A Football365 love letter to… Kelly Cates

Date published: Friday 26th January 2018 12:16 - Daniel Storey

A Love Letter to one of TV and radio’s top presenters, someone who no-one dislikes and who has the nicest laugh in the business. That’ll be Kelly Cates, then...


Why the Love?
Kelly is now about 20 years into her broadcasting career and currently enjoys high profile jobs on Sky presenting games, hosting their new post-game show The Debate, hosting 5live’s football coverage and doing 606 with Ian Wright. You’ll also find her popping up on The Totally Football Show with James Richardson where she has more of an opportunity to deploy her wide-ranging football knowledge.

Having covered a lot of gigs on different channels, she’s a familiar presence in our football lives and has a lot of fans. In the world of football broadcasting, many presenters attract irrational, nasty and plain stupid opprobrium for a variety of reasons, but Kelly doesn’t seem to. Her smiley, relaxed but informed style seems to pull everyone into her orbit.

Like all the elite presenters, she knows exactly when to listen and when to talk. When presenting, the job is clearly to bring in pundits, commentators and the like and coax them to respond in as best way they can. It often strikes me as a job that would be very easy to completely mess up, either by talking over people, by not having a question ready, by not listening, or just by accidentally swearing as some old pro drones on and on about things he’s droned on and on about many times before. But when Kelly is hosting, you never get worried that any of these things might happen. Though, for what it’s worth, I bet she can do a bloody excellent swear.

That being said, it’d be wrong to think she’s a soft touch in any way whatsoever. Don’t let the cheerful good-natured exterior fool you because behind the happy glint, there’s grit and determination not far from the surface. The way she deals with Sir Alex’s obvious frustration here is a good example of the art of not getting put off your stride by a slightly bolshy interviewee.

I think to do the wide-ranging football presenting job well you have to be a confident people person with a positive outlook. When presenters are misanthropes with dodgy views on the world, you can just tell. TV and even more so, radio, strips away any veneer and sooner or later, reveals who you really are. This is especially true in organic discussions, where keeping up a pretence for long just isn’t feasible.

The best modern-day presenters have a dual role as contributors who are across the action and issues every bit as much as the pundits, if not more so. But unlike the pundits, they also have to hold the whole shebang together, dip in and out of ad breaks, news bulletins and trailers. There must be a fearful noise of chatter from the producers in any presenter’s ear. Quite how you listen to different voices simultaneously, one in front of you and one in the gallery, is absolutely beyond me. The presenting art is one of calm on the surface whilst paddling like fury under the water. To do so while being universally well-regarded is one of Kelly’s many massive achievements.


Superhero Skills
She has easily the best laugh on the radio or TV. A rolling woody chuckle which can go off at any time, I like to think that if a woodpecker could laugh, it’d laugh like Kels.

There’s also something more metaphysical to discuss: vibe. What is it? Where does it come from? How do we perceive it?

I don’t know the answer to these questions but everyone gives off a vibe. We all pick up on it, perhaps via our third eye. And Kelly gives off a great vibe. A vibe which is substantial but lightly worn, which is soft but not weak or watery. All the best presenters in any genre, manage to be an unusual hybrid of warm, welcoming pal and informative professional. If you stray too far into either territory you risk being overly sharing or coldly dispassionate. It must be a balance that is very hard to maintain, but she does it brilliantly.

A highly intelligent woman, (she went to university to do a maths degree) when presenting The Debate she has to sit through a wide and varied quality of pundits offering a wide and varied selection of views, some of which are detailed and interesting, some of which are less so. But watch Kelly and you’d never know if she’s thinking “oh no Tim don’t go on about you giving Kane his debut again, when we all know you didn’t,” or silently imploring an ex-player to use an adverb occasionally. No, she keeps a wide-eyed, bright expression that suggests she’s thinking “that is so interesting” and I’m guessing there are occasions when that is quite tricky to do.

Has an especially warm you-can’t-fake-it chemistry with Ian Wright when presenting 606, as this trailer they made a few years ago shows really well. We all know phone-ins can be very challenging to do, depending on the ‘quality’ of the calls. Her ability to treat the professorial, the pished and the one pickle short of a picnic with equal interest and respect is, at times, almost incredible. At least we can turn it off, but that’s not a luxury she has. The temptation to be rude must be strong at times. Once, just once, I’d love to hear her spit at some semi-coherent caller, “yer fugly wee bawbag, ye fair gimme the boak, so you do,’’ in a broad Glaswegian voice.

And while we’re talking accents, I often wonder if, given her Scottish/Scouse upbringing, she can lapse from her neutral lilt into either lingo when needed. It’d be a very useful skill. “Just do one, will yer, la,” is a response many of us would like to give to some 606 callers.

