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Proof that Murray has won nation's heart at last

It was the most widely anticipated of all his victories.

Andy Murray's victory proves he has won over the British public after a shaky start. Picture: PA
Andy Murray's victory proves he has won over the British public after a shaky start. Picture: PA

Andy Murray became the 60th BBC Sports Personality of the Year last night, winning the vote ahead of Leigh Halfpenny and AP McCoy and in doing so confirmed that he has, finally, been afforded the affection of the British public.

Murray's journey to this point has been convoluted; when he initially broke into the public's consciousness he was branded surly and dour and his "anyone but England" retort to the question of who he would be supporting at the 2006 World Cup did little to endear him to those south of the border.

However, if his Wimbledon tears, Olympic gold and US Open victory last year turned most dissenting observers, his win at the All England Club this summer converted the remainder. In becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon for 77 years, Murray made history and some bookmakers paid out six months early, so confident were they that the Scot would triumph at the year-ending ceremony.

Murray was not present to accept his award last night - he remained in Miami to continue his rehabilitation from back surgery - but his absence did little to dent his chances. The Scot's commitment to his training block over the glitz and glamour of an awards ceremony illustrates where his priorities lie.

Nevertheless, his choice still attracted a degree of criticism from some quarters that he was disrespecting a much-loved British institution. It was reported, however, that Murray had genuinely agonised over the decision.

Murray became only the fifth Scot to win the award - the others being Ian Black, Sir Jackie Stewart, Liz McColgan and Sir Chris Hoy - and in doing so joined a revered list of athletes, despite Murray's canter to victory, the show has not been without its surprises.

Chris Chataway won the first SPOTY in 1954, beating Roger Bannister into second place despite the latter running the first sub-four-minute mile that year. Gary Lineker won the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup but failed to win the public's vote. And it took Sir Steve Redgrave 16 appearances and five Olympic gold medals before he managed to get his hands on the illustrious trophy.

That SPOTY has become such a revered tradition is something of a peculiarity in itself. Fifty-nine years after its inception in 1954, the prestige of the award has grown rather than diminished.

The whole concept of SPOTY is the antithesis of everything that a sportsperson is familiar with.

Athletes live in a world where they do not have to court popularity; if they are successful then they will, more often than not, be liked. If there is not an obvious affection for them, well, who cares, they are winning. Sportspeople exist in a world of objectivity - the scoreboard or the clock decides if they are victorious, not a democratic public vote. And this is perhaps, ironically, why SPOTY is held in such high regard amongst athletes themselves.

Winning it is not life-changing - without exception, every winner has done something of such magnitude that their lives have already been altered - yet it is viewed as one of the greatest honours in British sport.

There is little doubt that SPOTY matters to the elite athletes of Britain. It probably should not, but it does. Some athletes care more than others about triumphing - one suspects that Murray cares less than most - with some going so far as to canvass for votes as Dame Kelly Holmes did in 2004.

The roll-call of winners is a who's who of British sport. Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 SPOTY victor after becoming Britain's first winner of the Tour de France, followed by Olympic gold, called it the most iconic trophy in British sport, ahead, even, of the Jules Rimet trophy and the FA Cup. "To me, it is the prize that every sports competitor wants to win more than any other," he said. "It is the one that they watched as a child and has inspired them to run faster, play football or get on a bike."

In accepting his award from Martina Navratilova via video-link from Miami last night, Murray thanked his family and support team before saying: "No matter how excited I try to sound, my voice still sounds incredibly boring but I'm very happy and excited right now."

An emotional Murray continued: "I'm very sorry that I couldn't be there tonight. I couldn't have got to the position I'm in if I didn't take my training and my preparation extremely seriously. I've dedicated the last 10 to 15 years of my life to this, so thank you very much."

Murray has come a long way. He has won Olympic gold, two grand slam titles and, perhaps belatedly, the love of the British public.

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