League of her own

Sky Sports broadcaster Hayley McQueen is settling in to a new football season. She talks to Elysia Agnew about family, football Twitter and trolls

It seems like the most glamorous of jobs. TV studios and time spent shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest names from the world’s biggest game. But come 6pm after a busy afternoon on air, it’s a case of break out the Yorkshire Tea as Hayley McQueen finally gets time to sit down in her chic apartment in central Chiswick. Tea, chocolate and chat. Talk about having it all.

The day job finds her trimmed up for the all-seeing Sky cameras, but behind the scenes, it’s jeans, trainers and a top knot. Hayley might have been in the sporting spotlight for way over a decade, highly regarded in her field, but her job still carries a whiff of the so-called ‘man’s world’. Things are changing. It’s really not a big deal to see a female sports presenter – reference the recent Olympic coverage. But Hayley was something of a pioneer.

“When I started out, a female reporter was quite unusual. There weren’t that many girls working in football, particularly young girls,” says the 36-year-old. “It seems the older you get the more respected you are and the less of an issue it is.

But I think when you start out people think that you are getting into it for the wrong reasons. People might think it’s glamorous. It’s not. I’ve reported pitch-side for the reserves, stood at the side of the pitch – freezing – sat amongst a load of rowdy blokes. It’s not that glamorous.

“It’s probably a generation thing. I still think there are some 60-70-year-old guys who think there isn’t a place for women within football, but guys of my generation think it’s completely normal. “At Sky it’s important to keep the balance. It’s a 50/50 divide between men and women in the studio and especially on air, so you don’t really feel like you’re working in a man’s world.”

For Hayley, it’s important to remain confident in her role. She says, “I do worry about younger girls who are coming up through the industry. Girls who are obsessed by how they look because they have people telling them they have to look a certain way to succeed.” We live in a world driven by social media. A world where it’s easy to get access to public figures and delve into their personal lives. Comments can provoke backlash, particularly when you’re in the limelight. Hayley has learned to rise above the personal comments that come her way on social media but admits that if someone questions her judgment on sport, it’s difficult to bite her tongue.

I still do all of my clothes shopping in the North East. I buy loads of my clothes in Yarm. I get all of my fruit and veg from Roots on the A19 before the long drive back down to London. I bring back Yorkshire gin, shortbread, tea… everything

“The weird thing is, if I were 25 and somebody commented, it would probably get to me more, but the older you get, the less you care. I can handle stuff that people say about my physical appearance because for me, that’s secondary to being knowledgeable. Whereas if someone questions my credentials, or my knowledge, that really bothers me.”

hayley-2Not only is she the female face of football, a sports presenter and a reporter, she is also a public figure and a role model to many. Staying tuned on social media is an important part of reaching out to fans, but the negative impacts the internet can have are well documented.

“The opinions that people have on Twitter can sometimes get frustrating. I’ve got a following and sometimes I am afraid to voice an opinion because of the amount of backlash.

“It’s never women; girls will very much support other girls. And I think because I’m curvy, I’m not some Victoria’s Secret-looking female, that I can appeal to more people – they know I’ve worked hard. Girls kind of stick together, we root for each other.

“Whereas, with some guys I think, how on earth do you think that is acceptable, to tell me to ‘get back to the kitchen’? I just think to myself, what era are you living in? “I don’t find sexism from within the industry and in the workplace – it’s the minority of football fans who cast an opinion on Twitter – a remark from some kind of dark age.” For an escape from the sporting frenzy, Hayley heads to the place she calls home – the village of Hutton Rudby near Yarm. Wide smiles all round as she ponders this little corner of North Yorkshire.

“I still do all of my clothes shopping in the North East. I buy loads of my clothes in Yarm. I get all of my fruit and veg from Roots on the A19 before the long drive back down to London. I bring back Yorkshire gin, shortbread, tea… everything. I basically just bring the North East back down with me, like a home comfort. It’s like when you go abroad and you miss all of the delicacies from back home, so you take them with you!

“It’s really weird, I’ll often have bits of clothing on and people will ask, where’s that from? And it’s always a shop up North: Jules B, The House or Psyche. People down here are like, what are these places? “I quite like that. I’m coming to London and I’ve got little bits and bobs that people don’t have down here. If people visited Psyche and Triads, and some of the little independent shops on Linthorpe Road in Middlesbrough, I think they would be surprised.”

The old days, of course, take us back to her humble beginnings at Boro TV. After a sixth month internship with Richard and Judy on ITV’s This Morning, a young Hayley knew that her next move had to be one that involved sport. “It was perfect timing. After spending time in London at university, it was nice to come home and to start my career working for my home team.” As an ‘adopted Teessider’, her bond with Middlesbrough Football Club was an unexpected one.When she’s not kitting out her wardrobe with local goodies, she heads to great country pubs on the doorstep. “We go to the Crathorne Arms, spend time in the Bay Horse in Hutton Rudby and drive out to the Golden Lion in Osmotherly. And obviously you’ve got the slightly more raucous nightlife in Yarm – if you can even call it that these days – who knows? I remember the old days in Yarm,” she jokes.

