Chris Hoy

Had things worked out differently, Chris Hoy could have been Scotland’s Steve Redgrave.

His first national medal in sport came on the water, as a junior in the coxless pairs. However, by then he had been well established as a BMX racer, eventually turning to track cycling.

By 1999, he had his first major track medal, a silver in the Team Sprint at the world championships in Berlin, part of a trio that included Jason Queally, fellow Scot Craig MacLean (who would later win World and Commonwealth gold before switching to para-cycling and winning Paralympic gold with Anthony Kappes in 2012). MacLean, Hoy and Queally would also take Olympic silver in Sydney, where Queally won the Kilo title.

By 2004 in Athens, it was Hoy’s turn to take gold in the coveted Kilo time trial, setting a world record time at sea level in the process, the first of six Olympic titles he would secure. Unfortunately, Hoy’s bid to beat Frenchman Arnaud Tournant’s Kilo world record of 58.875 seconds at altitude in La Paz, Bolivia, ended in disappointment as Hoy was clocked .005 seconds outside the 2001 mark set around the same concrete track. Only three men had ever ridden under the minute for the Kilo, Tournant and Hoy, who did it twice on successive days.

Consolation came, however, with three more Olympic golds won in Beijing, becoming the first British athlete since Henry Taylor a century before to win three gold medals at a single Olympiad. For that achievement, he was knighted and, in addition, won BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2008.

Four years on, Hoy was winning again in his home Olympics, claiming Keirin and Team Sprint titles at London 2012. Hoy also won 11 world championships and Commonwealth golds in Manchester in 2002, in the
Kilo and Melbourne in 2006 in the Team Sprint, alongside MacLean and Ross Edgar.

In April 2013 he announced his retirement from cycling, turning his attentions to motor racing, eventually racing a Ligier-Nissan at Le Mans last year, finishing 17th overall.HeraldScotland:

Stewart Weir’s reflections

In work and at play, I have been very fortunate to get very close to some of those who have featured at the sharp end of this poll; Colin McRae, Stephen Hendry and Chris Hoy.

There is no doubt they had a God-given talent in their particular fields of excellence, and the drive and ambition to go with it. All of those commodities are fine, but unless you mix it with relentless work and practice, you might only ever be considered an also-ran.

None of these guys ever fell into that category; because when they’d done their bit, they did a bit more, just to be better than they were when they’d started the day. It would be a real lesson and an eye opener, for many a professional sportsman, just to see how far these guys pushed themselves to make themselves winners, and stay there.

In the case of Chris Hoy, that often meant pushing himself beyond the point of exhaustion, when all he could do was curl up in a ball, if he had the energy to even do that. Not skip down the bookies or switch on the PlayStation.

Accommodating, polite and professional throughout, Hoy was annoyingly good at what he did, on and off his bike. Those traits however, masked well the ruthlessness on occasions, a blinkered obsession he has for making himself the best.

Jimmy McRae, father of Colin, admitted as much when he was coaching Chris to drive rally cars (although I beat his stage times around Silverstone, but I don’t like to talk about it). “He has the ability to learn very, very quickly.

To take on information, work out what he does with it and then make it work,” stated Jimmy after just a few lessons with Hoy. No surprise that he now has a fully-fledged career in motorsport, his competitive cycling days being long gone.HeraldScotland:

Many of those who believed Hoy would roll up to the velodrome in Glasgow that now carried his name, for one last hoorah while wearing the Saltire, were at best naive.

As an athlete, Hoy had given it everything; there was little in the way of motivation, after everything he’d given to get to London and succeed there and absolutely nothing left in the tank when it came to having an appetite to do it all again over that two-year cycle.

The other thing some overlooked was that after Beijing, never mind London (and remember, he didn’t appear at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi), Hoy had become a highly successful and hugely marketable brand.

Not for a minute did I ever think he would put his reputation, as a winner, in jeopardy by appearing in Glasgow and running the risk of
not winning a gold medal, or worst still, run the chance of being embarrassed by not finishing on the podium. Some clever – or not so clever – people just hadn’t worked out that six-time Olympic champions don’t come last because it seems the right, or nice thing to do.

