Left-back switches to write side

Gazette fan John Hills has been accustomed to hitting the headlines in his soccer career – now he's going the write way to make them for others.

The former Blackpool star, now helping Sheffield Wednesday's push for the Premiership, aims to switch from the pitch to the pressbox when his footballing days are over.

St Annes-born Hills, always an approachable interviewee while with the Seasiders, has enrolled at university on a pioneering sports journalism course.

The Lytham St Annes High School old boy is among 18 footballers who have kicked off the two-year BA Honours course, which is the brainchild of footballer-turned-freelance-reporter Lawrie Madden.

Twice a week players study at Staffordshire University. Every Monday and Thursday, Wednesday's left-back heads from the training ground to the train station to learn all about the perks and pitfalls of the media game in Stafford.

The players are funded by the PFA and Hills, 28, says he thoroughly enjoys finding out what it takes to be a journalist.

"Hopefully I have seven or eight years left as a player. I'm doing my coaching badges but eventually I'd like to go into journalism," said Hills, who visits his parents in St Annes most weekends.

"The PFA came to our training ground to tell us about the course. I realise I'm fortunate to be accepted and I'd be delighted to gain a BA."

He improved his English GCSE grade by resitting the exam with former Pool team-mates Phil Barnes and the late Martin Aldridge at Blackpool and the Fylde College.


Hills adds: "I've written for the university newspaper but hopefully I'll get work experience reporting on matches.

"I'm used to doing interviews but asking the questions is a lot more difficult."

TV and radio are covered on the course alongside the written word and Hills has edited his own radio interviews. But he realises he has to tackle a variety of sports in order to do the job properly.

"Most stories on football I know inside out but it would be difficult to cover golf, for example, because I don't know the game as well.

"There's quite a lot of law involved and that can be difficult too – I've got a law exam in a few weeks."

Ex-Wednesday defender Madden, who went into professional football after graduating from Sheffield University, is arranging a stint at Sky for Hills during the close season.

But he can't resist a light-hearted look into the future at his local paper: "I might be doing your job, Mike!"