BBC women’s sports reporter Jo Currie gives us the inside scoop from the Lionesses’ camp… ⚽️⚽️⚽️
BY CARRIE LYELL
Considered the top authority on women’s football in England, Jo Currie has been reporting on women’s sports for 12 years, and what she doesn’t know about the FIFA Women’s World Cup isn’t worth knowing. We called her between matches to get the inside scoop from France, and find out if the Lionesses can go all the way…
DIVA: Tell us a little about yourself.
Jo Currie: In terms of my career, I always kind of knew what I wanted to do. I studied broadcast journalism at uni, went into news, but realised very quickly the only thing I really cared about was sport [laughs]. I didn’t really care about the price of the local hospital car park! I think I’ve been covering women’s football for 10 years now, for the BBC. A lot of players that are in this England squad, I’ve known them since they were teenagers. So it’s really nice to be at this tournament and see how they progress. Because I’ve been in women’s football for so long, some people say I’m the “voice of information” when it comes to the sport, but it’s just a sport that I love. I do all women’s sport which is great role to have – but mostly women’s football – and I absolutely love it.
Did you always want to cover women’s sports?
I played women’s football to a very, very low standard. I was really rubbish! But it gave me an interest in covering it. Up until recently, it’s never really been given the coverage it deserves. Now it’s getting fantastic coverage, and I want to give the players a better platform. It’s been so much fun to do over the last 10 years. The players are intelligent, they’re enthusiastic, they want to do stuff with you. I think I’ve interviewed over half the England squad at the World Cup now, just in the last couple of weeks, and you walk away from every interview going, “Wow, they’re really good talkers”. Because I’ve done women’s football and they’ve seen what I’ve helped do with that, [the BBC] said “Let’s expand the role”, so last year I was incredibly lucky to go to Antigua to cover the Women’s Cricket World Cup. I did the Hockey World Cup in London last year. It’s an amazing job. I get a bit frustrated [when] people think it’s a stepping stone because I’m hoping to do men’s football. I find that so insulting, because I love what I do.
You mentioned cricket and hockey and the other sports you cover for the BBC. But football, is that where your heart lies?
Definitely, and that one I can blame on my mother. She’s the one who took me to football from the age of about five! Also, I think it’s because I’ve got to know the players so much over the years as well. You form good, solid working relationships with them. It’s just so nice now to see football doing so well. The fact it’s all over BBC One, these matches. Huge viewing figures. The amount of press, even from two years ago, at the Women’s Euros in the Netherlands, compared to now, is overwhelming almost. I’m used to covering matches and being the only person there! All of sudden, I’m fighting for room, and it’s great in that respect. But it’s nice doing other things as well. Getting out and about, doing other sports, and having to learn about them as well.
There really seems to be a growing recognition and respect for the women’s game. Why do you think that is?
Everyone [says] if England win this World Cup, it’ll be a watershed moment for the sport in our country. But I think that watershed moment actually happened four years ago in Canada [when] England got that bronze medal. They missed out on the final by inches, because of that heartbreaking own goal. I still can’t watch that back – it makes me want to cry. But I think that’s when people started to realise that the product is so much better than it used to be. I used to go and cover women’s matches, top league in England. They were playing in appalling conditions. Players weren’t getting paid. They were having to do jobs, then come and play matches, and the quality of the football wasn’t very good. So it was hard to sell as a sport. But now, particularly in England, all the players are professional. This is their job. They’re well paid. The product on the pitch has got better. The quality of the stadiums is better.
Indeed – there’s a noticeable improvement in the quality on the pitch, even just in the last few years.
The frustrating thing is, every now and again, you get a rogue result. So the USA beat Thailand 13-0. But then you compare the budgets and the professionalism. And even in the men’s game, you occasionally do get big score lines like that. But people still love to do the whole “Women’s football is rubbish” thing. But on the whole, across the board, because more teams are turning professional, it means the quality has definitely gone up. Though there are always going to be arguments about goalkeeping standards, I think, in the women’s game… [laughs].
We’re just not tall enough, that’s the problem…
Exactly! The Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, who is never afraid to lob the odd idea out there, came out this week and said the women’s goals should be smaller. It’s a massive debate!
What’s the atmosphere like in France at the moment?
You can always tell when the team are happy or not, and I can tell you, they walk around with ridiculous smiles on their faces. [England manager] Phil Neville, he’s helped develop the team morale and atmosphere that was already there. He’s built on it, and brought something extra to the team. He’s very good at squad rotation, so that keeps them all happy because they all get a few minutes. On match days in particular, you see a lot of fans wandering around in shirts. Women’s football’s always been a family sport, so you see a lot of young children out here which is great. It’s a different atmosphere in the stadium. You don’t have the tribal chanting, the abuse, the shouting at referees. You get Mexican waves. It’s always done in a good spirit. It’s definitely being treated more as a sport rather than a kind of hobby sport, which is how people have treated it in the past. It’s a very pleasant atmosphere.
