Obviously, he should get it. Footballers can win World Cups with shots which don’t cross the line and invariably golfers win Opens with ten-inch squirters rather than putts which crest all of the green’s undulations from a distance of 40 yards. Even tennis champions will be confirmed by that most unglamorous of endings, the double-fault. So Andy Murray should definitely be crowned Sports Personality of the Year for, if nothing else, that astonishing backhand lob which secured Britain the Davis Cup – surely the best-looking winner in any championship, in any sport, that there’s ever been.
But should he get a knighthood? I’m not so sure about that.
I mean, he deserves one. If they’re available to sportsmen – and, boy, are they on offer – then the hero of Ghent has an equal and in some cases superior claim to the honour bestowed on so many others before him. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.
Who wants a knighthood, or any kind of gong, when there’s general agreement that too many are bestowed on celebrities now? It’s like they’re mollycoddled children on school sports day who’re unable to cope with the disappointment of not finishing first and so everyone ends up with a prize. Who wants that? Not Andy, I bet.
Who wants a knighthood when there’s so much cynicism and suspicion about politicians trying to bathe in the reflected glory of sportsmen both for populist appeal and to deflect attention from controversial decisions, such as sending our armed forces to fight terrorists?
Blame Tony Blair because New Labour started it all. Before then, sportsmen had to wait a long time for a knighthood and for some the awards never came. Bobby Charlton wasn’t knighted until 1994, 21 years after he’d hung up his boots and 28 after England’s World Cup triumph. But his team-mate Bobby Moore died the previous year, unknighted.
There were calls for the rest of the ’66 team to receive knighthoods, before it was too late. Then in 1997 Blair came to power. Younger than previous Prime Ministers – groovier, too, and able to sustain keepy-uppies beyond two for the photo-ops – he was one for people’s princesses, people’s indie bands and indeed the people’s game. The following year it became Sir Geoff Hurst but it wasn’t Sir Nobby Stiles then and it still isn’t. That’s the problem with throwing knighthoods around – when do you stop?
Spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, who loves football even more than the Wor Jackie Milburn-raving Tone, is supposed to have intervened to ensure his friend Sir Alex Ferguson was knighted in 1999. No one would begrudge Fergie the honour, coming as it did after the Treble culminating in the Champions League, but there’s a school of thought that honours for sport should be delayed until retirement, although obviously there’s less capital in that for politicians who may be scooped in making the award by a rival from the other “team”.
When Murray won Wimbledon in 2013, the Aston Villa and West Ham United-supporting David Cameron was quick to declare: “Give that man a knighthood, ra ra ra.” Admittedly Cameron sounded like he believed this more than his predecessor Gordon Brown when the latter claimed: “I love the sound of Arctic Monkeys in the morning.” But Murray wasn’t sure, it was only a tennis tournament, he said, and later that year an OBE came his way.
How, though, does the grateful nation reward the Davis Cup winners and in particular Murray? The knighthood campaign began the split-second that fantastic lob found the back of the court. Murray responded by saying the whole team should get one. In times past, there was an unwritten rule that sportsmen wouldn’t be able to call themselves Sir until it was obvious their achievements weren’t going to be surpassed. Thunderingly, epicly so, Murray’s achievements are now in this category. But wouldn’t it be great if this sometimes contrary fellow said he’d accept the honour, but only after he’d retired – and as long as Jock Stein got one posthumously and while we’re at it, why not Denis Law as well?