2016 as it happened – the highs (and lows)

I won’t lie about it: 2016 has been a terrible year for my family and myself; I’m glad it’s over although 2017 doesn’ look that promising either. The state of our world is worrying to say the least: war and violence looming everywhere, intolerance and fear of the “different” rising, and an artistic hecatombs: David Bowie and Leonard Cohen were icons of my generation …

So let’s cheer up have a look at the highs (well MY highs anyway) snooker brought  first:

Ronnie’s OBE 

Ronnie finally got recognition for what he has achieved in his sport, and what he’s done to promote it through his entire career. It was long overdue and , yet, still unexpected. Because of his background, and of the person he is, Ronnie is hardly establishment, and snooker isn’t high in the priorities of the awards “authorities”; the snub the sport got, again, in the last SPOTY is proof enough. But this was a very proud moment, for Ronnie, for his family and for snooker.

Ronnie’s cheeky 146, followed by a 28th ranking title at the Welsh Open 2016.

This was the best Ronnie played this year and it was very, very high standard. But of course there had to be some controversy as well to spice it a bit… Ronnie’s 146 in the first round was a magnificent break, and a naughty one too. It was a statement as well, and it wasn’t greed. The thing is: Ronnie believes that the profile of snooker isn’t what it should be: it’s not valued enough by the sponsors, nor by the media. And he believes that selling it cheap isn’t helping. He wants more class in events, a more exclusive atmosphere, proper reward and recognition for the skills and efforts the players put in their trade. He believes that sponsors aren’t interested in a cheap image and I agree with him. It’s a crying shame that most pros really struggle to make a living at all. He doesn’t think it’s right that top players have to qualify in secondary venues, not does he think it helps to raise snooker profile when some miss out the main event because they failed  at some best of 7 in Barnsley. A competitive 147 remains an outstanding achievement, and it’s not that “common” whatever some claim; someone like Mark Allen only did his first this season, at 30,  being in the top 16 for years and a pro since 2005. It used to be recognised and rewarded properly. It still should be.

Mark King’s emotional win in Belfast

This was heart warming. Mark King is a tough guy, but he was overwhelmed and in tears after winning his first ranking title at last … at 42, being a pro since 1991 and having arrived in Belfast completely skint. This was HIS moment and he celebrated with his family, the persons who supported him for years through the hardship and lows.

Also, in general I was pleased to see Ronnie applying himself and playing with the right attitude even when things aren’t going his way. In that respect what he did at the last World Championship is quite remarkable in the light of mental and emotional struggle he faced at the time. Despite not being mentally fit, he didn’t give up on his first round match, he finished it and won it. Years ago he could have walked out of it. He spent most of his time between the first round match and the second round match in hospital, he was that bad. But, he said nothing, he came back to play, and he fought hard enough to force Barry Hawkins – who had reached the SF stage in the three previous WC – into a decider. With a hindsight that was quite remarkable.

And of course, I already covered it, there was a extraordinary run all year by Mark Selby.

Now the lows …

I will pick only one: the decision to make the shootout a ranking event. This is making a mockery of the sport we love. One frame, a ridiculously short shot-clock (if the players need any implement they are doomed), variant rules closer to pool … and this is ranking? I had no issue with it as a one-off invitational, it was harmless enough, a bit of fun. but NOT this. This is showing utter contempt for the player’s skills. This is tailor-made for the bookies, as it’s so unpredictable, and of course the bookies are snooker main sponsors. But that in itself is not helping the sport image in my opinion and this sort of move is unlikely to attract a different type of sponsor, certainly not in mainland Europe where gambling is heavily regulated and seen as a rather shady business. It’s supposed to be exciting … well it’s not exciting me at all, it infuriates me that the person who runs the sport shows so little respect for his most valuable assets, the players, their skills and the time they invest in honing them.

 

 

 

 

Ronnie back on the radio + WPBSA competition to win a signed copy of “Framed”

Ronnie will be back on PhoenixFM at 6pm (UK time) with Chris Hood for the next instalment of Midweek Matchzone. 

