“You’ve got to soak up these moments. In the NFL, without doubt, getting to the Super Bowl, particularly the first one, will always stick in the memory. To do seven of them on location is more than I could have hoped for.”
This is the viewpoint of Richard Graves when talking about his time working for Sky Sports. I had the chance to sit down with him as we talked about his career, from his time in school all the way to his current work with Sheffield United.
Through his work, he has spoken to many famous sporting faces. This has included speaking to Harry Kane at a Super Bowl. However, who would he like at a fantasy dinner table? I asked Richard which three people, dead or alive, he would want at his fantasy dinner table. He was quick to mention a colleague.
“Jeff Reinebold. A man I know well from my time at Sky Sports. He’d have to be there just because he’s the life and soul of any event and he’s never short of a tale or two.
“I’d have Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s never short of a comment or opinion or two. The one time I did get to sit down with him and talk to him face to face, he was outstanding. The public perception, if you’re aware of him, he’s somebody I think it’s safe to say who divides opinion. I tell you what, if you’re sat down talking about football and the Dallas Cowboys, what he doesn’t know isn’t worth talking about quite frankly.
“And then, over here, I’d probably want to sit down with, you’d have to go back to the England cricket team and member of the World Cup winning team at Lords against New Zealand a couple years ago or go back a bit further than that and sit down with somebody like Will Greenwood or Jason Robinson or somebody of that ilk from the England Rugby Union World Cup winning side back in 2003 because any time you get to spend time in the company of people who have been there, done it at the highest level. won all the accolades that their particular profession has to offer and done it under the spotlight and scrutiny of the public glare as well I think they’re opportunities you can’t miss.”
Richard spoke to me about his thirst for sport as a child which has never truly gone away, no more so than when he told me at the end of our conversation how he still likes to play sport. He told me that he has an aim to play golf off scratch, with his handicap all the way down to eight at the moment.
From playing rugby, cricket, and cross country in school to still playing sport, which includes kicking a ball around or playing cricket with his nephews, he has always been a sports fanatic. Richard told me of his time as a child reciting the closing stages of the Grand National word for word and how he was a frustrated sportsman who felt the next best thing was to go into journalism and cover sport. Richard seemed incredibly grateful for the career he had.
“It’s difficult to call what I do work when you enjoy what you’re covering and what you’re doing day in and day out as much as I do and, in that sense, I’ve been very fortunate.”
Of course, most people will know Richard for his time reporting on the NFL for Sky Sports and Sky Sports News. Richard, like many others his age in Britain, fell in love with the sport through the coverage on Channel 4.
The two of us discussed how he got into the sport and why he supports the Dallas Cowboys. He said: “I think it’s fairly safe to say that I first became aware of the NFL back in the early nineties when it was pretty much exclusively on Channel 4, we only got to see one live game every week. That was usually Monday Night Football. If you wanted to see anything else that happened, it was a one-hour highlights show on Saturday morning. Gary Imlach hosted it. 60 minutes, you’d pretty much get your NFL fix.
“As time went on, people will recall, before Sky Sports took over the broadcasting rights, you had one of two ways you could really listen to your team or be kept in the loop. One was through the Armed Forces radio network, which some of the younger viewers will have no idea what I’m talking about. The old radio dial, you’d tweak it, occasionally the signal would be strong, and you’d get maybe 60 seconds worth of commentary from the Cowboys game or whatever game was being broadcast on that particular evening and then it would dip down, you’d be twiddling the dial again to try and get it back. That wasn’t the best way to listen to the NFL or when the internet came online, this was before broadband. You’d go onto NFL.com, which was a much more basic in its format than it is these days. You had graphics. If people remember the BBC acorn computers or Commodore 64’s.
Once we got into this century, a colleague of mine from my days in radio moved out to Dallas so I went out there to visit him on holiday and he got us tickets to a Cowboys game at the old Texas Stadium. Monday Night Football. Cowboys v Giants. For those that know about these things, Tony Romo entered the game at half time, and I think his first pass went for a pick six. The Cowboys lost but having gone in there as a typical Brit abroad not really knowing what to expect, it was entertainment for three hours. People that didn’t known you from Adam, didn’t care. If you were supporting the Cowboys, that was fine. I was hooked from there; the love affair grew.
“Terrell Owens was playing for the Cowboys back then, Jeremy Shockey for the Giants who went on to win a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints if memory serves me correctly as well. Bill Parcells was obviously the head coach for the Cowboys at the time, Jason Witten was in the game for Dallas. There were a few big names and one thing that did stick out is the half-time show, where the triplets were inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honour so there’s Emmett Smith, Michael Irvin, and Troy Aikman. Like I say, it didn’t go the Cowboys’ way that night but it’s something that sticks in the memory.”
