5 Minutes with...
This week I was delighted to be able to have a chat with Sky Sports presenter and Evertonian, Julian Warren. He spoke about his love for the Blues and his career as one of the most recognisable faces to sports fans across the country...
He is a familiar face to sports fans across the UK, as both a senior presenter on Sky Sports News and the host of Soccer Special, the popular, unscripted and sometimes chaotic, round-the-grounds Football score show. He has also been seen many times deputising for the inimitable Jeff Stelling on flagship show Soccer Saturday, delivering all the action as it happens to the nation, alongside a panel of famous Football faces. You may, or may not, know that Julian also happens to be a mad Evertonian, something that cannot be easy working at Sky Sports, a place littered with former Liverpool players at every turn, or so it seems. So what is the back story to Julian’s love for the Blues?
“I grew up on the Wirral and as a young fan in the mid 1980s, it was basically a choice between Blue and Red. My best mate was a Red, my half-brothers both Reds too - but I went Blue! Of course we were one of the top teams in the country then & regularly winning trophies, so I assumed it would always be that way. Sadly, I was wrong! But like every Evertonian I stick by them through thick and thin. I have very special memories of going to games as a young boy with my Dad, dressed in my Everton tracksuit and walking across the Anfield cemetery to get to the ground which appeared on the horizon and always seemed massive to me. I used to get goosebumps when I saw Goodison rise up in front of me, and still get that special feeling when I go to the ground to this day. It’s been such a part of my life for the last 30 years or so, it’ll be sad when we have to leave the Grand Old Lady – but you have to move with the times and the new ground looks like it’ll be pretty special!”
Despite years of experience, I wondered how hard he found it to keep the football fan within him under wraps when working? Especially with the aforementioned plethora of ex-LFC players surrounding him at Sky Sports.
“It's never easy being on air when Everton are playing, especially when we're losing! I'll never forget Micky Quinn triumphantly declaring "IT'S FOUR, JULES" when his beloved Liverpool thumped us in the derby a couple of years ago. My co-presenter that night was a Red too. There's nowhere to hide but you have to put a brave face on it, be professional and objective. So far I've not been spotted celebrating when Everton score, a well-timed punch of the air when the camera's on one of the pundits and the viewers are none the wiser. I'm sure one day I'll get caught out though!”
I also wondered if he ever gets star-struck? Perhaps a bit of naïve question to ask, but as a 30-something year old man – I still turn to a bag of nerves whenever I have been lucky enough to be in the presence of an Everton legend…
"In terms of being star-struck, I always get a bit giddy the first time I get to work with guys I used to cheer from the terraces, Tim Cahill being a prime example when he was a guest last year! I also go to know Graeme Sharp pretty well when he was on the panel for Soccer Special, he was one of the first players I remember watching when I started following Everton as an eight-year-old. One year he and I teamed up for the Soccer Saturday Christmas Special golf day and we beat Phil Thompson and Ray Houghton! I say "teamed up", I think I maybe won one hole - but it's still a derby victory! It's always great to see Sharpy when I do get to games at Goodison, he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.”
Julian in the hot seat, presenting Champions League score updates on Sky Sports Soccer Special
So as a Blue growing up in the 80’s, I ask Julian who his Everton hero is?
“As a boy, I loved Kevin Ratcliffe. I remember being beside myself when he was the special guest at my junior school summer fair. Many years later, when I was working as a sports reporter in Sheffield, I covered a game at Wrexham and was sat next to him in the press box. You can imagine my reaction when he turned to me and asked for my inside knowledge on Sheffield United and how they'd line up! More recently, like many other Evertonians, Big Dunc was my hero and I'll admit to shedding a tear when he waved farewell on his lap of honour after his final game against West Brom. A proper icon who took the club to his heart, I was chuffed to bits when he got the chance to manage the club last season.”
It seems obvious to me that with a busy career at Sky Sports it must be difficult to get to Goodison Park as much as he would like, I asked Julian just how often does he make it back to L4 to watch his beloved Everton?
