Before becoming the host of the Express Xtra in Miami for beIN Sport USA, Kay Murray was the senior presenter at Real Madrid TV for six years, in which she was the host of Extra Time as well as the Real series where she regularly interviewed the club’s manager and top players. In addition, Kay served as the pitch-side reporter for Real Madrid on match days, both home and away, as well as during pre-season tours of the U.S.
Kay Murray has traveled the entire world. She started covering her passion of football from her hometown of Middlesbrough, where her club symbolizes where her love of football began with, she then moved to the Santiago Bernabeu, where she spent the bulk of her career covering the European powerhouse, Real Madrid. Then to the United States, where she is seen by a North American audience on beIN Sports in sunny Florida. She has interviewed some of football's biggest names including the late Sir Bobby Robson, Jose Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka for TV shows and specialist documentaries.
More importantly, however, her biggest achievement to date was when she was the co-host of the prestigious FIFA Ballon d'Or awards gala in 2011 and 2012, honoring the world’s top football player of the year alongside 1987 winner Ruud Gullit, in which Lionel Messi won both editions.
Born and raised in Middlesbrough, she grew up supporting her hometown club and watched her first ever international tournament as a child, Italia 90, where England reached fourth place in that FIFA World Cup under the great Sir Bobby Robson. 24 years on, she would go to her first World Cup in Brazil, this time to carry out what was her dream job. A graduate of the National Council for the Training of Journalists in the United Kingdom, in addition to her Real Madrid TV duties, Kay has also contributed to TalkSport’s popular UK radio show Sports Bar, and satellite channel Astro SuperSport in Malaysia. She has been featured on a number of U.S. based radio stations and podcasts as well, including the popular Beyond the Pitch podcast. Kay has also become a contributing writer to several U.S. based and international football news sites.
How did you get your big break at Real Madrid TV and fall in love with the club?
Kay: "I auditioned when the international channel first launched and I got down to what I believe to be the last 15 but didn’t make the final cut. Then the next year, a position became available. There were people in the channel that knew about me, so they put my name forward, and I got the job.
My first season in 2006-07 was spent behind the scenes really; writing and editing packages, doing lots of research and reporting off camera. The next season was when I started hosting one of the shows called Real Madrid Live, which is a behind the scenes style show, that’s when my ‘break’ if you will, came about. I started traveling with the team and doing pitchside reporting.
"It’s really difficult to work for a club and not get attached to them. My first season was a really famous one because it was known as the "Juntos Podemos" season and in the final run of that campaign, Real Madrid caught up with Barcelona and kept it that way right until the final day, when they were level on points. They both won on that date, but Madrid claimed the title on the head-to-head rule. It was the whole romance of that final run, and the players that made up the squad, like Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, Fabio Cannavaro, Raul and Ruud Van Nistelrooy."
Describe your relationship with Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo whilst working there at RMTV.
Kay: "I was at Madrid during the stints of Manuel Pellegrini, Juande Ramos, Bernd Schuster and Fabio Capello - whom I have to admit, I was terrified of. They didn’t really speak English to the press, so I didn’t have much contact with them.
Jose Mourinho made an effort to get to know everyone. Many had talked about Mourinho making his players feel special, but it’s something that extends beyond his players to his staff and all who had something to do with the club.
So when I went with the club to pre-season in Los Angeles in 2011, I was the only female on that plane.
Jose realized that I was a bit outnumbered and made me feel more comfortable, making sure I was okay throughout the trip. He was really kind, but later when things started to turn a little bit sour with him and the club, he became more defensive with the media including the club station, so I had a few minor battles with him in the press conferences.
I have always respected him as a person, and I think a lot of people forget just how much he changed the mentality at the club back then. Madrid had failed to get to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for six successive seasons, but when he took over, he led them straight to the semis.
Cristiano Ronaldo is often portrayed as the pantomime villain and I can see how it can appear that way sometimes, but he’s actually a very nice person. There’s a lot of charity work he’s done, that I know about, that didn’t even hit the headlines. I know some personal friends of his who he’s helped beyond belief in this aspect.
Even if he didn’t want to give an interview to you in the mixed zone, he’d usually tell you why, say he was sorry and try to speak to you the next week. It was only when he arrived in Madrid, that I realized just how in demand he was. Everybody wanted to stop him and speak to him all the time, and I wouldn’t want to even imagine what it’s like to live with that level of fame - to be in constant demand. I know he can be a polarizing character, but behind the scenes, he’s fun, he’s very family-oriented and he has a good sense of humor.''
