The big interview — a team player
Putting your faith first isn’t always easy but, as BBC sports presenter and family man Dan Walker tells ET, those who honour God find that he honours them.
ET: Which came first — faith or football?
Dan Walker: Definitely football. I was obsessed from an early age with all sport, but football was at the top of the list. I spent summers pretending to be Glenn Hoddle in the back garden and never stopped practising my skills.
I became a Christian when I was 12, but I’d been playing football years before that.
ET: Did you always want to be a sports presenter? If not, how did you get into the business?
DW: I wanted to play sport professionally — football, tennis and golf were my top three — but if you can’t play sport, then the next best thing is to talk about it.
I wrote to Des Lynam when I was 11 and Des’s advice, God’s providence and plenty of hard work at school and university got me my first job in radio at the age of 21.
I won a commentary competition that provided my first opportunity and, within six months, was commentating on Manchester United. I moved into television in 2003 and got a job at the BBC six months later.
ET: How did you manage to avoid working on Sunday as a sports presenter?
DW: I made a stand at the start, which made things harder professionally but much easier spiritually. I’ve been told upwards of 30 times that I won’t get anywhere without working on a Sunday, but God has opened doors that I didn’t even think were there in the first place.
My first boss, John Pickford, gave me a great piece of advice in my job interview. He said that if I wanted to stick to my convictions then, ‘You are not only going to have to be good, you’ve got to be the best’.
I’ve tried to do everything to the best of my ability. I know there is a reason not to employ me, so my effort, work ethic, time management, enthusiasm and quality must be beyond question. The same principles apply to any job.
ET: What other challenges do you face in your job?
DW: I don’t think my office is more challenging than any other. The only difference is that, in broadcasting, you meet and work with more people who are paid to have opinions, so you get into the occasional heated debate.
I try to live as a Christian and most people in the office know there’s a line I don’t cross. I have a yellow and red card system for swearing, which we laugh about but it helps to stop people turning the air blue.
The long working hours are probably the biggest drain, but I would never complain because I love the job. Last year, I filmed an interview in Manchester on Monday, was in the London office on Tuesday, flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday, filmed all day with Jurgen Klinsmann on Thursday, flew back Thursday night, went straight to the office on Friday, got home at 9.30 on Friday night and left to get to the studio at 7.00 on Saturday morning.
Not all weeks are that manic, but it’s sometimes hard to fit everything in. Most viewers think I turn up at 12 on a Saturday and go home at 1.00pm.
ET: Are you ever able to witness to some of these sporting personalities? Could you give us an example?
DW: I often get asked this. I think the important thing is to live a Christian life and the opportunities will arise by the different way you go about things. I have to be professional about my work, but if people ask me a question — which they often do — I will always give an answer.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister — they don’t come more influential than the top ‘fella’! Eric Liddell came up with a great quote: ‘We are all ambassadors for Christ — we either attract people or we repel them’. It’s well worth remembering.
ET: How do you think being a Christian makes a difference to the people around you?
DW: You’d have to ask them, but I would like to think they can trust me and that they know I have different aspirations and a different way of doing things because of my love for Jesus Christ.
Over the years, the fact that I’ve turned down some opportunities in order to protect my Sundays has been received with a mixture of misunderstanding, occasional anger, ambivalence and respect.
I’ve worked with the same people for a few years now and they know where I’m coming from and we get on really well together. I get hate-mail every now and then, and am on the end of the occasional rant, but the words of encouragement make up for it.
ET: What verses particularly encourage you?
DW: I’ve always liked Joshua 1:9: ‘Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go’.
One verse that always comes back to me is in Philippians 4. It is hard to guard against a secular world view so Paul’s encouragement is spot on. He says, ‘Whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things’.
ET: Are you allowed to have a favourite football team?
DW: Crawley Town are my team. Not many people had heard of them before their recent
impressive run in the FA Cup, but I used to see them most Saturdays with my dad and I’ve followed them ever since. League football beckons next season.