So the great British sporting summer still awaits full lift-off. Andy Murray’s fairytale Wimbledon victory failed to materialise and England’s armies of zealously patriotic spinsters can leave Murray Mound (or is it now Marray Mound?), flags at half mast, to return home and feed their voluminous hoards of hungry cats.
By means of consolation, we all found ourselves gripped by the men’s doubles final. A mass interest in an obscure sporting discipline not seen in this country since everyone stayed up all night to watch four Scottish women seemingly practice their sweeping and ironing at the 2002 Winter Olympics. The eerie progress of Messrs Murray and Marray over the same summer are almost enough to suggest that perhaps Katherine Merry should be dusting off her spikes for the London Olympics, but on reflection maybe that’s going a bit too far.
Before the men’s final, Murray was the man we all loved to hate. Yes, we wanted a Brit to do well, but did it have to be such an objectionable one? His PR team’s attempts to paint him as Albion’s answer to John McEnroe on account of his temper missed a crucial point in that despite the tantrums, Andy had none of the older man’s charm and charisma. Despite the legendary status of Roger Federer, it seems unfathomable that such a large number of Brits would be supporting him if his opponent and our compatriot was a bit more likeable.
However after the match, something strange happened. Sue Barker, armed with a microphone, assaulted him with all the subtlety of a meat tenderiser and it was too much for the young Scot. He burst into tears. And in doing so, he won the hearts of many. Here was a man who had given everything. He had played (at least for the first two sets) to the limits of his ability, yet his best was not good enough.
Murray is, within the eyes of many, a member of the “big four” of tennis. His destruction of Tsonga (ranked 5) in the semi finals was proof of this. His problem though, is that while many perceive all big four players to be equal, some are more equal than others. Namely the other three.
But this is nothing new, he has both lost to (and indeed beaten) them all before yet failed to win our full support. There had always been a feeling that he could have done better. On Sunday there was not. Here was a man who had given every ounce of effort in his body to emerge victorious and he had heroically failed. There is no better way to a Briton’s heart.
We have a strange obsession with hard graft in this country. We hold a high work-rate in with the sort of high regard that other nations reserve for attributes like, say, talent. We love to call the Spanish ‘lazy’ and the French ‘work-shy’, as some sort of grave insult. As if the idea of an afternoon nap or a 35 hour working week would utterly offend us. We use it to compromise for our lack of ability, as there’s no question that, in our eyes, the most important thing is trying.
We British come up with absurd phrases like “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration“, to teach future generations of Brits the values of working hard… As if the difference between Mozart and Jedward is that the former was a bit more dedicated.
You only have to look at the sort of sporting icons that have stood the test of time to realise this. Where other countries look to flamboyant figureheads like Brian Lara and Sachin Tendaulkar, we have grafters like Mike Atherton and Jonathan Trott. Our press hold people like Terry Butcher and Paul Ince, their bandaged heads testament to their application, in the same regard as the Brazilians hold artists of the game like Socrates and Jairzinho. We made Scott Parker captain of the England football team…
Scott. Parker. Now there is the embodiment of one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. Read the same for James Milner. And just about any English midfielder ever. In fact, if you look at the way David Beckham’s legendary performance against Greece was reported, it was typical that the press concentrated as much on the fact that he’d run about 7km further than anyone else as they did on his beautiful match-saving moment of true genius. Graft, graft, graft.
So Andy Murray can rest easy. He may not have broken his duck in majors, he may not have brought this fair isle its first full Wimbledon champion since the invention of the wheel. But he may have finally won the battle for many people’s hearts. Like a consoling, yet proud father on sports day, we want to put our arm around his shoulder and say “Well done, you gave it your all”.
After all, isn’t it just typical that in Rugby, that most British of all sports, the ultimate aim is to score something called a Try… It’s all we really care about.
by Harry Harland