Ref! I fouled…

Worldsnooker has published this yesterday

The title of this article is “The gentleman’s game” … but it applies just as much to the women in snooker. It is something the sport we love should be very proud of.

In a sporting landscape increasingly dominated by mantras such as ‘play to the whistle’ and ‘give the official a decision to make’, snooker remains a sport which strives for integrity and encourages players to act as secondary referees.

That was evident on a global stage when Ding Junhui called a foul on himself in his Masters quarter-final with Luca Brecel earlier this year. With the scores locked at 3-3, Ding admitted to feathering the white and subsequently lost the frame. The referee had not noticed the infringement but Ding was quick to alert him. This example of sportsmanship made headlines in Ding’s homeland.

A clip of the incident was viewed over four million times on social media in China and the story was covered by nationwide news outlets. Chengzhe Tai, one of China’s top snooker journalists, believes that Ding’s appeal as one of the country’s most famous sporting figures helped to draw the public’s attention.

Chengzhe said: “Snooker is known as a gentleman’s sport in China, it has great participation numbers and Ding is a superstar. Although, in general the idea of pointing out your own fouls wasn’t something which was widely known. In this case I think Ding has made more people realise that this is a sport which can be played in a fair sprit and in an honourable style. We don’t know of that many other sports where this is the case.

“This was something which hit mainstream media and not just sports news outlets. China Daily used it and it was on CCTV News. It was a story which emerged with a positive spirit and it was trending on social media with very high numbers. If this was done by another Chinese player, with a lower profile than Ding, it might not have been recognised. However, when Ding does something, everyone gets involved with the story immediately. That is because he is instantly recognisable.”

To admit to undetected fouls is something which is engrained in a snooker player’s psyche from a young age. At amateur level, most matches are played without a referee and are solely officiated by the two participants. Once players progress through the ranks and matches become more heavily scrutinised, the sentiment of calling your own fouls remains fundamental to spirit of the game. Former world champion Shaun Murphy strongly believes that this sets snooker apart from other sports, such as football, by providing an example for young people to follow.

“I think bank robbers are ahead of footballers in terms of fair play!” said Murphy. “I can’t think of a sport that is worse than football. They consistently try to con and deceive the referee. What kind of role models do they think they are? I just don’t get it.

“We are miles ahead of most sports in terms of fair play. There is an honour code in our sport. I don’t want to beat you if it isn’t a fair game. I want to look you in the eye and know that I have won because I was better than you. Not because I got away with something a referee didn’t see. We aren’t perfect. Incidents do happen, but there is a real sense of distaste on the tour for any players that try things on.”

Journalist Hector Nunns has been covering snooker for 16 years and also works on other sports such as tennis and football. Like Murphy, Nunns feels that snooker comes out of most comparisons with other sports favourably.

“As a sports journalist you have the opportunity to not just report on what takes place on the table, pitch or court but to try and put it into some sort of context,” said Nunns. “Being able to compare situations, in this case sportsmanship or any lack of it, across sports is certainly one of the most useful tools in the box. Generally, snooker stacks up well against other sports in the areas of etiquette and fair play. There are countless examples over the decades, but two that immediately sprang to my mind involved Stephen Hendry and Fergal O’Brien.

“Hendry famously questioned a call and refused to take a free ball given to him when leading 16-15 in the 1994 World Championship final against Jimmy White. It could have cost him a lot more than a frame on the biggest stage, and history – and maybe karma, too – tell us he ran out the 18-17 winner.

“More recently White, himself a paragon of virtue in this regard, was the beneficiary again this season when O’Brien called a foul on himself in an International Championship qualifier decider. White cleared for a 6-5 win.

“The type of one-upmanship and what might be termed ‘stroke-pulling’ in snooker occurs very rarely, the players self-police to some extent even before the disciplinary code kicks in. Anyone regularly moving on an opponent’s shot in their eyeline, or jangling change, tends to be swiftly put right.

“Football and tennis are slowly tackling some of the things that irritate me most about those sports, and some of these apply also to snooker including respect for the officials, conning referees, time-wasting, lengthy toilet breaks at coincidentally advantageous times, and many more. But snooker expects and demands certain standards that you do not always see elsewhere.”