Over the years, there’s not much she hasn’t turned her hand to, on one channel or another, but for me, the finest piece of work I’ve heard her involved in was a Hillsborough documentary for 5live. It was detailed and very moving, her final words when interviewing her father made me blub like a wee boy. How it didn’t win an Aria, is beyond me, but it did receive a BBC radio award. The producer of that was a chap called Tim Peach and he got in touch to tell me this:

“I produced a programme about Hillsborough that she presented that went out the day after the inquest verdicts. Given how close she was to the subject (I had to persuade her to mention that she was even there that day), it was one of the most selfless pieces of broadcasting I’ve ever seen. She just let people talk, encouraging them along the way. Her interview with her Dad (it just ended ‘thanks Dad’), felt like you were just eavesdropping a conversation that they were having, yet she knew the questions the audience wanted to hear.”

“Most importantly, she’s just a lovely person. She knows what makes good radio, and will make her point without shouting a producer down. Everything that comes across on air, her warmth, self-deprecating sense of humour, love for the game, is genuine. She’s a pleasure to work with.”

I think that says it all, really. We should all aim to be held in such affection and high regard.


Style Guru?
For TV presenting gigs, Kelly usually goes for neutral colours and plain fabrics, and in doing so ensures that her clothing doesn’t become an issue. That seems the most sensible option in the current sidebar of shame/hot-or-not/it’s-just-banter-luv/sexist media culture many of us feel like we’re drowning in.

To say that women on the telly are judged far more harshly on their appearance than men is something of an understatement. A couple of weeks ago, a female (non-sports) TV presenter told me that many times she’d been in tears when dressing for an appearance and stressing out about what to wear, knowing that she would be subjected to sexist abuse on social media.

“God forbid you put a bit of weight on, or look tired, or wear something that doesn’t suit you or have big t*ts, or accidentally show off your stocking tops, or there’s a slight bump of a nipple, or any bloody thing because people, both men and women, will be all over you, followed by tabloid websites who will screen grab it. It feels like your body is a source of entertainment for them.

“Even the people who say nice things are part of the problem. I don’t want to be superficially judged like this, pro or anti. No man I work with suffers this way. I’d rather just turn up without make-up, in normal clothes and still be taken seriously. Why can’t that be the case? But if I said that, I fear I’d be looked upon as “difficult” and that’d be my career gone. So I swallow it down and play nice.”

I wanted to include that quote here because perhaps it’s not a viewpoint we’re exposed to very often. I’m sure if had to go on telly, I’d be Spanx-ed up to the max to hold everything in and at the end of the night, I’d burst out of it like an explosion in a butchers.


What The People Say
She is so universally loved that I didn’t get one comment that was in any way negative and that is unusual; normally someone can’t resist some snark. And having done this for a long while, I sense that affection is very genuine and I would suggest it is because it is rare for people on the TV and radio to make you feel happy. Good vibes are in short supply in the world right now, as some of the most monstrously evil people do the bidding of some of the most monstrously stupid people. At times like these, cheerful, decent and entertaining humans are needed more than ever to help detoxify the public mood and give us all hope.

I forget for years at her time who her dad is, then see a picture of them on Twitter or whatever and it’s “ohhhhh yeah”. Testament to her ability: not many people (women or men) are able to escape a parental shadow that large. I bet most young younger fans don’t even know.

Best anchor in the game at the moment

She seems to have the same qualities that Jimmy Armfield possessed. Just comes across as a really nice person that can speak knowledgeably about sport without any apparent agenda.

I absolutely love her. A still tiller on the boat of presentation, especially on radio. And total control over the PFM brigade.

She remembers her time at Blackburn and always refers to us as ‘Rovers’, as all we fans do. A nice touch

Witty, knowledgeable, has the wonderful ability to bring the best out of any pundit without them knowing. Got to know her a bit over the last year or so and she’s possibly the most pleasant person I’ve met in broadcasting. Also being at the start of (hopefully) a career in broadcasting she’s been incredibly generous in trying to help me out and pass along advice. Great role model for anyone in the industry, can’t speak highly enough of her

Have loved her ever since she tweeted my article about Jason Koumas! (I only really, really, really liked her before that)

Wonderful radio professional. Makes 606 listenable again after what seems an age. Knows instinctively how to pitch questions to the person being interviewed – a great skillset. Look forward to seeing and hearing more from her in a very difficult role to do well!

Amazing at whatever she does, always really knowledgeable about every subject she’s discussing, premier league or football. I think she’s better when she’s on the totally football show giving an opinion than when she’s presenting

My fav moment was on a plane going to watch Liverpool play Bdx. I was lucky enough to have the seat behind her and was able to watch first hand as she was kind and lovely to all the LFC fans + professionally Kelly adds so much more to the football conversation than most ex-pros

Excellent broadcaster, natural rapport with guests & fans alike, a real love for the game & her craft, doesn’t make it all about her & she stands out all the more for that

Superb broadcaster. Softly spoken, light hearted but with serious points, moreover nudges others to say something important. Doesn’t fuel inane banter. Knows her onions, too.

