Nick Holloway attended his first Andy Murray match at the 2007 Australian Open. He was a 13-year-old kid with blond dreadlocks who spent the majority of his free time playing tennis. At the match, Holloway and a friend sang "Old McDonald" with Murray's name swapped into the famous lyrics, belting it as loud as their young lungs allowed.
Murray won. And that day, Holloway and his friend earned their first fan: Murray walked over to where they stood in the crowd, thanked them, and handed them his towel. He talked about them in his press conference that night, too. At the time, Murray was ranked No. 17 in the world. He had yet to advance beyond a fourth round of a Grand Slam. Holloway, who is from Melbourne, Australia, doesn't know why he preferred the Scottish Murray to his own country's star, Lleyton Hewitt, or younger Australian players. Murray just came across as a good guy, Holloway told VICE Sports last week. He played with determination and seemed nice off court.
Murray won again two days later, and again gave the boys his towel. After he beat Juan Ignacio Chela in the third round, Murray's mom came over and offered them tickets to Murray's next match. Remember: this was 2007, before most 13-year-olds had their own cell phones. Holloway gave Judy Murray his home phone number. When Judy called, Holloway's mom answered. She was really confused, he said. Why in the world was Judy Murray on the line? Nine years later, Judy's still getting Holloway and his friends into Murray's matches. And as Murray's star power rose, a strange thing happened: Holloway and his friends rose with him.
As Murray and Milos Raonic walked to their respective baselines to start their Australian Open semifinal match on Friday night, the entire Rod Laver Arena crowd went silent. The Andy Boys had just stood up–four college kids in T-shirts that spell out A-N-D-Y, a small group that always seems to capture the much bigger surrounding crowd. They soon started their first song of the night. "A little bit of Andy in my life," they belted out in perfect unison, set to the tune of "Mambo No. 5."
Their songs change every time they stand, Andy's name always swapped into the lyrics of popular tunes. There's "Don't Stop Believing" and "Shut Up and Dance." "Heaven is a place on Earth" becomes "Andy is the best on Earth" and "I want candy" becomes "I want Andy." When they finished that first song Friday, the entire stadium applauded. The cell phone of the guy sitting next to them started going off, his friends watching at home texting to say they'd seen him on TV. The official Australian Open Twitter account posted the clip within minutes.
Friday night was Holloway's 50th match in an ANDY shirt. His hair is much shorter now, and he's about to graduate college. He doesn't count 2007-2009, because they were just cheering and singing then. In 2010, he, his family friend Shane Bullen, and two others debuted ANDY singlets and a more choreographed approach. In 2013 Sam Hetherington, a friend from high school, filled in for the boy who normally wore the "N," and he's stuck around ever since. Only the "A" is in constant rotation. Their British friend Chris Rowe is wearing it this year. Over the last 10 days, hundreds of people have asked them for photos. They find it kind of strange, all of these people wanting to post pictures of them, but they oblige.
Twenty minutes before the semifinal, the Andy Boys were sitting on the concrete concourse outside of the arena, Bullen charging his phone, Hetherington drinking a beer. Without their T-shirts, they looked like any other college guys. "We can't put them on yet," Hetherington explained. He actually had his on, but it was covered by a black Nike sweatshirt-off-brand for the Under Armour athlete they support. Their actual shirts are white Under Armour performance tees with black felt embroidered letters. There's talk around the grounds that they're sponsored by Under Armour, but it's not true: Bullen bought the felt for the letters at a craft supply shop; they bought the UA shirts at a typical sports shop. Bullen's mom stitched them together a week before the tournament. They joke that the hours before the match, they're "Clark Kenting"–blending in with mere mortal fans before they don their costumes and turn superfan. To spend the entire day being recognized would be insufferable.
Bullen put his shirt on as we were talking. Chris soon followed. About 15 seconds later, a balding middle-aged man came over. "Good to see you boys! You gonna be singing tonight? Better you than me," he said. There are professional players who go unnoticed as they walk around the grounds guided by security guards. Not these boys. Bullen eats up the attention. It's just fun. But Nick can't stand it. "I just find people supporting fans weird," he said. "It's surreal. We don't do anything special." None of them can imagine what it would be like to be a true celebrity. "It's mental," said Ollie Bower, a friend who came to the match with them Friday night.
