The Rover Who Returned

Women in rugby league aren’t rare – women who commentate are. That puts Joanne Fitzpatrick (almost) in a league of her own. The voice of Featherstone Rovers’ match day comms, this @flatcapperette left league and came back to carve a role of her own

By Joanne Fitzpatrick

So, how does a 9-year-old Featherstone Rovers fanatic turn into club commentator with a day job not remotely related to rugby league whatsoever? Here’s my story.

It was destined that the youngest Siddall child of four would be a rugby league fan, especially wearing the navy blue and white hoops of Featherstone Rovers on the terraces. My dad, Frank, had played in the intermediate teams of Hull KR, Dewsbury and Featherstone Rovers in the late 1940s, wearing blackout curtains as shirts down at ‘Fev’. One of my brothers, Gary, went one better and played as prop in the first team at Featherstone for over 10 years, including the memorable 1983 giant-killing act against Hull in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. You can imagine that there was no prouder person than his 12 year old younger sister that day.

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Joanne flouting the uniform rule!

Throughout my teenage years I carried on my obsession with rugby league and Featherstone Rovers despite being in the minority amongst my school friends at St Wilfrid’s Catholic High in Featherstone, as students travelled from Castleford and Leeds to study there. It certainly was handy to have common ground with the boys though, dissecting on a Monday morning what we’d watched on Scrumdown the night before. Despite not being able to play rugby league as I was a girl, and girls were not afforded such opportunities back then, I studied the game so I could keep up with those conversations; I watched every move of my favourite players at the time such as Peter Smith, Deryck Fox, Ikram Butt, and Brendon Tuuta.

‘Fell out of love’

During this time, I’d decided upon a career in pharmacy and after gaining my A levels packed my student bags to go to university in the then rugby league barren land of Sunderland. I still kept in touch with how my team was faring each week thanks to the Rugby Leaguer, which I had to get my local newsagent, a real Mackem guy, to order in especially and he kept it under the counter for me! He used to ask me how Fev had got on every Monday when I went in to collect it, so I like to think I’d converted that little corner of Sunderland to the greatest game!

As my career in pharmacy took off, the fortunes of Featherstone Rovers took a dip as they were excluded from the new elite Super League that had been formed. With the cries of ‘Fev Forever, Calder Never’ ringing in my ears I fell out of love with the game of rugby league that  I’d passionately supported for over 15 years. I always kept one eye on Fev of course, but going to games took a back seat as I enjoyed a different social life.

So, what enticed me back to the game I love? It was the man, Daryl Powell. In the intervening years, I’d become Chief Pharmacist of the NHS in Wakefield, got married to a pie eater and had 2 children. I felt ready to have rugby league in my life again and my beloved Fev were playing an exciting brand of rugby under the silver fox. I started going to games again and my then 5-year-old daughter enrolled in the Featherstone Rovers Foundation Dance Academy. Through my increased involvement with the club I became a Foundation Trustee, and eventually Chair of the Board of Trustees. The Foundation charity with its inclusiveness and dedication to improving health and wellbeing of all ages through increased activity and good diet fits well with everything I believe in, personally and professionally. Each year the Foundation goes from strength to strength and I’m proud to be involved with such a fantastic team of people.

‘Massive privilege’

Alongside this, I became very active on Twitter as @FlatCapperette and ended up being nominated as a Fev fan to go on the Radio Leeds RL with JD show to discuss and draw the Northern Rail Cup semi-finals, a massive privilege! I guess that’s when I got the broadcasting bug. From that I became friends with Dave Williams who ran the then Castleford TigerTalk radio show. We decided to develop a similar show for Featherstone Rovers to be broadcast on a local station and Rovers Radio was born. The magazine show went out live every Monday for over a year, with guests including present and past players, coaches, fans, and refs. During that time I fancied having a go at match day commentating but lacked the confidence and experience to do so. I received invaluable advice from JD and Harvey Wiles- they convinced me that I knew the game; I just needed more practice and experience of actually commentating. Rovers Radio became incorporated into the Rovers TV station on YouTube that Jamie Hobbs had set up, and I started co-commentating on match days in 2016. At the start of the 2017 season Ryan Sparks came on board at Featherstone Rovers in the newly created role of Head of Communications. I must give full credit to Ryan, he has been amazingly supportive, alongside the technical expertise of Jamie, in developing Rovers TV into what it is today. I’m proud to have been given the opportunity to be lead commentator this season, and I’m getting the practise I so desperately needed- Harvey and JD were spot on with their advice, it does really get easier every game.

We’ve come to present day. My Rovers TV commitments involve travelling from my day job in Wakefield straight over to Featherstone on a Thursday night to catch the players and coach before training to chat about the upcoming game as part of match preview. I also work with a brilliant team on match days to bring live audio streams, video packages including highlights, and post-match interviews. The Rovers TV crew aren’t just workmates; they’re a great set of guys that I can have a laugh with; just as well seeing as I spend the best part of every Sunday with them during the season. It can be challenging to strike a healthy balance of work, family, social and Featherstone Rovers; but with good time management and a supportive family it can just about be achieved!

People often ask if it’s a challenge being a woman in what is viewed as a predominantly man’s world, and whether my views are equally respected. My answer to this is that I don’t see myself as a woman in a man’s world, I just see myself as someone there to commentate on games and I don’t allow gender to come into it. If you go with that attitude then it’s not a problem.

Rovers TV content can be found on the YouTube channel:

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