We sat down with Edward Walker to talk about his career in sport in the latest instalment of Industry Insider.
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I currently work as a video and podcast producer for a sports psychology company called Athletes In The Zone. Previously, I worked as a League Two League Analyst for a data company called Football Radar, and it was that job which helped to spark my keen interest in the lower leagues of English football and the subsequent involvement I have in covering it.
What do you do in your current role?
In my working role, I am tasked with producing weekly podcasts and YouTube videos which are shared through the company’s YouTube Channel and podcast platforms. I am part of the marketing department, and our aim is to increase the profile of the company through providing content across various social media channels.
In my spare time, I continue to follow my interest sparked from my time at Football Radar and closely follow the lower leagues of English football, particularly League Two. Since late 2019, I have been a co-host on the D3D4 Football Podcast, a weekly podcast show that provides deep coverage to League One and League Two news and analysis. I enjoy visiting football grounds up and down the country every weekend to both see teams live and to experience many differently shaped and sized football grounds.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
My working day involves using editing software I own to edit the videos and podcasts that I put together for Athletes In The Zone. Each day varies in terms of the workload and content being worked on, and it’s something I like a lot. Variety is important to my level of job satisfaction, and I like every day to feel different to the last.
In my spare time, notably weekends, I travel both short and long distances to football matches. They are mostly lower league EFL games, but I am beginning to take a greater interest in the higher levels of the non-League pyramid and the clubs who play there.
Whilst the journeys can certainly feel tedious, motorways especially, there’s always a level of excitement that I have in the buildup to seeing a new football ground firsthand and getting to check out as much of it as possible.
You always take a gamble of course that the specific game you attend will end up being either high-scoring or a rather dull 0-0. I’d probably say it’s been more narrower affairs than open games that I’ve experienced so far this season!
Sundays involve an early start in the morning to record the D3D4 podcast, reflecting on the results from the day before, and on occasion the Friday night fixture as well if relevant. The rest of my Sundays then are normally quite laid back. Depending on what’s scheduled I might choose to watch Super Sunday, might have a Formula 1 Grand Prix on, or choose to head out and about for a little while to get out of the house after being inside for most of the week.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
It’s probably a longer story than most.
Coming towards the end of high school, I had the desire to find a career in football coaching, to work my way up through the levels and ranks and potentially one day find a career in management at some level. I completed the first levels of the FA Coaching Badge System as early as I could and was Level 2 qualified by the time I headed off to university.
My university course was football coaching focused, the first year to start the new degree set up at UCFB (University Campus of Football Business) which was based at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. My plan was to progress to a UEFA B qualification by the end of the third year and have my foot in the door of a professional coaching setup, and that I would then progress with my career from there.
Over the three years on the course however, my passions switched somewhat. I didn’t make the progress with my qualifications and work experience that I had originally planned to have. I lost the confidence and motivation to coach that I had when I arrived at the start of my first year and became someone who would rather assist a session than face the pressures of leading it. Around the same time, I developed an interest in ground-hopping across the country and watching different football teams at all different levels play.
It ultimately culminated in me taking up a summer job with a club in Long Island, New York called the Rough Riders. I was set to be part of their summer camp coaching team for a 3-month period, but within a week I could tell that this wasn’t right for me. After discussing my feelings with the team’s principal, I left Long Island after 10 days, booking onto a short-notice flight back to Manchester and spending the following two weeks at my old residence whilst I tried to get things back on track.
It was during that time that I was introduced to a job application at Football Radar for a Lower League Analyst role. I applied, was accepted, and that began the path that I am today.
It wasn’t easy choosing to leave Long Island when I had put a lot of time and money into getting there but looking back now I feel that I have made far more progress in 24 months than I ever did with my coaching dreams.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
I always try to be someone proactive when it comes to meeting schedules for work. If a project is due for instance on a Friday, I will look to have that project complete several hours before the deadline and will balance out the workload across the whole week so that I don’t feel like I am having to put more effort and time into one day over the rest. I used to be quite reactive when it came to homework at school, leaving things till late on and doing the minimum expected in places.
Upon heading to university, where I grew a desire to achieve as high a final grade as possible, I realised that adopting a proactive mindset and balancing my workload across a longer period of the time would be the most effective way of getting good quality work produced and ahead of time. If editing was needed ahead of final submission, I would then have the available time to make the changes without feeling rushed.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
I suppose the best example I can give what be my aforementioned decision to take a job in Long Island that I didn’t feel was right for me. Whilst I don’t regret the decision to leave back to the UK after a short period of time, I regret not making the decision before heading out there, I was having doubts about it even before completing my VISA application.
