BBC Radio 5 Live sports presenter Eleanor Oldroyd has paid tribute to her late father after picking up a top broadcast award.
A week after the funeral of her 85-year-old dad, Oldroyd was named broadcast presenter of the year at the BT-sponsored British Sports Journalism Awards in London.
“He never said, ‘I am really proud of you’ but I think he was typical of his generation in that,” Oldroyd said. “But I absolutely knew that he was because he told everyone else about it the whole time. I’m sure he would have been absolutely chuffed to see me win this.”
It was her clergyman father’s passion for sport that first pointed the teenage Oldroyd towards the job she has now performed so expertly for 30 years. And it was a dramatic change in reading material that signposted the way.
“We watched sport constantly as kids and though I liked football and the Olympics, I thought cricket was the most boring thing in the world. But I realised that because it was such a big part of family life, particularly in the summer, I was going to have to get used to it. So I said to Dad, ‘Right, you’d better tell me the rules and teach me about the game’, which he did very painstakingly and I just flipped the other way and became obsessed about it.
“It was 1976 and I told my parents I wanted to stop taking Jackie magazine and start taking The Cricketer. After that I never looked back.”
Oldroyd, 52, went to Cambridge where she became the sports editor of the student newspaper. Work experience turned into a job on a commercial radio station in Worcester and very quickly her debut in the all-male press box at the city’s cricket ground.
“Because it was a commercial radio station we didn’t have a soundproofed commentary booth so for the first few days, every single time that I phoned in with my match report the whole press box fell silent and I knew they were listening to every word I uttered. At the tea interval on about the second day the local newspaper reporter who was sitting next to me turned and said, ‘You do know what you’re talking about don’t you’!”
Though she says she never encountered any hostility from male journalists, she remained a curiosity.
After joining BBC Shropshire in 1986 she was despatched to cover a football match between Sunderland and Shrewsbury. “I remember siting in the press box and the guy from their local radio station turned around while still on air and said, ‘You’re not going to believe it, but there’s a lass in the press box.’ And I actually got interviewed on air that day because they’d never seen a girl in the press box before.”
Today, Oldroyd says there are still not enough women in front of the camera or behind the microphone in sports broadcasting. And though the sexism and prejudice of the past is largely gone, she says female presenters face a new battle.
“The Richard Keys and Andy Gray incident of a few years ago [they were sacked after ridiculing a female assistant referee] would have gone completely unnoticed 20 years ago,” she says. “I was encouraged by the fact that it caused such an outcry. And it’s good that we have a zero-tolerance approach to that kind of thing today. It shows the progress we’ve made.
“But what is now an issue is online abuse. Twitter trolls. I’ve heard stories of young women who get horrible abuse on Twitter for just daring to express an opinion. You do still have to have quite a thick skin if you’re going to put your head above the parapet and it shouldn’t be like that.”
Oldroyd says that despite his X-rated slip of the tongue last week, John Inverdale remains her own broadcast hero: “I really felt for John over that, but there for the grace of God go all of us. When it comes to being able to walk and talk sense for hours on end he is still the gold standard as far as I am concerned.”
Oldroyd will return to her family home in Hereford to show her mum her award. But she has one final, and poignant, act of remembrance planned for the beloved dad who encouraged her to crash through the ‘men only’ barrier of sports journalism.
“My dad’s membership of the MCC meant a huge amount to him. We had some lovely times in the last few years going to Lord’s and having a glass of wine or a glass of beer on the top deck of the Pavilion. So on the first county game of the season in April my mum and my brothers, my uncle and myself are all going to go to Lord’s to raise a glass to him. I’m sure he’d have appreciated that.”
Eleanor Oldroyd presents The Friday Sports Panel at 1pm each week on BBC Radio 5 Live