Also Worldsnooker organises a competition today

Thursday 29 Dec 2016 12:50PM

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first novel Framed was published by Orion last month and we’ve got a signed copy to give away to one lucky fan.

For a chance to win, just follow us on twitter @WorldSnooker1, look out for our competition tweet today (December 29) and retweet it – we’ll then pick then winner at random.

Framed

Here’s a synopsis of Framed…

Frankie James is a young man with a lot on his shoulders. His mother disappeared when he was fifteen; his father’s in jail for armed robbery; and he owes rent on the SoHo snooker club he inherited to one of London’s toughest gangsters, and now things are about to get a whole lot worse.

His brother Jack turns up at the club early in the morning, covered in someone else’s blood, with no memory of the night before, and with the cops hard on his heels. With Jack banged up, awaiting trial for the vicious murder of a bride-to-be – a murder that’s sparked an even more vicious gang war between London’s two foremost crime families – Frankie knows a conviction could quickly turn into a death sentence.

To prevent that from happening, he needs to find out who framed Jack and why, but that means entering the sordid world of bent coppers, ruthless mobsters and twisted killers that he’s tried all his life to avoid getting sucked into. Now, however, he no longer has any choice. But in the dog-eat-dog underworld of 1980s SoHo, is he tough enough, and smart enough to come out on top?

2016 as it happened – The Selby year

Mark Selby is the current World Champion, UK Champion, International Championship Champion, Paul Hunter Classic Champion, Gdynia Open Champion and World n°1. He’s been World n°1 for nearly two years now, and is on 994942 points to 517012 to Stuart Bingham who in n°2. It would take something quite extraordinary for Mark not to break the symbolic 1 million points later this season.  He is the man of 2016, and he could well be the man of the coming year(s) as well. He’s now a multiple World Champion, a multiple UK Champion and a multiple Masters Champion. He’s now one of the all times great.

Yet, this man has not had it easy, he lost both his parents at a very young age. The promise he made to his dying father to once be a World Champion has been key to his success, and he deserves every credit for his achievements.

So I invite you to watch and read a few pieces about Mark; they are extremely revealing.

The documentary, filmed after his first World title:

Those two articles by Desmond Kane:

Snooker: Mark Selby a working class hero in sport wrongly accused of lacking characters

Mark Selby exclusive: ‘I could never bring myself to ask my mum: why did you leave me as a kid?’

And also this piece posted here earlier this year, Ronnie talking about Mark Selby.

I’ve come to appreciate Mark over the years, it took me a while. I prefer flair players, for a long time I was convinced that Mark’s at times slow and rather negative style was just  tactics and it infuriated me because I always knew that he is extremely capable and can rack up centuries as well as anyone. At times it felt like torture  ,and, after his defeat to Mark in the semi-finals of the Masters in 2013, a best of match that lasted nearly 5 1/2 hours, Graeme Dott went on a right rant claiming that nobody could possibly enjoy playing that way! I was in the media room at the time and wondering how and when I would go back to my hotel, through a blizzard of snow as well …

You can listen to it here:

But I have changed my mind, having had the opportunity to chat with Mark a few times. The truth, as incredible as it sounds, is that Mark is not the most confident of persons, and, when he’s not confident, he rather goes into his shell, he grinds his way out of trouble rather than going out, attacking, in an attempt to make something happen. And, who is to blame him, it obviously worked for him more often than not. One of the beauty of snooker is that there is room for so many styles, Ronnie is and remains my favourite player, probably always will be, but 2016 belongs to Mark Selby.

Respect.

A day of interviews

Ronnie was yesterday morning on ITV for “Good morning Britain”, talking about his last novel, “Framed”, as well as snooker and life in general.

rosgoodmorningbritain22-12-2016

The “Good Morning Britain” team shared the link to the show on their twitter account.

After that Ronnie was on talksport radio, with Alan Brazil on SportBreakfast

rostalksport22-12-2016

It’s available on the Show’s Facebook page here :

It was a very positive interview, where Ronnie re-affirmed his love for his sport, praised fellow pros and tipped young Zao Xintong to become a World Champion soon. He also talks about his show on History Channel, American Hustle.