Paul CollierThe role of the referee isn’t diminished by the moral code maintained by the players. To officiate at the top level of snooker requires rigorous levels of concentration as certain sessions can last several hours. Paul Collier is one of the most respected referees on the circuit, having officiated in two World Championship finals. He is also now part of World Snooker’s Tournament Director staff and is acutely aware of the responsibilities of referees.

Collier said: “It is good when the players call fouls on themselves. I don’t think there is one player in the game that will play on without calling a foul they know they have committed. However, as much as the players like the credit that they get when they call a foul on themselves, they do expect us to be in first. You still have to watch intently, with the same focus.

“There are many instances where the players have no idea they have fouled and you need to step in. The good thing is they never question you. They know there is no referee in the history of the sport that has taken enjoyment from calling a foul. It is just what you do. It is your job.

“Some will feel hard done by, but ultimately they all know we do it in the right interests. You have to always be on the ball. You are only as good as your last match. I have refereed for 28 seasons now, but if I get something wrong then I know that is all that will be talked about for the next month.”

And it’s true, players sometimes argue about the replacement of the balls, about whether a ball is touching or not, about the feasibility of escaping from a snooker … or moan about referees standing in their way, or in their line, or not being fast enough. But arguing about a foul is a rarity.

We all have seen instances where a foul is clearly visible on TV, but the offending player seems unaware of it. More often than not it involves using the extended rest or spider, the player’s cue being fitted with an extension as well. The feeling the players have about what happens “at the other end” in those circumstances is very different from the normal feeling they have whilst playing without those implements. Some fans are quick to claim that the players surely must have felt it, but that’s not always the case, especially when they are concentrating on something else. But the players themselves are usually extremely upset and uneasy when they find out. The only instances where I have seen players looking really nonplussed and annoyed when having a foul called against them were instances where they had brushed a ball unknowingly with some part of their clothes.

Q-School Event 2 – the Graduates

Here are the four who graduated to the Main Tour via the 2019 Q-School event 2

Chen Zifan (23 years old)

Chen Zifan is a returning professional. He turned professional in 2017, having qualified via the Q-School, and was relegated after the last World Championship having finished the season ranked 102. As is often the case, Chen’s second year as a professional was worse than the first one. He only won three matches all season, whilst on his first season he had managed to reach the last 32 of a ranking event twice. It’s overall a very poor record. But what does it mean? Well, first, it’s obvious that the gap between the amateurs and professionals is big, and with the lower ranked players having to meet a top 64 one more often than not, they don’t really have a progressive path for improvement and it’s not helping their confidence either. Young professionals doing worse in their second year is also rather common, I’d go as far as to say that it’s a pattern, and it can only be explained by the stress and pressure they are under. Chen will need a good season in 2019/20 if he is to stay on tour and gain confidence.

Riley Parsons (19 years old)

Riley has never been professional and has truly impressed in the Q-School event 2. He beat Alexander Ursenbacher and Peter Lines to graduate. However with only five breaks over 50 in 44 frames played, he will probably need to score more heavily to succeed on the main tour. That said scoring has been very low in general in the Q-school this time, so maybe the conditions aren’t optimal.

Louis Heathcote (21 years old)

Louis has never been a professional before. He played in four events of the Challenge tour in 2018/19, reaching the last 16 twice. What was most impressive in Louis Q-School campaign is the way he won his last match. His opponent was the young Si Jiahui, 16 years old, and currently leading the Q-School order of merit. Si has won more frames in this year Q-school than anyone else, and he has been a heavy scorer too, with 23 breaks over 50, including 4 centuries to his name. Si was 3-0 up in their match. In frame 4 and in frame 5, Louis needed snookers, got them, and went on to win the frame. After that Si looked ragged and Louis scored 51 and 55 to win the last two frames and the match. That’s the sign of a strong temperament.

Fraser Patrick (33 years old)

Fraser turned professional for the first time in 2007. He struggled all season and was immediately relegated. He qualified for the main again in 2013 and spent four seasons as a pro. He never went past round three in any tournament. All that isn’t very promising at first glance. But he did beat two recent pros in Chris Keogan and Andy Hickx to qualify and he has experience of the main tour.

Congratulations and good luck to all four graduates.


