Great Britain

Middlesbrough footballer George Friend tells students to stick in

STUDENTS had an educational treat, when they took part in a Q&A session with Paul Fraser, chief football writer with The Northern Echo, and Middlesbrough FC captain George Friend.

The pair spoke to students from Northern Education Trust’s The Grangefield Academy and North Shore Academy, in Stockton, about journalism, the importance of education, and answer their questions on a range of topics.

Students heard that Mr Friend had done a degree in sports journalism, while playing for Middlesbrough.

He talked about why he felt it was so important for students to keep progressing with their education, and how he proved people wrong who thought he wouldn’t be able to complete the degree whilst playing professional football.

He said: “When people said I couldn’t do it, I thought that’s just a nonsense. I worked hard, believed in myself and I did it. It was difficult at times, but I stuck with it, and I’m so glad I did.

“It’s not as easy to go back later in life [to take qualifications], and once you have those qualifications, you have so many more opportunities open to you, no matter what you want to do.

“So don’t limit your options – stick with your studies. Find out what subjects you like doing, as when you really like something, you’re going to work harder at it. If you’re interested, you’ll enjoy it more.”

Mr Friend also stressed the importance of making sure there’s time for other things as well – for example, music, seeing friends, playing sports – to keep the balance between studying and relaxing.

He had some good advice for students about dealing with pressure, adding: “Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you’re as prepared as you can be, you don’t worry about the outcome as you know you’ve done the best you can do.

“Set your bar high – treat whatever you’re doing as the most important event ever, so if you’re doing a classroom test, imagine it’s a critical exam; if you’re playing a school football match, imagine you’re playing at Wembley; if you’re doing school athletics, imagine you’re in an Olympics final.”

He talked about how, on the day of an evening game, he would study a particular module on law, as he felt this helped him deal with the pressure by distracting him from thinking about the game too much.

Whilst studying for his degree, Mr Friend completed a placement with Mr Fraser at The Northern Echo. He said it had opened his eyes to the pressure on the press to produce immediate reports and analysis after a game.

Mr Fraser agreed, and talked enthusiastically about his job, whilst explaining how difficult it could be to come up with 1,000 words within 10 minutes of a game ending.

This could be particularly hard if the match had taken a dramatic turn in the closing minutes, with last minute goals being scored, or an incident taking place which changed the whole tone of the match.

Mr Fraser also talked about the differences between sports journalism and news journalism, and how writing a feature could be more challenging as you had to find an angle that would capture the interest of the readers.

He gave some insights and tips to the students about feature writing, such as making your first few paragraphs really engaging, and writing about something that readers won’t already know.

Students put his advice to good use after the Q&A session, by writing their own articles covering the “interview”, incorporating their guests’ answers to their thoughtful questions.

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