‘Motty to Totty’ – 13 years on from making MOTD history Jacqui Oatley talks tabloid attention and Twitter trolls

“I looked in my muted words the other day on Twitter and there are some disgusting words in there I used to get called by a certain group of fans.”

Discrimination and abuse in the work place is something that shouldn’t be tolerated and in the modern world it rarely is.

But for journalists and broadcasters and in particular females in the profession, it is something they have to put up with on a weekly and even daily basis.

Not a day goes by when someone at the top of their industry, such as Sky Sports’ Laura Woods or radio and TV broadcaster Michelle Owen isn’t subjected to a rude or abusive comments on Twitter for purely and simply doing their jobs.

The unfair scrutiny females in the industry come in for generally comes from faceless keyboard warriors on social media, but back in 2007 it was a different scenario for one of the country’s leading broadcasters.

Jacqui Oatley had tirelessly worked her way up the ladder, sleeping on friend’s floors while she gained work experience in broadcasting after giving up her job in intellectual property at the age of 27.

After joining BBC Radio Five Live in 2003 she was propelled into the spotlight when she was set to become the first female commentator to appear on Match of the Day.

It should have been the highlight of Oatley’s career, but looking back on it 13 years later, she admits it turned out to be one of the most stressful weeks she had ever faced in the industry.

After the press got wind of her appearance in the week leading up to the game, she was to be the subject of intense scrutiny and sexism debates in the run up to Fulham vs Blackburn Rovers in April 2007.

It prompted one tabloid newspapers to run with the headline ‘Motty to Totty’, something Oatley can now look back on with a smile on her face.

Oatley recalled: “I remember loads about it, it was horrific to be honest, not a pleasant experience.

“I felt very lonely and isolated, I was living on my own and single at the time and the phone didn’t stop.

“It was on the front page of all the newspapers, everyone had an opinion on it.

“There was a big sexism debate over whether I should have been allowed to do it or not.

“I just politely answered every email and phone call and explained why I was not supposed to do interviews. I should have turned my phone off really.

Oatley presenting the Women’s FA Cup Final

“It made it into the newspaper on the Tuesday before the game. I had a plan to sneak into the press box without anyone noticing until midnight on the Saturday, which was a bit naïve.

“The story grew legs and I understand why it did, but it was extremely difficult.

“I got through several more Match of the Day commentaries, but this one was really hard because of initial publicity.

“I found the newspaper articles the other day and it makes me laugh now. One of the headlines was ‘Motty to Totty’, which I can laugh about now.

“We don’t come into this industry wanting to be different, we just come into it wanting to be ourselves.

“I think anyone different in football now is being accepted on a wider scale. It was a sport where the large majority were white males and all aspects of that have changed now.

“It can only be a good thing that if the audience is diverse, then the people bringing the stories through should also be diverse.”

As Oatley also recalls, it wasn’t the sharp shooting strikers or flying wingers that were the main focus of the photographer’s lenses that afternoon.

“It was a crazy week. I went up to the press box and spoke to a good friend of mine Nigel Adderley and he was saying how nuts it was,” Oatley explained.

“All I wanted to do was get the team news, and when I went to the tunnel I was presented with a signed shirt, it was a very surreal day.

“All the photographers lenses were on me rather than on the pitch and that was attention I did not crave, I was not that person.

“I just wanted to tell the story of Fulham vs Blackburn. It was not something I liked going through, and not something I will have to go through again!”

13 years on and much of the social media comments towards female broadcasters are similar to those heard by Oatley as she came through the industry’s ranks.

The old classics of ‘she doesn’t have the passion for football like men’, ‘get back to the kitchen’, and ‘what does she know she’s never kicked a ball’, are still rolled out now, as they were back then.

Oatley, who played women’s football until a serious injury forced her to stop at the age of 25, didn’t let the stereotypical comments stop her perusing the career she loved.

Oatley receiving her MBE

“You can’t listen to people who say she has never kicked a ball, because I had kicked a ball,” added the broadcaster.

“You can’t listen to those who say they don’t have passion, because they don’t know me from Adam and don’t know I was a football mad teen.

“Anyone who went to school will tell you I was weird, reading Match and Shoot from cover to cover.

“I had the knowledge and I was in it for the right reasons, and not to be the story on the front of the back pages.

“I wanted to fit in and the only way to do that through the crazy hysteria was to not allow myself to become the story any more than was necessary.

“I was proud to get through that Match of the Day, and not calling in sick on the Saturday.”

Other broadcasters have spoken of the discrimination they’ve faced from employers within their jobs.

Michelle Owen, who can be seen on Soccer Saturday and can he heard on Five Live told me earlier this year how she was snubbed to present a show on a previous station in favour of a male work experience colleague.

She explained: “A few years ago at a station I worked at they wouldn’t let me present the football show.

“They had three middle aged men and when I offered to cover sickness it was a definite no.

“In fact I think the lad on work experience even got to work on it ahead of me. It was weird.”

For Oatley, who has led a path as one of the top freelance broadcasters across a number of sports, discrimination she faced came from within the press box rather than from employers in the early days.

“The hardest part was sensing the discrimination in the press boxes with people looking at you,” she added.

