More important …
Dan Walker is best known as the face of BBC’s Football Focus. But football is not the best thing in Dan’s life — far from it. In fact, on a Sunday Dan says he would rather go to church than to the big game. Here’s his story.
To say I enjoyed sport would be a slight understatement. As a boy, if I wasn’t playing sport with friends, I was practising in the back garden. I found that my dad’s vegetable patch was particularly useful. The runner bean rods provided an almost perfect defensive wall, and at full height, the curly kale could almost be a tennis net.
I used to go to church on a Sunday, but most of my life was spent thinking about sport. I knew the right answers to all the Bible questions; I could reel off the names of the twelve disciples, but they meant nothing to me. Football was my real passion.
My father was from Enfield in North London and I inherited his passion for Tottenham Hotspur FC as a young lad. All my dreams were filled with scoring goals, sinking putts, hitting sixes and winning gold medals.
So when I was in church I wouldn’t sit still, my mind would wander, paying very little attention to the services, and desperate for them to finish.
Then, one Sunday night in 1989, I heard a man called Gerald Jackson. He wasn’t the most dynamic speaker in the world, but he was warm and friendly. He preached about ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’, the reality of hell for the unbeliever, and the importance of knowing Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour.
I was rooted to the spot. For the first time in my life, my mind wasn’t wandering; I wasn’t day-dreaming about scoring a winning goal in the cup final.
As Gerald spoke, I remember feeling the depth of my sin. I knew that I was offending God with the way I was acting and the life I was living. And the prospect of going to hell terrified me. I wanted to go to heaven — to be in the presence of God, thanks to the saving love of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
After the service, I was a bit of a mess. My mind was racing and I had plenty to think about. I wasn’t right with God and I really knew that I had to be.
I went home and that night talked for what seemed like hours with my parents. I wanted to be a Christian, but I just didn’t know what to do. I have no recollection of what my mum and dad said to me, but I remember that I went to bed that night a different person. I knew my sins had been forgiven.
I’ll be honest. For the first year of my studies at Sheffield University, I didn’t live the Christian life as I should have done. My Bible spent most of that year gathering dust on my bedside table.
Thankfully, things changed. I met some really good people at the church and slowly grew as a Christian. The preaching of God’s Word started to have more of an influence on me.
Another thing that was taking up quite a bit of my time was university radio. Despite the distinct lack of award-winning material, the experience gave me a taste of a potential career. One Saturday afternoon, Hallam FM, the local radio station, announced they were running a football commentary competition.
This was big stuff. I dug out my dad’s old tape machine, recorded that weekend’s Match of the Day and selected the goal I was going to commentate on. The tape was sent to Sheffield, and a month later the radio station called: I had won!
Despite that success, I didn’t think broadcasting was going to be a viable career for me. I had always fancied teaching, but I was turned down for the PGCE course in Sheffield for being ‘too immature’.
Isn’t it strange how God works sometimes? I was distraught and didn’t know what to do. After much deliberation, prayer and conversation with my fiancée Sarah, I decided that this was perhaps the time to have a go at broadcasting. If I was ‘too immature’ to be a teacher, then I’d be perfect for the radio or TV!
I went on a postgraduate journalism course in Sheffield and got an interview with Key 103 in Manchester. Soon I was covering three to four matches a week, interviewing sporting superstars and the occasional pop star or Hollywood hero. I loved the work, but felt I needed a new challenge.
Over the course of about eighteen months, I had six or seven interviews for a new job. At each interview the Sunday issue came up and things went downhill: I explained that I wouldn’t work on a Sunday.
I was convinced that the right thing was to honour God and follow his commandments, and that I was also helping myself by having a day of rest and showing others there was something more important than football or work in my life. My Saviour Jesus Christ deserves the very best of my time and energy.
Some of the interviewers thought I was stupid; some felt sorry for me; and some said they wished me the best for the future, but there was no way they could employ me. But at ITV Granada in 2004 I went into the interview room determined not to have the same conversation about Sundays.
I just went for it and told the panel that I understood that Sunday could be an issue, but if they gave me a chance — even a three-month contract — I would prove I was better than anyone else they could employ; and if I wasn’t, or if Sundays proved to be a problem, they could just get rid of me.
I think they liked my approach. I was offered the job, and six months later, when my boss at ITV left for the BBC, I went with her. I had always thought that a job at the BBC would be beyond my reach, but God provided a way in there as well.
After 18 months in the North West, we were on the move again — still at the BBC, but now in London. I was determined to keep trusting in God. I ended up presenting and reporting on things like Six Nations rugby, the Grand National horse racing and the Open Golf championship, and covering football for Final Score, Match of the Day and Football Focus.
I did always think the Football Focus job was one I’d never get because of my insistence on not working on a Sunday, and because it’s so high-profile. A wise Christian once told me that I should never forget that God has put me in a great position to talk to lots of people about my faith in Jesus Christ.
It seems weird, but during interviews I’ve talked to David Beckham about going to church and Noel Gallagher has asked me why I don’t swear. Looking back, I can see that God has clearly guided my steps over the past few years.
Everything I have comes from God. I enjoy working hard and want to do my best, but I know that my current position is down to God’s goodness and his plan for my life.
Years ago, before I worked in television, I was told that I would never get anywhere with ‘an attitude like that’. I’ve not yet bumped into that guy since, but, hopefully, one day I will see him again and be able to testify of God’s gracious provision for his people!