Andy Murray paused before the fortnight of competition at Wimbledon began and did something he has rarely done before.
He spoke about being a child of Dunblane, Scotland, and a survivor of the horrific 1996 primary school shooting in which 16 children and a teacher were killed by Thomas Hamilton. Murray was 8 at the time and, like his older brother and so many others, was fortunate to be spared that March day.
“At the time you have no idea how tough something like that is,” he told Sue Barker in a BBC documentary entitled “Andy Murray: the Man Behind the Racquet.” (There’s a clip here.) “As you start to get older, you realize. … It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to research it. I didn’t really want to know.”
Murray held his dog on his lap and broke down as he spoke of the shootings, a poignant scene.
“In a remarkable few moments, Murray struggles and fails to contain his emotions, gulping for breath or staring, haunted, into space,” the Guardian’s Ally Fogg writes. “At one point he bends forward, almost into a fetal position, gripping the pet dog in his lap for support. In those few minutes he says little, but reveals a lot. Under Sue Barker’s sensitive, gentle questioning, Murray shows why he offers such a stoical and stubborn mask to the world and perhaps gives an insight into his remorseless drive to victory. Men from central Scotland are not known for our smiley, flamboyant extroversion at the best of times. In Murray’s case one senses that he has constructed a thick protective wall around himself. Perhaps he cannot easily let emotions spill out, because with only the smallest crack, the deluge would be overwhelming.”
Murray, at that point the Olympic gold medalist and U.S. Open champion, told Barker: “It is just nice being able to do something the town is proud of.”
Murray’s mother, Judy, told the BBC that her family knew Hamilton, who shot himself to death that day.
“Andy’s class were on their way to the gym, his class were the next ones in the gym,” she said. “His class was stopped when somebody went up, when they heard the noise and discovered what had happened. … I was one of hundreds of mums that were queuing up at the school gates waiting to find out what had happened, not knowing if your children were alive or not.”
That’s why the images of Dunblane residents watching as Murray became the first British man in 77 years to win Wimbledon were so poignant, so unprecedented. Murray’s win, Fogg writes, reclaimed Dunblane for its citizens:
With so many residents still mourning and grieving their lost children, the very children who should have grown into his friends and supporters, Dunblane has been able to rally around the achievements of one of their own and look forward. For all the hoohah and cheap gags as to whether Murray represents Scotland or Britain, it is not much of a stretch to imagine that first and foremost he is playing for Dunblane.
As one resident told the Guardian: “Andy’s exorcised a ghost in Dunblane.” It is no longer the town of Thomas Hamilton. Dunblane is Andy Murray’s town, and he has helped its people get their town back. Of all his achievements, this may be his greatest.