For an assignment in January 2009 I wrote a feature interview about Karen Murty (wife of footballer Graeme Murty) about how she uses her status as a WAG positively.
If asked to imagine a footballer’s wife, it is likely the image of a stereotypical ‘Chardonnay’ will appear in your mind. A Gucci obsessed woman, full of self importance who at every opportunity grabs fame and fortune off the hard work of her husband. Karen Murty, wife of ‘The Royals’ (Reading FC) captain Graeme Murty, subverts this representation with her casual fashion, down to earth nature and willingness to express her family values and love for using her status as a ‘WAG’ to help others. She can now proudly boast her Sue Ryder Care ‘Woman of Achievement 2008’ award for her hard work within the community as co-founder of ‘Royal Families’, the fundraising organisation set up by the wives and girlfriends of the players. Karen explains the success since the organisation was established and her charitable plans for 2009.
On arrival at the exclusive development near Basingstoke where the large, modern, family home was placed, a warm greeting was made by Graeme followed by a wide smiled welcome by Karen. She was carrying and doting on her nineteen month old daughter Freya Caitlin. After I was comfortably seated on a luxurious brown leather sofa in the ivory schemed, open plan kitchen, I witnessed the loving and playful nature of the family . After lots of cuddles between Freya and Graeme he had to rush off to his busy schedule, leaving Karen to explain more about her work with ‘Royal Families’.
“We never expected to raise so much money”, exclaimed Karen when discussing the achievement of raising over £112,000 in the first year of establishing the organisation with Amanda Hahnemann (wife of goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann) following Reading’s promotion to the premier league in 2006. She laughed, “when asked in a press interview how much we intended to raise, I randomly said £60,000 as a target and Amanda nearly fell off her chair saying she would have said £10,000. Well you’ve got to aim high haven’t you?” A champagne tasting session kick started the partner’s events in the first year and its success was followed by a Valentine’s Day ball, a race night and a golfing day. Although, Karen commented, “The champagne tasting was the most funny as each glass was a full one.” The money was split evenly between the two local charities ‘Parents and Children Together’ and ‘Berkshire Women’s Aid’.
Karen believes that the wives and girlfriends can use their status as footballers’ wives positively in order to make the events a success. “We can turn around and say the players are going to be at the events and then give them a kick up the backside to go,” she joked. ‘Royal Families’ had a lot of media attention due to their originality Karen explains, “lots of footballers’ wives raise money individually but we are the only club to do it collectively.” When questioned about why this is the case and the motives behind their hard work she replied, “well, my reasons are quite selfish really; I love it when you see the smiling faces of the people you give the money to.” However she continued “charities which are family related are especially important to us because we are very family orientated”.
The three large family portraits centrally positioned on the wall above where Karen was seated highlighted the importance of family in the Murty household. Karen was a dedicated teacher before having Freya, yet she informed, “I’m happy at the moment. I’m not interested in going back to work until a lot later on.” With a smiling, thoughtful expression she claimed, “I don’t want to miss a thing. So far I’ve been there for every single first.” When discussing how happy Graeme seemed playing with Freya, Karen recalled their family Christmas 2008 when he was unable to play in the Boxing Day match against Cardiff City due to his recent leg injury. “Had it been a couple of years ago he would have been really arsy all Christmas break as he hates not being able to play but having Freya here has really softened him.” Christmas was relaxing and special this year according to Karen, “we had a quiet family Christmas with my sister and brother-in-law, Graeme didn’t have to leave for training Christmas day and he could have a proper Christmas dinner as he didn’t have to do the whole carbohydrates load up!” With a childlike grin she explained her meaning of Christmas, “we made it really magical for Freya. I love the magic of Christmas and having the family together”.
The ‘Royal Families’ website states that to date they have raised more than £200,000, yet, according to Karen, there is still more to give in 2009. “This year the main focus is going towards the charity Graeme is patron of, ‘Swings and Smiles’, as it’s his testimonial year with the club” Karen explained. The charity’s vision is to create ‘a place to play’ for children with special needs. “We’re definitely going to do another bowling night and the R-Word (Reading’s version of Gordan Ramsay’s F Word) was excellent too,” Karen revealed in encouragement to anyone interested in taking part in events and helping the organisation. Then she pointed down at the royal crest printed on the pink hooded jumper she was wearing, “these are sold in the RFC shop and the money goes to Royal Families and also the money from each sold calendar.”
Karen beckoned me over to the window where her sparkling ‘Woman of Achievement’ award was proudly and deservedly placed and joked, “it’s not just Graeme who has trophies!” Then a well behaved Freya called her Mummy into the living room where she had been playing with a friend of Karen with new Christmas toys; a toy piano and a children’s kitchen set. However, among such lovely toys it is a little football she was fixated with, kicking and passing it to Karen. “She takes to football naturally, although I would have liked her to be a dancer like I was,” Karen laughs. Whether Freya is gifted with football or dancing, with such an inspiring mother as Karen Murty it would be no surprise if she too dedicates her life to helping the community.