Kay Murray interview: Once upon a memory’s melody for the Boro girl gone global
Kay Murray had both music and football passed down to her from the beginning with sincerity, and as she’s graced television screens, airwaves and prestigious matches and events around the world since, the beIN SPORTS presenter and Middlesbrough FC devotee has carefully carried one with her on each shoulder.
At present, audiences in the U.S. and Canada are the primary beneficiaries of Kay’s presenting, getting to see her on beIN SPORTS’ The Express and Express Xtra. A highlight of a CV that needs nothing in the way of embellishment is hosting the FIFA Ballon d’Or in 2011 and 2012 alongside legendary Dutch international and 1987 winner of the award, Ruud Gullit.
Also notably a presenter for Real Madrid TV for multiple seasons, Kay’s life and career currently has her residing in Miami, although it was through her hometown club that her career had begun to gather pace. Contributing in the years since to the likes of Fox Soccer, Astro SuperSport and TalkSPORT, to name but three, Middlesbrough native Kay’s sought-after break in broadcasting came with Boro TV and she remains instantly associated with the club, regardless of how far away from England’s North East her career happens to take her.
The songs most meaningful to us unlock a hidden level of feeling and can let us connect with a time gone by in a way that just can’t happen without music. For Kay, who travelled the world in her role with Real Madrid, the various locations her life has had as its backdrop in recent years are, in many respects, all she could ever wish for. However, home can never quite be replicated and one track lets her celebrate that, as the music lover explains.
“Chris Rea’s ‘Steel River’ is a song that means a lot to me. He is Teesside born and bred; the song is about our town and how it is growing up there.
“I’m from a musical family, on both sides. Growing up, my parents played a lot of music and had quite the record collection, so we loved The Eagles, The Beatles, John Denver, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, ABBA and Dire Straits, to name but a few.
“I had the influence of my babysitters when it comes to my love of 80s classics, and as a little girl, I was a big fan of New Kids on the Block, Kylie Minogue, Madonna and Elton John. I listened to the soundtracks to films like Dirty Dancing and Grease.
“I also had a singing teacher and participated in amateur dramatics, so I knew all the songs from films and shows like The Sound of Music and West Side Story.”
That performing background has been something of a cornerstone for Kay as she has gone on to frequently have the camera and spotlight on her, before audiences of millions in various cases, such as the aforementioned Ballon d’Or galas she has hosted in Zurich. She has also been bonded with the game responsible for some of the truest moments of theatre ever produced, be it as an on-screen broadcaster, in her work behind the scenes, or as a supporter back at the Riverside Stadium or Middlesbrough’s old Ayresome Park ground, for example.
As an auditorium, the Santiago Bernabéu has pride of place in the pantheon of great footballing stadia, and one aspect of Kay’s work for Real Madrid was to deliver pitchside reports at the stunning venue. She has recalled in the past a little of the track choices she encountered from two of the club’s former players – midfielder Esteban Granero and forward Gonzalo Higuain – but as music was a huge theme of this interview we were able to further explore the backbeat of her time in the Spanish capital.
“Esteban Granero had really good taste in music, so it was always worth checking out his Twitter timeline to see what the latest song on his playlist was. I once told him about The Black Keys after a game one night and he made a note and said he would check them out.
“He did and he liked them too, so I’ll take credit for that one. I fronted a series of interviews known as the ‘Real Series’ for RMTV.
“The interviewees were the first-team players and Jose Mourinho, and each got to pick their favourite song to introduce the interview. Jose Mourinho chose Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’.
“Gonzalo Higuain – Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’, which he said he identified with. True story.
“My former flatmate in Madrid, Miranda – not the former ‘Atleti’ defender – and I once performed the Fresh Prince of Bel Air rap to a former Madrid player and backroom staff. The less said about that subject, the better!”