I find there is something ironic that in Glasgow we have the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, not that he doesn’t deserve that accolade (or half the ticket money as I suggested to Gordon Matheson on STV’s Scotland Tonight one evening – I thought the former Glasgow Council leader was going to pass out).

No, the Velodrome is there as part of the “legacy” from 2014 and therein lies the irony for me, because Hoy himself didn’t take his drive, will to win and ambition from having similar race or training facilities, or by watching the Tour de France. Instead Chris got in to cycling because he wanted to be like the BMXing kids in the film ET.

Proving we can take our sporting inspiration from anywhere, rather than needing a £113m velodrome to find it.

My last word on Chris belongs to someone else and came during a photoshoot ahead of his Kilo world record attempt in Bolivia. In the middle of an Edinburgh street, Chris stood with his ultra-lightweight super-bike above his head.

“Some machine that,” said an old fella, stopping for a look. “Thanks, it is,” Chris replied.

“Aye, but nothing like the machine holding it up,” added the pensioner.

How right he was.


Alex Ferguson

It will be 40 years ago this May since Sir Alex Ferguson won his first trophy as a manager.

The old First Division championship with St Mirren, a club who quite brilliantly sacked British football’s most successful manager, was to be followed by a further 39 titles. You can add another 10 to that tally if you include the Charity Shield and, in totting all that up, you have a career that will never, ever be surpassed.

He began as a part-time amateur player with Queen’s Park and ended in 2013 having dominated English professional football in a way that no figure had before. No matter what you think of him as a human being, what can be said of him is this; if you can legitimately be called a genius as a manager, then he was the Beethoven of his craft.

Ferguson was actually a decent player in his day as an uncompromising centre-forward who believed in the retaliate first school of how to deal with defenders who, back then, were allowed to get away with pretty much anything.

He eventually clinched a dream move to Rangers, but that ended in a humiliation which stayed with him – Fergie bore grudges like nobody else – when he failed to properly mark Billy McNeill in an Old Firm Scottish Cup Final which led to the first goal in a 4-0 rout for Celtic in 1969. It was to be his last real failure.

He was always keen on coaching and famously would make sure Cathy, his wife, and himself got a table beside Jock Stein and Sean Fallon in their favourite Glasgow restaurant where he would shamelessly “pump them for information.”

Ferguson, then in his twenties and still a Rangers player, once even asked the Celtic manager and his trusted assistant if he could watch their training one day. You can guess the answer!

Management was always his goal. A brief and yet impressive spell at East Stirlingshire quickly attracted the interest of St Mirren with whom he won the league with a team boasting an average age of 19.

That ended badly; however, glory was around the corner when Aberdeen made a move for him to replace his friend Billy McNeill, who had left for Celtic. He proceeded not so much to break the unbreakable Old Firm, rather to smash them into pieces.

Celtic remained a threat, as did Dundee United who were the other half of the New Firm, but he ground Rangers into the dust as his team won three Premier Leagues, four Scottish Cups and a League Cup. Oh, his team of Scots, led by the wonderful Willie Miller, also beat Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup and then months later became “Europe’s best team”’ by beating Hamburg in the Super Cup.

Manchester United, second bottom of the English First Division, couldn’t ignore him any longer and made their move in 1986. His early troubles are well known. It took a few years to get things right on and off the park and the “Ta-ra Fergie” banner spoke for many.

However, after narrowly missing out in 1992, the league was claimed in 1993, the club’s first for 26 years and United went on to knock Liverpool “off their f****** perch” along with everyone else.

The two Champions League wins, one which finished off an incredible and unprecedented Treble, were his greatest moments. All done in his own way. Nobody was bigger than him. Just ask David Beckham and Roy Keane.

His Manchester United side were hardly popular, much of the ill-feeling was directed at the manager, but they were respected and at times unbeatable. They also played great football which is often overlooked.

And in such a material world, he took an old and, by 1986, unfashionable club on its knees and turned it into one of the giants of global sports.

Fergie didn’t do it alone but none of this, not one single victory in the 94th minute, would have happened without him. He changed the entire course of English football and dragged quite a bit of Europe with him as well.

And he remained a proud Scot. We should be proud of him.HeraldScotland:

Neil Cameron’s reflections

There will be some – and I include myself in this – who would have Jock Stein higher in the list. Indeed, Ferguson himself always said that his mentor was the greatest there ever was.