Superb. Arguably had to work twice as hard as most to be treated seriously, not only as a female in a male dominated arena but also the daughter of an icon – yet makes it look ease. Friendly, informative, witty and at the head of a great crop of women in football media.

When she got the League show gig on channel 5: “My parents are really excited and then they’re like, ‘Oh you know one of the sponsors are Irn-Bru? And I’m like, ‘Really?’…that was one of the big talking points. I’m like, ‘OK, priorities –that’s great.’

For someone who grew up in and around the game and at the highest levels, she sounds like someone who didn’t (if that makes sense). Sounds like a pure fan. Oh and is brilliant on TV/Radio/Podcasts

I find myself smiling a lot whenever Kelly is on – for all the reasons your rightly state.

Remember watching Kelly reporting for Sky Sports News in Liverpool the day after the 2005 Champions League Final – never seen a reporter looking so happy, which in turn made me happy. Oh, and she’s excellent at her job.

The perfect professional who, while excelling in her job in every capacity, still achieves it in a human way and without taking herself too seriously. Helps raise the game of those around her too. Simply wonderful! Should present everything lol

Incisive but never cutting, she is warm and clearly not a push over. I only ever listen to 606 if she is on it, when Ian Wright always calls her Kells. She is great at the stats without sounding like Statto.

Cates is great at highlighting the points a caller is making & adding to it from her huge store of knowledge. She respects Ian Wright’s playing experience but is willing to challenge him too

Highly knowledgeable, eloquent, never ducks asking the tough questions while having a gift for bringing the best out of those she’s alongside. Like a radio version of N’Golo Kante.

She comes across as so knowledgeable without crossing in to condescending which many do, and you never pick up any bias in her reporting. Was the only good thing about the first season of channel 5s FL highlights

Ah Kelly! Knowledgeable, hugely likeable, not a shred of ego, funny, doesn’t ask inane questions, and an absolute natural – the antithesis, in every way imaginable, of Richard Keys. Lol. Her presence on Sky’s PL coverage is long overdue.

She’s great on the Totally Football Show, where she’s their to give opinions, and in her presenter gigs, where she has to draw them out of others. Two different skills but she’s great with both

Her recent return to Sky has been much needed and she simply adds a wealth of knowledge to her broadcasting, generating insightful discussions. And her humble, polite personality just adds to her likeability.

To many she is no long Kenny Dalglish’s daughter, but rather Kenny Dalglish is now Kelly Cates’ father.

She was my wife’s class monitor at school. Anything would be easy after that.

Her coverage on SSN of Liverpool bringing the champions league trophy home in 2005 was something else. Such passion without being sycophantic. She made what could’ve been mundane viewing really special.

Knowledgeable, sharp, funny, empathetic. Totally comfortable in her own skin on both radio and TV. Improves every show she’s in and brings the best out of her colleagues and public. Doesn’t take herself seriously. Or the game. Could present any sport/show. Des Lynamesque.

Love her on @BBCfightingtalk, love her @bbc5live, love her on Sky Sports, genuinely just love her – she has down to earth approach to dealing with pundits and seems to enjoy her work

She has an infectious enthusiasm that radiates across. The smile seems to indicate victory over the misogynistic bullies. Her comments are always measured, thoughtful and well observed. These and many more are the reasons why Kelly is a favourite of mine.

The wonderful Gabby Logan got in touch to say: “As well as being a tremendous broadcaster she’s one of the funniest women I know. She is also brilliant at maths.”

The fine statuesque man that is Dan Walker got in touch to say this: “You’ve probably heard a lot about what a great operator she is and how wonderful she is to work with. I think you also need to know what a lovely person she is. Kelly is kind, thoughtful, generous and great company. The best thing about her presenting style is that she always makes sure the light shines brightest on the pundits she works with. That is a rare gift.”


Future Days
As Carly Simon once sang, “nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest.” That song was adapted for an advert for 5 Pints, which if you’re of an age, you will remember was powdered milk in a bottle. I don’t know why I’ve told you that.

Her everywoman nature and ease in front of the camera (Kelly, not Carly), added to her clubbable, friendly radio presence surely ensure a long successful career. Still just a young-looking 42, she is already dining at the top table of football broadcasting. A national treasure-in-waiting, it would be nice to see her branch out into sporting documentary territory where her innate empathy and ease with people could surely be well-deployed, as the Hillsborough doco proved. If there’s one other area she’s underemployed in, it is in discussing football in her own right, without having to do so as a presenter. When 5live finally make the Commentators Summit weekly programme that I will keep banging on about until they do it, it should include presenters like Kelly, too.

I’ll leave you with this quote from someone who worked with her on the radio, as I think it is the perfect summation of the previous 3,000 words:

“I’d like to flag up just how much of a genuine team player she is. An absolute pleasure to deal with, and to listen to. She is charming on-air, a very positive and strong character to boot. 5 Live Sport are lucky to have her on their unbeatable roster of first class presenters…and probably, because she’s so bright and breezy, vastly underrated, in all honesty.”

Amen to that.

John Nicholson


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