When Real Madrid TV’s international channel first launched, Kay auditioned and made a shortlist of around 15. Although she wasn’t to get the gig on the first attempt, the right people were subsequently now familiar with her, meaning she had her name put forward the following year and ultimately got the job.
Ahead of the 2006/07 season, Real brought in a number of notable signings, including future stars Marcelo and Gonzalo Higuain, as well as long-established names like Italy defender and Ballon d’Or recipient in waiting, Fabio Cannavaro, and Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy. It was the famous ‘Juntos Podemos’ campaign for the club, in which they managed to hunt down and successfully overhaul rivals Barcelona in the La Liga title race.
Following his brief spell of being overlooked for the England team after the 2006 FIFA World Cup, David Beckham was also seemingly on the outside of manager Fabio Capello’s plans at club level. He would eventually force his way back into international contention and also return to play a significant part in Real’s title win, although he wasn’t the only Brit putting in the graft at ‘Los Merengues’ that season.
Kay’s work for the club’s TV channel began with predominantly behind-the-scenes input and in 2007/08 she began presenting Real Madrid Life and travelling with the team. As well as Capello, she was at Real for the managerial tenures of Manuel Pellegrini, Bernd Schuster, Juande Ramos and Jose Mourinho.
It is a huge job to represent a footballing institution and brand that carries the colossal prestige of Real Madrid, so Kay most definitely earned the moments to enjoy, including on the musical side of her downtime.
“I got to see a lot of good gigs in Madrid, as often some of the newer bands and artists had not quite hit the heights there and were just starting to get popular, so it was never too busy and the shows were often quite intimate. I saw the Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, James Blake and Los Campesinos, a band that has its fair share of footie fans – shout out to Tom!”
With her command of Spanish limited to a GCSE in the subject, Kay had plenty to adapt to once she moved to the country, including going through certain formalities, which can be anything but swift and stress-free in an overseas nation. Even if you have been away from home on occasions before, going to live in an entirely new environment is undoubtedly testing.
On the career side, it was an extremely special period for Kay, in which she was able to take in a number of Clásicos. She was of course affiliated with Real but it was Barca’s Lionel Messi who was crowned the world’s best at the two Ballon d’Or galas she co-hosted and she also enjoyed some celebration of a different kind in Catalan surroundings.
“I went to the Primavera Sound Festival in 2012 in Barcelona, just to see The Weeknd. He was excellent.
“This year, I was lucky to see Kwabs perform at an event I host, the FIFA Interactive World Cup. He and his backing group are a very talented group of performers and nice people too.
“On that note, the soundtracks from the FIFA video game series are always worth downloading.”
The crossovers between football and music are seemingly endless and something as simple as watching clips of a game of yesteryear with a popular song from that time playing over it can almost feel as authentic as being transported back there. No Middlesbrough fan who followed the club during the mid-90s would ever want to let those memories fade away, as the club made headlines in the football world by bringing international standouts like Brazil midfielder Juninho and Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli to Teesside.
Born in Acklam, Kay was at Ayresome Park for the club’s final game at the ground on April 30th 1995. The penultimate fixture of Boro’s Division One title-winning season under player-manager Bryan Robson, the home side were 2-1 winners thanks to a double from John Hendrie in front of 23,903.
It was necessary to move to the Riverside for the new era to be allowed to truly unfurl, but Ayresome Park is a vital part of the club’s history and certainly has its relevance in Kay’s background. It was where she first got to regularly see her heroes in action and her childhood sweetheart also lived in a home that overlooked the ground.
Kay’s Boro love story is unconditional, through the hardships and the euphoria, and while that has its own soundtrack, so too did her teen years away from the beautiful game.
“On my 14th birthday, I went to see Take That. I also used to listen to Mariah Carey ballads to get me through the years of teenage angst!
“At secondary school, we played 2Pac and Snoop Dogg, but I was also hanging out with older people at house parties I was too young to be at, listening to ‘The House Collection’ by Allister Whitehead and Jeremy Healy. We love our house music in the north east of England!
