The last thing Colin Murray needs is caffeine. It’s hideously early on a Saturday morning and the man known to football fans as the irreverent presenter of Sunday night’s Match of the Day 2 and to 5 Live listeners as the irrepressible host of the knockabout sports quiz Fighting Talk, is holding court in a corner of TV Centre.
He has barely paused for breath during the last 30 minutes. And then a production assistant arrives with a large coffee. Garrulous in the extreme, a caffeine-fuelled Murray could seriously test the limits of RT’s tape recorder.
But the 34-year-old Ulsterman doesn’t just talk nineteen to the dozen. His stock in trade is also a sharp, engaging wit allied to an anorak’s knowledge of sport that’s seen him inherit not only Adrian Chiles’s seat on the MotD 2 sofa but also his crown as the football fan’s representative in the post-match discussion – an everyman to interrogate and even gently tease the seen-it-allbefore ex-pros. Gary Lineker he is not.
He’s hosted Fighting Talk, a mix of sports comedy quiz and saloon-bar punditry, for the past five years – earlier this year it picked up a gold Sony Radio Academy award for best sports programme. His Friday-evening sports preview show on 5 Live, Kicking Off, is fast becoming required listening, and MotD 2 audience figures now average 2.2 million.
“I’ve always thought conversation is better than questions,” he says. “So on MotD 2 we have more laid-back chat rather than me just asking prescriptive questions. It’s important because I’m a great believer that MotD 2 is the full stop to people’s weekends. It’s the last thing they see before they go to work on a Monday so it’s more than just a highlights programme.”
Did he feel any pressure taking over from Adrian Chiles in 2010?
“To be honest, they don’t pay me enough to feel pressure. And the reality is people tune in for the football, so I never felt it was a big deal whether people liked me or not.”
He’s a fiery speck of chilli in what is sometimes a bland soup of sporting punditry. But perhaps Murray’s greatest trick is that despite not being an ex-footballer he’s quickly commanded the respect of the pros-turned-pundits.
“The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is to know your subject inside out. You don’t have to say it, you just need to know it. I also learnt at a young age not to put people on pedestals.
“Working on a newspaper in Ireland my first big interview was with the supermodel Cindy Crawford. As a teenager I had her pictures on my wall, but when I interviewed her I discovered she was shorter than me and about as attractive as my male producer. So I quickly learnt not to look up to these big stars and just to treat everyone the way you’d want to be treated yourself.”
Some say Radio 5 Live sometimes drifts into becoming Radio Bloke. Does Fighting Talk have too laddish a tone?
“I think it’s intelligent, honest and working-class but never laddish,” he says, genuinely taken aback. “Besides, I don’t think anything could be laddish with me presenting it because I’m probably the most effeminate male presenter in all of sport. Listen, I did an interview with the England rugby player Chris Ashton recently and my producer said it was the most homoerotic thing he’d ever heard. Honestly, in the flesh, Chris is absolutely gorgeous.”
You can’t imagine many alpha-male sports presenters uttering such a line. Perhaps it’s a colourful nod to his past as a Radio 1 DJ, where he presented a number of popular music shows before quitting to take up sport.
“I always intended to leave Radio 1 once I was into my early 30s,” he explains. “I never wanted to be clinging on, having to read blogs or magazines to work out what the kids are up to. And having always been madly into sport, this seemed a natural progression.”
Not that he admits to being on a meticulously planned career path. “I’m honestly not that career-motivated. I like to do a good day’s work and to be allowed to be creative and that’s enough for me.”
But surely he must have half an eye on Gary Lineker’s Match of the Day seat? To which he offers a one word reply. “Househusband.”
“Ideally, I would love my better half to have a kid and then I could stay at home and look after it. Or if she made a couple of million, she could look after me.”
But doesn’t the thought of being next in line to present the flagship Saturday-night football show appeal? “I can’t imagine ever being next in line,” he laughs.
“People might think I’m being disingenuous but I honestly don’t covet doing Match of the Day. I’m not even sure I fit the mould. What I do at the moment is definitely a more natural fit for me. But if my lottery numbers come up, I’m not even doing this any more.”
He’s midway through explaining the five stars tattooed on his inner arm, signifying his beloved Liverpool FC’s five Champions League victories, when a female assistant hands him another coffee. “Ooh, you’ve got the same watch as me,” he tells her, before flashing a grin at RT.
“See? A bit effeminate.”
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale Tuesday 22 November.