The culture of sports over in America is nothing like Britain. I have been very fortunate to watch an NFL game in Boston and as good as the London games are, the game experience in the States completely overpowers any in the UK.
We both talked about the tailgating experience and culture and how people will tailgate no matter how cold the weather is, even if they haven’t got tickets. The passion of the American sports fan was something that Richard was a big fan of.
“They love their sport over there, probably college sports more so than the pros. That takes it up to a whole other level. People will camp overnight to be a part of that experience when it comes to collegiate sports so that’s the one thing that really attracts me to America is the passion and the way people have for their team. You talk about universities here. If you go to colleges over in the States, it’s not uncommon for there to be a 40 plus-year wait for season tickets just to follow that college football team.
“If you speak to many Americans, the college they’re affiliated to, their college, their alma mater. That probably means more to them than the pro team they follow. That’s because, in the NFL, franchises will just relocate. You can’t have that in college, it’s there for life. It means a lot to them.”
Working for Sheffield United and Premier League productions, Richard now gets to go to various different football clubs. As recently as the past six weeks, he has been in press conferences with the likes of Frank Lampard, Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe.
The question had to be asked, what team does Richard support?
“For my sins, because they were the first team I went to see, I’m a blue, an Everton fan. However, I was born in Huddersfield so when there doing well, they’re very much my team. Divided loyalties occasionally maybe.
“I can remember being taken to see Everton play in the mid-eighties They beat Watford at home. That was great, had a good day. Didn’t think anything about it. Saturday evening, a month later, put the news on, Everton have won the league title. This will do me great. They went on to win one more league title, an FA Cup in 1995 and haven’t won anything since so maybe that’s something to do with me. I hope not.”
It has not been the season that Everton or non-Everton supporters envisaged, with the club battling to avoid being relegated for just the third time in their history and the first time since 1954. Richard gave his take on whether his beloved Toffees can survive.
“There’s a long way to go for sure. I would always say, when you get into the business end of the season like we’re at now, and this goes to promotion or Championship races every bit as much as relegation battles. It’s better to have points on the board. It’s great to look at the table and say we’ve got two games; we’ve got three games in hand.
“Those games in hand don’t guarantee you points as we’ve seen over the last week with some results you would never predict.
“You mentioned Everton beating Manchester United on Saturday, Burnley having beaten Everton midweek, they go to Norwich and lose 2-0 on Sunday, so yeah have points on the board. I don’t think it will be the usual 40-point mark that we often look to for surviving in the Premier League this year. I won’t be surprised if 34 points is enough to keep teams up.”
Stepping away from his sports fandom, I was keen to find out how he got into the media and presenting world. As a student journalist who often sees ex professionals get jobs in sports journalism, it is always fascinating to find out how those who didn’t play in the profession broke into the field and got their foot in the door.
Richard spoke of career lessons in school where it was suggested that a job in media was the best fit. He did not go to university as there weren’t any courses that specialised in broadcast media. So how did Richard break into the industry? We looked back at the route taken to where he is today as well as giving advice for young journalists..
“I went down the route of getting practical hands-on experience. I did a few RSL’s at Huddersfield FM which, for those that don’t know, a month-long broadcasting stint for radio stations that are applying to get a permanent license. So, I did Huddersfield hospital radio covering Huddersfield Town and then I got lucky quite frankly.
“I was playing cricket for a team over in Bradford one summer and I heard of an opportunity to literally be the bag carrier for the local commentator in Leeds that had the rights to Leeds United at the time, nothing more nothing less than that so the opportunity came my way, I took it, and over the course of the next seven years, worked my way up. I’d go in one day every week to do work experience essentially, and then from that you get that experience, that knowledge of how the industry works both in news and sport, you would get freelance shifts and I ended up doing the main commentary. From there, I went out on my own on a freelance basis, self-employed, got a job at another local radio station as a full-time sports journalist, made contacts.
“I will always say this to any aspiring journalists. Do not be afraid to go up to people in the industry that you recognise, that you know and just introduce yourself and go this is what I’m looking to do, something I did growing up and learning my profession. Honestly, I never came across one person who turned round and said sorry I haven’t got time to speak to you. Everybody always has two or three minutes just to discuss things generally with you and how they’ve got to where they are.
“I went on to work as the North of England reporter for Sky Sports News and now I’ve set up my own business. It’s been interesting, been varied but it’s definitely been enjoyable and there’s been some memorable experiences along the way.