However, the most important aspect in Ferguson’s favour in terms of being second on our all-time list is that he managed over several very different football eras; beginning in the 1970s at the bottom of the pile to dealing with multi-millionaires and, to use a great word of his, tobering them.

He kept adapting. He kept winning. He never once drew breath.

Fergie is not an easy man to like. Even if you support any club, most notably Aberdeen and Manchester United, to which he brought so much success. He was/is rude. He is ruthless.

A complete tyrant at times. The way he dealt with people, from fellow managers to referees to journalists to anyone who got in his road, bordered on the unacceptable.

Actually, many times he marched straight over that border.

He brought his team to Celtic Park for Tom Boyd’s testimonial and it coincided with the death of Bobby Murdoch. My job was to ask him about his recollections of Murdoch, a topic Fergie would surely be happy to warm to but, as I began to get my words out, he stared at me, reducing me to a wreck and all of a sudden I was speaking fluent Mandarin.

Ferguson did that to a lot better and stronger than me.

Unlike Bill Shankly, for example, he will never be loved. Sir Matt Busby was seen as a nice man. His fellow Scot . . . not as much.

However, nobody has ever known football and footballers so well. No other manager used his substitutes better. Nobody came close to demanding and getting such loyalty from his players even those, and this includes Keane, who can revere and hate him all at the same time.

Sir Alex Ferguson, Glaswegian by birth, raised in Govan by the grace of God, is a remarkable man responsible for remarkable things.

Bloody football, eh.


Andy Murray

When Andy Murray beat then champion Roger Federer’s Swiss compatriot George Basti in the opening round at Wimbledon in 2005, it was the first time a Scotsman had won a match in the sport’s most famous championship for 46 years.

That, however, is nothing to the gaps he has closed since. When he beat Novak Djokovic in the 2012 US Open final it was the first victory at a grand slam tournament by a British man for 76 years.

The following summer provided the title for his autobiography “Seventy-seven – My road to Wimbledon glory,” when he bridged the gap since Fred Perry had been the last home winner of the Wimbledon men’s singles crown.

Then there was the matter of the Davis Cup and addressing what had become an even longer wait, albeit also since 1936, when his 10 wins in 10 rubbers, just one short of the maximum 11, was central to the British victory in 2015.

By then we had already seen that Murray revelled in a team environment with the way he responded to taking part in the Olympics in 2012 and, for all that he has spent most of his career playing catch-up with the other three members of the big four who have dominated their sport for the past 10 years, he is now the only man to have successfully defended the Olympic men’s singles title.

He has, too, emphasised the importance of teamwork at every turn, repeatedly paying tribute to the efforts of the members of his close-knit backroom group, while imagination has been shown in the choice of coaches he has worked with.HeraldScotland:

He formed what would prove an important friendship with a young Leon Smith – now, of course, his Davis Cup captain – when he first began to show promise, while his recruitment of a female coach in Amelie Mauresmo and staunch public defence of her in the face of subsequent criticism, demonstrated character and integrity. Most inspired of all, however, was his response to a run of four losses in his first four Grand Slam finals when he turned, six years ago, to a man who knew how that felt.

It seemed a huge gamble to pair such contrasting personalities, but bringing the stone-faced Czech Ivan Lendl into his corner brought an influence which, if not wholly calming, has helped the fiery Scot direct his efforts more effectively than ever before.

There is, too, the latest addition to Team Murray which may have proven the most important of all when wife Kim gave birth to daughter Sophia last year. Following his second Wimbledon victory last summer, Murray said her arrival had given him a new perspective on life but also added motivation.

For all that it was not confirmed in ranking terms until later in the year, we now know that tournament was the moment that Murray became the world’s best player for the first time. No matter what happens over the next week, he has already bolstered that position this year having reached the final of the Qatar Masters which he did not contest a year ago and out-lasted defending champion Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open.

Clan Murray

Had this list been compiled a decade ago, or at any point before that, no tennis player would have featured on it. Yet, from the earliest stage of the project, there was only one question regarding the No.1 slot. Would it be Andy Murray on his own, or would his family’s elevation of tennis from a Scottish summer pastime to a sport about which almost every Scottish sports lover has become passionate, mean it should be considered a team effort?

