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Interview: Colin Murray, BBC Radio One presenter

'I'VE always loved DJing in Scotland because of Runrig." As statements of the unexpected go, this one from broadcaster, football fan, sometime resident of Countdown's Dictionary Corner and now author, Colin Murray, has got to be in my top five. You might think of him as more of a specialist when it comes to tunes, but he's adamant: "I love it. I've had CD players fall on to the floor because of how the crowd have reacted to a Runrig song."

It turns out that since his historic resignation from Radio 1 (he was the first to quit rather than be pushed from the station) Murray has been allowing himself to admit something that for long he's avoided. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine it may have something to do with the Runrig disclosure.

"I've stopped trying in any way to pretend to be cool," he says. "I've stopped pretending to know things that I don't. I like Enrique Iglesias's Escape, it's one of my favourite songs. I adore Gloria Estefan's Cuts Both Ways. I'll just as happily play Phil Collins's Easy Lover and come off the back and play Arvo Part Spiegel im Spiegel, which is one of my favourite songs of all time." Murray is talking like a man who's just swallowed a truth drug.

Interviewing Colin Murray is a bracing experience. He talks fast, veers around topics like a car with no brakes, and seems to have developed the ability to forego the need for breathing. Getting a word in edgewise is a serious challenge.

I don't mean this as a criticism exactly, partly because it comes across as totally genuine and also because it's this style that has made Murray a respected radio presenter. He was the loudmouthed yin to Edith Bowman's much more subdued (and dull) yang on their afternoon Radio 1 slot, before presenting his own evening show on the station. Now he's the man behind three sports shows on 5 Live: Kicking Off with Colin Murray on Friday nights, Fighting Talk on Saturday mornings (also a hugely successful podcast) and he's the anchor for six hours of live sports coverage on a Sunday. You can't do that unless you've got a fair bit to say for yourself, energy levels that'd leave a child high on E numbers trailing in your wake and a constant need to be challenged. Murray's got all three.

That's why, despite the fact that he insists he's cutting back on work, Murray's just rattled off a book, A Random History of Football. His quirky take on the history of the game he loves (he's a life-long Liverpool supporter), is a compendium of random, ridiculous stories, from referees shooting players to Sheffield United's near signing of Diego Maradona to the phenomenon of the "New Manager Effect". It's written in exactly the way that Murray speaks – ie, fast – and although he says that he hopes that it will appeal to people who aren't football fans, to be honest it's pretty nerdy stuff. It's also hard to imagine a format more suited to Murray.

"I am hyperactive," he says. "I was hyperactive as a kid so at four I was in speech therapy because I couldn't get my words out. I didn't sleep, three hours a night apparently. My poor mum."

It was the same at secondary school in Northern Ireland, where Murray grew up with his two sisters and brother. He was asked to leave school because of his disruptive influence – he was always asking awkward questions or telling jokes. He says now that he wishes teachers would understand that kids like him are perfect for the job of presenting and should be pushed in that direction. He starts saying something about wanting to set up some kind of scheme to help that happen, but he's on to something else before I get the chance to check whether he's serious or not.

"I still have that energy level to a certain extent, although less now that I'm 32," he says. "Last night I got five hours' sleep, tonight it might be eight. For me that's just fine. It's more than I used to get."

Sport and music are Murray's passions. They're both topics suited to those with anorakish inclinations and he's happy to admit that the book was an "itch I had to scratch" as well as a way to restrain – it's his logic not mine – his workaholic tendencies.

"With leaving Radio 1, the idea was to create time to do things I genuinely enjoyed and this was the first stop," he says.

So how do you go about finding out which mascots have anger management issues (Swansea City's Cyril the Swan) and which players have sustained ironing board-related injuries?

"If somebody took my hard disk, not only would they find a lot of porn, they'd also find a lot of weird internet searches," he says, then laughs. He got a friend, Jo, to help him with research but it's obvious that spending hours searching for random bits of informationwould be right up Murray's street.

His current obsessions in the field of things you need never know but which are oddly interesting are lifts and Tubes. People are bigger now than they were so shouldn't the lift capacity be recalculated and the signs be redone? Also, he wants to know had I noticed that the colour of the handrails on London Underground trains match the line they're on – black for the Northern line, blue for the Victoria? I can only be grateful that I've met him in this new, mellow phase, rather than before.

His new book, though, is more than just a repository for his hyperactive brain, it's a way of testing the waters. Murray's ambition is to write fiction.

"I just don't know whether I'm good enough," he says. "I'd like to write when it's genuinely good enough. I've had a few ideas floating around for a while. I'd like to write this book of short stories that's based on a few real-life stories so it's a combination between fact and fiction." He tells me about a story about two childhood friends separated by war and then reunited by football. It sounds interesting. "I'd like to write short stories, but apparently they don't sell. I'd like to change that."

If Murray is aware of how this sounds, he doesn't show it. It's a perfect illustration of the Murray dilemma: arrogance and insecurity. It's not that unusual really, it's just that Murray reveals it a lot more easily than most people would. He just says what he wants, without apparently worrying too much about how it sounds. It's an interesting quality for someone who spends a lot of his time broadcasting live. But maybe that's why he's good at it.

"You forget about everything (when you're broadcasting]. Everything goes except what's in front of you and it's wonderful. I think that's probably my biggest addiction. I can understand why so many people in the industry take drugs, I really can. I personally don't because if you're hyperactive you're not going to go near cocaine, right? But I can understand that high of forgetting who you are."

Murray has dabbled in TV too. He enjoys the football coverage that he does, but he says he's "not very good at it".

"I'm not one for the impersonal side of TV," he says. "You can put on a front on television. You can interview someone and only have to keep a front for four minutes. Then you've got radio where you've got more time to get to what their character is like. Then you've got print journalism when you can sit down with someone for an hour, then have 24 hours or two weeks (to work on it].

"You don't have to say it but you sum up what they were like when they came in, when they left, how genuine they were, how annoying they were, how caught up in themselves."

And with that I feel like I've been given an "interviews and how to do them" checklist so, here goes: when he arrived he was friendly; he smiled and shook my hand. When he left I got a kiss. He was thoroughly nice, if slightly tiring company at times. . He seemed very genuine and only a bit caught up in himself.

&#149 A Random History of Football is out now (Orion, 9.99)

 
 
 

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