Natasha Woods is that rarity in journalism – a woman chief sports writer. After starting her career as a teenaged trainee on the Lynn News in Norfolk, she has “gradually drifted up the A1”, joining the Newcastle Journal, Scotsman and then the Sunday Times at its Glasgow office.
Woods joined the Sunday Herald in Glasgow six years ago, but has yet to find a moment to match Kelly Holmes and the relay team winning Olympic gold in Athens, or the time when Ally McCoist lost the towel covering his modesty.
What was your first sports journalism assignment?
A night match at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock. In at the deep end, because I’d only just moved to Scotland and had never been to Kilmarnock before or indeed ever filed a runner from a match. Although, I seem to remember the half-time pies were great – and still are.
What has been your most memorable/enjoyable assignment during your career?
Impossible to answer because there are too many. Most memorable, for all the wrong reasons, were the shambolic Atlanta Olympics, but it was an experience which gave me the confidence to know I could handle just about anything, because everything was against you – the time difference and the shocking media arrangements to name just a couple.
The most enjoyable were probably the Athens Olympics because I, like many other people, didn’t expect much of the Greek organisers, and the Games were fantastic. The night Kelly Holmes and the sprint relay boys won gold was simply sensational.
What is the latest task you have been working on – was it good, bad or indifferent?
Just finished interviewing the coach of the Scottish cricket team as their squad for the World Cup was announced. I’m a big cricket fan and I’m delighted they have qualified for the tournament in the West Indies. The people involved really appreciate the importance of working with the Scottish media as they try and make the most of a rare moment in the spotlight, and it really is David and Goliath given the Scottish boys are largely amateur and they will be going up against the likes of Australia and South Africa next spring.
If you did not work on sport, what do you think you might be doing?
I’d probably have ended up a teacher. My father was a headmaster and it is profession which runs in the family.
What sports did you play – and to what level?
Football, athletics and hockey at school, and the last two to county level, but I never really had the necessary dedication to go further.
Does any of your family have any involvement with sport?
My dad was probably the biggest influence. Some of my earliest memories were watching him play cricket or rugby. He was, and is, a massive sports fan and it just rubbed off.
Have you encountered any particular problems or barriers to you working in a male-dominated sporting world?
Honestly, none at all. A few jokes, but you’d have to be pretty thin-skinned to be offended.
I do remember doing a post match at Starks Park in Kirkcaldy years ago after a Rangers’ game and Ali McCoist came out to speak to the press with a towel wrapped around his waist. Predictably, it fell/was tugged off in an effort to embarrass me. But I’ve seen bigger (with apologies to the charming Mr McCoist).
What sports event would you most like to attend as a spectator?
I hope my sports editor is reading: the Cricket World Cup in the West Indies next spring.
Which colleagues or managers have been most influential or helpful in your career, and how?
Lots, but two spring to mind. First, Hugh Keevins, now of the Daily Record and Radio Clyde. He was the chief football writer at the Scotsman when I made my move across to the sports desk. Basically I was plonked in front of his desk and he was told I was the paper’s new football writer, despite the fact I had no experience in that particular field. But he was, and is, a true gent. There were no issues about my gender, or indeed the fact I was English to boot! He was an enormous support and it is a friendship I will always cherish.
Secondly, my first sports editor at the Sunday Herald. David Dick now earns his crust at the Age in Melbourne, but he recruited me, inspired me and always pushed everyone on the desk to produce the best section we could. And he always stood his round at the bar.
What has been the best sports-related book you have read recently, and why?
The Rivals – Christ Evert v Martina Navratilova by Johnette Howard. So much more than a tennis book.
Brilliantly written, it really looks at the relationship which built up between the pair, and it also speaks of the changing times socially and politically, as one of the greatest and most enduring rivalries in sport developed.
Name your greatest sporting hero, and why.
Mick Channon and Matthew Le Tissier (pictured left). I was born in Southampton and I wanted to be Mick Channon when I was a kid – which probably explains a few daft haircuts. Le God was quite simply the most gifted player to ever play for the Saints.
Which sports journalist’s work do you look for first (and why)?
Paul Hayward. Brilliant at capturing the essence of the moment, although I think the Daily Telegraph suited him better than the Mail. Kevin McCarra – a former colleague at the Sunday Times and a wonderful football writer, Duncan Mackay, for when I want to know the inside track on athletics, and Michael Grant, who is my best pal and a Sunday Herald colleague, but he also happens to be the most considered and thoughtful voice on Scottish football.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the profession?
Be tenacious. It has never been more difficult to get into the profession. Don’t let knock-backs affect you. And when you do get in, never forget that you are in a privileged position. We get paid to do what others fork out fortunes for.
Coe or Ovett? Coe
John Terry or Steve Gerrard? John Terry
Piggott or Fallon? Piggott
Beatles or the Stones? Beatles
Mourinho or Wenger? George Burley
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