IT is a grand civic honour, bestowed amidst the kind of pomp and ceremony that dates back centuries. In the end, however, it was the tears that told of how much it truly meant to Dunblane’s most famous son.
After claiming some of the most glittering prizes the world of tennis has to offer, Andy Murray broke down on an emotional homecoming to the Stirlingshire town this morning.
The reigning Wimbledon champion struggled to maintain his composure as he was awarded the Freedom of Stirling before a rapturous audience of friends, family and wellwishers who have cheered on his every success over the past decade.
On a whirlwind return to his former school, the 26-year-old was overwhelmed as he articulated his pride at hailing from Dunblane and his gratitude for the community’s vociferous support.
The ceremony at his former school, Dunblane High, saw Murray join a small and rarified band to receive Freedom of the city. It has been conferred upon a mere 19 people in the space of the past century and the Queen is the only other surviving recipient.
History may judge it to be a bauble when viewed alongside the welter of trophies and honours Murray has amassed to date, but the British number one made clear it was one of the most special days in his life.
Murray wipes away tears
As he glanced towards his long-term girlfriend, Kim Sears, sat next to his mother, Judy, and grandparents, Roy and Shirley Erskine, emotion got the better of him. Rubbing away tears, he apologised, resuming his short, modest speech a few moments later. “I think everyone knows I’m extremely proud of where I come from.” Again came the tears, met with a standing ovation.
His return to the school completed a narrative that began when, aged just 15, he left not only Dunblane but Scotland, bound for the prestigious Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona. It was, Murray told The Scotsman yesterday, a “sacrifice,” but one which forged a boy into a man.
“It was a difficult decision to move away but one I had to make and my family supported me even though it was hard for them too,” he reflected. “You spend a lot of time on the road. It can be quite tense and quite lonely at times. But it was a decision I had to make if I wanted to achieve my goals.”
Looking back, Murray - tanned and dressed in a dark grey suit - conceded his life so far has been an unusual one. “I don’t think anyone would have expected this,” he admitted. “Tennis players don’t really come from Scotland, so it’s a strange story. I guess it just proves that anything can happen if you believe and you dream and you work hard - you can achieve whatever you want to.” He paused, before adding: “It’s a nice story.”
‘Like a Royal visit’
The ceremonial inclinations of Stirling Council notwithstanding, Murray’s return to Dunblane was tantamount to a Royal visit, a sign of the staggering achievements he has racked up since beginning that long, arduous journey. He was welcomed by lines of excited pupils before being piped into the special council meeting, held in Murray Hall, named after him and his sibling, Jamie.
Even so, Frank Lennon, Dunblane High’s headmaster, pointed out that the auditorium was named in 2008, long before any Grand Slams and Olympic medals were secured. “That’s because it represented commitment, determination, ambition and aspiration,” he said proudly.
Johanna Boyd, the leader of Stirling Council, told the 250-strong audience gathered in the hall Murray was an “inspiration to us all,” describing him as a “world class sportsman and a role model.”
She told him that although centuries ago those granted the Freedom of Stirling were afforded a number of medieval privileges, such as “unlimited grazing rights,” modernity had banished them.
Murray, never one to be unprepared, admitted he had done his research into the honour, which can be traced back to the 12th century. “I’ve read a bit about it on the internet,” he revealed. “I don’t know exactly what it lets me do but I don’t think I can do anything different to anyone else.” He did, though, concede he might attempt to drive some sheep through the town at midnight, provided no one was looking.
As the ceremony drew to a close, the Dunblane High school choir gave a stirring rendition of Will Ye No’ Come Back Again? As Murray looked on smiling, it seemed like the most rhetorical of questions. His success on the court may have made him one of the most famous sportsmen in the world, but he will forever belong to Dunblane.