From University to the Champions League – Leila focuses on a career in sports photography

News Page 14th June 2017

Covering a Champions League quarter final on Spanish soil and a showpiece final at the home of English football are just two of the highlights for budding sports photographer Leila Coker – and she’s not even graduated yet.

The final year photography student from the University of Northampton has combined her studies with snapping sporting events, and she’s already had a taste of the big occasions.

Her latest big assignment was Leicester City’s Champions League quarter-final first-leg showdown with Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderón, after she was invited by the Foxes to cover the game for them.

Leila’s also got the 2015 Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley under her belt, along with a clutch of Premier League and Football League games, which she has covered for PHC Images.com photo agency.

2015 Women’s FA Cup Final photo by Leila Coker

2015 Women’s FA Cup Final photo by Leila Coker

She said: “My photos have been published in the national press, including The Guardian, Daily Mail and The Sun, plus I’ve taken pictures for football weeklies The Non-League Paper and The League Paper.

“Now I’ve come to the end of my course I’m looking to increase the amount of agency work I do, and hopefully I can earn a living as a full-time sports photographer.”

Leila cut her teeth in sports photography by covering non-league football matches and women’s games, including those for Watford, the club she supports, and Northampton Town.

“Having an eye for a good photo is great, but it’s not enough to break into the industry,” said Leila.

“It’s very much about hard work, determination and above all, making useful contacts.”

Leila’s first break came when working behind the bar of her local pub, which was where she bumped into former Watford goalkeeper Alec Chamberlain, who is now keeper coach for the Hornets.

She said: “He was one of my heroes as a player, and we got chatting and he introduced me to Watford’s photographer. Before I knew it I was covering a Championship game at Vicarage Road. It was a real buzz as I’d been to the ground as a supporter so many times and all of a sudden I was there just behind the touchline with my camera doing what I had always dreamed of doing.”

While the score didn’t go down well with Leila – “we lost 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday and our manager Gianfranco Zola resigned two days later” – there was a positive result off the pitch, as she was then invited back by the club to cover Watford Ladies’ matches.

Now, as she prepares to graduate, Leila’s looking forward to the build up to the new football season, and has her sights set on jetting out to Russia next year for the 2018 World Cup Finals.

“It would be a dream to cover a World Cup,” said Leila. “I’ve had a taste of shooting games with big crowds and I want more. Being in a full Vicente Calderón stadium for a Champions League game was an experience I will never forget. Being pitchside in an atmosphere like that can be totally mesmerising.”

You can see more of Leila’s sports photography on her website.

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