Today I interview a guy I met whilst volunteering as Programme Editor for the Hull Wasps, a National League basketball club in the local area. Volunteering for the Wasps gave me a wealth of experience and knowledge that I never would have had if it wasn’t for the Chairman David Bushnell giving me a chance to try something in a sport I knew almost nothing about! (Thank you very much, Dave – I owe you a lot!) Volunteering is one of the best things you can do, besides work experience, that can help bag you that all-important first job. I am definitely proof of that.
Sam Stevens joined the Off-Court team as Programme Designer and also assisted me with writing articles for the publication. His design and writing skills blew us all away. I admired Sam’s professionalism and skill from the first time I met him. I knew then, and even more so now, that Sam would become one of the great successes of this generation. And he hasn’t let me down so far.
The game-night programme that Sam and I worked on together.
Whilst volunteering alongside studying for a degree at the University of Hull, Sam also edited Hull University’s magazine Hullfire, and he is a very talented sportswriter. He has written for the Daily Telegraph and now works for the Independent. Needless to say, he is definitely one to look out for in the publishing and media world.
Talk me through your CV and how you got to where you are now.
Up until a couple of years ago I didn’t really see much use for a CV. I definitely didn’t have anything to put on mine! As a spotty teenager, looking like an extra from The Inbetweeners, my first job was with my local Co-Op.
Once my A-Levels were out of the way, I began to develop more of an idea about what I wanted to do with my life. As I have found since, however, this can change even as you get older and wiser.
After working on the students’ newspaper at the University of Hull, I gradually started to find myself on trains heading for internships with papers such as the Daily Telegraph and the Independent. Alongside really enjoyable voluntary spells with Hull City and Hull Wasps Basketball Club, I was then offered a job with the Independent.
Nowadays I’m still working for the Indy around yet another degree, this time a Master’s in Journalism, while I try and scavenge the money to fund my future travels.
We volunteered together on the Hull Wasps basketball programme. How important do you find volunteering to be in helping young people start out in their careers?
Quite frankly, volunteering is the difference between those who make it and those who don’t. It’s all very well earning a first class degree from Oxbridge or wherever but someone who is willing to work for free appears far more employable.
One day I hope discussions about ‘working for free’ are a thing of the past. Of course some companies simply cannot afford to pay their voluntary staff – and I don’t begrudge them for using volunteers to survive – but thankfully we appear to be walking the road towards paid internships for all.
In terms of working for Hull Wasps, I revelled in the reasonability which we were both given by Dave (Bushnell, the Chairman) and I believe that we produced a truly brilliant publication. Considering we were working completely alone on a shoestring budget, I think we can be proud of what we achieved. It definitely gave us a firm grounding which we’ll need in the years to come.
Quite frankly, volunteering is the difference between those who make it and those who don’t.
Tell me about your biggest achievements and proudest moments to date.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment that I was asked to stand up in front of 150 of the country’s brightest sports journalists in London. I had been invited down to the capital after winning an award in honour of the former Daily Star football writer Danny Fullbrook.
A charity launch was being held in his honour and I was given the opportunity to drunkenly introduce myself to the great and good of sports journalism. With only the occasional slurring of my words to cringe over afterwards, I somehow managed to escape with a pocket full of business cards and phone numbers. I still consider that evening to be the day where my luck changed and can now even call some of those intimidating journos my friends.
Did you always want to become a writer?
Yes, but not a journalist! I had always dreamed of being a television scriptwriter and often found myself plugging myself in to a set of earphones and listening to dramatic music. By doing this, I could imagine the scenes I would write. I would watch endless boxsets and make notes of lines of dialogue or themes which I liked from each series.
Perhaps one day, when grey hairs start to replace the ginger ones in my beard, I may sit down at my desk and have another go at writing my smash hit.
What advice would you have for somebody hoping to get into sports writing and/or journalism?
Journalism (and any media-based career for that matter) is about who you know, not what you know. By all means swot up on your field of interest and make sure nobody can beat you in a quiz on it, but make sure that you’re meeting new people all of the time. Only that way will you be able to get placements, which lead to internships, which in turn lead to jobs.
Make sure that you’re meeting new people all of the time.
What drew you to sports writing to begin with?
I’ve always had an odd relationship with sport in that I was often the geeky kid with his head in the programme rather than watching the match. My mates would often pretend they didn’t know me when, in my twenties, I’d still be collecting signed memorabilia or sticker albums.
As much as I love sport itself, it’s always been about the fanfare for me. Walking into a new football ground in particular is like walking into a theatre or a coliseum. The smell of burger vans coupled with the roar you only ever hear at football matches still make the hairs on my neck stand on end.
Which teams in which sports do you support and why? Do you ever find being unbiased difficult?
They say that the teams you support influence the sort of person you became and I can definitely relate to that! People have often said that loyalty is both my biggest strength and weakness.
After years spent in half-empty stands watching Leicester City play some of the most atrocious football you could possibly imagine, for some reason I continue to stick by them. It must be love!
As part of my role with the Independent I’m very lucky in that I get to report on Leicester quite often. While I must confess that I have been known to jump up and fist pump in the press box from time to time, I’d hope that no such passion bleeds into my work.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older but I can detach myself from the events on the field more now than ever.
What do you find the hardest and what do you find the most enjoyable about your work?
The hardest with sports journalism, particularly football, is dealing with the fact that you are often writing for an audience who knows more than you. If, for example, I am at Stamford Bridge writing about Chelsea, I am tasked with writing about the Blues with the conviction of a hardened supporter. Believe me, they’ll let me know if I get something wrong.
The flip side of that coin, however, is people feel so passionately about their sports teams that you are genuinely enhancing their lives if you can bring some good news. The thrill of breaking a story about a club signing a world beater (and watching the joy overflow onto your Twitter feed) is enough to inspire anyone to keep doing this daft old job.
We both attended the University of Hull. What made you choose Hull? What is the most valuable thing your time there left you with?
I actually ended up at Hull purely by chance. I had no intentions of even going to university until the very last day where, typically for me, I suddenly decided that it didn’t sound like such a bad idea after all!
After making a couple of hurried phone calls, I soon found myself strolling down Princes Avenue with a completely new life to be built. The most valuable thing I take from my time at university, in fact, only came to me a few weeks ago. It was all a whirlwind at the time but I really did enjoy some of the best days of my life there.
I met some beautiful, fascinating people that I’ll keep in touch with for the rest of my life while I can barely recognise the boy looking back at me when I see a picture of myself at eighteen-years-old. I didn’t really see it at the time, but I owe Hull so much.
What are your hopes and visions for your career in the future?
Well, at the moment, I’m studying towards a Master’s in Journalism but after that I genuinely don’t know what the future has in store. A few months ago I may have been daunted by that uncertainty but now I’m thriving off it.
I would like to branch out a little, possibly into the charity sector and work within PR. Journalism is obviously my bread and butter but there is a long time between now and retirement and I would be bitterly disappointed if I became a one trick pony.
Depending on when I’m able to gather together enough cash, I’d also like to spin a globe one day and go wherever fate takes me. I may, though, have to rig the results and ensure that my finger lands on a South American country.
You can follow Sam on Twitter @SamuelTStevens