Perhaps it's meant to be like this.
Perhaps this is nature’s way of reminding a Scot what it means to be British. Perhaps – you never know – it’s the other way around. It smells of fate, in any event, this annual ritual.
I don’t blame Andy Murray. In fact, my sympathies for our most distinguished sports person increase with each Wimbledon. Imagine having to go through that each year. Imagine yourself as a kind of rehomed national pet, England’s rescue dog of the hour, loved briefly and then discarded; just another mutt, just another loser.
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Let’s be frank about this. Our English chums don’t much cherish “our Andy”. First and foremost, he’s not their Tim. Secondly, continuing a fine national tradition – Connery, Connolly, Keir Hardie: pick a name – he’s “a bit chippy”. He doesn’t play the English hero well. And he refuses to lose that accent.
There’s a sub-text, too, to the Andy Murray story. It has to do with a Scottish boy and the Wimbledon establishment. He wasn’t supposed to happen. An entire multi-million pound apparatus was created in order to produce a story to warm English cockles in an English summer. It failed. They wanted their Tim and got our Andy instead. Imagine their delight.
Personally, I like the fact that he isn’t likeable. Murray can’t be stage-managed. He has a face built for the tripping of its owner. It struggles to do the required impression of a good loser. He is indeed – God bless him – a torn-faced Jock who took a risk against an exceptional opponent and, more impressive still, accepted his punishment. He rolled the dice and lost. It was better, somehow, than a win. Almost.
The first set showed just how good Murray can be. Rafa Nadal had no answer to what we ought to be calling conviction tennis. Then it fell apart. Fair enough, but to watch a Scot play with a kind of suicidal self-belief is like watching a persistent national rebellion. If England wants another Tim, you thought, that’s England’s problem.
Murray cannot alter who he is: I call that style. Could we persuade a football team or a rugby team to remember that kind of swagger, we might be on to something. Could we persuade a parliament, there would, I hope, be hell to pay. It’s called attitude. Whatever else he lacks, this 24-year-old refuses to sit easily in anyone’s mould. How many national metaphors reside in that fact?
I get the impression he doesn’t much care for Wimbledon. He wants to win the thing, of course, if only to rub a few noses in the turf. But the blazers and the suits did him no favours during his ascent. They pick away at him still, demanding that he sacrifice his career for “Team GB”, the Davis Cup, or anything else they care to call “national”. They have a lot of gall. They’ll want an Olympic football team, too, if we’re not careful.
Andy Murray owes nothing to British tennis; it did nothing for him, after all. Judy Murray and her boys – Andy and brother Jamie – have shown, triumphantly, what can be done with a declaration of independence. Once again, you can pick your metaphor. But a question remains: if churlish Andy is not to the taste of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), what has it got instead?
Damn all. Hundreds of millions have been bled from Wimbledon. Bundles have been derived from Murray’s efforts alone. Yet sport’s equivalent of the Oxbridge elite can’t come up with a single plausible talent. That has been a fact, indisputable, since Fred Perry and Virginia Wade. Andy Murray’s failure to win the Wimbledon singles is one story, but there’s another tale. This: without our chippy Jock, what have you got?
It is, to be British for a moment, a national disgrace. A mere fraction of the sums involved would be better spent on beach volleyball, or croquet, or pitch – I’m available – and toss. Before us is an institution reeking of persistent, generational failure. Did I mention metaphors? The LTA is the House of Lords of British sport, and about as useful.
Murray stands outside of all that, and his position is significant, even symbolic. British tennis is precisely equivalent to British politics. It is decadent, dull and only sustained by the efforts of those on the fringes, mocked accents and all. Murray endured Wimbledon while complaining of jolly Home Counties types who thought “Come on, Tim” – delightful banter as he attempted to do his difficult job.
He failed. The fact, no doubt, will eat at his pride, and at his skin. He is a proud young man. You have to wonder, though, what success might have meant: the Sue Barker interview; the “our Andy” claptrap; the mantle of a proper British hero; the blazers in swarms. It sounds like a very English hell.
I’m chippy, too. Can’t be helped. It’s not a choice I make, but an emotion that feels assigned.
Watching Murray against Nadal, I was the picture of ambivalence: I wanted my boy to win, but I didn’t want his victory to be claimed by yet another of those English institutions that long ago lost the right to the triumphs of others. We are all others, as it happens, to the LTA.
It’s only a sport, after all. It’s not even a sport over which I lose many viewing hours. Nor am I a 90-minute patriot: in these games, I play injury time.
Murray’s career is a reminder, nevertheless, that being a Scot has become a complicated business in 21st century Britain. Discard the politics (if you can) and the sense remains that somehow we don’t fit. Would someone to the south of me care to address the fact?
Murray didn’t lose against Nadal as Henman might have lost. Murray is, for one thing, a far better player than Timmy ever was. Even in defeat, however, there is an obduracy to the Scot, a thrawn contempt for failure. He will never be a noble loser. He will never be likeable, either. But this is how we do things: a pain in the racquet.
Murray is no-one’s idea of a British hero. He is, on the other hand, instantly obvious to Scots, from his talent to his infernal muttering: we know our own. Against Nadal, the talent was sometimes exquisite, the grace indelible. He gained this country’s weird imprimatur: he lost well. They won’t call him Tim again, down in the south.
It’s England’s problem. If they don’t care for Murray, who sees no need to be loved, perhaps they could raise a tennis hero of their own? If that is still impossible, perhaps someone should inquire as to the reasons and causes. There are Irish golfers, Spanish football players, Scots who can bat a ball, but something is missing from “British”. Why’s that?
I’ll make a guess and call it a theory. To wit: there is not enough English nationalism in British life. There is a fear, somehow, of that identity, and of that self-identification. But there is also a yearning within the majority population of the islands for someone they can call their own.
It’s not Andy Murray, though, this or any year. He played well: it’s enough.