Andy Murray, caught again in the revolving door surrounding his national identity, found himself on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse last week following a tweet indicating his support for the ‘Yes’ campaign.
Murray’s tweet, just hours before the polls opened, read: “Huge Day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this! [sic]”
The tweet was read by many as a betrayal of the country that gave him its unwavering support and oversaw his ascent to the pinnacle of the game, with responses ranging from disbelief at Murray’s decision to unsettle such volatile political waters to unreserved malice.
One trending tweet, since removed, read: “wish you had been killed at Dunblane, you miserable anti English little git. Your life will be a misery from now on.”
The more placatory voice of Daily Mail writer Jan Moir pointed out: “You are not some actor or greasy celebrity making some last-ditch Braveheart stand to endear yourself to the online separatists.
“Instead, you are the British number one tennis player. You won your Olympic medals for Great Britain; you played in the Davis Cup for Great Britain, you won Wimbledon […] Over the years, Britain has given you more than Scotland ever did — and this is how you repay the favour?”
Murray does, of course, have history. The heightened emotions of sport, married with the unfortunate chronological overlap between his ascent and the Scottish referendum, has made him a lightning conductor of Anglo-Scottish resentment throughout his career.
The “Anyone but England” comments he made as a whimsical and ingenuous 19 year old, when asked who he want to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup, confirmed his place among the long line of Scottish sporting icons whose national identity was determined by their form. The famous “British when he wins, Scottish when he loses” quip is given a even stronger air of verisimilitude when you consider the contrast between headlines opted by major newspapers following his 2013 Wimbledon triumph and his early loss at Flushing Meadows in 2009.
He has, since justified his remarks. “It wasn’t something I would do again,” Murray told the BBC. “It was a very emotional day for Scotland – it a big day. I don’t regret giving an opinion […] but the way it was worded, the way I sent it, is not really in my character. I don’t normally do stuff like that. So yeah, I was a bit disappointed.”
As the unionists and angry Englanders invaded his Twitter feed with vitriol, you did not have to be a ‘Yes’ supporter to admire the publicity shy Murray placing his heart above the advice of his agent, PR advisor and shirt sponsor.
It would have taken nerve for him to utilise his public platform, in doing so risking a nosedive in his popularity, his commercial bargaining power, perhaps even the trajectory of his career. In full knowledge of the reaction he would have faced – the apparent outrage of a Scottish man expressing a view on Scotland in the build up to Scotland’s most important decision in the Scottish man’s lifetime – Murray has taken an honest and sincere position, which is his right.
While you wouldn’t back Wayne Rooney to be completely up-to-date with his Machiavelli, there is little sincere moral fibre in the sphere of top class sport, few principles that extend beyond PR. When Murray sent his tweet, he was not thinking about what he could do for his brand. He was hoping to make a difference, for which he should be commended.