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30th Anniversary: How Sunderland helped kick start Chris Ford’s TV career

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Published on 28 September 2022

Chris Ford graduating from the University of Sunderland in 2001
Chris Ford graduating from the University of Sunderland in 2001

It’s a very special year for the University as we celebrate our 30th anniversary. In 1992, Sunderland Polytechnic gained university status and became the University of Sunderland.

To mark the occasion, freelance sports reporter, journalist, producer and TV presenter Chris Ford, who started at the University in 1998, looks back on his student days and how they helped pave the way for his glittering broadcasting career. 

“I was the first member of my family to go to university,” Chris said. 

“I remember getting my A-Level results in 1998 and not really knowing what to do with them. The thought had never, ever crossed my mind to go to university, I had no concept of it – it just wasn’t on my radar.”

Chris, who was 22 at the time, went through Clearing to study a degree in Media and Cultural Studies.

“I flourished and really enjoyed university life,” he said. 

“I spent the first year living with my parents’ in East Boldon and it wasn’t really until the second half of my first year that I grew a good social circle, met a lot of people through lectures, made friends – and then they convinced me to move with them to Sunderland in my second year and that is when everything socially really awoke for me.

“We had some great nights at Manor Quay on a Wednesday and Saturday. It was Pzazz on a Thursday and The Palace on a Monday. We were out four or five nights a week, it was really great. I made friends for life.”

Chris, 46, from Newcastle, added: “I do say to young people now when they are thinking of going to university that it is the best three years of your life, and I stand by that. It was the best three years of my life. I had a great time at the University of Sunderland.” 

Chris’s career journey

After graduating in 2001, Chris started work at ITV Tyne Tees television’s tape library as a librarian, digging out and providing journalists with archive footage for their stories and documentaries. During this time, Chris made it his mission to meet as many people there as possible, from documentary makers and news reporters to editors and sports journalists, making himself known and proving his passion to make it in television.

Within a few months he bagged a job as assistant producer – going out on shoots and meeting an array of sporting personalities. In 2004 Chris moved over to news. Not being able to stay away from sport for long, he returned to the sports department as a reporter and presenter, presenting on North East Tonight and covering the likes of Newcastle United, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

In 2007, Chris’s career progression took him out of his native north-east when he began working for Setanta Sports News as one of their north-west correspondents. This role saw him cover clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City, as well as Cristiano Ronaldo’s 42 goal season with Manchester United and the all-England Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United in Moscow.

Just over a year later, Chris turned his hand to freelancing – working for lots of different companies, including ITV Tyne Tees and BBC Leeds. He was also a pitch-side reporter and studio presenter for Premier League Productions where he worked for eight seasons.

Chris added another string to his bow in the form of voiceover work, and for the last six years has been providing his dulcet North East tones to ITV’s EFL Highlight Show. During this time he has also covered Italy’s Serie A league and worked for UEFA on their Nations League programmes shown on Sky.

Chris also works as a reporter for OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services) which employs around 6,000 freelancers every four years to produce the Olympic Games, from camera and sound operators through to reporters. In 2012, he was the football reporter at St James’ Park where he interviewed a young Neymar who was representing Brazil. In 2016, Chris travelled to Brazil to cover the Olympic judo and wrestling competitions in Rio de Janeiro. He was also the boxing reporter at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which were held in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris interviewed all the Team GB stars as they secured a record medal haul at an Olympics. 

Chris is also a pitch-side reporter for Amazon Prime covering Premier League games.

He has recently returned from Munich where he worked on the European Championships. 

Returning to his roots 

In 2012 Chris returned to the University as a guest lecturer. 

He said: “It was fantastic to come and work at St Peter’s Campus, see all the changes that had taken place and how much money had been invested.

“Even when I arrived in 1998, I was blown away by the facilities the course had. There was great access to cameras, the TV studio set up was absolutely fantastic and you could produce some really high quality work in there.

“Clearly the University has kept up with modern trends and seen the way the wind is blowing in terms of how modern TV newsrooms work – and that was all reflected in what I saw when I revisited the University as a guest lecturer.”

Chris now lives in Oxford with his wife Adele and their two children, three-year-old Gabriel and Olivia, aged one. 

What else is happening to celebrate the anniversary?

There is a special exhibition at Sunderland Creatives Gallery, National Glass Centre.  

Local artist and illustrator, Kathryn Robertson, tells the story of key moments of the University’s history by interpreting diverse stories from students, staff and the wider University community. 

Storytellers include Fulwell 73 Director Leo Pearlman, crime fiction writer Ann Cleeves and local businesswoman Dame Irene Hayes. The completed mural forms part of the exhibition and family activities.

Sunderland Illustrated: Celebrating 30 years of The University of Sunderland is now open to the public until 11 December 2022.