An E-mail conversation with...Celina Hinchcliffe

'I was whistling the Match of the Day tune when I was five'
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The Independent Online

You are due to become the first woman to present BBC's Football Focus this week. What are you determined to do on the day - and is there anything you are determined not to do? I'm determined to treat the day like any other so I'll be having a hearty breakfast first thing with the newspapers, it's my favourite time of the day. I'm determined not to be overawed by the occasion, I want to enjoy presenting Focus and have fun with my guests.

Does this mean you are BBC's answer to Gabby Logan? There is only one Gabby Logan. I'm Celina Hinchcliffe, a presenter who is really proud to have been given some great opportunities by the BBC to work in football.

How much of a help will it be that you were also the first woman to present Match of the Day last February? I missed it - how did it go? Well, I will never be as nervous as I was presenting my first Match of the Day. As I heard the MOTD music, my heart was thumping. It's a programme I've watched since I was a kid. My mum will tell you I started whistling the tune at the age of five. So for me to present it was a dream come true. Once I'd said hello and introduced the first match, I relaxed. Gavin Peacock was my guest and he's a good mate.

Would it be correct to assume that two of your role models are Helen Rollason and Sue Barker? If so, why? And are there any others? Helen and Sue most definitely, they paved the way for women sports broadcasters. Hazel Irvine is also someone I admire. She taught me a lot about preparation, as has Motty (John Motson). Other role models would be Gary Lineker and Michael Parkinson.

Have you ever played football? I played a lot of football at school and I play for the BBC team, although it's hard to fit it in with my work for Final Score on Saturdays. I got really into playing football when I was about eight. I can remember the summer. My cousins gave me a Sheffield Wednesday shirt. It was my pride and joy. Wearing it, I would practice my keepy-uppies in the garden. I wouldn't go to bed 'til I had done 10.

Sue Barker put her foot in it recently at the Sports Personality of the Year Awards with her comment about Gavin Henson. Do you think there is a pressure on female TV sports presenters to emulate the laddish persona of, say, Gary Lineker? I don't feel any pressure to emulate the laddish persona. All you can do is be yourself.

What music do you listen to? Do you get to many live gigs and who have you seen recently? At the moment, I'm into Arcade Fire and Richard Ashcroft's new stuff. I like Feeder, Jimmy Eat World, The Police, a bit of northern soul. I saw both Keane and Doves at Brixton Academy a while back.

Who were the most interesting characters you came across while working on African football for the World Service? What are the differences in the way the game is perceived in Africa, if there are any? George Weah was very interesting. I didn't expect a superstar like him to have much time for a young journalist like me. Yet he was very open, he told me all about growing up in a Liberian slum, about the civil war going on in his country and how football is often the only way out for young people.

Did you find African footballers more ready to be interviewed than your average English football player? I interviewed Lomana LuaLua for Football Focus last week and he was charming, gave me great insight into why Harry Redknapp is such a good man-manager. African footballers often talk a lot about the hardships they grew up with in their homeland, they have a lot of perspective about the game. They are also a lot more open if they know the interview will be heard back home, as it is often on the World Service.

Which three words sum up your character? Erm... loyal, spirited and fun.

Of what are you most proud outside your career? I'm most proud of the friendships I've made, the laugh we have, and always saying "yes" to life.

England's women failed to get past the qualifying stages of last year's European Championships on home soil. How costly do you think that might have been in terms of raising the profile of the women's game in this country? Who knows what getting to the semi-finals or finals could have done for the profile of the game in this country? England were a very young team, they certainly impressed and they currently lead their World Cup qualifying group having won three games out of three, thrashing Hungary 13-0 in the process!

What has been your worst moment as a broadcaster? Collapsing in hysterics on News 24 and not being able to hold it together. I was doing a silly "And finally" about a mascot race. The news presenter tried to engage in a spot of banter and asked me who my favourite mascot was. I said my favourite was the gorilla. I don't know what came over him but he spoke before his brain had engaged and said "I'll dress up for you". I was really shocked and just collapsed in hysterics, I mean, what do you say to that?

What is your fondest memory of covering the likes of Crawley Town and Lewes FC for BBC Southern Counties radio? Lewes FC reaching the third round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history. They were away to Stoke City. I travelled up to the Britannia Stadium on the team bus. I know it's a cliché - magic of the Cup and all that - but I doubt I'll ever get that close to a story again.

What do you say to people who say the women's game will never match up to the men's? The women's game is not trying to match up to the men, it's a different game, less physical for example. But in players like Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey, we have some of the best in the world. Women's football can be just as competitive and exciting as the men's game as proved by Karen Carney's last-gasp equaliser against Finland in the opening game of Euro 2005. As she ran away to celebrate in front of 30,000 fans, I defy anyone not to have been cheering.

Do you concur with the view that women tend to make a lot less fuss about being fouled than their male footballing counterparts? If so, how long can this sporting innocence endure? It's true actually, they just get up and get on with it. It's been like that for years so I don't see it changing. It's no different from women getting a cold, men getting man flu!

You worked with theatre companies before starting your current career. What sort of thing were you doing? I did a bit of stand-up comedy, and a spot of writing.

What would you like to be doing in five years' time? And in 10 years' time? In five years' time, I'd like to tee off at St Andrews with a handicap of five. In 10 years' time, I'd like to tee off having had kids hopefully and make them keel over laughing as I hook the ball into a bunker. I remember laughing in the same way at my dad. Some of my happiest memories.

If you had the choice of presenting the women's or the men's FA Cup final, which one would it be? It would be an honour to present either. I don't see any difference.

You are a keen skier. Where do you like to ski - and will you be having much to do with BBC coverage of the forthcoming Winter Olympics in Turin? I love Chamonix because it's full of people who love skiing and don't care about looking cool. The Grand Montets is heaven on earth. I am not involved in the BBC's coverage in Turin but I will be watching avidly and hoping Chemmy Alcott does well.

Are there any young female players who are going to demand the attention of the Great British public in the near future? Karen Carney has a great future and two 19-year-olds, Eniola Aluko and Sarah Snare.

Who is going to win the World Cup in Germany? And if that isn't England, how well do you think they will do? The holders, Brazil. Yet if England play with the passion they did against Argentina, if Rooney stays fit and if Sven makes astute substitutions then I think England have a chance of reaching the semi finals.

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