2016 as it happened … end of an era

On April 17, 2016 Steve Davis retired after 38 years as a pro. Fittingly he said his farewell to the professional sport at the Crucible, and I was fortunate enough to be there, thanks to Jason Francis and Ronnie who gave me a “players guest” pass on the day.

Today, Worldsnooker honours one of the old time greats with this article:

Wednesday 21 Dec 2016 09:32AM

Earlier this year one of snooker’s all-time greats donned his waistcoat for the final time. As 2016 draws to a close, we caught up with the six-time World Champion to look back on his 38 years as a professional…steve-davis-1

Steve Davis’s snooker dynasty came alive at the Crucible Theatre and the curtain dropped on his storied career at the same location earlier this year. However, the Nugget’s snooker journey traces its roots to surroundings far removed from the almost gladiatorial setting in Sheffield.

Davis was introduced to the sport by his father Bill at a local social club in Plumstead, South East London. Due to a lack of coaching or opponents, Bill quickly realised he needed assistance to help nurture his son’s considerable talent.  They turned to the manual written by one of modern day snooker’s founders Joe Davis.

“There was nobody very good to play against in my local area. It wasn’t like nowadays where you only have to go down the road to find someone who is capable of knocking in a 100 break. That wasn’t the case back then,” said the 28-time ranking winner. “When I began to show some interest, my father and I started working with the Joe Davis book on how to play. My dad didn’t have enough knowledge and I didn’t have the opponents to practise with, so we used this book as the blueprint. It’s stood the test of time.”

Another figure who was integral to Davis’s progression to the summit of the sport was the now World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn. The pair’s paths intersected at the beginning of their lives in the world of sport. They met by chance in the Romford venue of Hearn’s chain of Lucania Snooker Clubs.davis-and-barry

Hearn recalled: “I was sat underneath my club in Romford and Les Coates, who was the manager, phoned down and said you’ve got to come and see this kid, he’s a bit special. I went upstairs and there was this ginger lanky boy playing against Vic Harris, who was the local Essex Champion. There was a crowd around the table and without saying I saw the greatest player to hold a cue, I did see someone who was totally committed, had great concentration and a passion for the game. I was fortunate enough that it was the beginning of a great friendship.

“The whole thing in those days was a total buzz. I was brought up in a council house in East London and he was from a council house in Plumstead. We didn’t have any money. I never went to university, nor did Steve. It’s a very good rags to riches story.”

During Davis’s amateur career a series of challenge matches were arranged in Hearn’s clubs against the likes of Alex Higgins and John Spencer, where they would gamble with their illustrious opponents. But once the extent of the Nugget’s talent became apparent there was only one way to go.

“If it were up to me I’d have waited until I won the English Amateur Championship before turning pro,” said the six-time World Champion. “I could’ve sat around for ages waiting. Barry kept going on at me and nagging me to turn professional. He eventually bullied me into signing something on the back of a lamppost in Blackpool in 1978.”

Davis’s initial breakthrough came at the 1980 UK Championship where he recorded a 16-6 demolition of Alex Higgins to claim his first major title.

“I used to talk to him about what would happen when we win our first big event,” said Hearn “We would have tears rolling down our eyes just thinking about it. I always said when you are one frame from winning come to the backstage toilet and I will go through your winning speech. When he got to 15 against Alex I thought to myself I wonder whether he will do it? I went and stood in the backstage toilets of the Guild Hall in Preston. He burst in and his first words to me were, ‘this could be terribly unlucky you know!’ He gave the best acceptance speech ever.”

It wasn’t long until Davis began making waves on the game’s grandest stage. At the Crucible Theatre in 1981 he strode to his first world title and one of the most iconic moments in the history of the sport, against Doug Mountjoy.

Davis reminisced: “Funnily enough, even though it was my first final I was the favourite. After beating Alex 16-6 in the UK Championship, I think I’d established I was the main man for that tournament.  That in itself is a problem and it’s one that all of the top players have had to deal with. The expectation. You are in another level and it’s a marvellous level to be on, but it still has its own problems.”

