THE AWARDING of an OBE to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the New Year’s honours is long overdue recognition for one of Great Britain’s best known and most popular sportsmen.
The honours system remains controversial but if it exists to reward high profile achievement then O’Sullivan has been an outstanding candidate ever since he won his first world title in 2001 – if not before.
O’Sullivan, 40, is arguably the best player ever. Five world titles, five UK Championships, five Masters, 27 ranking titles, 13 maximums and more centuries than anyone else are the headlines from his playing career.
But with Ronnie it is also about how he makes people feel, how the way he plays makes people sit up and take notice. He can be brilliant, he can be maddening but he is never dull and he has helped to sustain snooker as a prominent television entertainment, including in darker days when politics reduced the circuit to a handful of tournaments.
His contribution to the sport in terms of the number of people he has brought to it is incalculable.
Like all successful sports people in individual sports, O’Sullivan has done what he has done for himself: for his own sense of achievement and satisfaction. But the net effect has been to delight and enthral fans around the world. Snooker has been the winner.
He is comparable in this respect to Tiger Woods in golf, another fascinating box office attraction who has elevated his sport to new heights.
Yes, Ronnie has also had many controversial moments, which his detractors will doubtless point to, and these must have counted against him when previous honours lists were being discussed. But nobody’s life should be boiled down to one or two incidents – good or bad. Rather, you look at the whole picture and in doing so with O’Sullivan you see a giant of the sport, a man who deserves this recognition, which is also in part recognition for snooker itself.
O’Sullivan is often described as a genius but this implies everything comes easily to him. In fact, he has worked really hard to attain the status he has. His career isn’t over yet but this OBE is at long last some acceptance from the establishment that he is a bona fide sporting legend whose achievements deserve respect.
That may partly explain the long overdue recognition for a rebel that has often carried snooker single-handedly, attracting millions of new players and TV viewers.
O’Sullivan said: “I am extremely grateful for this recognition which is a great honour and has made both myself and my family very proud.
“It came as a great surprise to receive my OBE and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my family, friends and fans who have supported me throughout my career and made this achievement possible.”
Back in 2013, O’Sullivan had said: “It would be a disgrace to give it to someone like me. I’m just not that type of guy, am I?
“As long as I am loved by my fans and my public, and when I die people might still have a look on YouTube and say, ‘This guy played the game better than anyone who ever played,’ then for me that is better than anything.”
Loved by his legion of fans, O’Sullivan has made more century breaks than anyone else (795), more 147 maximum breaks (13) and the fastest ever 147 at 5 mins 20 secs at the Crucible in 1997.
Diana Schuler, the WLBSA marketing officer, was at the German Masters qualifiers last week and posted this after meeting Ronnie:
Impressed about Ronnie O’Sullivan’s friendliness today: He was practicing when a fan/player asked him for a selfie – he stopped his practice and had a selfie and a chat with him. When he finished practicing I asked him for a photo for ladies snooker and he agreed very friendly. But before I could take it the referees told us off that there is no time, Ronnie has to play now. He promised me we will meet in the midsession interval to do it. When it was 2:2 before the interval I thought Ronnie might not be in the mood to take the pic so I didn’t want to ask again. But I was proven wrong – he came towards me and said that we can do it now if I wish. Although you could feel/see that he was not very happy about the match. 👍
There are many reasons why girls aren’t as good at or keen to play snooker as the boys and ability is not one of them: remember how, last April, Reanne Evans ran Ken Doherty, a former World Champion, very, very close at the World Championship qualifiers. I wrote this article on Matt Huart’s blog in 2009 and, although things have started to change, a lot remains to be done to encourage and support young girls who want to play snooker.
Diana herself is from Germany but now lives in the UK and devotes a lot of energy and a fantastic enthusiasm in promoting the sports she loves and plays. All credits to her.
Diana is not alone, there are many women and girls who support snooker in various capacities. There are two of them that I’d like to single out though as they have supported the ladies’ game for a very long time through thick and thin, they have literally devoted their life to the sport.