“I don’t care for ‘music snobs’. For me, they are the fashion victims of the music world.
“Who are they to tell you what is cool and what you should and should not be listening to?!”
Kay’s experience within her sector has been somewhat comprehensive and goes back to her early newspaper work as she was looking for the opportunities to take her to the places she wanted to reach. ‘Right place at the right time’ is a phrase so often used and while Kay was at a ‘Boro Babe’ photo shoot, modelling one of the options (hers was the winner) for the club’s 2003/04 away kit, she caught up with an old family friend.
His name was Adam Nolan, the executive producer of Boro TV, and after Kay mentioned that she wanted to get into sports broadcasting he offered her two weeks of work experience. She impressed and from there she co-presented a pilot episode of a home matchday warm-up show entitled ‘Soccer Surgery’ alongside Gary Philipson.
She went on to host the show during the season and also devised much of its content. Kay’s late father was the one who had told her to apply for the competition that ultimately got her the photo shoot opportunity, and just as he passed down the Boro allegiance to her, he also introduced her to owning music, with wonderful 80s novelty value to boot!
“My dad took us out to buy our first single when I was just a little dot. I chose ‘Ghostbusters’ by Ray Parker Jr.
“He also bought me the top 40 for my eighth birthday – I thought I was a proper DJ at that point! I remember using my school dinner money to buy ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ by The Brand New Heavies and ‘Would I Lie to You?’ by Charles and Eddie on single cassette tapes.
“I also used plenty of blank tapes to record the top 40 from the radio, quickly pressing pause when the adverts and the DJ came on!”
In any great story there are the crucial elements that make it unique and as Kay discussed meetings she has had with musicians it led her back to a night that she vividly recalls. Here, the show, the artist and the time period are all closely related to each other to this day, so much so that you don’t even need to have been there to picture the scenario and its sounds and atmosphere.
In this story, it was a TV show hosted by DJ Trevor Nelson that was on the road and it brought about a chance meeting for Kay with a young UK talent who would sadly pass away in 2006 at just 31 years of age.
“In 2000, The Lick, the renowned MTV r&b show, came to a nightclub in Leeds – Majestyk. There was a live set from British soul artist Lynden David Hall.
“My friend and I left early and on our way out, we saw him leaving by a side door in the street. I was a big fan of his song ‘Sexy Cinderella’, so I called out to him to serenade us with a line from it.
“He laughed but politely said no. He turned to walk away but suddenly changed his mind, spun around and sang the opening line of the song.
“It was spontaneous, brilliant and something I will never forget.”
You can love an artist and everything they exude and put out there for the world, but some lyrics will always hit you that bit harder because they’re bringing your storylines to life right in front of you. One of the examples Kay brought up as she highlighted her best-loved lines was ‘I’d rather live in his world, than live without him in mine’ from ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ by Gladys Knight and the Pips.
“I’m obsessed with lyrics; I always have to know what the song is about and why it was written. Jeff Buckley’s lyrics were as strong as his vocals and his songs, especially in ‘Everybody Here Wants You’ and ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.’
“Anything by The Carpenters also takes me back to my childhood, because my parents had some of their LPs. Karen Carpenter is my all-time favourite female vocalist – her voice was so pure, so crystal clear and elegant.
“Just perfection. Speaking of perfection, Amy Winehouse’s version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ is the best version I have ever heard.
“’Azzurro’ by Adriano Celentano is special to me because of my special someone. My karaoke classic is ‘You’re So Vain’ by Carly Simon.
“I’m a big fan of Alex Turner’s lyrics. Thinking about it, I’m sure the self-proclaimed ‘verbal gymnast’, (beIN SPORTS colleague, fellow North East native and former player/coach) Ray Hudson would be too.
“I’ll have to play him a few Arctic Monkeys tunes.”
