard if you’re working for free, experience or extra but it will pay off. Don’t flake. Be reliable. Don’t let people down. Being consistently there will help you get better & automate skills. Easy to say no - you’ll be better with yes.
13 / Get qualified.
I went and retrained and have an MA @UoSJournalism & @NCTJ_news gold credits in all bar shorthand (still working on it). These qualifications really help both in skills and pushing you up beyond entry level. Respect the work involved and get LOADS of work exp.
14 / Say Yes!
Going back to 12/ going the extra mile and saying yes to those extra requests can really pay off. Especially with experience for you to help you develop. About 70% of the stuff in my SJA showreel was extra bits! Crazy really!
15/ And finally… enjoy it and appreciate it.
I won’t stop taking snaps or selfies of where I am. What a job and what a privilege to be doing it. It could all end tomorrow! Who knows?! Appreciate the moment - because especially in sport, my inner 10-year-old would be amazed!
Copyright © 2023 Sanny Rudravajhala.