The first one is Mandy Fisher, now heading the Ladies governing body. Here is an article written in 2011 when Mandy stepped down from the game for a short while… she was tired and dispirited, but it didn’t last, she couldn’t stay away. Thank you Mandy!
Fenland’s Mandy Fisher steps down after 30 years of running ladies’ snooker
Mandy Fisher who is retiring as Chairman of the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association
Mandy Fisher, who was born in March has lived in Wisbech since 1984, insisted it was time for someone else to take the reigns of the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association.
The 49-year-old rescued the women’s game in 1981 when the former association disbanded, and she remained in control of the game until she quit last week.
Fisher, the 1984 women’s world snooker champion, said: “I gave up my job to play snooker professionally because I fell in love with the game.
“The WLBSA quickly became my baby and I felt responsible for it. However, I can’t always be there to pick up the pieces. I don’t want to see the game fail but I feel like I’ve done all I can.
Mandy Fisher who is retiring as Chairman of the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association
“The game needs a fresh outlook and a new approach. I’ve been elected president and I’ll always be there to fall back on but I’m taking a back seat from now on.
“I’ve done my best but I feel the game’s come to a bit of a standstill. It’s time to pass on the baton.”
Fisher oversaw the game’s heyday in the 1980s and 1990s as she helped power the sport to national newspapers’ front pages.
She also rubbed shoulders with iconic stars such as Alex Higgins as she played exhibition matches around the country.
Mandy Fisher in action in this year’s mixed pairs event
Fisher said: “They really were wonderful years and I thought we had made it.
“It’s been a real rollercoaster ride along the way but I’ll never give up hoping that women’s snooker will return to the glory days I once saw.”
The 2003 world seniors champion now only competes in mixed pairs events and works as a foot health professional in Wisbech.
Brian Harvey, an England international at billiards, has replaced her as WLBSA chairman as colleagues and players praised her work for the women’s game.
Some of the tributes paid to Mandy Fisher…..
• “WE want to put on record our thanks to Mandy for her incredible dedication to snooker over the past 30 years. She has done a fantastic job in women’s snooker, often in difficult circumstances. So many players owe a lot to her.”
(JASON FERGUSON, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association)
• “IT wasn’t always easy but Mandy’s heart was always in the right place and she worked tirelessly for little reward. No-one ever came close to achieving better than Mandy. She shouldn’t go unless Barry Hearn is taking over!”
(JANE O’NEILL, Ex-WLBSA secretary and tournament director)
• “WITHOUT the time and effort that Mandy has put in over the years there wouldn’t be any tournaments for us to play. I want to say thank you to her.”
(REANNE EVANS, World number one and seven-time world champion)
• “I CAN’T thank her enough for all the hard work she has put in to ladies’ snooker. If it wasn’t for her there would be no ladies’ snooker. You can’t beat a person who never gives up. Mandy’s left big boots to be filled.”
(MARIA CATALANO, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s cousin and world number three)
• “IT has been a bit of a shock. Mandy has tried to keep the ladies game together over very turbulent times and we must keep Mandy’s legacy alive.”
(MARIANNE WILLIAMS, current player)
• “IT’S very sad and we will miss her. Mandy has always worked very hard for us, maybe she wasn’t appreciated enough. She’s a lovely person and has always been kind, encouraging and supportive to me.”
(KATIE HENRICK, world number four)
“LADIES’ snooker will not be the same without Mandy as chairman. It is fitting though that she is going to be our president and will still be associated with us.”
(EMMA BONNEY, Six-time world billiards champion)
The other one is my good friend Janie Watkins. Janie is now retired and devotes her life to walking, photographing and glorifying the wonderful sceneries and nature of Wales, the country she loves, her country. But snooker fans will remember how she tirelessly traveled the world to cover every snooker tournament there was in the early days of Internet and before that, most of the time on her own expenses. She was a pioneer and created Global Snooker Centre when there was next to nothing about snooker on the Web. When she left it, an orphan, only to work at the South West Snooker Academy with Paul Mount, David Hendon saw this as the End of an Era. Thank you Janie!
To all of you you read this blog, have a merry Christmas.
