Emma Smith: The transgender sports journalist making a career on her own terms


Emma Smith
Emma Smith has worked for Goal since early 2020

Emma Smith admits the timing could hardly have been worse.

The sports journalist was making a fresh start in her career, beginning a new job with football website Goal, four months after coming out publicly as transgender. She was looking forward to meeting her new colleagues.

But then the coronavirus pandemic intervened.

“My first day at Goal was the first day of lockdown, which wasn’t ideal,” she says with a smile.

“All you can do is laugh, really. I’ve not met anyone I’ve worked with; I’ve not been in the office with them. It’s been incredibly unusual.”

But despite the ongoing disruption of a global pandemic, Smith says she’s the happiest she’s ever been – and that she’s finally living as her authentic self.

To mark International Transgender Day of Visibility, she has shared her story with the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast.

‘It really wasn’t like work because it was what I wanted to do’

Smith was a teenager when she realised she wanted to become a sportswriter.

“I’d got to the age when I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional footballer,” she says.

“I thought maybe I should try something else, but I was absolutely football-obsessed and wanted to be involved in sport in some way, and writing became an option.”

Smith started putting together the match reports for her local team – including the thrashings they’d had while she’d been playing in goal – and began writing her own blog as well.

She joined the student paper at university before getting a job on a local newspaper.

“The opportunity came up to report on Tottenham games at the weekend or in European matches,” she says.

“It wasn’t paid, but it really wasn’t like work because it was what I wanted to do and I was covering a huge team.”

From there, more opportunities came up – and as Smith’s stature in the industry grew, so did the stories she was working on.

“One of the things I did was a feature on upcoming British Formula 1 drivers,” she recalls.

“Through that, I was lucky enough to meet Lando Norris and George Russell before they became F1 drivers, and interview them at these incredible facilities where all the cars were tested and made. So that was pretty cool.”

‘I knew I wanted something else, but I just kept it pushed down’

As Smith’s professional career blossomed, coming to terms with her own personal identity was proving more of a struggle.

“Growing up, I didn’t know what a transgender person was,” she says.

“This stuff was never talked about and there were very few role models on TV, and certainly not in sport. So I went through all sorts of different things, thinking I might be this or I might be that.

“I just knew that I wanted something else in life for myself, but kept it pushed down for years and years. That made me very, very unhappy at times.”

In a strange way, that unhappiness helped Smith succeed professionally – as she poured her energy into her career. But by the start of 2019, she knew she had to focus on herself.

“I don’t know if there was a single moment where I went ‘I’m transgender’,” she says. “I just knew that this is who I am, and this is what I’d got to pursue.

“I came out to friends and family and I was very lucky. Obviously, people had questions – I was a very sporty, seemingly masculine person.

“But I was ready to be rejected by pretty much everyone, and I wasn’t by my friends and family, which I was immensely grateful for.”

‘It was very clear that it was going to be a major issue’

After coming out in her personal life, she attempted to do the same professionally.

“I was feeling OK and established in a new job, so decided to tell them,” she says.

“It was very clear that it was going to be a major issue, so I felt in no position but to quit.

“It obviously wasn’t great – but I felt better for having come out and been who I was, rather than if I’d not been.

“Sometimes, life pushes things on you in a way you don’t expect – and you sometimes have to do things that aren’t in the order or at the time you expect to.”

‘If you’re good enough, there won’t be anything that can stand in your way’

Walking away from that job forced Emma to apply for other roles, and to do so as her authentic self.

In a post on Twitter in November 2019, she told the world she was transgender – and was overwhelmed by the positive response.

A few months later, Smith began working at the football website Goal – and experienced a new ‘first’ in her journalistic career.

“Writing that first day and having my byline with the name I actually like, and the one I actually chose – seeing that in print was pretty amazing,” she says.

“It can be very easy to get bogged down by those who are negative about transgender people and are given a disproportionate amount of attention.

“You can be put off and think that there’s no place for you because of how loud they are, but from my experiences, they are in the minority.

“If you are good enough, then there won’t be anything that can really stand in your way.”

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