I was going to call this post “The Strife of Supporting Scottish Sportspeople” but I appreciate there’s only so much alliteration people can stomach in one sitting.
Let me first make my shocking confession: I really do admire Andy Murray. His tennis style can be spectacularly entertaining – but his off-court antics delight me just as much. In the Age of Beige, when sports stars are typically media trained to within an inch of a coma, Murray is nothing if not unpredictable. In his post-match interviews, he is frequently grouchy. But he is just as often very funny. In fact, only Australian Open comedy queen Caroline Wozniacki has challenged him in this department of late.
[Sample Murray quote, upon losing the Aussie Open final to Roger Federer last year: “I can cry like Roger. Just a shame I can’t play like him.”]
The snarky Scotsman is a character type whose precedent was set long before the advent of Scrooge McDuck. And sporting figures pull it off better than most. Take the abrasive wit of Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish just yesterday, when – in the wake of Keys and Gray-gate – he asked Sky Sports reporter Vinny O’Connor if he minded sharing the room with a female journalist.
This brings me to my point. If Scots performed as well in the sporting arena as they do in press conferences, I think we’d be world-beaters. Even Scottish supporters achieve enviable verbal acrobatics when watching the nation’s athletes compete. But the hopes and dreams of that audience are all-too-rarely rewarded by reality.
Scotland, you see, is not immune to the UK-wide phenomenon of building ‘em up to knock ‘em down. So we can expect the “Magic Murray” headlines that have accompanied the world number five on his flawless march to the quarterfinals to disappear just as magically when he gets knocked out.
As a nation, we don’t want to lose. But we seem to have a powerless addiction to defeat. This regularly takes the form of “glorious defeat”. For example, you can pretty much rely on Scotland’s football team to be next in line for qualification at the end of any pre-championship campaign. Good – but not quite good enough.
The last time our footballers did make a major tournament, we even managed to orchestrate our own fate. At the 1998 World Cup in France, Scotland took on eventual finalists Brazil in an opening match watched by billions. We were in contention until the 73rd minute when Celtic’s Tommy Boyd scored the winner… for the opposition. A heartbreaking moment, but our aspirations were perhaps best summed up by the title of Del Amitri’s anthem for the Scottish campaign: “Don’t Come Home Too Soon”. In other words, just being there was the victory.
There’s another sport in which Scotland making the World Cup is a given, and that’s rugby. OK – the number of countries that actually want to make the World Cup is pretty limited, but bear with me. The fact is, the general lack of competition in rugby only increases our frustration at the general lack of Scottish success.
Let’s consider the nation’s autumn tests against big southern hemisphere opposition. Most rugby fans I know snapped up tickets to see Scotland take on New Zealand in Edinburgh. To a man they wished they hadn’t bothered. The All Blacks romped to a record 49-3 win.
Skip forward seven days and Scotland took on World Cup champions South Africa. My rugby-minded friends had seen quite enough at close range the previous weekend and thus chose to watch the action from the cheaper and boozier comfort of the pub. Scotland this time recorded the victory: 21-17. Typical.
We have the talent. We just don’t have the consistency.
And so I return to Mr. Murray. I genuinely wish him every success throughout the rest of the Aussie Open. I would dearly love to see him win. But the threatening threesome that potentially lies ahead (Roger, Rafa and some Ukrainian geezer called Dolgopolov) will challenge him almost as much as home supporters’ expectations.
Should he fail in his quest, I for one will forgive him. And I shall take heart in his ability to regale the post-match press conference with tales of the Outback. Fans of Wozniacki’s kangaroo bite story really ought to know that Murray has already gone one better.
His antipodean anecdote?
“A wallaby pooed on me, so that wasn't very nice.”