Davis was indeed the favourite and the match mirrored his standing. He rushed into a 6-0 advantage. It was a deficit which Mountjoy couldn’t overturn, as Davis ran out an 18-12 winner. After the last ball was deposited Davis, famed for his even temperament and poker face, simply looked to the skies and exhaled. In stark contrast the jubilant and extroverted Hearn came rushing through the arena to greet his player with a rambunctious embrace before turning to shout out to the rafters.

It was at that moment that Davis had fully established himself as the dominant force in an era when snooker rivalled even football for popularity in Britain. Such was the level of interest in the sport, the player ironically nicknamed ‘interesting’ by the comedy programme Spitting Image for his perceived lack of persona, won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

“It’s funny that on the one hand I was Sports Personality of the year and on the other I had the boring thing going on with Spitting Image,” said Davis. “I think it just showed how popular snooker was. I was really delighted on two levels. It’s a nice thing to get awards like that, particularly from the public. It was also great for snooker. We’ve all been labelled misspent youths and other non-accolades like that.”

At the time Davis was unparalleled in his dominance of the sport. Alongside his six world titles, he also wore the UK crown a record six times. The last of those came courtesy of a 16-13 defeat of Jimmy White, in the 1987 final at the Guild Hall. His next two final appearances were in consecutive years against Stephen Hendry in 1989 and 1990. Davis would lose on both occasions and the defeats marked a transition of snooker eras as Hendry went on to dominate the 90s. However, 15 years later the Nugget would have his revenge.

He faced Hendry in the UK Championship once more in 2005. By this point the Scot had amassed all seven of his world titles and all five of his UK Championship wins. Davis was a heavy underdog, but he rolled back the years to record a memorable victory. After leading 5-0, he held off a comeback charge from Hendry to win 9-6 and book his last appearance in a UK Championship final against Ding Junhui.davis-playin

“Hendry was my nemesis really throughout most of the 90s,” said Davis. “Even though I did beat him a couple of times he had got the best of me. I really struggled against him although I never gave up trying. On this occasion I got the better of him. I froze a bit in the final against Ding and lost 10-6. I think perhaps I had run my final against Stephen. It was a fantastic feeling to beat him.”

Following a 10-4 defeat against Fergal O’Brien during qualifying for the 2016 World Championship Davis decided it was the correct moment to call time on his 38 year-long professional career. Despite not reaching the Crucible stages, the Nugget was given the chance to step out into the famous venue one more time with the World Championship trophy in his hands and bid farewell to his adoring fans.

“My father passed away earlier in the year and considering the fact we had been on a big journey together, it felt like a fitting way to go out,” said Davis. “He would have probably cringed at me going out into the arena, but I’m glad I did it. We’d already discussed that I was going to stop playing so we reached the end of the journey together.”

The 59-year-old has found fame beyond the table. He’s gone from the I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here jungle – to performing at Glastonbury – to presenting the BBC’s One Show. He also hosts a weekly radio programme for local Brentwood radio station Phoenix FM, which showcases his alternative music taste.davis-and-rob

“Glastonbury was just crazy,” he smiles. “It was a completely surreal moment for me. To soak up the atmosphere was amazing. Suggs from the Madness came on stage out of nowhere. We just had a fantastic time.

“All of these things are an added blessing. With snooker my hobby turned into my profession. How lucky are you to be able to do that? It’s great that because of that I’ve also been able to do all sorts of things as a result of being a snooker player.”

Recently one pro snooker player, who I won’t name, suggested that nowadays a young Steve would have struggled to make it to the last 48 of the rankings. That’s not just disrespectful, it’s plain stupid. Conditions have changed, the tour structure has changed, the way the game is taught and approached has changed, but talent and temperament are immutable and Steve had – has – both in spades. He is a great Champion and would have been a great Champion in any era. I feel privileged to have seen him play live, to have been able to photograph him, to get to meet him and know him, and to have been at the Crucible on that day.