IN the queue for the bathroom facilities, there was cause for concern. “Even us, we are not bouncing enough,” complained a Stirling University Barmy Army recruit.
One of the 34 who have travelled to Ghent to cheer on Great Britain, he was worried that things were beginning to unstitch like the cheap tee-shirts this heroic group have sported on each of the past two days.
But he needn’t have fretted. The Murrays yesterday ensured Great Britain are on the verge of bouncing all the way into tennis history. It is all the more remarkable, and of course pleasing, that it is a pair of Scots who we have to thank for this.
The last time Scotland defeated Belgium with such invention and expertise, Kenny Dalglish curled one in from almost on the byline. But at least then Jock Stein was able to draw on players from all over the country.
Yesterday it came down to a single house in Dunblane. It is the tennis equivalent of Celtic winning the European Cup with players born within a 30 mile radius of Celtic Park.
Of course, Scotland – oh, all right, Great Britain – haven’t won anything, yet. But because of the endeavours of two kids who grew up in Perthshire the visitors are firmly on track to bring the Davis Cup back to Blighty today, after holding their nerve against Steve Darcis and David Goffin.
It is now all down to Goffin today. He needs to do something he has never done before – beat Andy Murray.
He and Darcis came up short yesterday but there were some sweaty moments to be endured by Great Britain. The travelling supporters left the arena wearing smiles as wide as the one on the Acid House symbol that adorned a Saltire flag being waved in the crowd. But it wasn’t always straightforward. In fact, it was a long way from that.
The range of emotions felt inside the cavernous Flanders Expo hall hasn’t been so extreme since the last I Love Techno night was held here. One minute we were up, the next we were down. But not because of the pills we were popping.
Whoever had been left in charge of the music was clearly on something. Or else he’d left his post to get the half-time football results. We had reached a crucial stage of the match. Great Britain had managed to stamp their authority on the proceedings again by winning the third set to go back in front, 2-1. Goffin was preparing to serve. The match was on a knife-edge. But something wasn’t right. Clean Bandit’s Rather Be was still echoing around the hall. Unless we’d missed the memo about baroque house music being permitted during Davis Cup matches, this seemed very much out of the ordinary. Carlos Ramos, the umpire, agreed. “Can you stop the music please, wherever that is coming from?” he asked, reasonably.
It took what felt like a good few minutes for someone to locate the off button. But this is a competition that seems to always veer between sober and madcap.
It’s hard to treat it completely seriously when just behind the Great Britain bench there are rows of people sitting wearing C U Jimmy hats. Just behind them were fairly mature looking fellow spectators with caps that had two tennis balls stitched into them.
The frenetic pace of doubles, the fact there is a team dynamic at play, creates a special atmosphere all of its own. It is the middle day of competition. Everyone is focused on just one match. And it’s Saturday, which means the booze is flowing. But for a while, the Murrays were succeeding only in putting a dampener on things.
They were in danger of letting it slip after taking command following a first set, won 6-4.
Jamie Murray had just been broken in the third set, and the tide was turning very much in favour of the hosts. Anxiety there was aplenty. The Belgians were beginning to enjoy themselves again. The tennis tartan army were running off to the toilets and to the bars, anywhere.
But pressure does strange things to people. Goffin and Darcis were broken in successive Belgian service games. The Murrays were back in it. Andy was trolling the locals again.
Indeed, when the giant drapes fell to the floor at the beginning in what is a particularly effective way of introducing the players, you half expected Andy to be wearing a cape, like the pantomime villain he has become here. But there was actually very little of the aggro of Friday. Only once did things really threaten to become heated, when a point had to be replayed following a rogue shout.
Andy Murray went over to the umpire to make his point. He even tapped Mr Ramos on the shoulder as he sought to be heard.
The point ended up being replayed, and Britain ended up winning it in any case. There was also something poetic about Jamie being the one whose service game saw Britain secure such a potentially priceless victory. He dropped serve three times and looked utterly crestfallen at times.
But when Darcis was long with his return from Jamie’s serve at the end, such struggles didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he and his brother had once fallen in love with tennis in a town called Dunblane.