The town of Dunblane near Stirling in Scotland is a quaint little settlement, a sleepy hollow, a smallish community of less than 10,000 inhabitants which is earmarked by a Cathedral and a rather fashionable hotel, whose restaurant is apparently operated by one of those 'celebrity' television chefs, Nick Nairn. On a train ride from Glasgow to Aberdeen, you know you are somewhere between Stirling and Perth when you roll into Dunblane.
Life moves slowly there. It is thousands of miles away, both figuratively and literally, from Flushing Meadows, a tennis site situated in the teeming borough of Queens in New York City where Dunblane's most famous sporting son was winning the US Open against an equally majestic Novak Djokovic on Monday evening. Andy Murray's gilded racket shone a welcome light on Dunblane some 16 years after evil came calling. If ever a town needed such vibrant news in the eyes of the wider world, it was Dunblane.
There remain moments in life that creep up and confront you when you least expect them, the sort of things that tend to find you when they do not enter your mind on any idle Tuesday. Or in this case, a Wednesday.
I remember being in a gym at Edinburgh's Commonwealth Pool when the news began to break over the radio that Thomas Hamilton, an unemployed 43-year-old - a figure of some dubiety ousted as a local scout leader several years earlier - had walked into a primary school and began shooting randomly at kids. In times prior to those of an Apple iPhone 5, the news was sketchy at first before details of the horrors emerged: Hamilton had killed 16 children and their teacher before turning the gun on himself. There was no explanation for his actions. Not that it would have provided much comfort.
There but for the grace of God, go I. It has been well publicised, but Andy Murray attended Dunblane Primary School at the time of the shootings. He survived by taking cover under a school desk. He was only eight. It must have crossed his mind in his private moments, but for a twist of fate he may not have been around to contest his final with Djokovic. He may never have fulfilled his potential as a true champion.
"I could have been one of those children," he said in his autobiography of four years ago.
Much has been made of the wealth that Murray will revel in after the terrific manner in which he tore down the unrelenting force of Djokovic with his innate ability to retrieve some brutish forehands. Close to £100 million in endorsements apparently accompanies becoming Britain's first Grand Slam tennis winner in 76 years.
One suspects Murray stopped worrying about money a long time ago. Nobody is taking their earnings with them when they go. Not even Murray when he throws his final serve down the T of life. Memories and trinkets surely remain the real currency of a champion.
It has to be a special moment to keep folks going from 9pm on a Monday night until 3am on a Tuesday morning of the working week. All the bleary eyes, sleep deprivation and caffeine-loaded times afterwards were worth it to bask in the afterglow of Murray's moment.
Murray's quite splendid work ethic, his character, his unwillingness to yield in time to one of the best men to play the game, and his ability to deliver his very best tennis when all looked lost made for one of the finest pieces of sporting theatre you are likely to witness this or any other year.
I have never run into Murray on my travels, but I always think his shyness is misconstrued as arrogance. He is perhaps not as user-friendly as a Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, but being his own character has not hindered his self-longing.
From a Scottish and British perspective, it was a truly fabulous moment, standing alongside any other pulsating moments from sporting folklore in London's Olympic year and yesteryear. Goodness knows Scottish sport needed it with the football side unlikely to be qualifying for Brazil's World Cup in two years time after maudlin draws with Serbia and Macedonia.
The motto of the Murray story is one of raw courage, perseverance and never willing to listen to the doubters. One of the great fascinations of life is that you never know what is around the corner. If you hang in there, you might just make it wherever you find yourself stationed.
When Murray was wallowing in tears after his defeat to Roger Federer at Wimbledon in July, it is obvious that he was not fraternising with self-pity. He shelved any notions of being the eternal bridesmaid by clasping Olympic gold and his first Grand Slam to make good on his promise. One does not need to be a tennis champion to take the bigger point out of the Murray story.
The Dunblane shooting incident illustrated the fragility of life. Like Murray's tennis match with Djokovic, we all live on a knife edge. Who knows what lives the innocents murdered in Dunblane would have gone onto lead. The real pain of those horrors is that their parents will never know.
In such a respect, like Murray, if we are all standing fit and healthy, many of us live charmed lives even without millions of the folding stuff. It remains especially so when we are privileged enough to watch true sporting gladiators like Murray and Djokovic excel in such raw moments that unintentionally take on a greater meaning.
- Sports & Recreation
- Andy Murray
- Novak Djokovic