Q-School 2019 – Event 2 – onto the last day

As we enter the last day of the Q-School Event 2, these are the remaining last 16

Q-School 2019 event 2 - Last 16

The first quarter features two young players who have never been pros – Long Zehuang is 22, Dean Young is 17 – a potential “returning” pro, Chen Zifan who is only 23, and a “veteran”, Au Chi Wai, who has never been pro but has been playing on the WSS tour last season and in CBSA events over the years. I would be happy with whoever qualifies from this quarter. I would normally favour younger players, but after this by a BBC journalist

Replying to

Should there be an age limit to entering Q School? The guy is 43, beating a 15 year old. Rather see young talent coming through.

I would be more than happy to see Au Chi Wai through. I never bought the concept of “positive discrimination” (no, not even when it’s about pushing women … ). Except the odd one-off occasion, where commercial or promotional aspects can be considered,  things have to happen on merit. Full stop. As I wrote on twitter, “If you’re good enough, you’re young enough”.

The second quarter is a bit similar: three young players, none of them ever a pro before – Callum Lloyd (24), Riley Parsons (19) and Peifan Lei (15) – and a veteran, potential “returning pro”, Peter Lines. Ideally I would like to see one of the teenagers come through. Peifan Lei however is only 15 and, if he qualifies as a pro, I hope he will get the right people around him. It’s hard for anyone to be alone, very far away from home and family, in an alien culture, and probably needing to learn a foreign language as well. It’s even harder when you’re so very young.

In the third quarter we have again two young players – Louis Heathcote (20) and Si Jiahui (16) – facing two slightly more mature players – Jamie McArdle (33) and Simon Blackwell (26). None of those four have been professional before, so we are guaranteed a new face on the main tour. Again, I’d marginally prefer to see the one of the youngest two go through, provided that Ji Jiahui gets the proper support net, should he be the one emerging from this group.

Finally, the fourth and last quarter features only former professionals. None of them were on the tour in 2018/19. I don’t really care who comes through this one, although have “Paggy” back on tour holds the promise of some “made in Wales” fun and banter on social media 😉 … Willo, I’m sure, is already getting ready.

Both Peifan Lei and Si Jiahui are currently in the top 4 of the Order of Merit.

Other than that, Iulian Boiko, at 13 the youngest player in the draw, was beaten, in round 3, in a deciding frame by Billy Joe Castle in a high quality match; in the process he made a century – in only 5 minutes – to definitely become the youngest “centurion” in professional competition. Iulian is currently 37th in the Q-school order of merit, not high enough to qualify through it, but certainly high enough to get top-up invites during the coming season.

Ng On Yee, the only women remaining at that stage, lost to Peter Lines by 4-1 in round 3. This was somehow a “rematch” of their World Championship 2016 qualifiers round 1 encounter, where Peter beat her 10-1.


Q-School 2019 Event 2 – Day 2

On Yee Ng made a 77 in beating Heikki Niva (Finland) by 4-2. Rebecca Kenna was beaten 4-0 by Paul Davison, but the score isn’t telling the whole story: every frame was extremely hard-fought and very close. Bex was praised both by her opponent and people who watched the match. Despite losing in round 1 in both events so far, she is taking a lot of positives from her Q-School experience. If she plays in the Challenge Tour this season I expect her to further improve.

Si Jiahui (16), Mateusz Baranowski (21 – Poland), Luke Pinches (17), Louis Heathcote (21) , Brian Cini (22 – Malta), Florian Nuessle (17 – Austria), Ka Wai Cheung (20 – HK), Andres Petrov (22 – Estonia) and Rodion Judin (21 – Latvia) were the young players, never being professional before, who won yesterday. What’s good to see as well is how many of those are non-British/Irish. Rodion Judin played at incredible speed: his AST was 15 sec 18! Beware Theppy!

Luke Pinches, who withdrew from event 1, having to sit an A-level exam, was back at the table and with a win as well.

Round 1 concludes today. Reanne Evans will be in action in the first session. Round 2 starts at 11:30 (UK time).


Q-School 2019 Event 2 – Day 1

Event 2 of the 2019 Q-school started yesterday with 39 matches played. There were three walk-overs, all three because one of the players involved graduated through event 1.