There were plenty of people who went for that role with the Rough Riders, and I took that role from one of them despite not having that great an interest in seeing it through. I still regret doing that because it was a role, I took away from someone who could well have been genuinely keen to impress and succeed with it. It was a major inconvenience leaving and if I had the chance to do it earlier, I would certainly do so. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though.
That decision to leave has been a strong reminder to me about the importance of choosing work that I feel comfortable taking on. Job satisfaction is far more important to me than any salary. I need to feel like the work I do is making best use of what I have interest in and what I have learnt.
Since that Long Island job, I have ensured that I only make applications to jobs that genuinely interest me and that I deeply pursue only things that are of interest to me and that can further develop what I already know.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
The opportunities that are emerging now for all. I used to think that working within a professional football club, in a coaching or even analysis role, was reserved exclusively for those who had a professional playing career. I used to believe that you had to be a player to get into the door and that the opportunity wouldn’t be available for someone who has a passion for analysis to make a career of it.
Recently, several high-profile examples have emerged of people who have studied analytics within football for years, presenting their work online and gaining large audiences from it. These people have gone on to be able to take major roles within professional football clubs in a performance or recruitment analysis role.
The fact that someone can know develop a passion for analytics, work hard to develop their understanding and ability to analyse it, and make a career in professional football, is something I see as a huge step forwards.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
Whilst the opportunities are emerging for entry into football analytics, there is still a big problem with those new analysts being undervalued. I have seen several examples of job applications which ask for an analyst to join a club on a voluntary or part-time basis, but the workload expected from them is to a professional, full-time standard.
This simply doesn’t sit right with me. If you are demanding a standard of work that will take up most of that person’s week, they should be paid appropriately for it. Work in analytics goes far beyond just training hours or match hours, it can take up late nights, early mornings, and whole weekends. I really don’t think football clubs should be allowed to offer a job which has a heavy workload but pays little money or no money at all.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
To be honest, I don’t really ever switch off! I’m normally involving myself in something football or sport related every hour that I’m awake. I get Football Manager up and running at every opportunity I can, I’ve been playing that game for years now. During evenings I will likely either have a football match on that I am watching or have it on the background whilst I focus on something else. I may even choose to head to a midweek game in person.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Find your niche. I’d especially say that for those looking to work in media or content creating.
Everyone knows the Premier League for instance. Everyone can name players at each club, keep up with results and news. If you were looking to get into football content creating and made a channel for example around Premier League news and games, you’ll probably find your doing and saying the exact same thing as plenty of other people. I would say it decreases the likelihood that you get somewhere good with it.
If you look at all the top football channels that are around on YouTube, there is something unique about all of them. It could be the way they appear, the way they act, the content they produce, or even the format in which that content is released. They may also focus on a specific club rather than an entire division. They have this certain characteristic or characteristics which make them slightly or greatly different to everyone else and that makes them more recognisable.
Personally, I found my niche as focusing on the lower leagues of English Football, particularly League Two. There isn’t a great number of people who focus in depth on this division, and so it allowed me to build a name for myself as someone who produces content that you can’t find elsewhere. League Two of course isn’t a division that has the profile or interest that the Premier League would, but there is more than enough interest there for it to be worthwhile.
Find something in your content that’s different to what else is out there. Don’t be the same as the next person, have something unique about you that makes you memorable.
How to connect with Edward Walker on social…
My personal twitter is @edward_w97 where I regularly talk about emerging topics in the EFL.
A personal project that I am looking to grow over the coming years is called The Matchday Man. My experience groundhopping has developed a strong passion and interest in stadiums, and over a period of two years I have designed and released a free, detailed stadium guide that can be accessible for all visiting a football ground for the first time or after a long time away.
I currently have more than 130 stadiums on the site from the English and Scottish Leagues, as well as Wembley Stadium, Hampden Park and the Millennium Stadium. I hope to further expand the guide to include other parts of the UK and Europe in the future.
You can find the guide on www.thematchdayman.com and look for The Matchday Man on both Twitter and Instagram.
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider with Edward Walker! If you want to read more from the series, you can do so by clicking here.