Wimbledon memories: How Andy Murray’s ‘anyone but England’ joke taught him his biggest lesson
To understand the complex nature of the relationship between Andy Murray and the Wimbledon crowd, we need to go back to an incident that developed a life of its own long before the Scot was a contender for the biggest prizes in tennis.
It was the summer of 2006 and amid a joint interview with Tim Henman, a teenage Murray was being teased about Scotland’s absence from that summer’s Fifa World Cup finals.
Henman, it should be noted, has limited interest in football and would not have been too bothered in the upcoming tournament in Germany, yet Murray is a football fan and with a wry smile on his face, he offered a devious reply in what was a very relaxed chat with journalists.
How that joke came back to haunt him.
Little did he know that 16 years later, some misguided souls still haven’t forgiven Murray for joking he would “support whoever England were playing against” at the World Cup, with the headlines spun from his throwaway comment haunting him throughout his career.
To this day, what appear to be reasonable tennis fans continue to suggest they don’t like Murray because he is “anti-English”, with the snipes filtering into Wimbledon’s Centre Court over the course of his historic career at the All England Club.
“Come on England” has regularly been heard from some champagne-fuelled intruders into Wimbledon’s most hallowed court, with isolated cheers when Murray missed shots at key moments in matches evidence of the animosity towards a player who was Britain’s greatest of all-time before he had even won his first title at the All England Club in 2013.
“I was only 19 or 20 at the time. I was still a kid, and I was getting things sent to my locker saying things like: ‘I hope you lose every tennis match for the rest of your life’. That’s at Wimbledon,” said Murray, as he reflected on the “anti-English” joke that he struggled to shrug off for so long. “Even people within the grounds at Wimbledon were saying that to me. It’s not nice, obviously, and I felt I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“The whole notion that I don’t like English people is nonsense. I work with English people on a daily basis. I am married to one. I live here. Some of my family are English. It is just nonsense. That’s the thing that upsets me the most about it.”
A little like the Chinese whispers game, this story began to grow in its complexity, with claims that Murray was buying a Paraguay shirt ahead of their World Cup game against England pure fabrication and yet that didn’t stop those who wanted to believe Andy was anti-English to let their agenda run wild.
Despite his protests, the die had been cast for many of Murray’s detractors, who may well have been looking for an excuse to dislike a player who didn’t fit into the mould of what English people believed a tennis player should be.
The end result was a shattering of confidence between Murray and his home fans, with the luke-warm support he received from a predominantly English crowd in the first half of his career playing at Wimbledon evidence of the damage this fake story had caused.
While Tim Henman was so often accused of lacking emotion on the court during his stellar career, yet Murray showed too much passion for many and it forced the Scot into a bubble that ensured a curious British nation didn’t get to see the real man until later in his career.
Murray admitted he recoiled into himself as he developed a huge distrust of the media, with his sparkling performances on the court not allowing him to win over his critics until, as is often the case with British sports fans, the nation found a way to love Andy in his most agonising moment.
After losing the 2012 Wimbledon final to Roger Federer, Murray admitted he concluded he may never win a Grand Slam title and as he cried on the Centre Court as he tried to sum up his feelings to the crowd, the animosity he has unjustifiably attracted melted away.
Suddenly, those who had opted to find foul in Murray discovered he was, in fact, a sensitive soul who deserved their support and from that moment on the tide of popular opinion turned in his favour.
An Olympic gold medal at London 2012 opened the floodgates for what was to follow as Murray won the US Open a few months later, sealed his first Wimbledon title in 2013, lead Britain to Davis Cup glory in 2015 and won Wimbledon again in 2016, a year that saw him finish as the world’s No 1 for the first time.
The young man who has been forced to grow up in a very public spotlight and clearly didn’t enjoy the attention that came his way needed to learn how to present himself as a sportsman worthy of respect and coupled with his sublime talent, he edges towards the end of his career widely acclaimed as the greatest British sportsman of all-time.
This date of July 7th will always be special to Murray as this is the anniversary of his first Wimbledon final win against his old foe Novak Djokovic, with the tidal wave of affection that now flows in his direction leaving those who cast an early verdict on the Scot to ponder the error of their ways.
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