Jacqui Oatley is one of the faces of League football on TV this season, but the presenter knows the score on a whole more – including a campaign promoting greater grassroots opportunities for girls and dealing with sexist online abuse
A good friend of Birmingham Living has a theory about what makes a ‘real’ football fan. Forget all the fancy-dans who get ripped off to watch the Premier League, he says. It’s the ‘lower’ divisions where you’ll find your true supporter. The kind of follower who’s watched their club struggle to survive for years, always living the dream, hoping against hope that one day their United or Town will get a taste of glory. Someone just like him, in fact!
While Jacqui Oatley is a self-confessed Wolves (Premier League!!) addict, knowing all there is to know about the Wanderers, she’s also completely clued-up on all things EFL (English Football League). She has been going to EFL matches for more than 30 years and spent 19 years reporting on them!
Jacqui lives and breathes footie at all levels – and that especially includes the growing appeal of professional women’s football which she started championing years before the relatively recent breakthrough in widespread press, TV and media coverage.
This season Jacqui is one of the faces of the EFL, fronting the league’s popular weekend highlights show on Quest TV. She is also a regular commentator on Women’s Super League matches and on-the-spot reporter for Sky’s legendary Soccer Saturday show, having previously appeared on BBC’s rival Football Focus. While not a big fan of labels, it’s Jacqui who broke the ‘glass ceiling’ as the first female football reporter on BBC TV’s Match of the Day.
Wolverhampton-born and growing up in Codsall, her love of football began as a child watching and playing – the latter being a challenge for a girl at that time! After graduating from university, she gambled on swapping a career in intellectual property for journalism, covering various levels of football for local radio, BBC WM, BBC Radio 5 – and eventually television.
“I realised that I wanted to do something in sport and was going to have to take a gamble and start all over again,” she said. “Covering my first match, I thought… yes, this is it!” Her breadth of sports knowledge extends beyond football to presenting ITV’s coverage of professional darts and she has also worked at the men’s and women’s World Cups and the Olympics.
Until this season one of Jacqui’s passions was her weekly Molineux View podcast with The Athletic on all-things Wolves, but sadly that was unexpectedly dropped. But as you have seen, she has many other projects to keep her busy. At the forefront is the ongoing challenge to improve women’s football and the opportunities for young girls to take part more easily in the sport – a determination and drive which helped earn her an OBE from the Queen for services to broadcasting and diversity.
“I got into football as a young teenager and at the time, I looked around and couldn’t find any clubs anywhere near me,” she explained. That wasn’t the case when the time came for her own daughter to follow suit. Yet, Jacqui says there is still a lot of work to be done, which is why Women In Football, of which Jacqui is a founding member, launched #GetOnside last year which aims to get organisations and individuals to think what they can do in a practical way to ‘improve the landscape for women working in football’.
The campaign has already won the support of some of England’s biggest football clubs, while the FA has pledged to invest in 1,000 clubs to grow the girls’ game at grassroot level. Jacqui recently said: “There is still a large percentage of people out there who think football is a game for men and that we don’t need women involved.
“When a woman has an opinion on a football match and expresses that on TV or radio, it can spark vile abuse purely based on their gender on social media. So, you still need to have a thick skin as a woman working in football.”