Out of 39 winner, 13 are under-22 young players, none of them having been professional before. They are: Lewis Gillen (21), Pang Junxu (19), Long ZeHuang (22), Shane Castle (21), Dylan Emery (18), Keishin Kamihashi (18 – Japan), Aaron Hill (17), Jack Harris (19), Chae Ross (18), Fergal Quinn (19), Peifan Lei (15), Ivan Kakovskiy (20 – Russia) and Manasawin Phetmalaikul (20).

The three “lucky” boys who got a walk-over are all young as well: Daniel Holyda (20 – Poland), Dean Young (17), Noel Landers (19). None of them have been professional before.

Pang Junxu impressed last April when he beat Stuart Carrington by 10-6 at the World Championship qualifiers, before losing to Kurt Maflin by 10-7 in the next round. He’s certainly one to watch. It came a a surprise that he didn’t play in event 1.

So, again, this is a rather good outcome after the event’s first day.

Today, two women are in action. On Yee Ng faces Heikki Niva from Finland. It’s a pity that they have to clash in the first round. Both are very capable to win a few matches in this competition. Rebecca Kenna plays the very experienced Paul Davison. Bex has an excellent safety game but still needs to progress in the scoring department. It’s a tough task she faces here.

Jamie Cope withdrew from the event, and from event 3 as well. The reason for this is not officially known but we can reasonably suppose that, after the disappointment of losing in the first round in event 1, he didn’t fancy his chances in the next events. This is heartbreaking. Jamie is only 33 and he’s very talented. He reached the final of a ranking event twice: at the 2006 Grand-Prix and at the 2007 China Open. He had three 147 in official competitions, and his highest ranking was 13 (in 2010 and 2011). He reached the semi finals at the Masters in 2011, losing by 6-3 to Ding Junhui, the eventual champion. Jamie’s career was ruined by a crippling health issue: an uncontrolable tremor in his cueing arm. He was relegated from the main tour two years ago, after the 2017 World Championship.



Q-School Event 1 – The graduates

The Q-school event 1 concluded yesterday and the four graduates are known:

  • Xu Si (22) who turned pro in 2017,  requalifies immediately after finishing last season out of the top 64.
  • David Lilley (43) has never been a pro before. But he has played a lot all season, on the WSS tour, on the Challenge tour and as a top-up.
  • Soheil Vahedi (30), who turned pro in 2017, also requalifies immediately for the main tour after finishing his second season out of the top 64. Soheil is well appreciated on the tour. He’s a coach as well as a player and always ready to support younger ones.
  • Jamie O’Neil (32), has been a pro for four seasons: 2007-2009 and 2012-2014. in between he played in PTCS. He’s probably the moost unexpected of the four graduates.

It’s a shame that none of the three youngsters, who have never been pros – Wang ZePeng, Ross Bulman and Sean Maddockx – managed to qualify, but they placed themselves well at the top of the order of merit.

Finally, there was a record broken yesterday: the last 16 match between Ashley Hugill (*) and Lukas Kleckers lasted nearly six hours and was decided on a respotted black in the deciding frame. Frankly … six hours is ridiculous for a best of seven.

(*) thanks Lewis for correcting me.


Ronnie’s latest interview …

Ronnie gave this interview to Jeremy Wilson from the Telegraph

And us, fans, won’t like this. However, let me remind you a few things. It’s not the first time that Ronnie wants to walk away from the sport, and one day of course he will. Maybe soon, maybe in years. When he said that he was retiring in 2012, he meant it. A few months later, he started missing it. His relationship with Worldsnooker has never been easy, the expectations and demands on him are extremely high, they have been for over 25 years. And the way this World Championship went hasn’t helped. The media making the biggest story of his defeat when he was clearly unwell hasn’t helped.

So this is how he feels for now. He’s not unhappy, he’s just out of love with the demands of professional snooker. For now at least it’s too much, he doesn’t want to have to cope with this. But he nevertheless said that he will play in Shanghai. My philosophy for now will be to enjoy him when he does play and just wait and see how things pan out from there.

The last sentence is the key to all this: Ronnie is all about the feelings, the emotions, and the moment. This is how he feels now. I a few weeks, or months? Who knows? He certainly does not.

