ASKING Charlotte Webster about English football club Sheffield Wednesday would probably be the worst way to pick up the lively 24-year-old English lass.
“What? Support Sheffield Wednesday? No way!” she said animatedly, as she gestured the “sticking a finger down her throat motion” to suggest puking.
No offence to Sheffield Wednesday, but Charlie, as her friends call her, is a huge fan of their cross-town rivals Sheffield United since she attended one of their matches when she was four.
Those who have been following the English Premier League on ESPN STAR Sports in the last five months would have noticed the pretty blonde sitting next to co-presenter Andy Penders on the programme Club EPL.
And while many hardcore football fans have written her off as just another pretty face to present the pre, half-time, and post-match discussions, the fact is that they could not be further from the truth.
Born in Sheffield, Charlie is at the moment, the only female football presenter in Asia who is able to go on air “live” without a script to read from.
She admitted that sports presenting, especially football, is very male-dominated.
“Stereotypes are hard to break. I feel the pressure. As soon as I walk in, I have to earn my respect as a female (sports presenter). It didn’t help that I used to be a model. I had to prove myself and work harder 10 million times than all the males,” she said.
Charlie was a competitive athlete since primary school, and trained with the British Athletics Federation when she was spotted by one of their coaches at the age of 11.
So what has teenage athleticism got to do with football? Not much, except that Charlie also holds a Stage Two football coaching licence, which allows her to take charge of Under-21 teams.
“I am actually higher qualified than (football managers) Gareth Southgate and Glenn Roeder (when they started to take charge of Middlesbrough and Newcastle United respectively),” she chuckles.
Prior to joining ESPN STAR Sports, she spent a season with Real Madrid TV, even though she was not yet fluent in Spanish when she started.
She worked and travelled with Real Madrid FC throughout the La Liga season including the pre-season training, world tour and Champions League matches, interviewing the Galacticos regularly as well as the world’s biggest stars past and present.
“There’s this bunch of Real Madrid fans who really stand out, as they are at every match to heckle and throw insults at our own players. I don’t really understand them. It’s not usual to have your own fans booing you unless you’re playing really badly,” she laughs.
It had not been easy for this English Language and Linguistics graduate though, as her grandparents helped raised her while her single mother worked seven days a week as a supermarket cashier.
Her background, however, does shed some light on her preference for the Blades, as Sheffield United is fondly called, instead of Sheffield Wednesday.
“Wednesday is supported by the rich of Sheffield, while United is in the hearts of the working class,” she explained.
To fund her studies, Charlie modelled, personal-trained and taught kickboxing. As natural as bees to honey, talent agents soon approached her to model for sports apparel – something which suited her well due to the combination of her athleticism and good looks.
“But I did not want to become a fashion model because it would just be about looks then. I feel stifled. I need to get my personality out,” said the lanky lass.
And personality is, in fact, Charlie’s biggest selling point.
She is always up for a challenge, even if she has to run a marathon with no sleep the night before.
“I ran the Singapore marathon, I think, with only two hours of sleep. I was at the studio until early in the morning, 5am or 6am (for a late match), slept a bit, and at 8am, I was down at the starting line.
“It was crazy. I was kind of dazed, but I still ran and finished the run,” she said, adding that she clocked the 42.5km run in four and a half hours.
Not bad for a sleep-deprived person. In fact, her quest to be challenged and try out new things was one of the reasons she decided to come to Asia.
“I had offers from the United States, Britain and Spain. But ESPN offered me a job in Asia. I thought it’d be interesting since there are lots of football fans here,” said the lively young lady, who had never been to Asia before signing the contract with the sports content provider.
And as naive as it may sound, Charlie aspires to change the world by using sports as an influencing factor.
“I am interested in economics and politics, but no way will I be a politician. I really disapprove of the way it (the political system) is. It is corrupt, and they are selfish.
“Sports gave me hope, something to look forward to. Life was hard for me but through sports, I learnt a lot of life’s values. I think it can change the lives of others, too,” she said.