Dom Smith: Sports Journalist

Dom Smith pursued a passion for sports journalism from a young age, balancing his academic studies at York led to him winning the Hugh McIlvanney Student Football Writer of the Year award and a role at The Evening Standard. Alumni Voices caught up with Dom, who is currently covering the Euros and Wimbledon.

“I knew I wanted to become a football journalist right from the age of 12, when I first started writing match reports of England games I had watched on the TV. Naturally, because I was 12, they were atrocious pieces of work — but they mattered a lot to me, and it was exciting to think that some people got paid to attend football games and to write about them in whatever words they saw fit. I found it both hilarious and thrilling that it was a real job that you could actually make a living from. I wanted that for myself. 

All throughout my time at secondary school, I continued writing my match reports for my website EnglandFootball.org, and telling people I was going to become a football journalist whenever they asked. I got a fantastic opportunity on my 18th birthday by virtue of The FA knowing about my website. They invited me to Wembley Stadium to interview England player Trent Alexander-Arnold on the pitch ten minutes after an England match he had played in had ended. It was a fantastic experience to interview a famous player, under pressure, at that age.

When I moved to sixth form and then started thinking about which university degree might suit me, I consciously decided that it would serve me best to continue down the academic route and keep my journalism as a parallel priority rather than my sole focus. It’s best to keep your options open — plus I was still loving my studies.

“By the time the pandemic was over, I was attending England games at Wembley regularly, interviewing Gareth Southgate and his players, and mixing with the great and good of football journalism as if it were normal.”

I decided to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of York. I loved York as a place, really liked the breadth of their PPE course, and felt I would get enough choice in terms of optional modules to be able to study the topics I found most stimulating.

Alongside my degree, I found time to increase my football-writing output. I became Sport Editor at the university’s best student newspaper, Nouse, just a fortnight into my Uni life, and remained in that role until the day I left. I also became Speaker’s Officer at the Club of PEP, organising and hosting events with guests such as ex-Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, renowned columnist Peter Hitchens and economics writer Tim Harford for fellow PPE students to attend. I’m glad I took the risk and went for that role. I really enjoyed these experiences and met some lovely people along the way.

When Covid hit, I realised that the England men’s and women’s team’s press conferences had been moved to Zoom. I got in touch with The FA, reminded them about my website, and asked if I could join the Zoom press conferences during my second and third years at university. To my amazement they said yes. By the time the pandemic was over, I was attending England games at Wembley regularly, interviewing Gareth Southgate and his players, and mixing with the great and good of football journalism as if it were normal. Trust me, it felt amazing, but it never felt normal!

I also became a voluntary Premier League reporter for the Morning Star. They couldn’t pay me, but it was a way to get into press boxes at the biggest matches and keep showing my face — and showing people in the industry that I was serious, and that this wasn’t just a hobby. This role did not involve day-to-day reporting when not at games. I just attended Premier League matches every weekend, writing on-the-whistle match reports and then follow-up quotes from the manager’s post-match press conference.

The Sunday Express did pay me, though. In my third year, I took the train from York to Manchester every Saturday to sub-edit the sports pages for the following day’s paper. I would arrive at midday and work until 7pm, elongating or condensing articles written by the Express’s football reporters depending on the size of the slot into which each piece needed to fit. Their sports editor treated me very well and offered me valuable career advice — and yet another stepping stone experience!

By the time I graduated with a First from York in the summer of 2022, I was earning a regular freelance income by writing for a number of publications, and my website’s reach was growing all the time. I had written for the likes of The Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Express and The Daily Mirror by this point.

I then completed a one-year journalism course to gain my National Council for Training of Journalists qualification at News Associates in Twickenham, where I studied for four days a week and worked on The Times sports desk for the fifth. That was another unpaid role, on placement, but The Times gave me a better understanding of the standards expected from football journalists at the leading papers in this country. There were plenty of opportunities to go to events, and I got lots of articles in the paper under my name.

Midway through the journalism course, I was approached by The Evening Standard. Their sports editor called me out of the blue and said they had been looking for a new football reporter for some time and wanted me to interview for the role. I was hired in February 2023, with the company agreeing to let me join part-time initially, so I could finish my course, and then full-time when my qualification was completed in May.

The same month, I was awarded the Hugh McIlvanney Student Football Writer of the Year award, which is an annual worldwide award run by the Football Writers’ Association. I was awarded my trophy at the Footballer of the Year dinner, on my very last day as a full-time student. It felt like the perfect ending to 18 years in full-time education.

My award-winning article was an interview with a Christian preacher who preaches outside football stadiums in London. I bump into him at games quite often now, and we always have a good catch-up.

I feel very thankful to the University of York for the role it played in introducing me to print journalism through Nouse and ensuring I improved my ability to communicate succinctly through essay-writing and interviewing guests for my Club of PEP speakers role.

I have my fair share of anecdotes, good and bad, since starting out in football journalism. In the summer of 2022, I took part in a friendly football match where the English press faced the Norwegian press before the two sides played each other at the Women’s Euros in Brighton. What we didn’t know was that three very experienced ex-Norway players would be playing against us. We lost 4-0 in 33-degree heat, but it was fun even though we were well beaten.

I’ve also been given frosty responses when asking football managers questions they didn’t like very much. But that usually happens straight after their team has just lost, so it’s never personal! A thick skin is definitely required.

A day in my life consists of waking up at 6:30am and starting to research and write articles at 7am ready for that day’s paper. That also includes speaking to sources, phoning agents and football clubs to look for stories. I then either head off to go to a manager’s press conference in London or, if it is a matchday, then I hop on a train and get to the match I’m covering that day. All the while, I’m researching, planning and writing pieces for the Evening Standard’s website or for the following day’s paper.

This July I’m covering the Euros from the UK, reporting live on games and providing news and opinion for the website and the paper. For the second fortnight of the Euros, the tennis is on at Wimbledon so I’ll be at Wimbledon covering the tennis and also covering the Euros.

I’m early on in my career so there are much better people to seek advice from, but I would urge students never to lose sight of their dreams. The fact an industry is hard to get into should not be an insurmountable barrier. If anything, it should be an incentive because clearly it must be popular for a reason – but hard work is critical.”

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