EXCLUSIVE: Rebecca Lowe lives with a manager, idolised Alan Pardew and will make television history on Saturday…
21:50 GMT, 3 May 2012
The FA Cup final will be presented on TV by a woman for the first time on Saturday.
ITV will face competition from an American-owned channel with its 12-hour coverage of a game that starts at 5.15pm: it's not just kick-off times that are changing.
Rebecca Lowe is 31 and lives in Wiltshire with the Luton Town manager, Paul Buckle. She's packing away the biscuits she bought for our interview.
Standing tall: ESPN presenter Lowe has suffered sexist abuse from football fans
'Honestly, I do usually make my own,' she says, showing me the remnants of a home-made tiramisu in the fridge as proof.
'It's just been a particularly busy week. Oh, and you'll never guess who called me this morning. Des Lynam. Des – Lynam!'
Lowe is naturally excited, even if she still has 120 pages of statistics to trawl through by tonight. After Ray Stubbs had surgery to correct a heart defect last month, she will follow in Lynam's footsteps by anchoring ESPN's coverage of tomorrow's FA Cup final between Chelsea and Liverpool.
'It's a real honour, and a little bit “pinch yourself”, but I think it would be nice to get to the stage where we don't have the first woman anything anymore,' she says. 'That would be real progress.'
All smiles: Lowe, speaking to Laura Williamson, will make television history on Saturday
Lowe is, understandably, reticent to see herself as a 'woman in football', preferring to concentrate on her ability to do her job and not her gender.
But the subject is unavoidable. Type 'Rebecca Lowe' into Google and two of the most popular searches associated with her name are 'hot' and 'legs'.
'It would be nice to get to the stage where we don't have the first woman anything anymore'
She needs to play it safe with her outfit tomorrow. 'I'm erring on the side of trousers with a mac,' she said, because 'anything slightly out of the ordinary, people will pounce on'.
We might also pass comment on John Barnes's penchant for pinstripes, but the level of vitriol is not the same. Lowe admits it is so very different, harder even, being a woman working in football.
'I know people will be quicker to jump on my mistakes,' she said. 'That's a fact, although I'm not complaining because I set myself massive standards. You just have to brace yourself.
'With a man, that knowledge is assumed. A woman has to prove herself. That's life. Sometimes it's quite satisfying, or you can get them on the back foot and hit them with a difficult question.
'You've just got to get the tone right. I live with a manager so I know what it's like when football goes badly and a manager loses. I also think, perhaps, women are slightly more sympathetic. It's about asking the right questions but in the right way.'
Sitting comfortably: Lowe has impressed in her role with ESPN
HOURS OF FUN
ESPN are offering 12 hours of FA Cup coverage on Saturday, with Breakfast at Wembley starting at 8am. The match itself will be presented by Rebecca Lowe and shown in 3D. There will be no adverts. On ITV, Adrian Chiles brings you the build-up from 3.15pm, while Clive Tyldesley and Sportsmail’s Andy Townsend provide the commentary.
This was particularly the case on Saturday, March 17, as Lowe presented ESPN's coverage from White Hart Lane.
Bolton's Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch and, not knowing whether the midfielder would survive, Lowe had to make sense – live on air for almost an hour – of what had just happened.
'The Muamba night was very difficult,' she says, her tone thoughtful and quiet. 'I can't believe it happened, really, considering how well he's doing now.
'You just have to use your instincts and react like you would in the stands. There were moments when the emotion was right in my throat but everyone really pulled together. It took me a few days to get over that.'
Lowe insists she is a 'soft' person, recalling how, as a nine-year-old Crystal Palace fan, current Newcastle manager Alan Pardew became her 'absolute crush' after he scored the winner against Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final. 'I wrote to him – and I've told him this since – but he never replied,' she says.
Crush: Lowe was an admirer of Toon boss Pardew
But there must be a more resilient side to her, too. A drama student fresh out of the University of East Anglia, she was catapulted on to the BBC's Final Score after winning a young talent competition and a six-month contract.
'It was terrifying,' she said. 'I used to take myself to the ladies and give myself a talk before each match.' Lowe has also been hit, deliberately, with a football when doing a pre-match interview on the pitch at Aldershot and, seconds before a live link from a dressing room, an assistant manager once said to her: 'Come and sit on my lap.'
She laughs this off, arguing this sort of 'banter' does not stop her doing her job. But she draws a line between sexism – the often subtle resentment that a woman does not belong – and sickening sexist abuse.
During Arsenal's 1-0 win over Leeds United in the third round of this season's FA Cup, Leeds fans targeted Robbie Savage and Lowe with verbal epithets, coins and hot dogs.
Lowe said: 'I'm used to it. There were 2,000 fans chanting something horrendous on one particular day. Even worse than what you're thinking. There were women shouting at me. Women. 'I have to say, I've not had a huge amount of sexism issues, but the sexist abuse I've probably had more of. Sexism can be very subtle and unspoken and sexist abuse is obviously very loud and absolutely horrible. I don't accept it, as in its right, but I have more important things to do.
'I was getting a ton of sexist abuse that night, but I've learnt now to block it out. You've just got to do your job. You can't go home at half-time because they're being mean.'
ESPN will bring fans live coverage of the FA Cup final, including a 12-hour schedule of shows direct from Wembley, that revives the traditions of Cup Final day. Coverage is also ad-free during half-time and until the trophy lift and in 3D on Sky 3D.