Emma Saunders: “Anything is possible, just work hard, be a nice person to work with and believe!”

For many football fans, working at the club they support would be their dream job. Then for that to lead to going to a FIFA World Cup would be unbelievable. However, this was the case for Emma Saunders. A lifelong Watford fan, she is currently Vicarage Road’s stadium announcer, also doing features for the club’s online platforms. I spoke to her about her love of sport, radio and attending the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Growing up, Emma was passionate about sport. From the age of 8, she had a season ticket at Watford and continued to until she moved to Southampton to study at the city’s university. However, football wasn’t her only interest having played tennis as a child, before preferring to play team sports. “I started playing tennis when I was tiny, and then joined a proper tennis club when I was about 8. From there I went on to represent Hertfordshire, regularly. I trained hard, travelling to tournaments and competing on the national circuit until I was around 15 and team sport became more appealing. I played a lot of hockey and netball at secondary school, and also joined my local athletics club where I trained in long distance running and long jump,” Saunders explained. With sport being a huge part of her life, there was no doubt which industry she wanted to work in, however deciding on one area was quite a challenge. “It was always a dream of mine. If you don’t make it as a professional athlete then the next best thing is working right in amongst it. Whether that be as a physio, a coach, a journalist, an analyst etc… there’s so many different roles for people that all work together to make that athlete the best they can be,” she said.

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Having been very active throughout her childhood, Emma thought physiotherapy could be her route into working in sport. The media side of the industry had been an area that had interested her, however it didn’t seem like a realistic option for her at the time. “Fifteen years ago, when I was in school, you’d put on TV or radio for the football and it was just men. It’s so different now, there’s so many women in and around football, whether it be reporting in the stands, in a club’s medical team, on the stadium mic, in a clubs finance/marketing team, even stewarding on a matchday. I think teenage-me would go to a match today and feel totally different about a career in football,” Emma told me.

Whilst studying at the University of Southampton, Saunders got involved in student radio. She went on to study geography and so in order to keep pursuing her media dream alongside studying, she began doing small jobs here and there in the hope it would lead to something. “Eventually it did,” she said. “In my 2nd year, I saw a work experience opportunity at the BBC called Kick Off. It’s a trainee scheme pitched at people who have a proven passion for sport and want the opportunity to learn how to be a sports reporter. I remember so clearly dropping everything in the library and calling my Mum to tell her how excited I was even to see the job post! I applied and was fortunately selected to train with the BBC Radio London team during the 2012 Olympics. It was the most invaluable experience I’ve ever had. That was the big turning point in turning my sports media dreams into a reality.”

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Following her summer in London, Emma returned to Southampton to complete the 3rd year of her degree. Although studying for her final year was her priority, she made sure to make time to go back to BBC Radio London during her holidays in order to continue developing her skills and being involved in the industry. “I finally got my first paid work answering the phones on the Vanessa Feltz Breakfast Show over the following summer which was great. It wasn’t sport, but I learned so much and it was one of the many things I did that led to where I am now, doing my dream job, so it was certainly worth it. I then went on to pick up some Saturday shifts producing the sport show on BBC Radio London, which then turned into some midweek shifts… and so on,” Saunders explained.

Having gained more experience, she decided to apply for some full-time roles with the BBC, however it soon became apparent that they didn’t believe she was quite experienced enough. Emma decided to do a Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism at the London College of Communication. “The course was very practical, I learned how to work in a newsroom and gained a qualification in Media Law which is always handy to have on your CV. It also provided me with other opportunities of work experience at the likes of talkSPORT, LBC and Radio 1 Newsbeat. After this year of study, my CV had grown some legs and I was in a better position to be hired. Sure enough, in Autumn 2015 I got my first staff contract at the BBC,” she said.

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Being a lifelong Watford fan, her current role is the dream. Having previously worked with those who reported on the club and those working for it, when they were looking to expand their media team, Emma’s name was suggested. Speaking of it, she said: “I guess it wouldn’t have gone against me that I was a lifelong fan of the club too! I started out presenting their weekly round-up show from the training ground that went out on the website. Over time I got the chance to script and edit it myself which were great skills to learn.” At the end of that particular season, Watford were promoted to the Premier League and this meant a whole new set of experiences for Saunders. “I went on the pre-season tour to Germany where I did a bit of everything! Interviews, presenting, co-commentary, producing, editing….it was a brilliant experience. It was on return from this trip in a pre-season friendly at Vicarage Road I was first given the opportunity to do the stadium announcing. Watford have given me some incredible opportunities. I’ve learned so much from the media team there. I’ll be forever thankful for it,” she described.

Working as Watford’s stadium announcer, Emma is the first female in the role at Vicarage Road and the only current fulltime female in the Premier League, something as a child she would never have believed. “I think this is one of my great achievements or one that I’m most proud of. If you’d told 10-year-old me that I’d be on the Watford stadium mic in years to come, I’d never have believed you. In all the work I do, I don’t think anything quite gives me as much joy as calling out a goal scorer once we’ve scored and hearing the Vicarage Road crowd cheer back. So much of my childhood is tied up in Watford. My Dad sadly passed away when I was 17, he was the first person to take me to Vicarage Road when I was 8, so to be working for the club now feels like I’m carrying on that family legacy. As for being the only current female full-matchday announcer in the Premier League, I just hope young girls coming along to Watford matches are looking at me and thinking that it’s a possibility for them too. I didn’t have that growing up,” Saunders explained.

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This summer, Emma was in Russia for the FIFA World Cup, and for her, to be a part of such an occasion was another dream come true. “For anyone working in football, it’s the ultimate dream. It was so special to be part of the nuts and bolts that pulled off such an incredible tournament. It wasn’t until a few weeks before it started that I had it all officially confirmed so it was a complete whirlwind. I am so thankful to all the people who have given me opportunities that led to that point. Initially, I was only contracted to be doing the group stages in Kaliningrad. When I found out the decision had been made to also take me to Moscow to do the knockouts and that I’d be there for the final it was unbelievable. Calling out the names of the England players to a roaring stadium and announcing our goals gave me a rush like I’ve never had before. It makes me smile just thinking about it,” Saunders told me.

Emma Saunders is currently making history as Watford’s first female stadium announcer at their home ground, Vicarage Road. As the only current female announcer in the Premier League, she hopes young girls attending the matches will see all the career opportunities available to them in football, something Emma herself says was missing when she was growing up. Speaking of the advice she would give to those hoping to follow in her footsteps, she said: “don’t give up! Be prepared to work hard, work long, unsociable hours. There’s so many people that want these jobs so you have to really prove how much you want it too. Volunteer your time to local news outlets, start up a blog or a vlog, do some student radio, just do anything which gives you practice and gets your name and work out there. You’ll meet so many people along the way and who knows which of those people might just end up giving you that golden opportunity in the future. Anything is possible, just work hard, be a nice person to work with and believe!”

Photo credits: Emma Saunders

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