What’s Lionel Messi like?
Kay: "I pretty much only ever saw Lionel Messi at Clasico games, except for the two times I hosted the Ballon d'Or when he won two of his haul of four golden balls. I didn’t host the last two galas and Messi didn’t win in the last two either. Given my history with Real Madrid, it’s quite ironic really. Of the times I have met him, he was always very polite and always had a smile, so at face value, he’s a good guy.
After Barca beat Real Madrid 6-2 at the Bernabeu, he passed us in the private mixed-zone area for RMTV. I thought maybe I should get a picture with him because this was before I had any idea I would be hosting any Ballon D’Or ceremony and thought I might never get this opportunity again. I said "Oh, can I get a picture with you please?’’ And he said "With me?", as if it was a surprise that I wanted a picture with him because I was holding a Real Madrid microphone. But, that’s a nice little anecdote to tell people. Messi and Ronaldo may be super famous, but underneath it all, they’re just normal guys."
Talk about your time hosting those two Ballon d'Or ceremonies, do you feel that it confirmed your status for your career as a well-known journalist around the world?
Kay: "Hosting the gala was the best thing I’ve ever done in my career. Particularly the first one, because to do it for the first time was very special. The only way I can describe it, as a football fan myself, was by comparing it to the Woody Allen film 'Midnight in Paris' with Owen Wilson as the protagonist. When it strikes midnight in the film, his character - a screenwriter - goes back in time and meets all the most amazing actors and artists from the past.
I related my experience to that, because when you’re actually there at the gala, everywhere you look you see some of the most famous world class players of past and present - Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit. It’s surreal.
The ceremony was amazing, but then you have a dinner afterward and I shared a table with Gullit and Van Basten. They were telling stories about their time at Milan, so in my mind, I’m thinking "If anybody ruins this conversation, I think I’m going to prod them with my fork!"
When you ask if raised my status, I think so, yes. That and the rise of the social media bubble, because it gave me the chance to showcase my knowledge and skills in my profession to a much bigger audience."
Do you see yourself as an influence for various young women who want to go into the career of football journalism?
Kay: "I do and it’s very important to see myself as an influence for young men too. It’s really nice when I get young guys asking me for advice as it shows that you can look beyond gender and admire somebody’s career for what it is. When it does come to women yes, definitely. There are some great young women that are upcoming and maybe not on the radar of some people yet, but that’s why social media is so great. I can talk to a lot of female fans and journalists who grew up just like me, going to matches with their families and friends and talking about the game they love.
I hope I can influence them and I try my best to help these young women when they ask for advice because I found it really difficult to know who to ask when I was growing up. Hopefully, I, along with many of my peers, are paving the way for more women to make their names in sports broadcasting."
Is there ever a downside to your job?
Kay: "Yes, there are a few, funnily enough. First of all, when you have got personal issues, it’s very difficult to turn on a smile in front of the cameras, but it’s part of the job.
The other thing is that the opportunities have tended to come so far away from home for me like Madrid, Malaysia, and Miami, and I always wish I could be closer to my family. Also, I was often warned that the more your profile rises, the more people want you. I always thought that referred to material things, and that’s not really the case, it’s often favors, questions about something you can’t really help with, a recommendation etc. I find that side of things difficult sometimes, because it can be constant and tiring and because I’m a person that tries to accommodate others. It’s part of the job I suppose.’’
Being in Miami, what do you miss the most about England and Madrid?
Kay: "Aside from friends and family, the easy answer for both is the match day experience. I hope Miami get an MLS team, but right now I really miss the Bernabeu or the Riverside, or just any stadium I’ve been to. I miss that ritual of going to games, singing songs, meeting your friends before and afterward. I miss British TV as well."
Describe Miami, Middlesbrough, and Madrid in a few words.
Kay: "Growing up in Middlesbrough gave me a sense of identity, especially as a fan of football. We are a resilient bunch and being raised there toughened me up and gave me my sense of humor. It definitely made me who I am today.
Madrid was a life-changing time for me because that’s when I got to travel the world with my job. It was there I really learned how the business works and how to think on my feet, so my time at Madrid definitely molded my career.
Here in Miami, I’m at a time in my life where I have found some balance between my professional life and my personal life. I knew in Madrid that I was focusing far too much on my career - which was really taking off, but also taking up all my spare time. These days I try to put myself first, more. Miami is kind of my mini paradise."
