Goal.com’s Liverpool correspondent, Melissa Reddy talks to me about her decision to support Liverpool, her career and more
Born in South Africa, Melissa has built up a lot of experience in the sports industry and has become a household name in the world of Liverpool FC. She kindly took some time out of her busy end-of-the-season schedule to answer some questions I had.
Let’s start with the all-important question – what got you into football and more specifically, what made you support Liverpool from all the way in South Africa?
My dad’s side of the family are absolute sports nuts and so I grew up playing cricket and football as well as watching rugby, Formula One and boxing. The latter two fell away as I got older, and once I started working in football, I found it hugely difficult to still keep up with the former.
In terms of my Liverpool support, I’m a bit of a renegade in the family, which is split between Manchester United and Tottenham. My grandfather had an affinity for Spurs because they toured South Africa in 1963 and my uncle and his kids adopted that affiliation. Former United goalkeeper Gary Bailey, breaching the Apartheid rules at the time, held a coaching clinic at my father’s school. That experience cemented his loyalty, with my brothers following suit.
Ever-independent, I was always going to choose for myself. I felt an immediate, strong connection to Liverpool and was sold – the effortlessness of John Barnes, the effervescence of Robbie Fowler… We didn’t get live English football at the time bar the FA Cup final, but there’d be regular highlights shows that I consumed as well as annoying my mum by spending all my savings on books and magazines.
You’ve had the privilege of meeting so many former and current players, did you ever get a bit star-struck?
Weirdly, no, and I never have been in a professional capacity. I remember the first time I went down to Melwood, while I was visiting from South Africa, and Steven Gerrard was at reception and he politely greeted me. I then got shown around the canteen and Daniel Sturridge came to say hello and ended up speaking to me about Cape Town. Brendan Rodgers being very welcoming as well. The guys giving me the tour were a little shocked as they’d had a few people in on previous occasions who, quite understandably, acted as fans would – becoming a little (or a lot!) star-struck.
This is my 10th year as a football journalist, though, and when you spend so much time working with players and managers, you know that despite this different sphere they operate in, they’re ultimately just like you. They have families, ups, downs, pets, friends, hobbies and such, so it’s important to block out the noise – the money, the status – and engage with them on a genuine, relatable level.
Liverpool are an incredible club to cover largely because the squad and staff are made up of properly nice people.
Sadly, sexism in football still exists and a lot of women experience it on a regular basis. Have you had a lot of sexism to deal with, and if so how have you dealt with it?
Yes, both in an overt and disguised sense. Once, for example, the host of a football TV show told me his boss had complained that I “was too opinionated.” When he tried to point out that the entire basis of the programme was to provide analysis, and as such, personal views on match-related situations, the response he received was “well, it doesn’t suit her.”
How did I deal with that? I continued to voice my opinions. I do not let the narrow-mindedness of other people affect my job. I have had to put in extra hours, know more, push further, fight a lot harder and prove myself over and over again in order to cut it in a very unforgiving industry. I know what I am capable of, I know what I believe in and I know the sacrifices I’ve made to get to where I am – those are all more valuable than the thoughts of backward individuals.
What advice would you give to women trying to make it in the male-dominated industry?
Be strong. Be bold. Be prepared not to be liked. Be you – not an imitation of someone else, or the template of what a female in football should act and talk like as designed by some male executive somewhere. Recognise that you will need to go over and above over and over again. Have the willingness to constantly push yourself and never stop learning. Your work should always be the biggest advocate of your abilities.
Back to Liverpool now, we have been cursed with injuries at the most crucial times but I think we’ve done well to get through it. What do you make of the season the Reds have had?
Liverpool showed during the first half of the season what they can achieve when Jürgen Klopp has close to a full complement of players to choose from, and since the turn of the year, we’ve seen how debilitating it can be to have so many of the core missing – often in unison. If you take just the start into consideration, it’s disappointing that the Reds didn’t run Chelsea closer, but if you look at the full context of the campaign as well as the fact Antonio Conte hasn’t had any major selection problems while Tottenham are further along in their development, consolidating a top-four spot will be a great base to build on from Klopp’s first full term in charge.
It would be only the second time in eight seasons that Liverpool would be back among Europe’s elite and how competitive it has been at the top end of the table, it is undeniable progress.
Champions League nights at Anfield need to be a regular occurrence if the Reds want to be restored as a powerhouse so it’d be a sizeable step in the right direction.
What changes are you expecting Jürgen to make over the summer to prepare for next season? Sadio Mané was a huge loss in January so surely Klopp will be more prepared next season?
Liverpool, like they did last summer, will inject more quality into the squad. I foresee quite a strong window for the club if they do secure Champions League football with increased competition for places in core areas. Beyond targets and business which has been discussed, I think pre-season will be enhanced this year as there’s no international tournaments.
I know it’s early, but throw a guess out there, how do you think the Reds will do next season with Champions League football on the cards as well?
It’s hard to answer this question without knowing what the squad will look like, but I think it’s imperative Liverpool ensure they’ve got enough quality to function on multiple fronts throughout the entire campaign. Their performances in the big games have proven the Reds can be quite the prospect in Europe, but beyond sharpening their strengths, they need to diminish glaring weaknesses.
A big thank you to Melissa for taking the time to answer these questions.