“My first ever match was at Bradford Park Avenue and I was intensely aware I was the only blonde women in the press box.

“People were waiting to listen to every word of my match report to scrutinise it, to laugh when you get a name wrong or if you describe a goal in a girly and pathetic way.

“People were looking at you waiting to make a mistake.

“Frankly it isn’t the case now, it has gone the other way with jobs because the main thing people look at is diversity.”

In the current era, where press boxes are now filled with women as the industry has a more diverse feel when it comes to gender, there is still that abuse that comes from social media.

Owen described as vile, with Oatley, who is one of the lucky ones who doesn’t cop a lot of abuse these days, labelling it a cesspit.

But as she explains, it isn’t just females in the business who have to put up with it.

She added: “I don’t have it too much now but I have seen a lot of gender based stuff.

“It is hideous, and male colleagues get it too, it is just a nasty element of society where people think it is their god given right to spout the first thing that comes to their mind about a footballer, journalist or public figure.

“We are only in the public position to tell the stories about who you are signing or what your manager said.

“We are not putting ourselves on a platform for self importance.

“I do see it and have experienced it and it is horrible. I looked in my muted words the other day on Twitter and there are some disgusting words in there I used to get called by a certain group of fans.

“A lot of them are not worth a second of your time.

“Many female reporters get it about their looks. Some have been called fat when they’re pregnant, but the personal insults are a social media problem not just for female broadcasters.

“Social media offers to many positives but there are downsides to it.”

The broadcaster has been a well known voice in sports broadcasting for years

Looking back on the abuse she has had to suffer personally, Oatley recalls one particular case when a set of fans took at her for reporting an announcement on a stadium PA system.

Without going into the details of what exactly was said by the fans from behind their keyboards, Oatley explained: “A few stick in the mind when I look back.

“There are a couple, one is a big issue which I can’t go into, it was with a set of fans which completely misunderstood what I had said.

“They wanted to believe what they wanted to and it turned vile in no time.

“I reported something factual as a journalist that was said over a PA system. I reported it on air, and did the journalist thing by getting a comment from the club as to why it was said and why it was about a group of fans.

“Then the fans were fuming with me for reporting it factually, and they turned on me personally.

“And that can grow, if one fan who has 50,000 followers gets involved it can get really nasty.

“I have a whole group of fans blocked because of the abuse.

“They wouldn’t say it to my face. If they did I’d explain how it was accurate and that would turn the situation and they would have nothing to abuse.”

The older the broadcaster gets, she reveals how she has developed ways to combat the abuse that can come with simply ‘reporting the facts’.

It involves taking a step back, and also delivering calming responses that sometimes makes the faceless football fan think again.

“Now I think about stuff before I tweet it. I think is it worth it. There is nothing wrong with it, but I think ‘is it really worth taking up my day with?’,” she explained.

“Self regulating is a good thing to do. I do not have a lot of spare time to respond to people to explain my point, I only have a certain amount of time between school runs!

“Comments about looks are the ones that women get. People think a pretty reporter won’t know anything about football, and that is just a bit pathetic really.

“People need to grow up and have a look and think whether they would like their sister to spoken about like that by random blokes.

“‘Back to the kitchen’ stuff is water off a ducks back for me now but the number of times you get them comments.

“It comes from a profile with a picture of a man holding up a his daughter, and before now I’ve replied saying ‘how would you feel if a random bloke on Twitter said that your daughter in a few years time’.

‘Some get offended and get worse but on other occasions they apologise, and say they didn’t mean it in that way and it can be very satisfying.

“Sometimes you want to lash out and say ‘how dare you’, but being calm is sometimes the best way.”

Over a decade on from the tabloid headlines and camera lenses, Oatley remains at the forefront of her industry.

Earlier this year she became the host of Sunday Supplement, the show that sees journalist discuss the weekends sporting issues.

Previously the show has been male dominated, but Oatley took the lead earlier this year in what was a proud moment for the lifelong Wolverhampton Wanderers fan.

Oatley on the Sunday supplement

The show has since ended, but Oatley added: “It was a proud moment for me, I was devastated when it finished.

“I took over in January and I’ve loved the show for years and managed to change it a little bit with some other journalists.

“I loved getting up and reading the newspapers at 5 in the morning.

“It is a real shame it has gone by the wayside, but unfortunately that is the world we are living in at the moment, that’s just how it is.”

Recent months have been a tricky time for most industries, not least for broadcasting.

With weeks on end without sport to cover many were left with little or not work due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For Oatley and many others who are used to being behind the mic it was a testing time, but she was able to use some of the resolve and life experiences she gained on that uncomfortable Match of the Day debut 13 years ago to help her get through it.

“Once you’ve engaged in an activity that was difficult and you had to fund solutions to get through, it makes you stronger,” she added.

“You have a memory bank and think ‘I came through that, I can come through this’.

“It might be in life, such as the lockdown and things we have all gone through in recent months.

“That has been a real bump in the road and we’ve had to draw on resources, not least financial ones!

“If everything is laid out on a plate for us and is all hunky dory and we fall into good job after good job without adversity then we are a lot different.

“But if we have to overcome difficult situations it can be turned into a positive, like with Match of the Day.”

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