Here is the interview:

Exclusive Ronnie O’Sullivan interview: ‘I don’t want to play in the World Championship next year, it’s overrated’

Ronnie&Rhiannon 23.05.2019
O’Sullivan is planning on cutting down the amount of snooker he plays

It is whilst eating a salad lunch, which appropriately contains some rocket, that Ronnie O’Sullivan casually slips in an announcement that would be genuinely seismic for his sport.

“This year I played 11 tournaments; next year I’m only going to have to play three,” he declares. “I only want to play a few games to keep a bit of interest. I’m bored at home. Maybe three or four tournaments a year. Low key ones, where there is no media and no press. So I will miss the Masters, I will miss the World Championship and I will miss the UK [Championship].

“I don’t even want to play in the World Championship – all the press and media they want you to do. I’m not here for that. It’s alright for young kids who have never won the world title and it’s their dream. To me it’s overrated. It’s great when you win it – a week later it sinks in. I’ve won it five times mate. It ain’t worth the blood, sweat and tears to me now. That tournament? Probably not for me anymore.”

A few minutes earlier and O’Sullivan had also been delivering me the most genuine, heartfelt and yet sometimes hilariously blunt nutritional advice.

“I bet you wanted the fish and chips, didn’t you? Listen mate, two months with Rhiannon, you’d lose a stone and a half. No. Two stones. Guaranteed. And you won’t be hungry. And you eat all the time. Get on it. I always had an issue with weight; I was a fatty ever since I was a kid. I once went from 16 stone to 12 stone in three months. I’ve had to work at it.”

Rhiannon Lambert has been O’Sullivan’s nutritionist for almost two years and one of the key explanations behind a snooker renaissance that, even allowing for last month’s Crucible aberration, has included 10 tournament wins, passing Stephen Hendry for a record-breaking 19 ‘grand slams’ titles, an unprecedented 1,000 century breaks and returning to the top of the world rankings at the age of 43.

It is what made last month’s first round exit at the World Championships such a shock. And, for all the previous threats to quit completely, it is what makes the timing of this suggestion that we might never again see him on snooker’s greatest stage feel significant.

Ronnie - James Cahill - Telegraph 23.05.2019
O’Sullivan lost to amateur James Cahill at the World Snooker Championship last month CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

O’Sullivan is happy, has never felt healthier and the buzz both from playing and entertaining when he is in full flight is certainly still there. “There is no drug on the planet that makes me feel like that,” he says. And yet what has evidently withered to breaking point is his relationship with snooker’s authorities.

“It’s like a broken marriage,” he says. “They don’t like me, I don’t really like them. We are living under the same roof. Just for the kids’ sake, we’ll stay together until they are out of education. Then I’m done, you’re done. We can crack on and get a little flat each. But if they want to overstep that mark and make my life too unhappy I’m off. You are going to lose out because I am not going to come to your tournaments. I’m going to lose out because really I want to play. So we’re just trying to be nice to each other – trying to tolerate each other.”

O’Sullivan has specifically grown weary of the disciplinary threat that has followed his criticism of venues, referees or tournament schedules, but the biggest issue seems to be off-table media demands to ‘sell’ the sport.

“The easiest way to explain it is Kimi Raikonnen,” he says. “He likes to race but he doesn’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to have to promote myself or the game. It’s not the reason I play. Me helping people in snooker is potting balls, having a 147. I don’t see it as necessary to stand there and talk about this opponent, that tournament, how I think the game went. I’m bored of that ****. I ain’t got nothing to say except let my snooker do the talking. I don’t want to work with people who just want to squeeze you and squeeze you until you break and you say, ‘I’m out’.”

Ronnie&Rhiannon 23.05.2019
“Listen mate, two months with Rhiannon, you’d lose a stone and a half.” CREDIT: PAUL GROVER

If that all sounds rather dramatic, some context is important. O’Sullivan has always been candid about his various addictions, the mental health challenges that he has faced and the sometimes torturous toll that snooker takes. And yet still, when he did not attend a press conference after beating David Gilbert in the first round of the 2016 World Championship, World Snooker’s disciplinary statement about “a formal warning” for “breach of contract” was immediate.