“Someone got in touch with me a few weeks ago. They had a 14-year-old son who was keen to get involved in journalism. At 14 years old, you’re highly unlikely to be taken on by any organisation. However, what you can do is if you got a local football team, cricket team, rugby team, everyone has a website address these days. Any amateur team will always be grateful of someone that says, I’ll write match reports or work around that. That sort of practical hands-on experience is invaluable because whilst I would say it’s very useful indeed to go to university and qualify in media, if you stand behind a microphone for the first time to a camera, no amount of coursework will prepare you for that, so if you freeze at that moment, that’s no good to anybody. If you’ve got practical hands-on experience where you’ve worked in the industry at whatever level, employers will always look upon that favourably because you’ve got something a competitor doesn’t have. If it comes down to a 50/50 decision, a potential employer is going to take someone with a little experience rather than somebody with no experience. Go up to people, ask them for advice. Do something to help yourself.
“It’s all part of the learning curve so that when you get a chance, get an opportunity, you’re in the best possible position to take it. If you’ve got a local sports team in the area, do not be afraid to go down and spend an afternoon over the course of each season, week in week out, then you’ve got something tangible.”
It is safe to say that Richard has lived the dream for any sports fan, by covering a variety of different sporting events. This includes seven Super Bowls, England football team matches, Challenge Cup and Championship playoff finals, FA Cup semi-finals, the Ashes and covering the NFL in Dallas for Thanksgiving. I asked him what moment particularly stands out during his career.
“There are a number of moments. I’ve been part of big productions such as 92 live, moments like that have never been tried before and never been done since and are outstanding because its teamwork. If you want to think specifically about the NFL, it would have to be being at the first Super Bowl I did, Super Bowl 48. It was a pipe dream.
“The thing that gets me most about having the privilege to work and cover these events is first of all, someone is giving you a ticket to be there and see it and cover the build-up and the excitement and the tension and all the drama that goes with it but also, you’re being paid to be there. This goes back to what I said earlier, we call this work, but it’s not really work when you put it into that sort of perspective. Then you meet this family who have been saving up for however long it may be, they’ve got tickets to the game paid for hotels, they’ve got accommodation, they’ve bought merchandise, food for the week. $75,000. I don’t know whether they were a particularly wealthy family or not. I’d imagine they probably weren’t, so you’ve got to surmise that that’s everything they’ve got. They wanted to be there so badly. That’s how much it means to fans. And this is how lucky you are because you’re being paid to be on site and cover this event.
“You’ve got to soak up these moments. In the NFL, without doubt, getting to the Super Bowl , particularly the first one, will always stick in the memory. To do seven of them on location is more than I could have hoped for.”
The aforementioned press conferences with Premier League managers show that Richard has been surrounded by some big names in the world of sport. I wanted to find out from him, who have been the best people to interview and, without having to name names, who have not been quite as fun to speak to.
“The best interviews often come one on one. Sometimes, it might be something you’re not expecting at all, so one of the standout ones would be Shahid Khan six years ago when the Jacksonville Jaguars announced their first tie up to play games at Wembley.
“They (Fulham) weren’t doing particularly well, in the Championship. Unexpectedly, Shahid Khan came out with a line that effectively said that the current manager was about to go in the next few days which took us all by surprise. No one had expected this, there had been no real rumours about it and of course you get back to Sky Sports News and it comes out. Inside 48 hours sure enough, Khan had had enough of the way results were going and made that managerial change, so moments like that when you’re caught a little bit off guard because it’s not the reason you’re there, but it is a big moment when it happens, they’re the ones that stick in the memory.
“You also get the opportunity to sit down with big personalities from all sports. Those are moments that you enjoy as well because it’s a more relaxed environment. It’s a little more intimate and you can actually have a conversation so you’ll get more on both sides of the microphone out of an interview and setting like that than you would in press conferences.
“Never interview your heroes, that’s all I’ll say. Obviously, if its someone you’ve idolised as a kid then they’re going to be right up there. That’s a lot to live up to for anyone whether a good interviewee or not. There are one or two people that spring to mind but ill keep them to myself.
“I was really lucky, I remember back in the days when I worked in radio, the late great Shane Warne was with Merv Hughes in Leeds doing a dinner that afternoon. That was a time when you didn’t really have press officers or PR people around as such and I just rocked up with a microphone in hand at this hotel and said look, I’m from the local radio, he didn’t know me from Adam, would you mind if we had a chat and did an interview. The winter ashes were three months away and I’ll never forget Shane Warne turning around. He had only been, I think, eight years or so into his career, so he was pretty high up there in his popularity. He said look, I’ve got a book signing across Leeds in the next 20 minutes. If you’re willing to walk with me across the city, we’ll walk and talk and do the interview that way. Absolutely phenomenal and it was 20 minutes of pure gold. He was somebody a bit like Merv Hughes, who I could sit here and listen to all day. Great tales. Deeply knowledgeable about the game.
“You chew the fat; you get tales that you wouldn’t normally get. I don’t know whether people let their guard down a little, but it’s certainly more relaxed, there’s a greater trust there. Those are the moments when you get the greater insight into these people, who they are and what they’re about and you can’t put a price on that.
You can catch the audio version on the link below.