What do you like the most about Miami, besides your job?
Kay: "The weather! I grew up in the north-east of England so I’m not used to a lot of sunshine. I also love being able to share my knowledge and first-hand experience of European football with the North American audience. I’m always impressed by the knowledge that the fans here have when it comes to the teams in Europe.
They’ll pick you up straight away if you say something wrong or you miss something and I think that’s amazing because to grow up in a country where soccer is not the number one, two, three or even four, sport, you have to be a super fan to follow it so religiously. It’s a little different these days, however, as it’s growing so fast."
What do you think has to be done for the United States to win a World Cup in the future?
Kay: "It’s even hard to tell you what needs to be done for my own country, England to win a World Cup. I definitely do see good things happening for the USA. This country is so advanced in terms of sports health and fitness, it's at the forefront in those areas. There needs to be a strong focus on how to bring through more homegrown players and ensure these kids choose the sport ahead of other sports. You look at recent winners in international tournaments and one common factor is that a large number of the players in those teams have come through the ranks together and have played together on a domestic level too.
I understood where Jurgen Klinsmann was coming from when he said that he wanted more of his players to play in the Champions League, because of the experience that it brings you. MLS is growing so fast as well, and attracting bigger names. That’s definitely a good thing."
Who was your biggest influence professionally?
Kay: "Paul Gascoigne. It’s such a shame to see how things have turned out in his life and I hope he’s doing well. He was everything to young football fans growing up in England. He could do things that other players couldn’t and he was also a lot of fun. Kids love seeing characters like that who are cheeky in interviews. He was always clowning around and I absolutely loved him.
Also, Sir Bobby Robson, the England manager in 1990 was an amazing man. I had the fortune of interviewing him in 2005. He was fantastic and he has actually played a strange role in my life because I was obsessed with England in Italia 90 when they captured the heart of a nation under his management. My interview with him then secured me a job on a newspaper I was on trial at. That job really helped me cut my teeth in the written journalism world.
Then, when my father was ill, before he passed away, he was getting treatment at the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in Newcastle, a charity which has become the great coach’s legacy. It’s strange how he's had this influential role throughout my life, even though I only met him once."
When and why did you realize that you wanted to work in football media?
Kay: "I knew I wanted to work in football, so I looked at avenues to do a football business management course and try to work behind the scenes at a football club.
I applied to so many magazines in my late teens, just trying to get some work experience, such as contributing to non-league football newspapers or helping out on sports desks. That’s when I started to realize that maybe this was the way to go - the journalistic side of things.
I wanted to make a career out of my hobby and passion. When I was in my late teens, I started to see more and more women in sports broadcasting, not to the extent you see now, but more women talking about football.
I started to pursue opportunities and look at how to get into the journalism world. TV wasn’t necessarily my aim, even when I was studying journalism, I was focusing on print and radio, but I wouldn’t change it now because I love talking about football on TV and meeting the people I meet. But I’d be happy in print or broadcast, just so long as I was focusing on football."
What do you think of Patrick Bamford’s season and do you feel he can make it at Chelsea?
Kay: "He has an exciting future ahead of him. There’s so much to talk about with Bamford. Sometimes I’d see him have the courage to try things that only the most confident players would attempt, things beyond his years - I’m not talking so much in a tactical sense, but more the risks I’ve seen him take for someone so young. It’s refreshing.
He’s also shown his ‘clutchness' on a number of occasions, like his goal against Derby County and his brace against Ipswich Town. He scored at the Etihad against Manchester City in the FA Cup, as well as in the Capital One Cup at Anfield against Liverpool.
I think with what’s he achieved this past season, he’s definitely worth looking at and I know fair few teams are said to be monitoring his situation. I know it’s very hard to break into the Chelsea squad, but that’s what Patrick said he would love to do. I hope eventually he does get his chance at Chelsea, but I would love him to stay at Boro a bit longer.’’
How amazed are you of Aitor Karanka’s success at the club so far?
Kay: "I’m pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say that I didn’t think he would do well because I used to work with Aitor when he was Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid. So, when he signed for Middlesbrough, all the local press rang me to get the story so they could get my take on it.
What he’s brought to Middlesbrough is something special. He’s someone the players can look up to. A young upcoming manager, with a strong resume as a player and a coach. It’s also interesting how strong we have been defensively, given he was a defender during his playing days. At the other end of the pitch, it’s been good to see some of the slick passing that was on display this past season. I keep in touch with a lot of people involved at Boro. I know that Aitor really likes it there and that he’s being treated very well by the club and the fans."
