As a kid, Olly Murs heard the adage that only two career paths that could lead a lad out of England: becoming a rock star or a professional soccer player. He was counting on the latter.
“Football was something that I loved massively,” he says of his years playing semi-pro for Whitham Town. “I used to just work 9 to 5 at a job and play football, and it was a non-league team, but I was trying to break into professional. I never had anything else to look forward to, really.”
And then? The accident. And everything turned bleak.
The stocky, athletic-looking Murs still shivers recalling the injury. “I was playing indoors, five a side, a small game,” he says. “And I was just running and my knee buckled behind me, shot backwards, and my ligaments just snapped. And I knew that was it. My time was over.”
Even after an operation, pain still lingered.
Sidelined, he took a gamble and auditioned for Simon Cowell’s televised U.K. singing competition “The X-Factor,” and made it to the 2009 season finale, where he lost to Joe McElderry.
He plays San Francisco this week, backing his first U.S. release “Right Place Right Time,” his third overall, and its soulful single “Troublemaker,” featuring Flo-Rida.
The fable sounds far-fetched, Murs agrees. But he always sang karaoke with his pub mates, and formed a fun acoustic duo with a friend called The Small Town Blaggers. With his sports dreams dashed, he was frustrated, ready to try anything.
“Then I saw the “X-Factor” advert, and I applied just to see what would happen,” he says. “And obviously, being a competitive sportsman, I was amazed to get to the finals, but gutted to lose.”
Yet the show landed him a contract with Cowell’s SyCo Music imprint, and tours with label superstars One Direction.
Murs is open to outside song suggestions, like Chiddy Bang’s dub-techno mashup “Heart Skips a Beat,” which he croons with its composer’s assistance on “Right Place.”
He co-wrote the rest of the record himself, and, like his hero Justin Timberlake, has settled into his own smooth R&B groove. “Initially, I didn’t know what sort of songs I wanted to do,” he says. “But I went in with some amazing writers, and stayed involved in every album I’ve done.”
The singer isn’t playing soccer anymore, which he calls “a shame.” Thanks to his weak knee and his multi-platinum pop profile, he says, “I’m a marked man when I go and play football now!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 346-6000, www.livenation.com