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Gabby so sad for tragic TV trailblazer Helen.

GABBY Yorath is fast becoming the first lady of televised football - but she is quick to spare a thought for the woman who helped create that path for her.

This week's tragic death of BBC sports presenter Helen Rollason stunned the world of sport.

It was her achievement as the first woman to host Grandstand that opened the door for a series of women to move into what had previously been seen as a male only area.

Since then, the likes of Sue Barker, Hazel Irvine, Gail McKenna and Shelley Webb have continued the trend.

But Yorath, still only 26, has taken things one stage further - she is the first woman to enter the ever-more powerful ITV and specialise in football exclusively.

And that is no mean feat considering she will be rubbing shoulders with Des Lynam this season.

But she has not forgotten the contribution of Rollason, who lost her battle with cancer after a two-year fight against the disease.

"Helen was a real professional with a genuine passion for sport," she said.

"I know she had been struggling recently and claimed she was not unduly brave, but obviously she was.

"She could have retreated from the life she was living, but she didn't and was always be remembered as a fantastic broadcaster.

"Now she will be an icon for young girls who want to go into that field because she showed what could be done. She was a great example to everyone."

Yorath can identify with the tragic circumstances of Rollason's death and had a cancer scare herself at 19. But it was the loss of brother, Daniel, who had an incurable heart disease, that hit hardest.

"Helen had a very active and happy life, I hope she was at peace with herself when she died," she said.

"But it isn't as though I need something like that to drive me on to be successful because I've already been through something in my life.

"Losing my brother means that I've always been aware that there is more to life than sitting in front of a camera.

"But it has made me more determined to do well and realise how important and valuable each day is. It may be the last one you have with someone you really care about."

Yorath may be very much a part of ITV Sport and their coverage of the Champions' League, as well as fronting On The Ball on Saturdays. But she also has a major part to play with Central at their Birmingham base and is again hosting their Sports Special programme in midweek.

The daughter of former Welsh international player Terry Yorath, she grew up with the game and claims that sets her aside as more than just a 'token' woman.

But it was in another sport that Yorath shone. She was a top gymnast and competed in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. She had her sights set on a place at the Barcelona Olympics before a back injury cut short her career.

Inevitably there will be those who believe women and football do not go together when it comes to television coverage. Yorath recognises the feeling, and is setting out to overcome it.

Yet she reckons that one bad word from her dad, now coaching at Bradford City, and she would give it up straight away.

"My dad sees me on screen and is proud of what I do, but if any of his friends said that I was embarrassing then I'd take the hint. I'm lucky in that there hasn't been too much negative reaction to me, I find you're judged on your merits and how good you are."

One of her tasks on Central is to go 'head-to-head' with seasoned soccer expert Ron Atkinson, who has little time to talk football with anyone who has less than an extensive knowledge of the game.

"I've been fine with Ron so far, he's a very funny man to work with," she said.

And Yorath revealed that Big Ron has even been helping her out with her dress sense.

"We were filming in Barcelona for the European Cup Final and Ron said to me 'You've worn that cardigan before on On The Ball, it doesn't look good, don't wear it again'.

"And I haven't. It's never seen the light of day again on television. It was funny because after what Ron had said, my boyfriend added 'I don't like it either'."

Her first regular exposure on our screens came on Sky TV, where she was given plenty of opportunity to cut her teeth on the satellite station.

"If you made a mistake, you could put it right again 30 minutes later because you were back on screen again, it was a great place to learn," she said.

"But although Sky has the big carrot of Premiership football, you never get the feeling that there are that many people watching. With terrestrial TV you know you are reaching a wider audience.

"In my first season with ITV we had the FA Cup and the European Champions League which formed two parts of Manchester United's treble. So it was very exciting."

Yorath's appearances on Sky influenced Gary Newbon and Jeff Farmer, both based at Central, to sign her for ITV. She would have been involved with their World Cup coverage last year had Sky not refused to release her from her contract.

"I desperately wanted to be a part of the World Cup, but things happen for a reason and I hope I'll do it one day," she reflected.

"I had to work out my contract for 10 months at Sky. But I didn't set out to make enemies there as they had been good to me before that."

Now she sees ITV as the place to be, particularly with the addition of Lynam to the ranks following his defection from the BBC.

"He's one of my icons, Des is not just a brilliant sports broadcaster but a brilliant broadcaster full stop," said Yorath.

"He's a performer and an entertainer too, he doesn't seem to alienate anyone. That's the universal approval which we all seek.

"But I don't think he's a promotional tool, it's not about putting one over on the BBC either. It's about having someone who's the best at what he does."
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Author:Hill, Graham
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 15, 1999
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