It doesn’t take much to squeeze sentimental tears from the eyes of reticent Scots as each year draws to its conclusion.
My memories of Hogmanays past are populated, in part, by disinhibited characters sobbing with sadness over mistakes made and loves lost. And even those with things to celebrate get in on the act, blubbering through sips of some luminous concoction about how lucky they are, telling you that you’re a stand-up guy who’s always been there for them. I’ve been the stand-up guy in question on more than one occasion and I’ve not always been either cheered or convinced by this assurance. Of course, I would very much like to “be there” for people if possible, but I struggle to remember many occasions when I deliberately was.
I accept, of course, that some of you are made of sterner stuff, that you do not collapse into mush just because you’re about to throw out a calendar. But I defy even the stoniest of heart among you to deny that the news of Andy Murray’s knighthood in the Queen’s New Year Honours List moved you at least a little.
After a year punctuated by terrible news, Sir Andy’s honour lifts the spirits, doesn’t it?
If you are the sort who disdains the honours system then please, just this once, keep your opinions to yourself and let the rest of us enjoy this celebration of a brilliant young man.
Like any great piece of art, Andy Murray works on a number of levels.
We may enjoy the beautifully drawn arc of his transformation from awkward teenage prodigy to a young man whose self-deprecation and willingness to drop his emotional guard draw us closer to him. Anyone who saw his defeat against Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final will remember clearly his post match interview, during which he tearfully thanked his supporters. Those who had clung to the idea Sir Andy was a sullen sort (an unfair caricature that took seed with the misreading of his teenage nervousness) could have been left in no doubt that here was a man in possession of the full, healthy range of emotions. I’ve just rewatched the interview online and can report it retains the power to move.
We can celebrate Sir Andy, the role model, who has shown what can be achieved when a great talent is matched by an admirable work ethic. He stands shoulder to shoulder with athletes of the calibre of Sir Chris Hoy and the freshly damed Katherine Grainger as someone who has earned our admiration.
Let us remember that Murray’s success did not at first appear inevitable. It took him time and astounding dedication to rise through the ranks and begin winning major tournaments. Had he, a decade ago, faded from view, we would not have been altogether surprised. Only the most optimistic would have predicted that he would have seen out 2016 as world number one.
The Sir Andy Murray story is an epic, with pitfalls and tumbles along the way. He has fought injury, faced dips in form, and withstood the sort of scrutiny that most of us would find unbearable.
And he has triumphed! He has given us an extended third act containing thrilling victory after thrilling victory.
As I write this, Sir Andy has just lost the semi-final of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi to the Belgian David Goffin.
What a perfectly Andy Murray thing for him to have done; the surprise defeat is a key part of the drama that is his career.
But there’s another level to Sir Andy’s story, something more personal that – I think – accounts for why Scots feel so protective towards him. Through no choice of his own, he is a part of a wider story about his home town.
Sir Andy was an eight-year-old pupil of Dunblane Primary when, on 13 March, 1996, a man murdered 16 children and a teacher in the school gymnasium. He has spoken rarely about that day but, at times, it echoes around him.
When he returned to Dunblane for a walkabout after winning his first Olympic gold in 2012, he spoke of the great support he receives from the people of the town and one’s thought was that these supporters had much to thank him for, too.
It is difficult to articulate what Murray’s success means for Dunblane. It is easier, perhaps, to say what it does not mean. It has not “healed” Dunblane, for the wounds created that day may never truly heal.
But it does mean something.
My friend Malcolm Robertson, who grew up in the town and whose father George was shadow secretary of state for Scotland at the time of the murders and later acted as a spokesman for the families of victims, wrote last year about the impact the crime had on Dunblane. He captured far better than I could how Murray’s success impacted on a town that suffered so much.
Marking the 20th anniversary of the massacre, Malcolm wrote: “For many years, around the anniversary of the shooting, I visited the cemetery where many of the dead lie in great peace. Little toy windmills adorned some of the graves and I can still hear the whirring noise they made, and feel the tears on my face.
“I felt them again a few years ago, as I sat in a small bar in a village in Turkey and watched a boy from Dunblane win Wimbledon.
“For me, and doubtless for others at home, that win was about much more than tennis, however great Andy Murray’s sporting achievement. It felt like the changing of the seasons. Like when the snowdrops of spring make way for the summer.”
Andy Murray, in a small way, unites a divided Scotland. His success transcends political squabbling; we may all, together, revel in the pleasure his success brings.
When I learned on Friday that he was to become Sir Andy, I felt the prickle of tears. Didn’t you?