In an exclusive interview, Chris Wheatley opens up about his journey to become a sports journalist, meeting Mesut Özil and Shkodran Mustafi from Arsenal, and also the launch of his new company, D2S Media.
Being in a room that has been the destination of many decisive meetings in the past feels momentous. Many leather chairs crowd this long table in the centre with bright white walls surrounding the room. A colourful bowl of fruit – which made me question whether or not they were actually real – were positioned on the table near me.
Sitting opposite me in his navy blazer and checked shirt is a man that has completely reconstructed his path in life many times in the past decade. The current setting in this room feels quite contrasting to that of where Chris Wheatley must have discovered his passion for sports journalism.
At the age of 14, Chris realised his dream after setting up his own blog, called GoonerTalk, which has received more than 20 million unique visitors in the past decade. Due to his interest in writing and football, Chris wanted to create a platform to blog about his favourite football team, Arsenal.
“What really interested me is the fact that I could write a post about the team I supported and that would attract thousands of visitors,” he says. “I realised it was getting bigger and bigger so that’s when I decided to become a sports journalist.”
In order to further his dream, Chris decided to study journalism at the University for the Creative Arts where he eventually earned his degree. Also, thanks to his Greek roots and knowledge of Greek football, Chris began to work for some publications like the Daily Mirror and the Independent. “I was doing a few scout reports and it all took off from there,” he says. “The biggest thing for me was finding a niche and working for free, those two things combined helped me break into sports journalism.”
While discussing his previous work, Chris reiterated the importance of discovering something unique because his knowledge of Greek football was important for him. “Everyone wants to write about football so you need to try and find something unique, like football finance,” he says. “If you were to begin to build up a profile in football finance and then show that to outlets, you can get your break that way.”
However, after asking if this was his biggest piece of advice, Chris rejected this and spoke about the importance of a positive state of mind. “What I would say is that the most important thing, which is a bit of a cliche, is to just believe in yourself,” he says. “People want to break into the sports industry, but the biggest barrier in preventing them from doing so is that they don’t believe in themselves.”
After years of hard work and freelancing, Chris finally earned his “dream job” as a correspondent of Arsenal Football Club for GOAL, one of the biggest football news websites in the world with an audience in more than 50 countries. For GOAL, Chris was able to cover matches all over Europe, report on news, and also write feature pieces, all of which were associated to Arsenal to some extent. But, thanks to his Arsenal-related work with GOAL, he was also able to cover the 2016 European Championships and the 2018 World Cup.
“Those were some of the biggest and best memories for me, although they’re not Arsenal related,” Chris says. “To cover those two tournaments as a journalist at 23 or 24 years old was pretty amazing for me.”
After asking Chris about some of his other favourite moments with GOAL, he talks about interviewing and what it was like speaking to his favourite Arsenal footballer, Mesut Özil. “I built a relationship with his PR team [which] was the biggest thing for me,” he says. “I kept writing pieces about Özil [that] would show his good side. Eventually, I got the interview with Mesut and I was very excited about it.”
“Talking to him was fantastic, but I didn’t really get starstruck. It can be a bit off-putting for both yourself and the player, they can tell if you’re anxious. I didn’t want to think about it, it was all nice and chilled.”
On the topic of his favourite interviews, Chris commented on how much he loved speaking to Arsenal defender, Shkodran Mustafi. “He was a really good guy, a nice guy. He was really opinionated and interesting to speak to because he didn’t just talk about football,” he says. “He talked about religion which I found really interesting. To see how being a Muslim, the importance he places on that and what it means to him, and how he does stuff day to day as a player was really interesting for me.”
Despite already having his dream job with GOAL, Chris wanted a “big change” and decided late last year to begin to forge a new path in his life. On the 1st of February, he announced the launch of his social media and commercial partnership company, D2S Media. D2S Media aims to work with potential clients to help improve their brand and social engagement, offer legal advice, and also help maintain a positive image in the media.
“It’s amazing and a bit of a shock. I went straight from finishing my job as a journalist to starting D2S,” he says. “I’m really enjoying it and the people here are great. I’m determined to make this company a success.”
Chris explains that bringing in clients will be a “big job” to overcome in order to make his business a success. “You have to provide a service that people actually want and is valuable for the money they’re paying,” he explains. “I wouldn’t have started this company without being a sports journalist because of the contacts I’ve made.”
“It’s going to be tough but life is all about challenges and overcoming obstacles and I’m really embracing it.”