It later transpired that O’Sullivan had suffered a mental breakdown, smashed up his cue, punched a wall and was in tears. He would spend four nights in the Nightingale Hospital in central London, a mental health clinic.

Lambert describes the pressures and demands on O’Sullivan as “insane” and says that the professional footballers with whom she also works “get looked after a lot better”. It’s an interesting point. Participants in team sports share out media demands and those who are not feeling up to it simply opt out. Some never speak to the media. There are times when you have to wonder about duty of care and if everyone would benefit from rather more flexibility. As it is, O’Sullivan feels antagonised and exploited and we can end up with the sort of press appearances when he clearly does not want to be there and so pretends to be a robot or puts on an Australian accent.

He says that he is now “detached” from the competitive side of snooker and smiles when asked what happened against James Cahill in Sheffield last month. “At the time I didn’t know,” he says. “I couldn’t stand, my legs were gone and I had to do 19 frames with this kid loving every minute. I looked doped up or something.

“A week later my mate rang me up and said, ‘I was in bed for three days’. I was like ‘thank god, you got it as well, that’s what it was’. Me and him had done something. It was a schoolboy error. We both got sick. If I’d got through that match I’d have been alright. But it’s only a bloody game isn’t it? It’s a snooker tournament at the end of the day.”

O’Sullivan does not want to elaborate and is adamant that Judd Trump’s performance in ultimately winning with such style has not stirred his competitive urge. “I’ve had to fight off five generations of player – I’ve nothing to prove,” he says. “People like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were different animals. Ruthless. I’m ruthless in the competition with myself. Hendry and Davis were all about winning. For me it’s the competition with myself. I don’t have to play anyone.

“If anything this would be the perfect time to cash in and do other stuff. But I’m not cashing in, I’ll only do things I’m passionate about. You won’t catch me on Strictly Come Dancing, you won’t catch me in the jungle, or jumping off a building for fun. You will see me doing cooking, talking about nutrition, health and fitness. I think that can help people. It’s about spending time and working with people who share the same philosophy.”

Lambert is one such person and together they have brought out a book, Top of Your Game, that combines recipes and nutritional advice with O’Sullivan’s wider outlook on life. So has healthy eating given him an advantage over his competitors? He shrugs.

“Not intentionally. I want to get out of the game and I’ve gone back to [world] number one. There are a lot of people on the snooker circuit who have never really taken care of themselves. Eat whatever they eat on the road. Never seen a gym. For them, sitting on a couch at home, watching Jeremy Kyle or whatever they watch, they might as well be in China sitting on the couch watching CBS news and potting a few balls. They don’t give a monkeys.

“Me, I think, ‘Travel, jet-lag, that’s eight days when I could be in the forest having a run, in the gym, cooking my own food’. That’s my value-system. Take care of myself first and then the job second. I think I’ve had longevity because I’ve been picky and choosy about what I do.”

O’Sullivan  has brought out a book with his nutritionist, Rhiannon Lambert CREDIT: PAUL GROVER

O’Sullivan was 15 stones when he met Lambert despite regularly running and working out, but was soon down near 13 stones even while cutting back on exercise. More importantly, he felt more content and could concentrate for longer.

“Food affects everything,” says Lambert. “You can see the difference in his skin. The stuff he was eating was not beneficial internally. Portion sizes through the roof. You might be able to run a long distance but are your organs feeling good? What about your mental health?”

It is now all about eating a balanced diet within three meals and two snacks a day. Moderation was the first big lesson for O’Sullivan, who would previously gorge on McDonalds, several curries a day and then, when he was trying to be healthy, avocados and olives.

“I was in Bulgaria with Stephen Hendry. He looked at me and said, ‘How many olives have you eaten?’ I said, ‘I don’t know mate, let’s have a count up’. It was 29. So I said, ‘I’ll have one more. Round number. 30’. I was eating three or four avocados a day and thinking that I was doing really well. Now I have a template. It took me three months to get it. The right amounts are vital.