How and why do you think Real Madrid’s season has fizzled out so dramatically and how do you think they need to rectify it in the summer?
Kay: ''Well, there was obviously a bad vibe towards the end of the season, as there were clearly problems within the squad. Many of the fans were very negative in the final run of the campaign and the press were speculating on every little thing, even more so than usual.
Carlo Ancelotti and his coaching staff knew a number of the players were tired at the end of last year, having played in the World Cup and gone all the way to the Champions League final. Then, there were the games over Christmas. Injuries played a huge part in the outcome of the season too, so all in all you had the recipe for a difficult second half of the season.
I think letting Ancelotti go was a big mistake, but I also think it’s not fair to write Rafa Benitez off before he’s even had started his work with the team.
Benitez now really needs to get the players on his side and continue the good work that Ancelotti had done in getting them to play for each other, as a team.
I think Madrid could do with an out and out striker because if you look at the attacking caliber they have, everyone can score, you have the BBC, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Isco, Luka Modric, they can all score and create goals. But sometimes they’re playing outside of their actual roles. I think they need a backup, someone whose main role is to score those goals. There’s been a lot of talk about Cristiano playing as a number nine in Benitez’s XI. It’s going to be an interesting summer.
Real Madrid can always bounce back, but nothing ever really changes, I don’t think they’ll ever stop being a club that goes and gets the biggest and best players. It’s funny when they get criticized for that because they never really pretended to be anything else. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but there’s never a dull moment. It would also be nice for the board and the president to hear the fans and the players out, but that’s another story."
Do you think they are any Castilla players that are capable of playing on the first team for the next few seasons? What do you believe is the situation with Martin Odegaard’s future?
Kay: ‘’It’s quite hard now because I used to be able to keep a close eye on the Cantera players whilst I was working for RMTV and with all the other leagues that I have to follow now, like Serie A, Ligue 1, Championship, it’s hard to keep up with it these days.
With Martin Odegaard, I do know from my friends who commentate on Castilla and still work at the club, that they have seen some special moments from him, as we did in the recent Norway-Sweden friendly. He’s on the pre-season squad, but maybe a stint on loan wouldn’t be the worst thing for him right now. Villarreal is a team mentioned and for me, a team that is perfect for young players to be given their chance and develop as a player. I hope that his future is with Real Madrid. He needs to be patient, but the club needs to remember why they went out of their way to get him in the first place and ensure that the next step is for the good of both parties with a mutual goal in mind.''
What do you think was the situation with Gareth Bale last season?
Kay: "I’ve seen what has happened with Bale happen with a number of players over the years, players who are now fan favorites. I’m glad to see Steve McManaman speak out this week in support of Bale staying put. You see, McManaman is someone that Bale could learn a lot from to help make his time in Madrid easier and get some of the most fickle fans back on his side.
You have to do everything you can to make things work and Macca was the best example for British players that decide to go to a foreign club. You have to do everything you can to integrate yourself into the new culture, like learning to speak the language as quick, or at least as best, as you can.
It’s imperative and so many British players find it difficult to do. Macca showed that once you do embrace the culture, it’s easier to get the locals on your side and it makes life not only more stress-free but also more simple. I’m not a superstar player, but I have my own experience of this.
It would be nice to see Gareth back to his best because people have short memories in football. In his first season, he scored against Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final and his Champions League final goal in extra time was crucial. You can’t just forget that. I just hope the Bernabeu faithful will get behind him again and support him more because it would definitely help matters on the pitch, I’m sure."
How does it feel to work with such an incredible staff at beIN Sport?
Kay with Ian Joy and Andres Cordero
Kay: "It’s great because they are all really lovely people as well. To go to work and see these people who are positive, fun and happy is always a lovely thing. Everyone loves Ray Hudson, of course! But the whole team are good people. For me, though, the one person that really makes my day every time I’m at work and every time I was on the air with him is Ian Joy, he’s like a brother to me. I love his energy and enthusiasm, he always keeps things positive and I know I can throw anything at him and he can handle it with ease. Away from work, his wife is one of my best friends here. I really appreciate them both and really miss them when they or I am away."
The Copa America is underway and the World Cup qualifiers are coming up in South America, what are your expectations for both of them?
