Mark Steel: If only Andy Murray came from the Home Counties

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The Independent Online

They can't make up their mind about Andy Murray, can they? He might be British and exciting, with the potential to win things, but according to The Daily Telegraph he "will never make us swoon", because "we liked Tim Henman's Home Counties stiffness far more than the cursing aggression of this young man".

Because that's what makes great champions – Home Counties stiffness. This is what links Tiger Woods, Pele, Brian Lara and Billie Jean King – they were all brought up within five miles of Guildford. And Muhammad Ali was from Hemel Hempstead, where he would boast: "Float like an accountant, sting like a sales director for fitted kitchen units."

Then we were told that Murray can't be popular because he "curls his lip" when he wins a point. What a disgrace. True tennis stars, if they wish to express joy at such moments, write a letter to the Telegraph, such as "Dear Sir: May I convey my deepest satisfaction at the outcome of the preceding rally, which culminated in a victorious lob on my part, the deceptive nature of which rather puts one in mind of General Gordon's successful assault on Khartoum. Yours faithfully."

On top of this, Murray didn't deserve our support, it went on, because "dour Scots are already over-represented in public life". But the bloke won – what's he supposed to do? Should he insist his French opponent goes through anyway because there's already a Scottish Prime Minister? Maybe all sporting events should be decided by which groups are underrepresented in public life, so no matter who won today's matches the semi-finalists would be a Yeoman of the Guard, a Muslim lumberjack, an eskimo and a particularly stiff retired admiral from Sunbury-on-Thames.

For much of Monday's match, many spectators seemed to share the Telegraph's view. Or maybe they were more like the columnist in the Daily Mirror, who told us he'd be at the match but wouldn't support Murray as the player was anti-English. But never mind, because "if the English can survive the Luftwaffe, the IRA and al-Qa'ida, then I fancy our chances against Andy Murray". So apparently we're at war with him.

The columnist was prepared to do his part, boasting: "If Murray throws his pongy sweatbands and they land near me, I shall chuck them straight back." It's exactly that spirit that drove our lads at the beaches of Normandy. Maybe in 50 years' time all these columnists will meet up in reunions, wearing their medals and swapping stories such as: "Me and Billy Acocks were face to face with the buggers, then blow me I've gorn and taken a pongy sweatband right in me blooming chest. But there was no time for grumbling, I've picked it straight up and chucked it back at the blighter, caused him to double-fault. I got a Victoria Cross for that." Discussions on phone-ins on Monday were packed with people complaining that Murray didn't support England at football so they wouldn't support him at tennis.

In different ways, the two main objections to Andy Murray, that he supports Scotland and isn't Home Counties enough, come from a similar place. The people complaining claim to love Britain, but they only really love a tiny bit of Britain – their little bit. Even if someone's British, if they're not from the right region or class or tradition they're still the enemy.

The tennis establishment and much of the Wimbledon crowd loved Henman because to them he represented their Britain, a Britain of Harvest Festivals, home-made damson jam, and Cliff Richard; of "Don't go near the housing estate darling, you'll come back smelling of overalls and milk tokens and ITV"; of campaigning against the proposed new see-saw in the playground as it will "blight the traditional character of the area", of agreeing never to refer to the tragic incident in which the local magistrate was arrested in a public toilet; of teenagers being detained for six hours by the police for playing with yo-yos near the war memorial.

The last British Wimbledon men's singles champion, Fred Perry, recalled being in the shower after winning, and overhearing Tennis Association executives lamenting that someone of his social class would now be a hero.

A similar attitude means tennis is beyond the reach of most kids, which must be one reason why we're so dreadful at it. The answer must be that, just as there are now disabled sports tournaments and a gay Olympics, there should be a stiff Home Counties Wimbledon, with a final between two stockbrokers, in which the winner promises to celebrate by filling in the VAT returns for the local branch of the UK Independence Party.

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