“People see these big plates now and it’s like, ‘feed me!’ It’s hard to wean yourself off but, over a two-month period, your stomach adjusts.” O’Sullivan started measuring food and can now instinctively judge what he should eat. “When you are out and they bring you a massive, ridiculous dinner, I now go, ‘Three meals there. Wicked. Divvy it up. That’s my protein, that’s my carbs, done. Put the rest in a bag and I’ll eat it later’. Previously I would be, ‘Christ. I’m not leaving that, I’ll have some of that’ and looking to finish everyone else’s.”

And does he allow himself treats? “Oh yeah,” he says. “If I’m out I might share a desert. ‘You chose and I’ll have two mouthfuls’. One, two, bosh, done. Now and then I’ll think I have earned it. Maybe a week at snooker, stressed and I’ll be, ‘That cakes’s getting it’ and I’ll have the lot, but you are not going to put on two stones if you do that once in a while.” Lambert advised O’Sullivan to prioritise his diet over intense exercise while he was adjusting and, although remaining active was important, it is another key nugget of advice.

“Listen, save your money on a gym or a ****ing personal trainer,” says O’Sullivan. “Get a nutritionist, see her once a month. Done. It’s more important than training. I hate to admit that because my whole life I thought you’ve got to be fit and train but you can’t out-train a bad diet. A gym is two hours out of your day. You can prep your food in 40 minutes.

“Some of these mainstream gyms are not gyms anyway mate. They are social clubs where parents drop off their kids. I go in there and I’m so uninspired. I go down a boxing club to train. Love it there.”

Ronnie Tour Championship  Winner - Telegraph 23.05.2019
O’Sullivan insists he wasn’t simply born with his talent CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Talk of boxing prompts O’Sullivan to recall how he once met Roberto Duran and discovered that he was a massive snooker fan. He speaks with similar passion about other sporting heroes – Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi and Tiger Woods – but then looks almost embarrassed to have it pointed out that he actually transcends his sport in a comparable way. And that there are a fair few people who derive the exact same joy watching him that he clearly gets from these people.

“It’s a bit unfair to put it on me in a way but I have had 25 years of unbelievable support,” he says. “The rest of my career will be about the fans. I’ve got this resilience to come back but at some point it will be, ‘I can’t even do it for you now’. It scrapes a bit off each time and my sanity is more important. That’s why I’m enjoying doing this. Different vibe. I get more out of giving than taking.”

O’Sullivan then debunks the idea that he was simply born with outrageous talent. “To be good at anything you have got to have that obsessive nature,” he says. “I’ve seen people with more talent than me not make it. I’ve seen people with no talent win tournaments. Hard work always wins. Talent with hard work and you get your Lionel Messis. It doesn’t come easy to me but, when it does, it comes ridiculously easy: 30 per cent of the time it’s easy, 40 per cent is OK and the other 30 percent is like I’ve never played before. You have to keep working.

“And what I will always do is my exhibitions – 60 or 70 nights a year, any snooker fan who wants to can come and I promise I’ll be in practice and you will get a great performance. I wouldn’t want to spend my money and see someone do a **** performance. I’ll be a bit like Ken Dodd – on stage until the day he dies. He loved what he was doing. They loved what he did. He was not dealing anymore with ITV, BBC, corporate people saying, ‘You can’t do this or that’. When you perform really well you know there is a certain electricity in the air. You feed off that. They are giving it to you – I’m giving it to them. You get addicted. How do you say goodbye to that? How do you go, ‘I’ll just make a cup of tea and grow a few plants in the garden’. It’s only the highest level of performance that can give you that.

“There’s been games where I have not thought I have given punters value for money and the fans are, ‘Brilliant! Amazing!’ And I’m thinking, ‘Who has got it wrong here?’ That’s where Steve Peters (O’Sullivan’s psychiatrist) helps. He says, ‘Look at the facts, some great breaks and you won the tournament’.”

O’Sullivan then reaches for his phone. It is where he stores certain psychological reminders and sayings that help him. “I love this by Jade Johnson. ‘Facts don’t care about your feelings’. Brilliant.”

He then repeats it. “Facts don’t care about your feelings. It’s everything Steve Peters tries to teach me: ‘Look at the facts, five tournaments wins this season, two finals. The facts are the most important thing’.” And then O’Sullivan pauses before delivering perhaps the most perceptive observation of all. “But I’m going to get hurt all the time.” Why? “Because I’m ****ing all about the feelings.”