Kay Murray – Fantasy Football

From Middlesbrough to Miami via Madrid, Kay Murray recounts the story of a fairytale rise that’s the match of any Hollywood-style football fantasy…

As life-changing moments go, it was an inauspicious start. Back in 2003, Kay Murray was an out-of-work 21-year-old when she was one of several young Teessiders selected for a voluntary assignment to model Middlesbrough Football Club’s new-look away kit.

Fifteen years later, Kay lives in Miami where she is a football presenter for an international sports broadcaster, having previously rubbed shoulders with football glitterati during a six-year spell with Real Madrid TV.

And none of it would have happened, she insists, had she not sent in her photograph to the MFC Media Department for the chance to be a ‘Boro Babe’ alongside other young hopefuls keen to enjoy a touch of limelight at their local football club.

“It was the biggest break of all,” she reflects with an infectious smile as we chat in an executive box overlooking the Riverside Stadium’s hallowed turf. “It was a complete turning point. It sent me on the path to the career I’ve got now.”

There’s no doubting that Kay’s story has a touch of the fairytale to it. Having applied for the Boro role only because she had time on her hands after being made redundant from her London property job, within weeks she was presenting for the club’s in-house television station, Boro TV. And so began an incredible journey from Middlesbrough to Miami via Madrid.

“Getting that role as a Boro Babe really did change my life,” reflects the lifelong Boro fan. “I do have to pinch myself sometimes.”

Brought up in Acklam, she was a childhood friend and neighbour of BBC business presenter Steph McGovern.

“We lived on Wheatley Close, near the Avenue of Trees, while Steph was a two-minute walk around the corner on Malvern Drive,” says Kay. “She is a year younger than me but she played in our garden nearly every day.” Later, the pair caught the bus to Macmillan College together each day and remain good friends.

Kay caught the football bug from her grandfather. “My Granpop used to look after us a lot,” she says. “He loved football and we loved him. I realised if you sat and watched the football with him he’d talk to you. That was when I started to get into football.”

Her Boro break came soon after she’d been made redundant from her job as a property secretary in Mayfair.

She recalls: “Dad had seen in the paper that Boro were looking for people to model the kit. He knew I fancied the world of sports entertainment so he said ‘Why not give it a shot and see where it takes you?’ I sent a few pictures in and it went from there. It was perfect timing.”

She was asked to take part in a photo shoot at the studios of Boro TV, home of football’s first-ever club channel.

Fate again played a hand as the station’s executive producer was another former Acklam neighbour, Adam Nolan, who invited her for a stint of works experience. Kay landed her first football role presenting Boro TV’s Soccer Surgery show, broadcast live each Friday night from the salubrious surroundings of Dr Brown’s pub in central Middlesbrough.

“It was like Soccer am meets TFI Friday,” she smiles, recalling her raw but enthusiastic TV breakthrough.

“I cringe when I look back at myself on some of my early shows on Boro TV. I can’t bear to watch it.”

She stayed with the station for only a season before handing in her notice to return to London to study journalism – funding her studies by presenting on live shopping channel, Bid-Up TV.

Kay bagged her first job as a trained journalist on The Hendon Times in north-west London. Then, just nine months later, she made the amazing leap to Real Madrid TV, the Spanish football club’s first international channel. “When I told the editor, he said ‘In my 25 years as an editor a lot of people have come in and told me they were leaving but no one has ever left for such a great job’.”

Having initially been employed behind the scenes to write news bulletins, she rose to host the English-speaking channel’s flagship show, travelling with the star-studded team throughout the world during a six-year stay in the Spanish capital.

Name-dropping time! Kay rubbed shoulders with such football royalty as Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Fabio Cannavaro, Arjen Robben, Kaka and Mesut Ozil.

She grins. “If (goalkeeper) Iker Casillas was receiving an award from UNICEF, we’d cover it so we’d be on a private jet with him to Geneva. I can’t lie, it was a brilliant job”

But one of the highlights of her first season was meeting England and Manchester United legend David Beckham.

She recalls: “Beckham was lovely – always very nice with people, though you did get a sense there was a barrier around him; a line that you couldn’t cross. Until Cristiano Ronaldo joined Real, I’d never seen such a demand for somebody’s attention.

“But David was always very nice to deal with – and yes, he was better looking in real life than I’d seen in pictures!”

But she has an admission to make. “I must be the only female in Spain who met David Beckham but gave him the ‘Pleased to meet you’ handshake instead of a kiss on both cheeks, which is the Spanish tradition.