Kay has already touched upon her relationship with her father and his impact on her, and when it comes to lyrics that are safely sealed away and guaranteed to maintain their value to her, the most untouchable of all are reserved for him.
“’Everybody Loves You’ by Jon Anderson is special to me, because it was released the year I was born and my dad made it ‘our’ song. ‘Everybody loves you, but I just love you a little bit more’ – it’s so sweet.
“My dad passed away in early 2014, making the song even more poignant.”
The football bug that was passed on to Kay is of course something she gets to live out and dedicate so much of herself to. For all its tactical intricacies and suchlike, it is the raw emotion of football that impacts upon us the most.
We remember the visions we had with the ball at our feet as youngsters and the rush of good times that followed as we started to grow up with the game, and of course, how it felt when fortunes were not so kind. Brazil 2014 was the first World Cup Kay got to be at, for beIN SPORTS, after dreaming since childhood of witnessing the biggest tournament live.
Her first game was the group encounter between Spain and the Netherlands in Salvador. The Dutch trounced the holders 5-1 and thanks to broadcast duties, Kay and those she was with got into the Arena Fonte Nova as Robin van Persie scored his excellent diving header.
Those weeks were bustling with colour and celebration and Kay admits she was overcome with emotion while watching her first game as the realisation that she was finally at the World Cup took hold. It was a fantastic tournament and every bit the festival of football fans had hoped for.
For English supporters, we still await a World Cup to measure up to the victorious 1966 tournament or the enrapturing semi-final run in 1990. With official songs for the competition, one stands out that bit higher than the competition for Three Lions fans and it was Kay’s choice when asked which song of any type she’d go for if she could record a cover version.
“I would do New Order’s ‘World in Motion’ with the players from England’s Italia ‘90 team. I’ve met a fair few of them and I’m always a little awe-struck.
“I would have to join John Barnes on the rap though, or the deal would be off! I once performed it for my friends, the Men in Blazers, on their radio show.
“If I could choose any song to accompany the players emerging from the tunnel for El Clásico, it would have to be N.E.R.D.’s ‘Rock Star’, or at least to play over the extended highlights package. Just one time is all I ask!
“It would be epic. The angry musical intro and the line, ‘You can’t be me, I’m a rock star,’ as the camera zooms in on Ronaldo and Messi!
“Also, why can’t we have Serie A-style anthems in all top leagues, like Juve’s ‘Storia Di Un Grande Amore’ and Milan’s ‘Himno del Milan’ or Roma’s ‘Roma, Roma, Roma’? They are proper power ballads that Meat Loaf would be proud of.
“But, let’s not get too carried away – nothing beats the John Barnes rap.”
It goes without saying that Kay is Boro until the end, although as any English football romantic who experienced just some of Paul Gascoigne’s dazzling midfield ability and Sir Bobby Robson’s footballing life will attest to, club rivalry is transcended when it comes to such special memories. As well as her fond recollections of ‘Gazza’, Kay’s interview with the latter helped land her a job on a newspaper she was on trial at, and her dad also received treatment at the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in Newcastle.
“My interview with Sir Bobby Robson in 2005 meant so much to me. I honestly felt like I was walking on air after it.”
Kay has previously been involved in Middlesbrough’s bid for city status and no matter where she ventures in between her trips home she is still treated the same as she always was by those she knows. On the football side, Boro is woven into the identity of the town and it is something Kay has never come close to forgetting.
“The club means everything to me, because it’s a part of who I am – my hometown, the team I grew up supporting, the team my granpop followed. The team that entertained the football world in the mid-90s.
“Our team unites the surrounding area and we agree that we have the best chairman in football, in Steve Gibson. I will always remember my mum letting me take the morning off school to go and queue up outside Ayresome Park for tickets to see Manchester United play us in Clayton Blackmore’s testimonial.
“The reason my mum let me do so was because she had done the same when George Best and United came to town, when she was a teenager! I still maintain a great relationship with Boro today.
