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Game, set and trophy

HAVING become the first British winner of the men's singles at Wimbledon for 77 years, this evening Andy Murray will achieve another rare feat:

Andy Murray is favourite to join the small list of Scots to win the Sports Personality of the Year award   Photograph: EPA
Andy Murray is favourite to join the small list of Scots to win the Sports Personality of the Year award Photograph: EPA

joining the select band of Scots capable of convincing the wider British viewing public to embrace them as their own.

Since it began in 1954, only four sons and daughters of Caledonia have won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, a rather measly ratio which might be in line with the population of these isles, but hardly does justice to more than half a century of the finest native Scottish sporting talent. However, barring any late swings this evening, Murray, the shortest-priced favourite in the history of the award, will take his place in posterity via videolink from Miami to Leeds, alongside swimmer Ian Black, motor racing star Sir Jackie Stewart, athlete Liz McColgan and cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.

A communications link-up of another sort was required in 1958 when Black, a 17-year-old from Aberdeen, became the youngest person to win the award after a phenomenal season which saw him take gold in the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. He had to be called out of the classroom at Robert Gordon's College to be informed about it by telephone.

There are more Formula One drivers in the roll of honour than any other sport outwith athletics so it was hardly a surprise that Sir Jackie Stewart should be next on the list, taking the award in 1973 to mark his third drivers' championship title.

Fast forward to 1991 and it was Liz McColgan's turn, on the strength of that epic 10,000 metres gold at the World Championships in Tokyo, but only after the Beeb were forced to defuse one of their seemingly annual voting controversies. Angler Bob Nudd actually won more votes - due to an orchestrated campaign by the Angling Times - before the magazine's ballot papers were discarded.

"At the start I thought it was great getting nominated but there was no way I could envisage winning it," McColgan said. "So I kept saying 'I'm not going, I'm not going'. Then I got a phone call saying that if I finished top three it wouldn't be very nice if I wasn't there, so effectively they talked me into going down but I was absolutely flabbergasted when I ended up winning it, and I didn't have a speech ready or anything. I can't even remember what I said, just mumbling, whatever. But I was right in the middle of my London Marathon training so I didn't go to the after-party. I just went to bed, then got up and went for a 15-mile run in the morning, before getting back up the road and back into things."

That doesn't mean that she was unappreciative of the accolade. Indeed, with only four Scots, and 13 women in all, taking the individual crown, the odds for Scottish women to triumph seem particularly long. "Four [Scots] is not much, considering how many great performances there have been from Scotland over the years," McColgan said. "It is a really, really prestigious thing to win because it is multi-sport and you sometimes think you have just not got enough of a following to win it. And I think it is even harder for a woman, because we are so dominated by predominantly male sports like football and golf. It was just nice that people took note of me."

While the voting can be volatile, McColgan hopes that this is Murray's year - he was third last year despite taking Olympic gold and winning the US Open.

"You just don't know how the public will vote," she said, "but I think what Andy did was amazing and we might never see the like of it again. I totally understand him saying 'I am not coming on a plane all the way over, I am trying to win the next Grand Slam'. That is what he is, a tennis player, not a celebrity. I hope people don't think he just can't be bothered."

Like the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, Sports Personality of the Year is as much a popularity contest as a rigorous sporting debate - even if Michael Owen's victory shows the word "personality" in the title can be a red herring. Celtic's Lisbon Lions took the team award in 1967, as did Scotland's Grand Slam rugby stars in 1990, while Sir Alex Ferguson is just one Scottish winner of the lifetime achievement award.

Three of the last five winners have been cyclists, with road racers Mark Cavendish (2011), and Sir Bradley Wiggins (2012) following the success of track cyclist Hoy. Another Brit, Chris Froome, was an impressive winner of the Tour de France this year, but is likely to miss out.

"Winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year was a great honour for me," said Hoy, whose victory followed three Olympic golds in Beijing. "When I look through the names of past winners, it sends shivers down my spine, and to be part of that is something I'm very proud of. It's quite simply a 'Who's Who' of British sport."

As it so happens, Hoy has been known to accept awards on Murray's behalf and this summer he had a seat in the Scot's players' box at SW19 as the 26-year-old from Dunblane made his credentials for joining him on Scotland's most illustrious sporting shortlist irresistible.

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