Women in Soccer: Sophie Nicolaou, USA Today

10906353_10153019498411155_5777396973234674738_n“Football, soccer, call it what you want. The voice of a fan, for every soccer fan. It’s just like being down the pub with your mates.” 

 Sophie Nicolaou @soccerdiva

In a once-in-a-lifetime moment, sitting in the front row of an Arsène Wenger post-game press conference this summer, I heard a familiar voice from the past. It struck me as unique, not because it was one of the sole female voices, but because of the structured nature of her observant question, and the manner in which she disarmed Wenger who immediately offered her a job as a scout before answering her question.

But it took me a little longer to realize I’d heard her voice many a morning on one of my favorite podcasts while my best friend and I bantered about the English Premier League. That was 5-6 years ago and we were consuming World Football Daily constantly. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d ever know or meet these legends of the soccer podcasting world. I know Kenny Hassan and Robert Burns now (by know, I mean ‘Twitter know’). But I hadn’t yet met Sophie Nicolaou. Not until this summer. And I have to say, it’s an honor and a pleasure being able to hear from her.

Sophie was a PR & Communications executive for 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures.  She’s the former co-host of World Football Daily and London Greek Radio. She’s been on Talksport UK, CYBC and Sports Tonight Live. She founded British Soccer Diva and is now co-host of USA Today’s EPL Soccer Junkies.


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What’s it like in the podcasting world? How did you first get into it? Who were some of your inspirations?

I first started presenting on live radio in London. It was a show aimed at 2nd and 3rd generation Greeks. We were true pioneers in that we mixed Greek culture with living in London, one of the greatest cities in the world. That show (New Generation) was a huge success and opened the door to doing a lot of other great things in the community. I did that for about 7 years, before I moved to the United States. I then co-hosted a live daily show in Los Angeles called World Football Daily. It was the first ever live show in North America and a true pioneer in the soccer space. The hosts who came before me were more responsible for the innovation, and I was fortunate enough to have been given an opportunity to become a co-host, along with Martin Rogers (my current partner in crime on the USA Today podcast). I was the only woman up for the gig. I was up against a lot of talented men who I admired in different ways. I’ve had several mentors in my broadcasting journey who I’ve worked with directly, and others I’ve admired from afar. Annie Nightingale and Janice Long from the BBC were women I admired as a wannabe teen radio presenter. Jo Whiley too. They had a bravery on air and pushed the envelope and conversation in such a productive and engaging manner. I also enjoyed guys like Chris Evans and Terry Wogan. Wogan was a legend. He had a velvet tongue and made you hang onto his every word. I’ve taken all that I’ve learned and put it into creating my own style on radio. To the point now where I worked for an incredible organization like the USA Today and also contribute to Talksport. Other inspirations were the men in my family. We were trained to watch soccer from when we were in diapers. Soccer games were events in our household. It was the beginning of falling in love with the sport.

 

We know how uncommon the female soccer journalist still is in the US and in many places around the world. Do you think about that at all when you’re working? Or, as we suspect, is it just about getting the job done as effectively and authentically as possible? How has the experience been overall?

Having worked in media my entire career and for amazing brands like 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures, I learned very early on how to handle myself in male dominated environments. When I first started talking about soccer, I definitely got the “go back to the kitchen sink and what the hell does a woman know about the sport” type of comments. To this day, on Twitter after I appear on Talksport in particular, I still get vile comments from men but I take them on, head on and approach my feedback with fearlessness and more importantly, the knowledge I have about the game I love. I believe at the end of the day, my knowledge about the sport has always helped me overcome any adversity I’ve faced. If you know what you are talking about and believe in what you are doing, you will find a way to get through any challenges and you will always rise to the top. In the end, the people who have been discriminatory have generally come back and respected me for what I say, and the way I say it.

 

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Can you take us through your career path? What led you to this moment?