Maybe they see you and wish they could be as good as you are at cheering on their favorite guy? Just like you see Andy and wish you could play like him? We all laughed at my sarcastic suggestion. It was a reach. But maybe. Or maybe it's that fans love the slow conversion of tennis stadiums from stiff, quiet, hallowed grounds into an atmosphere reminiscent of a soccer match.
"Everybody wants the atmosphere football has, the tribalism," said Daily Mail reporter Mike Dickson. In his many years covering tennis, he cannot recall a group quite like the Andy Boys, who have been so consistent for nearly a decade. He recalled hordes of Swedish backpackers flooding the arena to see Stefan Edberg play in the 1990s. Serbian and Croatian fans showed up–and famously fought with each other–in support of their players in 2008 and 2009. "It was a proper football brawl," added Bill Leckie of The Sun in Scotland, who has covered tennis for 35 years. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have loyal followings, but rarely are the same people at every match.
Australian fans sing and chant for all of their players. "But they're just Australia fans," said Hetherington. "We're tennis fans." He went on to explain that they follow the appropriate rules. They just fit their songs into the changeovers. When another fan yelled out right as Raonic cocked his arm to serve in the second set on Friday, Hetherington shook his head in disgust. "C'mon," he grumbled.
Meet The "Andy Boys"
Favorite Song: Little Bit of Andy/Mambo No. 5
Favorite Murray Moment: "When he battered Bernard Tomic in the Davis Cup semifinal."
Favorite Song: Don't Stop Believing
Favorite Andy Moment: "Seeing him at the 2014 U.S. Open, because it was just so different."
Favorite Song: Little Bit of Andy/Mambo No. 5
Favorite Murray Moment: Nick, the stats guy in the group, loved Murray's run in 2010. "He was seeded No. 5, he wasn't expected to go far, but he beat Nadal on the way and since then has never looked back, 21 Grand Slam quarterfinals in a row, he's just so consistent."
Favorite Song: I Like Andy/I Like Candy
Favorite Murray Moment: "Beating Dimitrov last year. It was a danger match and he smacked him."
A little bit of Andy in my life, a little bit of backhand down the line. A little bit of Wimbledon in the sun, a little bit of New York all night long, a little bit of Olympics in the cold, a little bit of Andy you are gold!
After Murray battled back to win in five sets on Friday, the Andy Boys poured out into the hallways, singing songs and chanting with fellow superfans. The two Scottish women who call themselves the "Murrinators" were there. Sen Dhayalan, a doctor from Scotland who now lives in New Zealand, also came over. Dhayalan wears a kilt to every match. He flew to every Grand Slam and the Davis Cup final last year to see Andy play, working weekends to make enough money to pay for all the travel. He's been doing this for seven years. The dedication means he can't have a girlfriend, he said-"she'd never deal with the travel!"–and he never really sees his family back in Scotland. All of these fellow superfans have one thing in common: They're Scottish.
The Andy Boys are their own entity, a group of Australian friends who just happened to stay dedicated to a cause for nearly a decade. They'll all graduate university this year. They doubt they'll keep this going much longer, mainly because they don't know what their lives will look like at this time next year. But for now, they only have one thing on their minds: Sunday's final.
Holloway still has no idea why Murray came over and gave them his towel at that first round match in 2007. Murray has continued looking out for them in small ways. He came over to them after a practice session earlier this week, asked if they had their tickets sorted for the week. They do, thanks to Murray's team. They've seen him lose in the finals four times here. They're all just hoping that this year–potentially their last as the Andy Boys–is the year Murray overcomes the seemingly unbeatable Novak Djokovic.
As the chanting died down on Friday, a group of women came over to say hi to Dhayalan. They talked to Hetherington for a little bit before it clicked. "Oh my god," one said in a thick Scottish accent. "You're the Andy boys! Oh my god! I need a picture. Let's get a picture!" She jumped up and down, holding Hetherington's hands. You would have thought she was meeting Murray himself.