“In fact, I recently became an ambassador for the club’s official charity, the MFC Foundation.”
The UEFA Cup run of 2005/06 lives with Boro fans, for the away trips, the triumphs over the likes of Stuttgart and Roma, and the improbable second-leg turnarounds against Basel in the quarter-final and Steaua Bucharest in the semi. Those comebacks were both at the Riverside and both from three goals down, before the final defeat to Sevilla in Eindhoven.
The Steaua tie was a favourite for Kay, and while Boro have spent many years at the top level in her lifetime, the runs that saw them reach the FA Cup final in 1997 and the League Cup final in 1998, as well as the feat of winning the latter in 2004, are undeniably special. Kay has seen her team in numerous finals, which is more than many fans ever get to say about their team, but winning one is the ultimate, especially as the first major trophy in the club’s history, as she fondly recalls.
“I was at the final against Bolton in Cardiff in 2004. We scored two in less than ten minutes (through Joseph-Désiré Job and Boudewijn Zenden), which sent us into a state of delirium, but just after the 20th minute, we conceded through a goalkeeping error.
“I suffered for the rest of the game, and couldn’t fully enjoy it as I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the referee to blow the final whistle. Once he did, the celebrations were wonderful, but the minute the players left the pitch, I wanted to be 300 miles away, back at home, celebrating with everyone in our hometown.”
During Kay’s time at Real Madrid, current Boro boss Aitor Karanka was Jose Mourinho’s assistant, so when he was appointed at the Riverside in 2013, Kay was naturally the first person certain outlets contacted for thoughts. Last season was an extremely memorable one for Boro, although also devastating as they were beaten by Norwich City in the Championship play-off final.
There seems plenty of reason to believe they will be strong challengers for promotion again this time, but imagine having to present to an expectant audience while your team competes at Wembley for a place in the Premier League! That was what Kay had to contend with and she describes how her on-screen professionalism was put to the test.
“This year, I hosted the Championship play-off final on beIN SPORTS USA. All my family were at Wembley for the game, while I was in a TV studio thousands of miles away, having to maintain my composure while my little heart was bleeding!
“That was tough.”
Of course Kay’s image has become known as her career has progressed but a fact that should never be glossed over is the years of groundwork, practice and unseen efforts she has dedicated to her profession. Three years ago, she guest hosted Astro SuperSport’s Euro 2012 coverage in Malaysia having already been their weekly Spanish football correspondent for the channel’s FourFourTwo Eurozone.
In Munich in May, she hosted the FIFA Interactive World Cup for the third year running and also presented Planet Chile with Matt Critchley for beIN during the recent Copa America. Almost regardless of your subject area, once you become known to a large amount of people there are many who reach out to you for advice, plenty who look up to you, and unfortunately, some who aren’t out to help you thrive.
Kay reflects on what her career so far has taught her the most and shares a little of the mindset that has kept her on a successful path when it is so easy to veer off course.
“To help other people in the business, especially those starting out or looking to get their foot in the door. It matters to me, because someone once helped me when they didn’t have to.
“That person didn’t go back on their word. I never forgot that and have always paid it forward since then.
“I also make sure I give advice, information and help to those I work with, whenever I can. Sadly, you can’t always trust everyone in this field and you sometimes see that others’ intentions are not always well-placed in such a career-ambitious world.
“What’s important is that you stay focused, remain true to yourself and trust your own ability. That’s the best way for things to fall into place.
“I find the mantra ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ pretty accurate.”
Looking back at her time with Real Madrid TV, Kay feels her life was perhaps weighted too heavily towards her work, while now it has more of the necessary balance, although the studying and taking in of football never truly stops when it is a life love. Living in Miami has its obvious and considerable perks, even with the extreme unpredictability of the city’s drivers, as Kay has found!
