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Sky Sports’ Bianca Westwood On Her New Team Up With Ray Winstone

Chingford’s Bianca Westwood discusses teaming up with Ray Winstone, a dream season for West Ham and breaking down barriers on Sky Sports

It’s meant in the nicest possible way, but when I blurt out “It feels like you have been a fixture on Sky Sports forever” to Bianca Westwood, I realise it may not come across like that. “My first live report was in 2013,” she laughs back to a relieved interviewer. “I wasn’t doing them every week, but I would say I have been regularly [reporting live] for about six years.”

For avid viewers of Sky Sports’ flagship Soccer Saturday show, Westwood has been an important part of football fans’ lives for several reasons. Firstly, there’s the fact she has actually been able to watch football in the flesh, when the vast majority of us have been shut out thanks to the pandemic. “I do feel privileged,” she says. “I like to do my Instagram stories on a Saturday, so all the behind the scenes stuff – like working my way up to the gantry, where I am sat, what my view is like – and I have had so many messages thanking me, just for helping them to feel a part of it. It’s been quite rewarding to do that because I get to go every single week and I think sometimes you take that for granted when you are a reporter, especially when these people have been going to watch their clubs since they were kids.”

Bianca
Bianca Westwood is a fixture on Sky Sports’ football coverage

Second, when she made her debut on Soccer Saturday, she was the first female reporter to appear on the show. “It’s actually 20 years since I have been at Sky,” Westwood explains. “I started off as a runner, then I was an editorial assistant, then associate producer, and then I badgered my producer to let me report. At the time, there weren’t any other female reporters, only Clare Tomlinson [who was an anchor-woman]. It took me a long time, I was banging my drum for a while, but I got there in the end – it’s always going to be more difficult to break down those barriers.”

She remembers being “petrified” on her first live game at Bournemouth. “Live match reporting is a very specific skill and unless you have tried it, you can never ever know. You don’t know what’s happening next, you can never prepare for it.” Unfortunately – and something that remains an issue given the recent sporting boycott of social media in protest at the awful abuse still prevalent across platforms – Westwood wasn’t afforded time by those who think they know what they’re talking about. “I had very unsympathetic people on social media telling me how rubbish I was and I went through a tough time. I am happy to say that now 99% of fans are completely supportive of what I do and of other women coming through.”

Westwood grew up loving football and is a passionate West Ham fan, which given their season makes talking about the Premier League an easy proposition. “I think I am still a little bit in shock,” she laughs. At the time of writing, West Ham were still in the hunt for the sought after top four that would give them access to the riches of the Champions League next season. “That really is just what dreams are made of,” she says on that fact. “That is what the board said they would deliver, but I didn’t feel like it would truly happen. It is possible, but I would be happy with a top six place. If we did do it, it would be unbelievable…”

She hasn’t strayed too far from her Essex roots, living today in Chingford. It’s why, outside of her TV work, you can see Westwood getting involved with community events like the Pride of Essex Sports Awards, last held in 2019. “It’s important to help the community local to me,” she says. “I thought the Pride of Essex Sports Awards was a fantastic idea because it’s not often these people, those behind the scenes, are celebrated. The people who volunteer and dedicate hours and hours of their time to keep football clubs going, to keep young kids in their swimming competitions, whatever sport it may be. It’s such a shame we had to cancel it in 2020, I really hope they pick it up again as that first [event] was a roaring success.”

With Ray Winstone
Bianca and Ray Winstone are a part of the team behind Integral Sports Management

Then there’s Westwood’s involvement in Integral Sports Management, alongside none other than Ray Winstone. “A good friend of mine, Gary Pettit, is business partners with Ray,” she explains. “We are all West Ham fans, so that’s how the connection was made. Initially Gary’s son, Casey, played in academy football, but he was released by West Ham and then Millwall, which was obviously a huge blow to him as a kid. He was lucky to have Gary and his support system around, so he could go again (and is now flourishing at Luton Town), but Gary identified other kids don’t have that luxury. Ray is very interested in the idea of aftercare – are they advised, are they helped to get another club – so they came up with Integral Sports Management. It’s not going to be some huge conglomerate looking after hundreds and hundreds of players, it’s tailored to each athlete. They provide mentorship, and help with lifestyle, finances, and education.”

Westwood works as a media consultant for the start-up, and is currently hosting the Integral Chat podcast, where she sits down and discusses issues facing footballers with the likes of Mark Noble, Joe Cole and Trevor Sinclair. “Obviously we can’t help every player, but we can help change the system,” Westwood says, showing her days as a trailblazer in sport will continue for many more years to come.

integralsportsmanagement.co.uk

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