Her dad Gordon took the family from Scotland to Middlesbrough to take up a coaching role with Bryan Robson, and she became a fan by default. She vividly recalls the journey to Teesside. “I remember driving through Wilton, and it just looked so industrial to us. We were like, where are you taking us dad? I was protesting; I didn’t want to move. I had just had my fifteenth birthday and I was half way through a school year. It was a big change and it all happened very quickly. But that’s football.”

I am very lucky that I work on the best league in the world. The reach is far and wide. In Thailand for example, I was in a taxi in Bangkok and the driver was telling me all about Middlesbrough FC. He almost knew as much as me!

But just weeks later, settled in Hutton Rudby, the McQueens had set up a forever home in the North East. And with Middlesbrough back in top-flight football, in an era with big name signings such as Juninho, Ravanelli and Emerson, it seemed the perfect start for the family of five. “My first ever game was Middlesbrough v Oxford United and it was at Ayresome Park.

“The club were doing great and everything just clicked for us; the football, the area, the people – and since then, it’s been home. “So when I say I’m going home, people think I’m going back to my apartment in London, but really I mean Teesside. The funny thing is, I’m 36 now and I’m thinking, gosh my home is actually still at my mum and dads,” she laughs. Hayley’s early days at Boro TV are where she learned the key skills that set her on her way as an influential sports broadcaster. And for that, she gives her thanks to ‘the voice of Boro’ himself, Alistair Brownlee who sadly died late last year.

hayley-3After attending the pundit’s funeral back in the North East earlier in the year, she recalled her close relationship with the Boro legend. “I learnt what passion and hard work was, sitting next to him for all those years with that booming voice, which wasn’t just saved for commentaries. He was a father figure to us; a bunch of kids starting careers in broadcasting, but Ali was really just a big kid himself and one of the kindest men I have ever met. He was the eternal optimist; he saw the good in everyone.

I’ve never known anyone like him. “I’m proud to call the North East home and as an adopted Teessider, I couldn’t be more proud of everyone in Middlesbrough coming together as one to say goodbye to one of a kind.” Talking about the North East, Hayley admits that, although the bright lights of London are where she has established herself in the world of sport, she misses the little things about home. “If I had it my way, I’d live in the North East like my sister does.

She moved back home after many years living the high life in London, working in fashion. I thought it would be the same for me, but for the job that I do, London is where I need to be right now.

“Visiting home is like a retreat. You’ve got the hustle and bustle of London at one end, then I can travel back up and unwind for a couple of days. “I took my partner Kirk to visit recently. He loved it, he’s German/Turkish, and so he’s never really been to the north of England.

“I was proud to show him what it’s all about. The stunning countryside and the amazing restaurants – we have Michelin stars and everything, some of the best gastro pubs in England are up North.” She’s managed to find a gang of workmates who bring the North East to the office at Sky Sports HQ.

“There’s a gang of us at Sky; there’s Tom White, who’s a Sunderland fan, Pete Graves who is a big Newcastle fan and we’ve got Dave Jones who grew up in Great Ayton. And then obviously there’s Jeff Stelling and Kammy (Chris Kamara), so whenever I see them it’s like having a little bit of home at work. We all chat about the local football teams and what’s going on in the area.

“Elsewhere there’s Steph McGovern at the BBC, who I don’t know all that well, but as another female in the industry, you champion those people from your area. Our area gets a lot of stick and it really bothers me. “Kay Murray is one of my best friends who started out as a ‘Boro Babe’ and worked for Boro TV, worked for Real Madrid TV, and now she’s working for beIN Sports, living out in Miami. It’s great to see that people have moved on, but are still so proud of their home town.”

Before her time at Sky Sports, McQueen spent four years at Manchester United TV (MUTV), a football club close to her heart, with fond memories of her dad’s days as one of Manchester United’s most successful defenders. Growing up in a famous footballing family, watching football was just part of everyday life. But with hard work and determination, she paved her own television career and sporting expertise.

“I think the fact that I have a dad who has been a footballer and has worked in football, people have said, ‘oh your dad helped you with the job’. Yes, he helped me with an understanding, with the passion and with a love for the game, but it’s been my training and genuine interest that’s got me here.

“I’ve seen my dad come through the ranks of being a player, a coach, a manager, as a scout, as a pundit, and as a consultant. I have seen him working in all of these different roles, so I feel that I have a bit of an edge on some boys. If I was the son of a footballer, it would be the same, but I’d probably be playing the sport, so the next best thing is presenting football, and that’s just how it is.

With several new projects on the go, including a presenting slot on 5Live alongside Ian Wright, Saturday’s spent presenting live Premiere League football exclusive to Sky Sports viewers in Ireland, and flagship highlights programme ‘Match Choice’, Hayley has a lot going on.

“I am very lucky that I work on the best league in the world. The reach is far and wide. I’ve travelled a lot in my time as a presenter, spending time in Thailand for example, where they are football mad. I was in a taxi in Bangkok and the driver was telling me all about Middlesbrough FC. He almost knew as much as me!” And as the new season gets underway with Middlesbrough back in the best league of all, Hayley looks forward to crossing paths with her home team and supporting them on what she hopes to be a “long and successful journey in the Premier League.”

Not just a presenter, but also an experienced journalist, a sports personality and a genuine football fan. Whether she’s London based, travelling the world or heading back ‘home’ for a refreshing break, the Sky is the limit.

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