Rather than his trademark trilby and braces, Murs and his old pal’s kit would have been the white and black of Witham Town, with their Ryman One North side set to pull off the most unlikely of FA Trophy wins.Then everyone would wake up and smell the coffee, of course. Witham – average gate of 88 in 2007-08, the last of Murs’ three seasons with the club – are highly unlikely to reach a national final.
But their former striker, a chart-topper four times since swapping Spa Road for some of the world’s biggest stadiums, is giving his old club’s fans fresh dreams in his first NLP interview since December 2007, when he was still two years away from his X-Factor breakthrough.
“Ooh, I don’t know!” laughs the 29-year-old, when asked if he’d rather be firing the Essex club to Trophy glory at Wembley or accompanying the former Take That star Williams on a sell-out European tour, as he has for the past two months at places like Hampden and the Etihad.
“I think I’ll probably take playing with Robbie Williams on the tour, but it would have been a dream for a club of Witham Town’s size to get to Wembley in the FA Trophy.
“It would be great, when my career goes a little bit quieter, if I can be like Elton John and invest some money into Witham Town and take them up the leagues. I might be a football chairman. I’ll be the Roman Abramovich of Non-League football!”
One thing that is abundantly clear to anyone who has seen Murs on TV or stage is that he has lost none of his down-to-earth, grass-roots grounding since he found fame and fortune via Simon Cowell.
That is why the FA asked him to be an ambassador for their 150th anniversary this year.
This is a man who worked in a recruitment firm – where an NLP photographer took pictures of him waving a ten-pound note around after a record-breaking losing run on TV show Deal or No Deal – and then went back to them to find him shifts in Tiptree’s Wilkin & Sons jam-making factory, because he had “bills to pay” after a year backpacking in Australia.
As he travels to his next gig supporting Williams, he talks fondly on the phone for 20 minutes about his time at Witham up to January 2008, when a knee injury ended his career.
He mocks himself over the ‘Right Place Right Time’ title of his third album and latest single, which is out today – “as an old centre-forward, nine times out of ten I used to be in the right place at the wrong time” – and the fact that he is mentioned in the history section on Witham’s website: “Am I really? That’s hilarious. I love that. I’m in the club’s history as an ex player!”
He says: “It’s been a crazy few years, a lot’s happened and I miss playing football a lot. You get banter on tour, but I miss having the lads around and joking, turning up maybe a little bit drunk still from the night before and talking in the warm-up about the antics we’d got up to
“I remember walking into the Witham dressing room after Deal or No Deal and getting caned for a while, with the lads singing ‘Ten pounds, you only won ten pounds!’ It was funny, and that’s what it’s all about
Murs’ manager at the time was Ken O’Donnell, who bumped into his old striker while out shopping in Chelmsford last year. “He’s still the same boy, calling me Gaffer,” O’Donnell told The NLP.
“I left Witham as a result of my injury, so it was a bit of a disappointing end to my time at the club, although I continued playing Sunday League football,” continues Murs. “I’ve always been proud to talk about the fact that I played semi-professional because it was a big achievement for me as a young lad.
“I might not always have played as much as I’d have liked to, but unfortunately I was in a team with Cody. He was a year or two younger than me and we scored goals for fun together on a Sunday. A lot of us young lads from Witham’s reserves played for Valley Swifts in the Braintree and North Essex Sunday League.
“Cody has since proven that he’s a professional footballer, and we knew he was good enough at the time. Obviously football wasn’t for me, but singing is!”
And with some sweet music for Witham fans’ ears, he adds: “I love the club. They supported me during The X-Factor and hopefully one day I’ll repay the favour by doing something for them.”
Rocket Man Sir Elton launched Watford up Football League and to Wembley in the 1984 FA Cup final. If Music Man Murs does the same for Witham Town, remember where you read it first!