It rained on Andy Murray's parade yesterday, but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands who lined the streets of Dunblane to welcome home their hero. The Olympic gold medal winner and US Open champion was mobbed as people from all over Scotland – and further afield – turned out to show their pride in Britain's first winner of a men's Grand Slam singles title for 76 years.
Dunblane is one of Britain's smallest cities and its narrow streets were thronged with an estimated 15,000 wellwishers (nearly double its population), who brought flags – mostly Saltires – and placards congratulating the 25-year-old Scot.
Murray arrived in an open-top bus but then insisted on walking. He shook hands, posed for photographs, signed autographs – one of them on someone's pet dog – and stopped by the post box that had been painted gold after his Olympic triumph. He was so keen to please that he ended nearly two hours behind schedule.
"I never expected so many people to turn up, especially in the rain and the cold," Murray said. "It's surreal. The numbers of people have been overwhelming."
There was a huge "Well done Andy" sign outside Bennetts the butchers. At Choices Delicatessen, a poster proclaimed: "One down, three to go". No pressure there, then, as Murray attempts to add the Wimbledon, French Open and Australian Open titles to his US Open crown.
The Dunblane Hotel was doing a roaring trade – as it had last Monday night, when the bar was packed with locals watching his victory in the final in New York, which finished just after 2am. Alan Duncan, the landlord, said: "We had a licence until 1am that night, which was when I called last orders. Absolutely nobody left. When he won, there was a huge eruption of noise. Everybody just went crazy. Everyone here is very proud of him. They recognise all the hard work he's put in."
Karen McLachlan brought her son, Jack, five, to the parade. "He's been so excited about Andy, much more excited than he's ever been about any other sporting event," she said. "All the children here can now see what's possible if you have the dedication."
The parade ended at Dunblane Sports Club, 200 yards from where Murray used to live. The club's four tennis courts, where he learned to play, were packed with juniors.
Murray played tennis in the pouring rain with groups of excited youngsters. "This is the place where I grew up, the place where I first started hitting balls, playing with my brother," he said. "It's wonderful to be back."
Brian Melville, who coached Murray when he was eight, was among those waiting to greet him. "Of course Andy had great talent, but what made him different was his will to win," he said. "He had that from a very early age. We put him in our third team when he was only eight. The opposition were usually pretty surprised to see this small boy in our team. Andy was so good that he used the pace they put on the ball and hit it back even harder." The club's honours board shows that Murray's grandparents, Shirley and Roy Erskine, were men's and ladies' champions in the 1970s, while his mother, Judy, was chairman in the 1990s. Shirley still organises the teas on Saturday mornings. There are photographs on the walls of the Murrays, including one, which will need updating, of Andy with his 2004 US Open junior trophy.
The city has a proud history but in recent times it has been remembered more for the horror that descended on Dunblane Primary School, where Murray and his brother, Jamie, were pupils, on a March day in 1996.
Murray was eight when Thomas Hamilton walked into the school's gym armed with four handguns and killed a teacher and 16 children aged five and six. As Hamilton started shooting, Murray and his classmates were walking towards the gym. They were ushered away by a teacher to the headmaster's study, where they were kept for two hours. Murray remembers little about the day and rarely speaks publicly about it. The townsfolk, too, are reluctant to discuss the subject.
Neil Welsh, the chairman of Dunblane Sports Club, said: "Everyone here is so proud of the Murrays. Of course nobody will ever forget what happened here, but it's a lovely thing that people now think of something else when they hear of Dunblane."
Murray, who told the crowd that their welcome had made him "very proud to be Scottish", said of Dunblane: "Everyone knows everyone here. It's such a small city. People feel they know me well."