This is how I got into football journalism - hopefully you will find some of this useful and if I inspire just one person to do it, then I've achieved what I wanted.
All those years ago when I was at school doing O Levels (GCSE for the younger kids out there) I had a plan. I was good at football but knew I was never going to make it. So, the next best thing is to get paid for writing about it, right? Precisely. You will only get what you want in life if you have a set objective and go after it as tenacious as you can. That's why I was able to do this, because I had a clear goal from the start. Those who do not know what they want to do are at a disadvantage because as soon as they realise what they want, there's people who have already made giant steps in achieving what they want.
English subjects are important. If you want to write, your grammar and spelling have to be spot on. If you file your copy to the sportsdesk, the sub-editors (the guys who write the headlines and make your text fit the page) will get on your back if your copy is full of errors and such. So English is crucial.
For A Levels, do as many English and predominantly writing subjects as possible. Politics, Business, Religion, Philosophy, History, English Lit and Lang etc.
Don't be fooled. Media Studies is not a pathway into journalism. With the greatest respect to those who study it, it's not that important and certainly not going to get you ahead of someone who has studied English Language, for example.
START A PAPER OR BLOG
Start a school newspaper (it's easy and quite fun. There's always gossip and scandal at school. Your students will love it too, trust me). Or a blog. The more you write and the more people you reach, the more chance you have of getting noticed. Blog away.
WHAT I DID
O Levels, A levels and then University, where I studied English. I started a paper at University it went from there. There are no definite subjects you have to study but as I said, learning English etc is a good start. Many Unis now offer NCTJ accredited courses and I highly recommend you do them as the NCTJ will prepare you for a career in journalism.
The crucial, make or break thing here. You won't get ANYWHERE unless you do work experience. Hassle a local newspaper into giving you a week on the sportsdesk. Here, you will be able to make contacts with journalists and also start compiling a portfolio of published work. The more bylines you get, the better you look.
COMMON MYTH PT 2
It's unlikely you will ever have an interview to get a job as journalist on a national paper. Local level, perhaps, but even that's not guaranteed. These days, it's all about the experience so if you do work experience and do well, and then keep in contact with the paper asking for future shifts etc, they will get so tired of you persisting with them they will give you a job just to shut you up. Trust me, that's what happened to me. Yes, a CV is important but the work experience is the crucial thing. As I said, start local and build from there. Local papers have links to nationals, and you go from there.
IT'S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW...
..it's who you know. That does ring true to some extent as the more contacts you have, the more doors that will open. But don't mark yourself out as exclusively a 'football writer' as everyone wants to do that. Do news, travel, showbiz, weather, whatever the hell you can - as long as you are writing for someone. Carve out a niche for yourself once you've got that first job.
Look, it's not as glamarous as you think it is. If you think it's all about 5 star hotels and watching the World Cup Final and cosy chats with Lionel Messi, you're wrong.
The pay and hours can be awful. I once had to doorstep the Football Association at Soho Square at 8am in the morning. (So I was up around 6am) and, after an hour of standing in the street, trying to find someone to talk to, it was clear it was going to be a long day. I spent the hours of 8am to 9pm in the evening trying to get someone from the FA to speak to me, but nobody did. That was my day. And it rained. All day.
Similarly, it's not all about going to Anfield or Old Trafford and watching amazing games. You'll start by going to things like Brentford reserves or a Johnstone's Paint Trophy replay on a wet Tuesday night in some northern town.
As for pay, it's not great. Martin Samuel at the Daily Mail is on around £450,000 a year but don't start getting giddy. Journalists don't do what we do for the money - there's lots of money to be made elsewhere - but we do it for the love of football and the love of writing.
Trust me, when you see your name on the back page of a newspaper for the first time, or any page for that matter, the feeling is absolutely immense. It beats money, it really does. Which is a good thing.
There are some horrible people in the profession as well and when you're a youngster starting out, be prepared for people to look down on you and retreat to their 'clique'. They view young kids as competition. They are the bright young upstarts after the big jobs held by the bitter, sleepless, greying older lot. But be polite, be patient and be persistent.
That brings part 1 of what this game is really like to an end. This blog is about you, really - if you want greater insight into how to get in etc, send me a message on Twitter.