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News > Life After Hymers > Laura Saunders

Laura Saunders

A love of sport has taken Laura all around the world...
Laura Saunders née Williamson (at Hymers 2000 - 2003)
Laura Saunders née Williamson (at Hymers 2000 - 2003)

One of the few problems I had when I joined Hymers College in January 2000 was that representing the school at hockey or netball on a Saturday  sometimes clashed with Grimsby Town matches. I don’t suppose many of my predecessors – or successors, come to that - had the same problem! But then sport has always played such an important part in my life.. I always knew I wanted a career in sport, but never imagined I would ever get paid to travel around the world and watch it at the highest level.

I was only at Hymers for three-and-a-half years, but I threw myself into everything and made many wonderful friends, some of whom I still count as my closest now we have children of our own. I loved the challenge of striving to succeed at Hymers and the carrot of knowing you would be supported to achieve whatever you wanted, and I was humbled and honoured to be chosen to be Head Girl.

I always used to say I wanted to be a sports lawyer or a sports journalist, but both careers seemed a distant dream for an A-Level student in Hull. I went for an interview with the army, having been attracted by the promise of playing as much sport as I wanted at a Hymers careers fair. But, as my old form tutor Mr Harrison pointed out, when I realised I wouldn’t be going in as Supreme Commander of NATO I rather cooled on that idea. So, instead, I tootled off the read English Literature at Durham University, feeling a little like Hull’s answer to Educating Rita but quickly realising everyone else was winging it too.

I had a brilliant time up there. I rowed for my college, Hatfield, and captained the university netball team. I also wrote for the university newspaper, Palatinate, co-edited and produced the college newspaper, The Hatfielder, and had a short-lived radio show on the university station, Purple FM, called 'Wake Up with the Northern Monkeys'! 
I also read a few books now and then, but quickly realised that practical work experience was going to be more beneficial if I wanted to get into newspapers. I spent some time with The Daily Telegraph sports desk in London and The Sunday Sun and The Journal in Newcastle. These experiences were vital  – particularly if I had any hopes of working in football. When I politely asked a senior football reporter if I could spend some time shadowing him while he reported on Newcastle United the curt answer was: “Not in a skirt, pet.” Years later I did smile to myself when telling him we would not be requiring his freelance services at The Daily Mail, thank you very much.

My role with the netball team at Durham also led to me becoming heavily involved with high performance sport and coaching at the university. I was selected to go to Zambia for six weeks after graduating to work on a project that used sport as a tool for empowering young street kids. It was an experience that changed my life. I met my future husband, Richard, who had been chosen from Loughborough University, and afterwards we helped to set up The Perfect Day Foundation, a charity that sponsors sporting peer leaders through school and helps British students to challenge themselves by working in Zambia. More than 10 years later we’re still going strong - the Perfect Day, and Rich and I! We have two children - William, four, and Mary, who was born in March 2018 - and live in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire.

After university I worked for Hawk-Eye Innovations, the company responsible for ball-tracking in tennis, cricket and now football. The initial brief was to try and grow the communications side of the business by selling their data to broadcasters and newspapers, but I soon went out on the road as a technician. I travelled all over the place, working on events such as the Champions Trophy in India, Cricket World Cup in the West Indies and Australian Open tennis. I saw the world, met a lot of good contacts and watched a lot of sport but I wasn’t writing. So, in December 2007 I resigned and used my Christmas bonus to do a diploma in journalism back in the north-east in Newcastle with the Press Association.

They didn’t have much time for my 1st class degree in English Literature from Durham. All my highfalutin ideas were quickly knocked out of me as I learnt the practical skills you need to be a journalist: shorthand, a grasp of defamation law and the reassuring brief that nobody is going to read beyond the first three paragraphs so make your copy snappy! I loved it, though, because the course was embedded in a thriving daily newspaper so you actually had the chance to be a journalist and not just learn about being one. 

From there I joined The Daily Mail on their graduate scheme, ostensibly as a news reporter. But I obviously didn’t do a very good job of masking my real ambitions, as “sport” was written in big capital letters across my CV when I went for my second interview. Thank goodness for that, though, as the “back of the book” was always where I wanted to be.

Lest I dare to think I had made it on Fleet Street I was sent straight to The Hull Daily Mail for my first four months. But what a wonderful time I had. Hull City had just been promoted to the Premier League for the first time and I covered a bit of everything - sport, news, court reporting, whatever I could get my hands on. It was an invaluable experience.

I worked for MailOnline when they called me back to Daily Mail HQ in Kensington, but moved on to the paper after about six months, working as a sports reporter but mainly covering London football. It was quite a baptism of fire. I’m not sure what anyone made of this northern 20-something girl who was very often the only female in the press conference room, but “Laura from the Mail” stuck at it and the bylines and back-page stories began to become more frequent. 
Then London 2012 loomed into view and everything went up a gear. I branched out into more sports, wrote a weekly column, ghosted pieces for Daley Thompson, did more work on TV and radio and then covered the Olympics and Paralympics on home soil during an unforgettable summer. Sport was front and centre for months and it was wonderful to be a small part of it.

I was promoted to athletics correspondent and in 2013 Rich and I got married. Our son William was born in September 2014. I knew that, as a mum with a young baby, I could no longer hurtle around the world as a sports reporter, even though my husband is incredibly supportive, so I elected to take an office job and was promoted to sports news editor at the Mail. 

I am responsible for the news sections of the sports pages - primarily making sure we have a back-page story that sends all our rivals into a tailspin. I decide where to send which reporters, work with them to get stories over the line and then give their copy a gentle tickle (or sometimes a complete overhaul!) when it comes in. It is an incredible demanding role but I have grown to really enjoy it.

Our second child, Mary, was born in March 2018 and I am due back at work sometime in February 2019. I still feel there are plenty of things for me to do and achieve in sports journalism. There has never been a female chief sports writer or a female sports editor of a daily national newspaper, for instance. Maybe it's time that changed... 

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