I'm the UK's first deaf football pundit using British Sign Language at half time

Welcome back to How I Made It, Metro.co.uk’s weekly career journey series.

This week we’re chatting with Damaris Cooke, 39, who is the UK’s first deaf football pundit.

The Londoner will provide British Sign Language (BSL) presentation around a range of BT Sport programming in 2023, including June’s UEFA Champions League Final, after being chosen by BT Sport and EE for the role.

Before this, Damaris played the game herself, and was a captain for the GB Deaf Women and England Deaf Women football teams.

Working as an accountant by day, Damaris works in football during her evenings and weekends – meaning life if pretty non-stop.

She’s passionate about inclusion and footie, so this job marries the two.

Here’s how she made it happen.

Hey Damaris. What made you get into football and sport? 

I had two older brothers so naturally it meant me tagging along and annoying them whenever they went outside to play. Pretty soon I became hooked on football and sport in general.

I made it my mission to be better than my brothers and that was how I discovered my competitive streak. I was a natural all-rounder at school and represented the school in almost every sport.

I just love the competitiveness of sport and I feel for my poor wife who becomes a sport widow whenever there’s a sporting event on, whether it be the Women’s Euros, Olympics, Paralympics, Wimbledon, Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup and so on! 

How does being deaf impact your career? 

I work as a Business Development Manager for SignVideo, a British Sign Language video relay service.

Having faced barriers my entire life, accessibility has become a passion of mine and my role enables me to educate services/organisations on deaf awareness and enable them to become more inclusive and accessible to the deaf BSL community by implementing a video relay service.

My TV work has accessibility at its very core and so both jobs link up nicely!

In the day job my deafness has more of an impact as there are many people who have never met a deaf person.

Sometimes people are just scared of saying or doing the wrong thing and so coming across positively changes a lot of perceptions, often meaning the hardest part of my job is done!  

And is there anything you wish people better understood about this?

I love being deaf. If there was a magic pill to make me hearing, I wouldn’t take it.

The deaf world is so rich and has its own culture and I’m just so proud to be a part of it.

British Sign Language is a beautiful language in itself – it’s a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expressions and body language.

It is not the same as Makaton and it is unfortunate that in the age of social media,  there has been an influx of cultural appropriation.

How do you balance your job in business with football?

Luckily football is always on at the weekends or in the evenings so it doesn’t impact much on my job, however there will be times where a day’s training is necessary and I’ll take annual leave for it. 

How did you make football a career – was there training, how were you found etc? 

GB Deaf Women was first formed when I was 16 years old and at that point, I was already going to football tournaments with my local club, St Johns.

Word got out and I went to the first ever trials, got selected and as they say, the rest was history.

It really was the good old days; sharing car rides, slumming it in poor hostels, having oranges at half time, pints after matches and so on…

It’s so different now with bleep tests, professional facilities, and nutritionists.

When did you decide to become a TV presenter and what was that journey like? 

I honestly didn’t decide to become a TV presenter, it was something I fell into.

I had done some reporting work for SeeHear and some live translation work for Red Bee (for the Paralympics and BT Sport Action Woman of the Year awards) so when the BT Sport role came up, it was a no brainer.

Not only could I spend time talking about the sport I love, I would actually get paid for it.

I have been absolutely blown away by all the experiences so far – the training sessions, going behind the scenes and the live show observations have really helped me gain a proper insight into the preparations before, during and after football matches and the team effort required from everybody involved. 

Do you still play football professionally now you’re a pundit? 

I captained GB Deaf Women and England Deaf Women during my 16-year career and retired in 2016 which was good timing as only two weeks later I ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

I never had any serious injuries during my career so it was life’s way of telling me to stop, I guess.

I haven’t played football since, but I’ve taken up other sports such as badminton, pickleball (this is only recent and I’m hooked), yoga, and gym classes so I’m much more relaxed these days and keep fit where I can.

I definitely don’t miss those cold winter nights at football training and cold and wet Sundays (sometimes hungover).

How did you get into being a captain? 

I was never the best player on the pitch but I could talk to players.

I knew when to put an arm around someone’s shoulders, I knew when to shout at them to pull their socks up and I knew how to motivate and encourage players.

It was a huge honour to captain both GB and England and I still have the captain armbands as they represent what was an amazing time of my life.

What challenges did that role bring? 

Knowing what made each player tick took a while, I had to get to know the person better and then work out what kind of encouragement would help them.

Being a captain is not about telling players what to do – you’ve got to be a motivator, an encourager, a peacemaker, a communicator, a middleperson… the list is endless!

You have the ear of the management but also the players so it was a balancing act at times. It was hard to ignore my own feelings and emotions and it sometimes meant putting on a mask but my priority had to be the team.

I loved every second of being captain and winning a silver and three bronzes from World Cups and Deaflympics will be something I’ll never forget. 

An average day for Damaris Cooke on the Premier League Show

9.30am: We’re due at the stadium, then it’s straight into makeup for me and Rolf – although he definitely needs more time in the make up chair than me!

10.30: We’ll do our opening links outside the stadium then it’s into the studio to study the next links, the stats pack and get everything all set up before kick off.

12.30pm: Kick off, and during games, there’s a lot of discussion and note taking, jotting down the key moments that may be of interest for the full-time analysis.

When half-time comes, we are sometimes required to film opening links for upcoming episodes then it’s back to the match. Towards the end of a match, it’s back to our set up and discussing what key points to raise with the pundit.

4.30pm: The day is wrapped up.

What do you love most about your job? 

Working with my co-presenter, Rolf, has been so much fun.

We didn’t know each other well before we got the role so it’s been great to form a new friendship. We have great banter and luckily we get on very well so it’s been nice to be on this journey with him beside me.

We still pinch ourselves every day whenever we experience new things and we recognise the big responsibility that comes with the role.

We are honest and trust each other and are able to feedback on each other’s performance and provide encouragement when it’s needed.

He does need to shut up about Crystal Palace and the Champions League though…

What do you dislike the most? 

Having to listen to Rolf bang on about Crystal Palace and how great they are!

Ha no, it’s probably the waiting around in between links but that’s normal in the media world.  

Damaris and Rolf’s British Sign Language shows, Sign Up, return for the UEFA Champions League Final, on June 9 and 11 on BT Sport. Find out more here.

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