Kay: ‘’I think it’s going to be amazing. For the average football fan, it’s the chance to see some of the best players in the world on one stage again. I think Brazil will have to come back and erase the image they left at the World Cup last year. I’m interested to see what happens with them.
Colombia is a team that everybody likes to watch, not least for their epic goal celebrations. It was brilliant to see them capture the hearts of all the fans in the World Cup, they were really fun to follow.
Argentina? Let’s see if they can do something this time because it was so hard for them to get so close to World Cup glory and end up as runners-up. It’s no secret that’s on their minds and they want to go all the way this summer. Tata Martino has stated that this generation of players can’t come to the end of their cycle without winning an international major trophy and you’d have to agree with him. With the players they have in their squad, they are definitely going to be tough to beat.’’
You left Real Madrid TV the season before Madrid won La Decima. As a Madridista, how did it feel for you personally to have won that after 12 years?
Kay: ‘’It was amazing but very tough for me because I barely missed a game in all that time. In fact in my final years at RMTV, I was kind of ready for a change, but then Mourinho came in and I thought ‘’Well, I’m definitely not going anywhere now.’’ But part of the reason I did stay, was because I would always think ‘’Maybe one more season, this could be the season for La Decima.
So to leave and then see them win it was so hard because I couldn’t get to the game. It was bittersweet because it was amazing to watch them do it from my sofa, and I knew eventually it would happen, but it just felt that it was a tough pill to swallow, not being there. Obviously, I wanted them to win it, I wouldn’t want it any other way, but I couldn’t believe after so long, working so closely with them, I didn’t get to witness it live.''
Who do you think wins the Ballon D’Or at the start of the new year?
Kay: ‘’If it’s going the way it is now, then it could well be Messi again because you obviously have to look at the player and all he has achieved this year and regardless of what happens in the Copa, he’s been sensational. The Copa America will also showcase others who’ve been brilliant this term, like Carlos Tevez, Neymar, and Alexis Sanchez. I think Ronaldo will always be up there, but obviously, it’s much more difficult when things aren’t going well, even though they say it takes the whole year into account, you can’t really win anything at the backend of the year.''
How impressed have you been of England’s qualification so far for Euro 2016?
Kay: ''It has not been the most difficult of groups, but Roy Hodgson’s men have looked convincing. The job is almost done but it’s what happens in the tournament that matters. I hope then they can impress us all. I always try to stay positive with England. In fact, I once started a hashtag with ‘’England Positivity’’!
How did it feel to experience your first ever World Cup in Brazil last summer?
Kay: ‘’It was amazing! It was my dream since 1990 to make it to a World Cup and despite all the brilliant things I’ve been able to do in my career, I’d never been to a World Cup. The fact that my first one was in Brazil made it worth the wait.
My first game was Spain-Netherlands (5-1). Due to some problems we had, we actually didn’t get into the stadium in time for kick-off because we’re obviously doing reports and getting them sent everywhere. Just as we got into the stadium, Robin Van Persie scored the flying header and it was just the most incredible moment. That was the first thing we saw, that and what they always tell you - that in the stands, it’s just a sea of a color.
It’s like a party atmosphere and so many of the games lived up to expectations for a World Cup in Brazil. I was so overwhelmed, I had tears in my eyes and for about 20 minutes, I couldn’t actually fight the emotion because it was just that feeling of ‘’Wow, all of these years I’ve waited to be here and here I am and it’s an epic game that I am as well!’’ It wasn’t what I expected, I expected my first game to be an England game in a World Cup, that wasn’t the case, I didn’t see them at all, except for on the TV!''
Lastly, what advice do you have for journalists?
Kay: ‘’My biggest piece of advice is gaining work experience, paid or not. I was an intern on The Observer sports desk in England when I was studying journalism and it really helped me because you got to watch the people who are the top of their game at close hand. You got to help them, see the way they researched things and read their stories. It really helped.
You also have to make some things happen for yourself. There are so many avenues open now for young, journalists. Particularly with the rise of social media. You can blog, you can set up a YouTube channel, anything that helps raise your profile in a positive way. You have to think outside the box and if you are not finding a way in, then be prepared to do something for yourself.''
For more on Kay, follow her on Twitter @KayLMurray and be sure to watch her during the entire Copa America as she co-hosts the ‘’Planet Chile’’ show on beIN Sports (7 AM EST) with Matt Critchley @MattCritchley1 which will bring you up to date on all the Copa games, news, media. Packed with fun, fans and of course, football.