“I got so excited about meeting him for the first time, having come of age watching him. I did my hair and my makeup but it was only as my taxi got near the training ground that I had that awful heart-sinking moment when I realised I had forgotten to clean my teeth. I think it’s because I’d been chewing gum, so had that minty taste in my mouth. So, when I met him, I just stuck my hand out instead of giving him two kisses – though the next time I met him I made sure I got right in there!”

Another major perk of the job was having a stylist and makeup artist before every show.

“You’d go on air looking a million dollars,” she recalls. “You’d also have stunning new clothes to wear every day, which we could borrow for nights out, though we only got to keep them on special occasions.”

It was a dream job – but this football fairytale took a new twist when Kay was offered a move to Miami to front an international football show for BeIN Sports, an international television network that broadcasts throughout the Middle East, Africa, France and Australia, and was launching in the US with a focus on Europe’s top leagues.

The channel’s bosses were looking for a female presenter who could speak both English and Spanish and was knowledgeable on La Liga. Contact was made and the rest is history.

For the past five years Kay has been the anchor on a show that makes her BeIN Sport’s female equivalent of Gary Lineker. “My show is pretty much Match of the Day on both a Saturday and a Sunday,” she explains. “Not just for one league, but for at least six – it’s an hour and 15 minutes of goals from around the world.”

On a personal level, she also fell in love and married her fellow football broadcaster, Italian football expert Matteo Bonetti.

Living in Miami does have its pitfalls, too, not that she’s expecting too much sympathy from her friends back home. “They call it the American Dream and in many ways it is because there really are so many opportunities,” she explains. “But you get only 12 days’ holiday a year if you’ve got a full-time job, compared to 30 in Spain, so you have to be really good with your time.

“It’s not easy to get back to Teesside now. This is my first time back in two years. But I’m so grateful every day for what I have. I know how lucky I am to wake up and see water, live in a warm place and have a job I love – not that it feels like a job because it’s all I ever really wanted to do.”

Despite the distance, Kay’s Boro links remain strong. Her former Boro TV colleague Hayley McQueen, now an established Sky Sports presenter, was bridesmaid at her wedding, while she has nothing but fond memories of another of her fellow Boro presenters – the late, great Alastair Brownlee, who tragically lost his life after a short battle with bowel cancer two years ago.

“Ali was like a big brother for everyone. He was Mr Middlesbrough, with an encyclopaedia of everything Boro. His funeral made me miss home more than ever. When my husband saw the amazing scenes from Ali’s funeral cortege on TV, he said to me ‘Teesside’s really special – this isn’t normal for a town’. I told him ‘It is from my town’.”

An ambassador for MFC Foundation, her beloved club’s own charity, she adds: “I’m a passionate Teessider. I always want to do whatever I can for my hometown.

“We’ve seen all the tough times this town has had and, while some of us have been luckier than others, we’ve all got a friend or family member who’ve been directly affected by job losses and closures. This town supported me and gave me my break so I’ll always give back to it.”

What happened to Kay’s Boro TV team-mates…

Alastair Brownlee
‘Voice of the Boro’ Ali was probably the best known voice on Teesside during a 30-year period commenting on his beloved side for Century Radio and BBC Tees. He passed away in February 2016 after a short battle with bowel cancer.

Hayley McQueen
Daughter of former Manchester United star and Boro coach Gordon, Hayley worked behind the scenes at Boro TV before switching to presenting at MUTV and is now a Sky Sports stalwart.

Bernie Slaven
After scoring 146 goals for Middlesbrough FC, Bernie became Ali Brownlee’s Century Radio co-commentator and presented alongside him on Boro TV. Was a popular part of Century’s Three Legends show and now acts as a matchday host at the Riverside.

Mark Clemmitt
‘Clem’ also made his name fronting BBC Tees show Red Balls on Fire and is now features reporter on BBC One’s The Football League Show.

Gary Phillipson
Kay’s co-host on Soccer Surgery, Gary has been a popular radio host on several stations including Century, Real, Heart and now BBC Tees.

Michael Weadock
Boro TV reporter Michael now runs Darlington-based 3 Point Media with ex-Boro TV colleagues, editor/director Xavier Davidson and cameraman Dan Whaler. He reported on the 2016 Olympics for talkSPORT.

Adam Nolan
Ran a production company called Boro TV Ltd for many years, producing numerous MFC DVDs and continues to work on the club’s matchday concourse TV productions.

Claire Wilson
A qualified journalist who inspired Kay to follow a similar route, Boro TV news presenter Claire worked for ITV Tyne-Tees before setting up her own award-winning production firm, Brightstar Productions.

Ross and Tom Marshall
Ross is now a much-travelled cameraman and cinematographer, while Tom is making a big name for himself as a director of TV series such as Chewing Gum, Wasted and Drifters.