What is an average day like for you at that moment?
It changes day to day! Every now and again we’ll be told, “Oh, do that small thing in the morning, then you’ll have the rest of the day off”. And you end up working until 8 at night. Most days we are in the England squad doing interviews, and then we have to go and find locations to record links to go around interviews. Then we have to go and film shots of whichever area we’re in. And then sometimes we have to do live hits on the news channel, occasionally the odd radio hit squeezed in as well. Everything takes longer than you think, so once you’ve done these interviews with the players, you’re going to have to find somewhere with decent enough wifi to send it. That’s half the battle. They are long old days and you do get quite tired. I think I had half a day off after two weeks out here. And I went crazy – I had a nap! Then for the rest of the day I couldn’t even remember what my own name was because I’d finally given into it. I had to go and record something in the evening and I was like, “Join me, uhhh… Jo… Currie?” They looked at me like, “Do you want to record that again!?” It’s hard work, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Highlights of the tournament so far?
The other day, at the last minute, we got sent to the stadium to do an interview with [former England captain] Casey Stoney. She was there doing radio commentary. It was the Thailand Sweden game. We weren’t there to cover the match, we were literally just there to grab her after her commentary and get a quick TV interview. We turned up and watched the second half. Now, Thailand were battered by USA in their first game, and then they were getting battered by Sweden. But then right towards the end, they scored a goal, and the whole stadium erupted. Even the Swedish fans cheered! It was a really nice moment. They knew they were going to lose the match, but just seeing them celebrate. There’s a great clip of their coach basically in tears getting off the bench, so happy. Those moments are nice. And moments like that, I don’t think it matters if it’s men’s football or women’s football. An underdog story captures everyone, really.
Obviously you’re rooting for England, but who is your money on?
After England – all my money on England – the teams you can’t look past. USA: They were the champions in 2015, runners up in 2011. They’re on fire. My only hope is that they started too hard and too fast and they tire out towards the end. Sweden have looked very good. And France, the hosts. They’re a very, very good team. They’ve got a squad of world class players. And they’ve got the crowd on their side. French crowds are very passionate; they can be quite hostile to opposition sides. And I think there’s an awful lot of pressure on them to go all the way in this one.
As a Scotland fan, can you offer me any hope? Do you think we can make it through the group stage?
[Laughs] Scotland have got a really good squad and for me, they’ve just been unlucky in their first two games with penalty decisions. They’ve not been outplayed by England or Japan. On paper, they’re ranked that much lower than them, but they’ve not been outplayed. So, my understanding of the maths – which is not great – are that if beat Argentina tonight, they have a chance of going through as a third place team.
How many goals do we need to win by?
Oh god, now you’re testing me. I think it depends on results elsewhere… If you win that game, you’ve got a really good chance of going through, and I think it would be fantastic for the sport as a whole, but what a story for the team. They’ve really got the country behind them and you want them to do well to sort of say, “Keep following us, even when we’re out of the World Cup. This is what we can do…”
How important are results in tournaments like this in terms of growing the women’s game generally?
If I’m honest, it’s everything. If you haven’t got the right product on the pitch, you’re not going to get fans through the door, and you’re not going to get sponsors. England have an added pressure on them in that to get a GB spot at the Olympics next year, they have to be in the top three European teams at this tournament. So they’ve also got that riding on them. Results do pay. People want to sponsor winners. They want to promote people that do well. So it’s something that’s come into the game more. Sponsorship is still quite a new thing. But now people are putting in huge amounts of money, and they’re going to put it into the teams that are going to win you trophies. So rightly or wrongly, that is the way it is. Also, after the World Cup in 2015, we saw a small spike in crowds going to club games. Because of that success, they wanted to go see their local heroines. So yeah, for England, they talk about being able to win it and I think they can win it. But for me, even if they just got to the semi-final, that’s an incredible result.
What have been your career highlights so far?
If I’m honest, I’d say doing what I’m doing right now. It’s a real privilege to do this role. I’m the England camp reporter, so I’m in the camp pretty much every day, interviewing the players. I interview Phil Neville before he goes out for the game, I interview him at half time, I interview him straight after the final whistle. This, for me, feels like a culmination of hard work. Going from covering matches 10 years ago which basically were being played in fields, to getting to do this. Someone said to me the other day, “You do realise that if England win the World Cup, you’ll be the one doing the first interview with Phil Neville?” At that point I was like, “Oh my god”. [Laughs] This has been incredible, and I just hope the girls get all the way to the final. I want to stay here as long as possible!
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Follow Jo on Twitter @JoCurrie.
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