Whatever Christmas means to you, be it a religious celebration, the pagan welcoming of the return of Day light, just an opportunity to have some good time, or even nothing at all, please cherish your loved ones on this day, and every day, tell them how much you love them, spoil them, do it NOW, because nobody knows the day nor the hour… they might no more be with you tomorrow.
It’s impossible to dominate snooker, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try
By Ronnie O’Sullivan
Ronnie O’Sullivan is relishing his first major tournament appearance when he faces Mark Williams at the Masters next month. He continues to strive for perfection despite admitting that snooker is a game that is impossible to dominate. In his final blog of 2015, the five-times world champion tells Desmond Kane why he is happy to be back playing despite a weekend defeat in the German Masters.
I don’t feel that I’ve played well since winning the Welsh Open in 2014. Since then, I have struggled to find any good form apart from beating Judd Trump to win the Champion of Champions trophy last November. Other than that, my game has been poor really. Even when winning the UK Championship last year, I fell over the line in three or four matches there which is not a good sign.
After this year’s World Championship where I put in another below par performance in losing to Stuart (Bingham) in the last eight in April, I truly believed my best days were behind me. My game has not been strong enough to dominate games like I used to. I’ve lost too many matches to suggest otherwise. That’s the reason I’ve been reluctant to play any big competitions this season. I’ve instead opted to do some exhibitions as I still feel I have a love for the game, but there is a part of me that wants to see if I can find some form again from somewhere. I’m not going to try the instant success train of thought, I’m going to see how the next year pans out and take it from there.
It’s more about trying to compete, and also having the schedule I’m happy with. I have to make sure it’s not the be all and end all, although I do love to play well. There’s no feeling like it. It was hard trying to practice while the other guys were at competitions, I felt like I was missing out, so I know it’s important to stay busy while the guys are playing in events that I’m not in. I mean, when you think of it, it’s not an easy task to try to win competitions and trophies when you have a very strong batch of players in their prime.
‘Mark Selby is the only player who can win when not at his best’
Neil Robertson, Judd Trump, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen, Kyren Wilson, John Higgins and Stephen Maguire…the list goes on and, and I’m sorry if I’ve missed anyone out, but it is scary. You really have to be on your top game to win.
You only have to look at John Higgins this season. He is more than good enough to win competitions, but he did go nearly two years without a win, which just goes to show you how tough it is to collect trophies. The only player that can win without being at his best is Selby. I believe everyone else has to feel good about their game to win. Otherwise, it’s quarter-finals and semis at best. Playing your B game is not going to win you events. It just won’t do anymore, there’s too many players capable of playing to a very high standard. It’s a tough school.
I will try to play some more events over the next few months. I don’t know yet what they will be, but I will play the events I enjoy playing in. The events I chose to play in may or may not be the ones everyone expects me to play. It’s more about feeding my desire to want to play and compete as much as possible.
One good thing that has come out of the past six months is that I have embraced the exhibition circuit. If I can marry the major competitions and the exhibitions that will be great. We have had so much fun, I will continue to do that as I get a bit of everything from them.
I get to get away, which I love to do, and I get to play in front of some very enthusiastic crowds, and it’s also a break from the seriousness and intensity of the major events. One thing that has concerned me is my back, I had a herniated disc in my back. I done this on October 13th and since then I’ve not been able to play properly, so that is a bit of a concern, but I’m hopeful it’s nothing serious, and that my game will come back to a decent level. If not, I’m in trouble. But like I said, I don’t want to panic about the situation, it’s important to take my time and try to enjoy the process, and do my best, and see what develops. The one good thing is that I don’t feel like all my eggs are in one basket. I do have other options which I enjoy.
‘There is always punditry if other players are too good for me’
The work with Eurosport is great, and that continues to get better and better. The exhibitions will allow me to stay busy while the other guys are playing in events that doesn’t fit into my schedule.
I will give it my best shot, and see where it takes me. And if I’m not winning, you will see me sitting on the couch with Jimmy White as Eurosport pundits. I must admit, snooker is so easy when you are sitting watching it. It’s so easy to think players should not miss, but snooker is not always that easy a game.
Finally, I’d like to wish all the readers of my blog, supporters and snooker fans a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year in 2016.