Two-time FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala co-host Kay Murray switched her attention to an altogether different group of football stars when she hosted the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2013 Grand Final, held in Madrid from 6-8 May. FIFA.com spoke to the former Real Madrid TV presenter on stage at the Teatro Goya in Madrid shortly after the curtain came down on the ninth edition of the world’s largest gaming tournament.
"It was a really lovely international tournament to be a part of,” says Kay. “The competitiveness that I’ve witnessed here is maybe even a little more than when it comes to real football, but there's also been a lot of respect between the finalists which is great to see. It's such an intense tournament.”
The virtual world football championship - packed with the same drama, passion and moments of brilliance and tragedy that can be found at a FIFA World Cup™ - immediately captivated the host. When not on camera for the daily Grand Final Live Stream, or watching one of the 71 matches played over the course of the tournament, Kay was in constant communication with fans on Twitter and Facebook, providing them with behind-the scenes snapshots and sharing her Madrid experience.
"I've grown quite attached to all of them," she says of the finalists. “There were times when I was really overcome with emotion.” Kay recalls the tearful moments following the Andres Botero-Alfonso Ramos match on Day 2. The Colombian had just knocked the defending champion out of the tournament, crushing his hopes of securing an unprecedented third world title in front of a home crowd. Ramos, on the verge of tears, rushed out of Café 40, yelling at himself as he raced up the stairs at the exit, desperate for air. “I really felt for Ramos but then to see Botero have to take a moment on the stage,” Kay pauses as she recalls the brief exchange prior to their live post-match interview, “he was shaking next to me and he said “Look I'm so nervous, and you have to understand I’ve just knocked the defending champion out.” It meant the world to him."
City of stars
So how does a young girl from Middlesbrough land up working at the Santiago Bernabeu? "It's from going to watch Middlesbrough from six years old that I fell in love with football,” Kay tells FIFA.com, “And then the Italy 90 World Cup just stole my heart. I was a child. I cried my eyes out. I was inconsolable.”
At 19 years of age Kay transitioned from football fan to journalist, landing a job at her hometown football channel. Later, she moved to London and paid her way through journalism college, eventually finding work at a newspaper. "From there the most amazing opportunity came from Real Madrid and that changed everything," she says.
Moving to Madrid, armed with only the Spanish she had learnt at school, Kay immersed herself in the language by frequenting the local bars and cafés on matchdays. It was in these places that the old Madridistas of the Capital would congregate to watch and discuss football in rapid-fire Spanish. “I would sit and talk to them about football and I learnt a lot about the language that way. The best thing about Madrid,” she says, breaking into a wide grin, “and Ruud van Nistelrooy once said this, is everywhere you go, be it children, girls, grandmas, granddads, everybody is talking about football... and that is my kind of city."
The Ballon d’Or experience
While hosting the FIWC Grand Final is admittedly a more relaxed affair when compared to being on stage at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, the experience is not without its pressures. "Having Ruud [Gullit] made it easier... It felt like we were really in it together," Kay says, reflecting on co-hosting the past two galas. “So hosting here by myself, especially when you look out and it's all dark and then when the lights come on and you just see a room full of people…in a sense you can identify with the players because they also are performing in front of everybody and one mistake could prove costly.”
One would think that being surrounded by the world’s greatest footballers for a day would have lost some of its shine for someone with so many years of experience in their company. “As a host, I know how amazing the experience is,” says Kay. "People talk about the prize money but everybody here knows the big prize for the FIWC is getting that Ballon d'Or experience. The stories that come from every single meeting I have had with people there are amazing. It's going to be so great to see Bruce there."
Kay recalls a major highlight of her first visit to the Ballon d’Or: “At the dinner after the gala I found myself sitting opposite Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten. One of them said "Oh yeah it was like Milan in the early 90s…" and I actually thought if anybody speaks here I will put my hand over their mouth and stop them talking… It was just this surreal moment of thinking I’m opposite Gullit and Van Basten eating dinner, hearing stories first hand.”
As for the future of the FIWC, the 2013 host is hoping for more records. "I'd love to see a girl in the Grand Final. It would be amazing and it would just show that, in the way that we've seen over the last 20 years in other tournaments, football's not just for boys."