“Sadly, very rarely these days. Balancing work at Sky and spending time with my family (I have two young daughters) means it's very hard to get back as often as I would like to watch the Blues. Everton kindly invite me to be a guest in the club lounges each season which I love doing and always get a friendly welcome. I had a season ticket when I was younger and hope there'll come a point in my life when I can be a regular at home games again.”
With visits back to Goodison few and far between these days, I asked Julian about memories. He talks with fondness about a couple of games that bring back good memories from Goodison Park…
“I always think back to the 7-1 win v Sunderland in 2007, simply because that’s the most goals I’ve ever seen us score live! It felt like we were going to score every time we attacked that day!"
"I also have fond memories of being at Goodison for Tony Cottee's hat-trick on his debut against Newcastle in 1988. I'd only been to a couple of live games before that day, so everything was new and exciting, and when you see your new star striker score inside the first minute and then complete his hat trick, it's extra special. Little did I know as a 10-year-old that many years later I'd be working alongside TC at Sky Sports - it's crazy when you think about it!”
Our conversation then moves to the future, I asked Julian what his realistic hopes were for this coming season, our first full season under Carlo Ancelotti…
“I still pinch myself that we've got Carlo Ancelotti as our manager! His CV is pretty much unrivalled, but of course this is a very different test for him compared to taking over at a Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. And judging by some of the performances at the end of last season, he's got a big job on his hands to improve the squad both in ability and mentality, if we're to get where we want to be. The irony is having freely splashed out over £400m on new players in the last few years, we now have a manager with a truly global reputation who can attract top players to the club but he possibly won't have the same resources his predecessors had to actually bring those stars in. I think we're three or four quality players short of challenging for a top six finish, but with Ancelotti at the helm and if we allow him the time to really make his mark on the squad, I genuinely believe anything is possible in the next two or three years.”
In terms of his career, after covering so many fantastic events at Sky, I was intrigued to know what has been a particular highlight or moment he has enjoyed the most?
“I never take for granted how lucky I am to do my job and I've got to cover some amazing events and stories in my 12 years at Sky. I'll always remember presenting the Republic of Ireland's World Cup play-off against France, the night of Thierry Henry's infamous handball. Getting to anchor Sky Sports News' build up to Euro 2016 live from a boat on the River Seine in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower was pretty cool too. But the event that always sticks with me is the London Olympics in 2012. We had a studio overlooking the stadium, and I just remember the incredible atmosphere in the city every day, everyone chatting to each other on the tube each morning (that doesn't normally happen!), the buzz as you arrived at the stadium, the success of Team GB, with gold medal after gold medal. Anyone who was anyone came in to our studio to be interviewed, from Mo Farah to Greg Rutherford to the Prime Minister, it was just a really special two weeks which was a privilege to be a part of.”
As we talk about careers, I chuckle to myself that his job presenting such a fast-paced and unscripted TV show such as Soccer Special, in front of millions of people is not something I could ever handle. Julian seems to exude such a calm and unflustered demeanour, I wanted to know what stresses him out?
“That's kind of you to say! I can assure you there are many occasions when it's all going off in the studio or the gallery, maybe a big story is breaking or there are technical issues and inside it feels anything but calm and unflustered. I might be receiving lots of information in my earpiece or being told to fill while they try to sort a problem, but that's when the old “swan analogy” comes in; under the water I'm kicking like crazy but above it I need to look calm and in control, that's part of the expectation on me as a presenter. Of course with live TV there are times when things go so wrong which you can't hide, in which case I usually try and make light of it. I always think if a presenter looks stressed and uncomfortable, the viewer will feel the same sat at home. But the buzz of live sport, when anything can and usually does happen, is one of the main reasons I love the job so much. I still get nervous and a bit stressed before presenting Soccer Specials or sitting in for Jeff Stelling on Soccer Saturday, they’re such big shows and it’s a great responsibility to be presenting them - I just want to make sure I do the best job possible.”
Our conversation wraps up with Julian offering me some professional advice, something I am very appreciative of.
Once again I’d like to thank Julian for being so approachable and giving up his time to speak to me, hopefully it won’t be too long before he is covering our beloved Everton lifting a trophy on Sky Sports… COYB!