Monday, 8 July 2013

'It means so much for us as a town. We all pull together here.'

In the second row of seating in the Dunblane Centre, a large blonde lady is on her feet shaking her fist: “C'mon Andy this is your time!” she yells. Within seconds, a roar has erupted around her, making the walls bulge as if they might explode. A ball from Novak Djokovic has hit the net and Andy Murray, the local boy, is Wimbledon champion, a national hero.

This was a beautiful day in Dunblane; joyous, exciting, friendly, fulfilled: four hours when locals mingled with the scores of daytrippers, determined to be in this place, at this time, to witness sporting history.

“In Dunblane, we are so grateful to Andy for positive reasons.,” said David Spooner, a trustee of the centre, above the hubbub. “Anywhere you go in the world, people say, 'Where are you from? Dunblane? Where Andy Murray's from? It means so much for us as a town. We pull together.”

It is almost impossible to overstate Murray's importance in this place. At one level, he is the ultimate role model, a young man whose success on the professional tennis circuit has boosted junior membership of Dunblane tennis club tenfold over the last seven years.

More than that, he has helped to eclipse the town's association with the killing of 16 infants and their teacher at the primary school in 1996. Murray was eight when a gunman burst into the gym at the school and opened fire. He and his older brother, Jamie, who was ten at the time, were on their way to the gym and hid under a desk in the headteacher's study.

Money flowed in from well-wishers all over the world to help the community recover, and the Dunblane Centre was built with that cash. Yesterday, Mr Spooner and his staff were able to welcome incomers from almost every corner of the world to watch an astonishing and cathartic game live on the big screen.

One man, driving from Somerset to Caithness, had broken his journey to come here, because he felt Dunblane's magnetic pull. “He told me, 'I'm so chuffed I saw Dunblane celebrate,” said Mr Spooner. “That's the magic of this place.”

Geraldine Diggins, a retired Californian on holiday in Scotland, was rocking in disbelief. “It was absolutely worth the visit,” she said. “I could hardly watch half of it. My head was in my hands for that last bit.”

All day, under a perfect blue sky, the excitement had built. At morning service in the imposing medieval Cathedral, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton's homily seemed at first a little contentious for some of her parishioners.

“There is a certain tennis match going on today, but God doesn't have favourites,” Ms Foster-Fulton announced, with mock severity. Then: “But we do. Good luck Andy!”

Ten minutes later, in the Church Hall, Elizabeth Smith was taking issue with the minister. “I think everyone has had a secret wee prayer,” said Mrs Smith, who has retired and works in the Mary's Meals Charity Shop. “It will be tense, but I won't even leave the room when the tension gets bad. I think he will do it. This is Andy's year.”

Along the pretty high street of this little town , shop after shop had its window display, its gimmick, its banner. The Beach Tree Cafe was selling green and purple tennis cup cakes, but had a sign in the window announcing: “Due to Andy's Success, we will be closing at 1.30 today so we can all support him.”

A few doors down in McIntyre Funeral Directors there were two notices. One read “SMART. Peacefully in the wonderful care of the team at Strathcarron Hospice.” The other: “Come on Andy You Can Do It!”

He did too. In front of the man from Somerset; a Sicilian called Gianfranco, who was holidaying in nearby Perthshire; a group of tennis mad former students who made a reunion out of the day trip; a family of five who had traveled from John O'Groats to share in the magic of the Dunblane Centre. And 150 more, locals and visitors crammed into the community hall, built as a symbol of enduring humanity, all cheering and hugging each other.

“This is such a lovely community, such a friendly place,” said Mrs Diggins, her face lit up by her huge smile. “I am so delighted, so pleased for them all.”

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