Lucy Ward on life as a trailblazer and the art of football commentary in crowded field – The Mirror

Lucy Ward on life as a trailblazer and the art of football commentary in crowded field – The Mirror

EXCLUSIVE: Lucy Ward has forged a 15-year career in football co-commentary, bringing her distinctive Yorkshire voice and in-depth tactical analysis to the game she played for 23 years Commentary is a contradictory skill. When it is done well, it sounds like the easiest and most natural thing to do – yet that is actually far from the reality. Skilled commentators are able to make it look effortless down the microphone, but behind it their brain is constantly whirring. Lucy Ward knows the effort that goes into commentary better than most, having forged a 15-year career in the business. It is a career she owes to Lance Hardy, a former Match of the Day producer, who gave her the chance to work as a co-commentator at the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China. Ward was thrown in at the deep-end and had to learn how to swim – all while speaking directly to a sizeable audience alongside lead commentator Guy Mowbray on the BBC. The football part wasn’t a problem. Ward spent 23 years playing for Leeds United and was at the time working at the club’s academy as head of education and welfare. But the art of co-commentary is not something you immediately pick up. You have to work at it. Ward did the best to do her homework, to try and get a head-start on learning the nuances of something most football fans take for granted. “People used to moan about Mark Lawrenson but he was so skilled as a co-commentator. It’s about the timing and it’s about humour, and he’s got that real skill of saying the right things, not saying too much, but when you do say something it’s got to be worthwhile. “It’s difficult, because you have to have a relationship with the person you’re doing the commentary with,” she says. “There are quite a few times when I’ve turned up to a game and just met the commentator and then had to have some sort of rhythm – because that’s what it’s all about.” Once you’ve got the rhythm of things and you’re comfortable with your commentary partner, it is then about honing the content of what you say. After all, over 90 minutes there will be a lot of it. Ward picks out two co-commentators at the opposite end of the spectrum who she particularly admires. “I think I learn by watching, rather than being told what to do. I listen to quite a few co-comms,” she continues. “I’ve listened to Gary Neville and see when he comes in with stuff, the sort of observations that he makes. He’s one of the best. “Then you’ve got the likes of Ally McCoist. He’s so articulate and he’s got a lot of warmth to what he says. “I think his accent really helps because he just comes across as kind, warm and funny and the sort of person you’d want in your living room while you’re watching football. I think that’s why he works.” After making her name commentating on women’s football for the BBC, Ward has moved across into the men’s game. Her distinctive Yorkshire accent is now regularly given an airing on talkSPORT, Amazon Prime and BT Sport. It was a long journey to get to this point. Ward notes that she worked for BT Sport for 10 years before they handed her a Premier League game in 2020 – something Amazon had already done by then. But now she has broken through, she is really hitting her stride, with her deep knowledge of the game and meticulous research obvious on commentary. Ward’s approach is born out of a love for the game, but also what she felt was necessity, a need to stand out in a crowded field. “Now I’ve been doing it for over 15 years, I’ve gone more into the tactical side of things because I realised as I was moving into the men’s game that I had to ensure that I was completely on it,” she explains. “I prepare for every game that I do, but I was conscious that I had to offer something a little bit different to what was already going on. “I knew I’d get stick regardless of what was going on, even if I was the best co-commentator in the world. You have to make sure that authenticity-wise that I was ready.” What that means in practice is quite remarkable. Ward says she spends “two or three full days” preparing for each game she covers, putting in effort which sounds more befitting of a full-time club analyst. Alongside her partner Neil Redfearn, who is now in charge of Sheffield United women, she watches hours of footage, making detailed notes on each side to see how they will match up against each other. Ward explains: “I look at the systems of play, how they play, what they do against different systems, does a manager change it, is the manager under pressure, has he got injuries, is he likely to change? I read a lot of interviews with managers, I watch a lot of footage with managers.” It is clearly paying off, with Ward’s in-depth approach from the tactical side of things reaching a modern audience which now demands more than just the banal. Ward’s breakthrough is even more impressive when you consider her background and the wider context of her industry. Back when she started commentating in 2007, female voices around men’s games were rare and generally limited to the presenting side of things. Ward not only had her sex working against her, but also her playing career, which gave her an excellent grounding yet never carried her to the highest level. “I basically had it on two levels: not just being a woman, but being a woman who, it’s like: ‘what has she done?’. I had to explain the authenticity of me being in football,” she says. “Because I had that in my head, I had the confidence to say that I deserved to be there. It was frustrating for a while. I actually never thought I would get Premier League games.” This season has seen Ward commentate on Lionel Messi ’s first game for Paris Saint-Germain and travel to the San Siro to call Liverpool ’s recent 2-0 win over Inter Milan in the last-16 of the Champions League for BT Sport. Ward pays tribute to the groundbreakers who went before her and believes that diversity in football broadcasting has improved markedly in recent years. “I think the more that female faces are seen, the more accepting people will be. It’s like anything – the more you see or hear of something, it becomes the norm. I think some broadcasters have to be quite brave with that. “I know every single one of them (women) do the research and if they do make a mistake it is simply a mistake. It’s not through lack of preparation. That’s key. You’ve got to be good enough. Nobody wants a free leg-up. You have to offer something, if not better than different.” Unfortunately, working – and standing out – in football inevitably means having to deal with what, at its best, can be termed criticism and, what at its worst, is simply abuse. Ward has had to learn to cope with the flak that often comes her way on social media. She says the “massive camaraderie” among women in the industry helps, as does the regular reminder of “realising what a privileged position I’m in”. “I am really hardened to it now,” Ward says. “I don’t take criticism from a person who I wouldn’t go to for advice.” One particular piece of praise has stuck with Ward. Back in March 2021, Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker sent out a tweet to his 8.3million followers. “I reckon @lucyjward_ is an excellent co-commentator,” he wrote. “Knowledgeable, reads the game well and importantly for a co-comm doesn’t over speak….a lot do.” Ward was so pleased with the comment that she had it printed out and put into a frame. But the elation of receiving such a nice comment from the highest profile person in the industry was soon balanced out. “Same day, I got a private message on Instagram calling me a biased fat slag,” Ward says. “It just made me laugh, because that’s it: somewhere in the middle is where you need to be. Don’t get carried away with the praise and don’t get too down about someone taking time out of their day to call you a name.” There is no doubt that Lineker’s words are the ones which are reflective of reality. Ward is here to stay. And with a busy schedule, which includes co-commentary of Leeds v Leicester on Saturday and the second leg of Liverpool v Inter on Tuesday, there is no time to dwell on the words of trolls. Ward describes her tactics-focused commentary style approach as “niche”. But with every game she is making it less so. She is on the cutting edge of the industry, blazing a fresh path. “I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself. I’ve surprised myself multiple times over the past couple of years in terms of what I’m capable of. I am really enjoying myself and loving what I’m doing. I just want to keep going.” Get the FREE Mirror Football newsletter with the day’s key headlines and transfer news straight into your inbox
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