In our democratic process, Jamie and Judy had both been well supported, but what would also have been unthinkable until very recently was that in a sporting nation previously dominated by two football tribes, 100 per cent of the votes of our sports writers would have backed the same person to come out on top.

There are dangers involved in allowing current participants to be included in polls such as these because of the lack of opportunity for proper reflection. Yet no such risk is being taken in this instance.

Some of us have been insistent for many years that Andy Murray is without doubt the greatest sportsman Scotland has ever produced and the argument is now irrefutable. However, the nature of his success is also inseparable from the environment in which it happened.

There are extraordinary parallels between his background and that of the man with whom he is engaged in a career defining rivalry.

Born within a week of one another, Novak Djokovic emerged from war-torn Sarajevo, Andy Murray from tragedy-scarred Dunblane. Both had directly experienced horror to which no child should ever be exposed.

There was, too, an element of fluke in theway opportunity presented itself to excel inthis particular sport, in Djokovic’s case the fact that he happened to grow up close to a set of tennis courts.

“God knows if I would have started tennis at all if those three tennis courts hadn’t been up there, because nobody in my family ever touched a tennis racket before me, so there was no tradition whatsoever. I would have become a skier or football player or a regular student. But that is destiny in life. When something is meant for you, it is meant for you,” he was once to observe.

In Andy Murray’s case, there was considerable family involvement in the sport. A photograph of a team which included a young Judy Erskine has long adorned the wall of the Bridge of Allan Sports Club and, while it is well-known that her father, Roy, was a good enough sportsman to play football for Hibernian, her mother, Shirley, was also a county-standard tennis player. Even so, in broader terms there had, prior to Andy’s arrival on the scene, been as much likelihood of Scotland producing a Wimbledon men’s singles champion as of the All England Club allowing an England v Scotland five-a-sides match to be played on its Centre Court.

Admittedly, Don Budge, the first man ever to win a single season
Grand Slam, had a Scottish father who played some reserve football for Rangers before emigrating to the United States, but his success only seemed to reinforce the point that innate talent was not sufficient. Nurture as well as nature was required and, in every sense, the Scottish climate was all wrong for producing a tennis champion.

That is what has been achieved by the Murrays in providing the opportunity for not one, but two, Wimbledon champions and two
world No.1s to develop. There were, inevitably, many problems to be negotiated along the way, but collectively they had the courage to
face the challenges and do what was required to support one another.
It is an extraordinary sporting collaboration.

There has been the prospect of that developing even further, too, following dad Willie’s marriage to long-time partner Sam Watson last year which saw Andy get a taste of what Jamie has had to put up with for years.

His big brother has, after all, gone from being cited as having been the second best junior in Europe at the age of 13, to the second best tennis player in his family – on a singles court at least – ever since.

However, when Sam’s daughter Caitlin brought her boyfriend, one Andrew Butchart – last year’s Olympic 10,000 metres finalist – with her, then the fitness obsessed Olympic tennis champion was not even the best athlete at a family gathering.

Against that background, it consequently feels as if only in Scotland could there be such an unappreciative response to Judy Murray’s bid to provide a bricks-and-mortar legacy to her sons’ achievements, through her attempt to build a state-of-the-art tennis centre in the area in which she and they grew up, making it much easier for talented youngsters in future to find out whether or not they have what it takes without their families having to sell the farm to do so.

She has said she may simply walk away from attempting something requiring such ambition if the planning permission appeal is unsuccessful.
If so, it will be one of the few challenges she has failed to overcome in masterminding nothing short of a tennis revolution in Scotland.

Jamie Murray

Given what we know, or at least think we do, about their respective personalities, it probably would not have worked the other way around.

After all, while an often recounted incident saw Jamie inflict lasting damage when, after losing to his 11-year-old younger brother for the
first time, he lashed out in response to relentless teasing on the way home to leave a permanent dent in Andy’s hand, it was wholly out of character.

Andy may be much more laidback off the court than his on-court angst, torment and fury suggest, but the impression that Jamie is generally the much easier going of the two was confirmed early in their careers by their mother.