She also loves water parks, so that only adds to the Floridian appeal. The enormous rise of social media in recent years means that people can get more of a feel than ever before with regard to the lives of well-known personalities away from their work. However, there is still a sizeable amount that fans and followers may not be aware of, so Kay lifts the lid a little further on how her time tends to be spent.
“It’s pretty much five full days a week at work – a nightly news/magazine-style sports show and the weekend highlights round-up show. My schedule goes well beyond the hours I am actually at work and always has.
“I do interviews and radio shows away from work and constantly have to stay up-to-date with not one, but five big leagues, sometimes more. I have to have a good understanding of even more teams on top of that, including international sides, because we cover major international tournaments and qualifiers.
“Realistically, if I’m lucky, and there’s no live football on, I get one full day to myself each week, because I’m already prepping and researching on one of those days that I’m not scheduled to come in. That’s why it’s best if football is your hobby and passion.
“That way, it never feels like work.”
A trip through time, tracks and memories, with cameos from some worthy characters, it is fitting to round off the interview with Kay’s very own supergroup, packed with different elements and levels of artistry. Over the past few years on here, players have been asked to select fantasy 5-a-side line-ups comprising themselves and four of their teammates from any time in their career.
Now it is Kay’s turn and the rules are simple – any five Boro players she has seen play live for the club. Here is her multi-national quintet, with ‘The Little Fella’ as chief orchestrator in the middle. Let the nostalgia flow!
“I will choose players I always enjoyed watching; some of my personal favourites over the years that I think would fit into an attack-minded 5-a-side team nicely. This side would be likely to entertain too.
“Fabrizio Ravanelli (striker) – we would be guaranteed goals and a trademark celebration to boot. Juninho (midfielder) – the Brazilian is an absolute hero on Teesside.
“We weren’t used to seeing a player like him, not in our team anyway. His passion for the club and the area made him even more special to us than he already was.
“He would bring some Brazilian flair to the 5-a-side set-up. John Hendrie (forward) – I used to have fun working with him during my Boro TV days and a lot of fun watching him when I was a kid.
“He also scored one of the best ever goals at Ayresome Park (versus Millwall). Franck Queudrue (defender) – a fan favourite who would give his all on the pitch and was a cheeky chappy off it.
“He scored against our rivals Sunderland on his home debut for us. He would also bring a bit of aggression and a bite to the five!
“Mark Schwarzer (goalkeeper) – for all that he did for us during our most successful period, including the way he recovered after the aforementioned Carling Cup final mistake.”
To catch each of these interviews in future, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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Kay’s ‘Madrid days playlist’
Grace Kelly – Mika
You’re Not Alone – Mads Langer
Ayo Technology – Milow
We are the People – Empire of the Sun
Se Parece Mas a Ti – Jambao
Heads Will Roll – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
When You Were Young – The Killers
Foreign Language – Flight Facilities
Girls Like You – The Naked and Famous
Undertow – Warpaint
Ghost Train – Summer Camp
Anyone’s Ghost – The National
Go Outside – Cults
Ex Lover – Friendly Fires
Sweet Disposition – The Temper Trap
Cigarettes – Russian Red
You Only Live Once – The Strokes
World News – Local Natives
Dancing on My Own – Robyn
Boots of Spanish Leather – Bob Dylan
Kay’s MTV/VH1 teenage years playlist:
Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime (Archive Series compilation) – The Korgis
Don’t Speak – No Doubt
Love U More – Sunscreem
Female of the Species – Space
Stupid Girl – Garbage
Searching – China Black
Hideaway – De’Lacy
Distant Sun – Crowded House
She’s Electric – Oasis
Talk Show Host – Radiohead
Get Along With You – Kelis
Big Pimpin’ – Jay-Z ft.UGK
Set You Free – N-Trance ft.Kelly Llorenna
Dub Be Good To Me – Beats International (Kay: “I remember being very young when it was released, but it was played a lot throughout the whole decade.”)
Keep up-to-date with Kay on Twitter and on her website