Could this become Scotland's perfect sporting summer?
With England out of the World Cup, the answer is yes – if Andy Murray can win his next two matches
Conventional wisdom among those who find themselves embroiled in bitter competition is that it is not enough simply to succeed – one's rival must also be seen to fail. For the people of Scotland – particularly that passionate majority who follow the fortunes of football and the failure of its own national side – the disastrous showing of the England team in South Africa more than adequately fulfils the second requirement of the old adage.
Today on Wimbledon's Centre Court, it will fall to Andy Murray to satisfy the first and with it potentially create a perfect summer for Scottish sport. When he steps out onto the grass at SW19 to play the Spanish number two seed, Rafael Nadal, he will be carrying the hopes of the Scottish nation with him. But ironically for Murray, a proud Scot who famously – albeit half jokingly – espoused the philosophy of following any football team rather than that of the Sassenach foe, and who only this week publicly erred over whether to bow to the Queen, he also finds himself shouldering the dreams of the English too.
At Wimbledon yesterday, officials were already preparing for a fresh outburst of "Andymonium" with fans – both English and Scottish – camping out in the hope of tickets or at least a space on Murray Mound/Henman Hill to observe proceedings on the giant screen. The fact that Murray has long endured this dual role as both British and Scottish icon has been a source of fascination to observers – not least because of the tendency for him to be referred to as Scottish when he loses, and British when he threatens to win a Grand Slam.
The "AndyMurrayometer" has tracked the phenomenon over the past 18 months by asking people to vote on the matter. It found his Britishness peaking after he came close in the Australian Open in January, while he was regarded to be at his most Scottish after a Murray-less British team were defeated by Lithuania in the Davis Cup in March.
But David Macdermid of Tennis Scotland said the joy of a Murray victory in Scotland would easily outweigh any lingering delight at the defeat of the Auld Enemy at the hands of the Germans on Sunday. "Without in any way being accused of being racist, I think Andy winning Wimbledon would herald our only world-class player at this time," he said. "We have been here before but it would be a huge and monumental boost for the country and give us a really good feel-good factor," he added.
Murray has been good news for Scottish tennis. Since he came on the scene six years ago, the number of club players in Scotland has increased from 26,000 to 33,000 while many more are believed to be playing in their local park. But Murray, with the exception of the four-time Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Chris Hoy, stands alone in the modern-day pantheon of Scottish sporting stars. Tom English, the chief sports writer for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, detects a deeper malaise in national sporting life even in areas in which Scotland once competed with the best, such as in golf, boxing and rugby. "So much energy goes into football," he said. "It dominates to an almost scandalous degree and even then the quality is still low."
Although there was much discussion before the start of the World Cup ,with one shop in Aberdeen raided by police for displaying an "Anyone But England" T-shirt, the old enmities seem to have been overplayed. A YouGov poll showed that while 24 per cent of Scots would support England's opponents, the same proportion wanted the team to win, while 38 per cent said they did not mind either outcome.
Mr English said Fabio Capello's men's early exit had helped calm things. "The anti-English thing has certainly dissipated. If England had stormed through the group stages, you might have got a bit of it. Then England would have been a threat to win. But from day one they were so hopeless that it helped seal cross-border feelings because there is nothing that improves Anglo-Scots relations like a failed England team," he said.
Hamish Husband of the Association of Tartan Army Clubs, can still recall the golden days of the 1970s and 80s when Scotland qualified for five World Cups in a row and the English were twice left at home. He said this year's England performance had left him feeling "sheer delight". "The word is schadenfreude," he added.
He insisted he was not anti-English or anti-English football, but said he resented the way the English media hyped the national side beyond its ability and for the way it has now "attached Englishness" to Andy Murray. "Unlike England we have faced up to our issues for a number of years now and perhaps we are going to be a force again in 20 years.
"The only comfort we have is that England are no better. Now they are treating Murray as their own to get them out of the doldrums," he said.
But Matt Lock of Sport Scotland's Institute of Sport, said the country, which will host the Commonwealth Games in 2014, boasted world beaters in sports but they failed to get the media spotlight.
"Team Scotland came back from the last Commonwealth Games with 30 medals – 12 of them gold in cycling, shooting and swimming." Now all Andy Murray has to do to join them is to beat Nadal.
A question of nationality
The number of mentions of Andy Murray as British in national newspapers over the last year.
The number of mentions of Andy Murray as Scottish in national newspapers over the last year.
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