So, whereas having to play second fiddle to his younger brother would have proven demoralising for many another and would probably have driven them out of the sport, Jamie has intelligently found the best
way to apply his skills which are so well suited to the doubles court.HeraldScotland:

By doing so he has found his own way to the very top of his sport, to beat the brother he knew was better equipped to achieve singles greatness, to both a Wimbledon title and a No.1 world ranking.

It is amusing to recount that Jelena Jankovic claimed, following their surprise mixed doubles victory in 2007, not to have known Jamie was a tennis player when they met at a party that year, but for all that he was proud to have become a Wimbledon champion, he has made it clear that he regards that competition as having been, in relative terms at least, a bit of fun.

His day job is what he has come to excel at, his reflexes and touch at the net allowing him to gel well with a number of partners including brother Andy on Davis Cup duty, but most successfully of all since teaming up with Brazilian Bruno Soares a year ago.

In fairness, much of the work that saw Jamie gain the doubles No.1 ranking for the first time last April had been done with previous partner John Peers, with whom he had reached both the Wimbledon and US Open finals in 2015.

However the big breakthrough had also been achieved by then when he and Soares won that elusive Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and winning a second at the US Open helped ensure that, for the first time in history, a pair of brothers finished the ATP season at the top of the singles and doubles rankings respectively.

Judy Murray

No-one could have known better than Judy Murray the scale of the risk being taken with the family’s future when they invested heavily in sending Andy to a Spanish tennis academy. A full-time professional coach since her sons were just starting primary school and Scotland’s national tennis coach as they began to make their way in the game, she fully understood how distorting parental love can be in terms of talent assessment.

She has also said that as a mum she is a strong believer in not sending children away from home if at all avoidable, but also knew enough to realise that if her boys were to achieve all they might, doing so could not
be discounted.

Jamie had already had a bad experience, boarding at a tennis academy in Cambridge, so it took all her courage and great conviction to acquiesce when Andy decided, aged 15, that he needed to head to Spain to have a real chance of making it.HeraldScotland:

She has endured her fair share of sniping in the intervening years, accusations of pushy parenting evolving into suggestions, not least from those who should have known better, that her influence on her sons and Andy in particular was somehow unhealthy.

Her own profile has certainly risen with their success leading to sponsorship deals and repeated invitations to appear on television shows, most famously/notoriously (delete according to taste), on Strictly Come Dancing.

However, Judy was already a weel-kent face on the tennis scene in her own right, having been Scottish national coach for a decade from 1995 to 2005, captain of the British Federation Cup team and perhaps even more so, her junior coaching work with the likes of her ‘Tennis on the Road’ and ‘Miss Hits’ projects demonstrating an almost obsessive evangelism on behalf of her sport.

No sign of any loss of energy behind her efforts to ensure that her sons’ successes are not fully capitalised upon, then, but should she, in the face of the resistance with which her Park of Keir tennis centre project has met, decide to relax and enjoy the rewards she has earned, she can do so deeply satisfied with her life’s work as both a mum and as
a coach.

Willie Murray

On Dunblane’s Laigh Hills last summer, a friend was passing another dog walker and, in one of those momentary flickers of recognition was about to hail an old acquaintance before realising she did not actually know the man accompanied only by his cocker spaniel, so merely offered a reciprocated smile and a nod and walked on.

Unlike his sons and his ex-wife, that is the level of celebrity Willie Murray has reached. His face is familiar, but it took a moment to realise that was as a result of the BBC occasionally turning their cameras to the Wimbledon players’ box, rather than because they knew one another as neighbours in what is a small town.

The impression is that he is quite happy with that. Murray senior has provided what has seemed like an invisible earth wire, grounding his boys to their roots in Dunblane and, while not as overtly passionate about tennis as Judy he, too, was party to the huge risk involved in finding the £40,000 required to provide young Andy with the opportunity to go to Spain.HeraldScotland:

Newly re-married to girlfriend of several years Sam Watson, he has come across as a very dignified man, saying he is happy to remain in the background as long as the correct version of his involvement in his boys’ lives – playing a true fatherly role in ensuring they had a secure home in which to grow up – is known and understood.

That deserves to be respected, but it does not feel untoward to note that when the 15-year-old Andy headed for Spain his father’s reported parting shot was: “Don’t take sh** from anyone.”

Somehow you like to think that is true, but either way, in the formation of these champions it is clear that Willie Murray did a great deal more than provide them with a family name.