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Game, Set and PR blunder

Game, Set and PR blunder

24 September 2014 | Lloyd Hughes

Andy Murray is guilty of attempted murder.

I’m certain of it.

I’m not sure it would stand up in a court of law mind you, but personally I’m confident that in the court of public opinion he’d definitely be guilty of attempted murder.

The victim? His publicist.

I imagine that, whoever they might be, they woke up on the morning of the Scottish referendum, checked their phone and proceeded to clutch their chest in pained anguish as pins and needles rushed down their left side. Finding out that your client has alienated and potentially offended millions (and in all likelihood the majority) of their fan base is probably jumping firmly into heart attack territory for somebody tasked with helping them toe the line of public opinion.

What was the weapon used in this attempted murder? Twitter. Without referring to his publicist, Murray went ahead and put out the following tweet:

“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!”

It’s lucky for Murray really that his publicist’s ticker appears to be in relatively good nick and that they didn’t flat line upon reading it, for the tweet revealed that he was supporting Scottish independence and therefore was in favour of leaving the Union. In effect, he was saying ‘I don’t want Great Britain to exist anymore’.

The finer points of this can be argued back and forth, with people interpreting what support for Scottish independence actually meant in its wider context, but the simple fact remains that without Scotland, Great Britain would no longer be Great Britain. It would be rUK or some other such political construct. And in a sporting context, ‘Team GB’ would be no more.

Despite this, Andy Murray was still keen for independence and felt the need to express his view to his millions of Twitter followers.

This is all well and good. As a Scot and an actual human being, Murray is certainly entitled to his opinion. Indeed many famous Scottish faces (and those of other nationalities) have openly been supporting independence from the get go without that fact doing them any discernible harm. And of course, the Yes campaign seized on his tweet with glee, retweeting and favouriting it thousands of time.

But Murray isn’t a comedian or actor. For Murray, it’s an altogether different beast. Frankie Boyle is unlikely to receive sustained booing at his next English gig. Sean Connery is unlikely to get loudly heckled next time he attends a red carpet event in London. Murray on the other hand has enjoyed (largely) the support of the whole of the United Kingdom in his sporting endeavours.

Now, as the only decent tennis player in the UK, he’s had to bear a heavy burden. The whole of This Sceptred Isle pins its hopes on Andy Murray winning Wimbledon due to the simple fact that there’s no one else with anywhere near his level of ability. We cheer him on because there’s not really anyone else to support. Be that as it may though, Murray has done well off the back of being the great British hope. Sponsorship deals don’t generally go the way of the villain, and you can be certain that his nice Surrey mansion wasn’t just paid for with prize money alone.

With that in mind then, his publicist must have been goggle-eyed with horror at the sight of those 140 characters. If Scotland had voted yes to independence; panic over. Murray could compete with fervent Scottish support behind him and cold-shoulder the rUK hecklers, enjoying sponsorship from north of the border as the face of successful Scottish sport.

But the vote came in as a no. Yes, of course he’ll still enjoy the support of the majority of Scots but many fans from the wider Union will have been affronted by his obvious desire to disassociate himself from their well-meaning support.

Murray attempted some fire fighting this week (urged on by his publicist no doubt) saying that he regretted the chosen method through which he conveyed his opinion saying it was “not really in my character” and that he wanted to move on. But the damage has been done. In recent years he’s done brilliantly to win over the sway of public opinion, following an unfortunate turn of phrase where he said he would ‘support anyone but England’ when it came to football. The sentence was taken out of context and held up as an example of Murray’s ‘anti-English’ sentiment, despite the fact that he had an English girlfriend and lived in the aforementioned Surrey mansion. His centre court tears and good-humoured acceptance speech for BBC Sport’s Personality of the year did much to assuage the previous perceived offence.

Now though, one tweet has undone all of that good work. There’s no taking it out of context. For some his feelings were laid bare in black and white, which means that Murray can kiss goodbye to much of his support from the red, white and blue.

Personally, I feel sorry for him. I don’t begrudge him his humanity. If he wants to support Scottish independence, that’s fine by me as it’s his personal choice. Just because he’s the best tennis player in Britain, doesn’t mean that he has to welcome wider British support.

I’ve always had the suspicion that he’s not particularly enthusiastic to be British. In my book, he’s no Chris Hoy, who whilst being a proud Scot, seems equally proud to compete for Great Britain. I’ve never really felt that of Murray. Now that suspicion seems to have been confirmed.

So, whilst his, thankfully alive, publicist will encourage him to do what he can to convince people that he’s still proud to be British, it appears that the veil has been stripped away and for many supporters there’ll be no way back.

Some of the abuse aimed at him online has been appalling, but it’s gone both ways on the referendum debate. Murray isn’t an attempted murderer (to my knowledge!) but by supporting independence some people seem to have put him in the same bracket of criminal offence if the vitriol aimed his way is anything to go by.

I’m sure in the long run, it will all calm down, but much like his throwaway ‘anyone but England’ comment has failed to disappear, I expect that the fall out from his tweet will be remembered for many years to come. At the very least, Murray’s Mount might see a few less Union Jack flags at Wimbledon next year.