Barry Hearn talking Ronnie and the Rack Pack


Barry Hearn: Rocket Ronnie O’Sullivan is a throwback to the good old baize


Ronnie O’Sullivan celebrates his sixth win at snooker’s Masters following final at Alexandra Palace Action Images

SPORT is sometimes accused of lacking the real characters of yesteryear.

These days with so much at stake, no top sports star would dare be seen swigging a pint or having a crafty cigarette, as some sponsors would drop them like a hot potato.

To a large extent the ‘character’ has been squeezed so much they virtually no longer exist.

That is why I was so pleased to see Ronnie O’Sullivan equal Stephen Hendry’s six Masters titles last week and I’m sure he will set a new record.

I’ll agree with any person who says no one is bigger than the sport they play — but The Rocket gets closer than anyone I have ever known.

Ronnie is one of those rarities in sport — a personality who can play at the highest level and who can still be himself.

His OBE in the New Year’s Honours List was totally justified as he is regarded by many as the most naturally-gifted player in snooker history. A genius.

But with it comes real character.

Ronnie is real a throwback to the times when the stars of the green baize got away with some outrageous behaviour.

For instance the likes of the great Alex Higgins.

His excesses were not only tolerated by the public but celebrated.

If you long for those days of non PC, or if you are simply interested in finding out what it was like back then, the best recommendation I can give you is to go to the BBC’s ‘iPlayer and watch a ‘comedy-drama’ about snooker in the 1980s called Rack Pack.

Take 10 hours out of your life to see this warts-and-all eye-opener.

You might have guessed from the title that the programme lifts the lid on snooker, with the clock turned back to the sport’s glory days of the 1980’s when Jimmy Whirlwind White, Hurricane Higgins and Steve ‘Boring’ Davis were at their pomp

It’s brilliantly produced and acted . . . with comedian Kevin Bishop, who some might remember made his movie debut in Muppet Island, playing me!

James Bailey takes on the role of playing White, Will Merrick is Davis, Luke Treadaway is Higgins and Nichola Burley is Higgins’s wife, Lynn.

All have their lives peeled back to expose, in a show that shocks with its brutal honesty, what really went on.

There are characters and personalities in abundance, actors playing real people who lived life to the full with even their darkest days examined.

The rivalry between Davis and Higgins was intense.

They were as different as chalk and cheese as while Irishman Higgins, the People’s Champion’, took drugs, smoked heavily and drank vodka, Davis was seen sipping pints of milk.

Now Barry, I have a question for you: If this is so great – and I agree it is – why are the players fined whenever they set a foot wrong, or whenever they use  a bit colourful language and some of the PC brigade who are looking for offences everywhere complain?

Serious offences, and in particular match fixing, I agree 100% but … the odd swearing? Using some words – deemed potentially offensive – in the context of an expression that everyone understands doesn’t refer to the actual thing?