Many football fans spend their childhood attending matches at the club they support to watch and cheer on their team. However, not all of these youngsters are there to support their family. Kenzie Benali spent many weekends at Southampton FC watching her father play for the team. Now she has her own career at St. Mary’s as a matchday presenter, and this season has started working at Arsenal as well. I spoke to her about football, family and presenting at Wembley.
As with many who now work in the industry, sport has always been a major part of Kenzie’s life. She spent her youth both on the pitch playing football herself, and in the stands watching her father Francis. “I absolutely loved going to football games to support my Dad with my family and I have always been super active myself and played in every sports team throughout school and loved playing football for the local girls’ side growing up. I definitely have the competitive Benali streak in me,” she said. With her parents’ keen for both her and her brother to have the best opportunities, they would play sports at multiple clubs almost every night of the week. “Tennis on Monday, swimming on Tuesday, football on Wednesday… and so on! I am so grateful for everything they did and continue to do for us. We are a super close family and they are the most amazing support system. It’s so cute that I spent my childhood cheering my Dad on with my family and now they are always in the crowd cheering me on. We always support one another,” Benali told me.
With such an involvement in the world of sport, it was clear to Kenzie from an early age that this was the sector she wanted to work in. “I knew from a very young age that I wanted to become a presenter. You only have to go through the family photo albums and you will find pictures of little me with my beloved microphone. I’d always find an excuse to use it, even if it was just to quiz my parents’ dinner guests on the crispiness of my Mum’s roast potatoes. Before I got my first microphone, I used the TV remote!” she described. At the age of 17, Benali secured her first presenting role, something she had dreamed about for many years. This job also came in a world she knew a lot about with it being as a football ground presenter. “I started out by presenting at Eastleigh Football Club. I only did a couple of matchdays for them but I truly loved it and knew it was the career for me. I had to provide the pre-match entertainment for the fans and read the team sheets. I was so nervous,” she explained.
It was only 2 years later when Benali’s first big role came along. Having seen an advertisement for a presenter role at Southampton FC, she applied. With it being a club she spent many years at as a child supporting her father, this combined her passion for presenting with an in-depth knowledge of the football club. “I applied and was asked to present at two games as a trial. Nearly four years later and I am still loving every single second,” she exclaimed. As with her role at Eastleigh, it involves delivering entertaining and informative content to fans. “This involves lots of research, writing links and prepping interviews,” she said.
Kenzie has also recently started working with another Premier League club as well as Southampton. This season she will be part of the presenting team at Arsenal FC. “I am one of the presenters on the brand-new Arsenal Nation Live show which airs every matchday,” she told me. “The show is studio based and runs at pre-match, at half-time and at full-time. I am so excited to be working with the Gunners and I’m really looking forward to a new challenge. It is a great time to be coming in to the club as they begin their new era under Unai Emery.” However, this isn’t the only new role she has taken on, having recently worked with Match of the Day: Kickabout. “I worked as a reporter on a location shoot at Rush Green, the West Ham United Training Centre. I am a massive advocate for all women in football so it was absolutely amazing to chat to a selection of female players who are amongst the first to sign professional contracts. It is such a big step for the women’s game and I was delighted that I got to report on something that I feel so passionately about,” Benali explained.
With much of the work Kenzie does being live, this can be one of the greatest challenges of her role. “You always have to be on your toes. You absolutely never know what is going to happen but it is the unpredictability of the job that makes it so exciting. No day is ever the same and I absolutely love that,” she described. Nevertheless, the difficulties her job presents are worth it for the experiences that come with it. One such example was the 2017 EFL Cup Final in which Southampton played Manchester United and where Benali presented pitch side at Wembley. “It was such a buzz being in front of such a massive crowd at the home of football. It was a proud moment for both my family and I,” she told me.
Kenzie Benali has been surrounded by sport for her entire life. Having spent her childhood watching her father play for Southampton, she too now has a career with the club, as a matchday presenter. This season she has also started working with one of the country’s most successful football clubs, Arsenal FC. Speaking of her advice for those wanting to work in the industry, she said: “never give up, jump at the opportunities that scare you and always be kind to everyone. There is a famous Winston Churchill quote which I love; ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ It is a tough industry and there will be moments that test you, but keep moving forward, never give up and trust your journey, your hard work will always pay off.”
Photo credits: Kenzie Benali, @KenzieBenali