All I know is that I’ve loved popular culture, sports, broadcasting and entertainment since I can remember. What I do remember is being a young girl growing up in a boy’s world when it came to soccer. I would be the girl rolling down her socks and playing with the boys. In fact in school, my teachers believed I had real talent playing, that they wanted to include me in the boys team, but the school system wouldn’t allow it. I was also told I was too small to play: a ceiling Messi has crushed for so many since bursting onto the scene. As it was more difficult getting into soccer back then, I turned my attention to my other passion, film. I worked my way up and through companies like 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures and when I garnered the confidence and experience, I turned my attention back to my passion for broadcasting. I had two very strong Scottish female bosses who I found to be real mentors. They taught me I could achieve anything I put my mind too. They made me believe I could make my dreams a reality. Then an opportunity came up for me to audition for a show on London Greek Radio and I grabbed it. I got the gig and the rest is history. Just put my head down and worked hard to open up other doors and opportunities along the way. I now hope I’ve had the same impact on the women I’ve worked with in the broadcast media and entertainment space. I’ve led teams and been led myself and at the core of that, my goal has been to learn and share my learnings with others.

 

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Tell us about hurdles you’ve faced or one specific instance perhaps? It can be about being a woman in the media space or anything. 

There were a couple of times during my career where I believed I was ready and deserving of a promotion. Both times I missed out to men and I believe I missed out because they were men and I was a woman. It was devastating at the time, but I never gave up as I always believed in myself and had faith that others would see that in me too. With the young women I’ve worked with over the years, I always give examples of challenges so they can see that keeping the faith and at the same time, working hard will get you to the point you want to be. Someone saying no, always leads to someone else saying yes! And when you hear yes, there’s nothing quite like it.

One of my favourite personal sayings is “I only use the rear view mirror to check my lipstick.” Don’t look back unless it’s to noodle on a fond memory.

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Do you have any advice for women/young girls who are interested in sports media but shy or come across a lot of pigeon-holed roles? 

First thing is knowing your stuff. If you know your stuff, you are one step ahead of everyone else.  Ensuring you are topical and informed will always get you in the room to have the conversation. Also doing your own thing at first helps. I started my British Soccer Diva blog back in 2008. That is what led me to getting the gig on World Football Daily. I reached out to people off my own back. Interviewed some great people and it helped me hone in on my craft within the soccer universe. I made a vow to post something every single week without fail. It fueled my passion and got me noticed. There is no room for being shy if you want to be in the broadcast media space. You have to show confidence as others will see that too. Trust me, it will yield great results and will spawn other opportunities. Make yourself accessible. Partner with other talented people and always be willing to collaborate. My friend Rebecca Lowe started off in the UK as a football reporter and is now the lead host for NBC’s Premier League coverage. Her journey alone should inspire young women and truly illustrates that if you know your stuff, you will end up where you need to be. Rebecca is the glue that keeps the show together and her talent speaks for itself. Be authentic.

 

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What is the best part of your job?

I think any time you can take your passion and turn it into your profession, you are guaranteed to live a happy life. The best part of my job is that I love what I do and it is something I would still follow even if I wasn’t a broadcaster. I’ve had the opportunity to interview some of the world’s greatest players and managers. From Brazil legend and World Cup Winner Carlos Alberto, to sports icon David Beckham, Landon Donovan, one of my all-time favourite Arsenal players (I’m a huge Gooner) Patrick Vieira, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Heather O’ Reilly, Christie Rampone, Andreas Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Villa, Liverpool legend Stevie Nicol, coaches like Arsene Wenger, Bruce Arena, Roberto Martinez and Andre Villas Boas. The interviews and conversations you will have with people in the game will always be engaging to the listener or viewer if you are passionate and knowledgeable.

 

You can read more of Sophie’s story here: https://www.facebook.com/BritishSoccerDiva
Follow www.twitter.com/soccerdiva

 

Adriana Lacy also contributed to this piece. 

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