Ronnie O’Sullivan is set to participate in his 27th straight World Championship as he chases a sixth title that would see him equal the Crucible hauls of Steve Davis and Ray Reardon.
It will be a serious business for O’Sullivan and the rest of snooker’s leading players with the game’s most coveted trophy and a £500,000 first prize on the line in Sheffield when the delayed tournament begins on Friday 31 July.
O’Sullivan has plenty of memories since first appearing at the Crucible as a teenager in 1993, but can also still enjoy the lighter side of the sport as a fan.
The five-times world champion – who is seeded sixth at this year’s event – recalls watching a match between then defending world champion John Parrott and Tony Knowles in 1992 when Parrott benefited from a blunder by legendary referee Len Ganley on his way to a 13-4 win in the last 16.
“One of my favourite moments was a match between John Parrott and Tony Knowles. I remember watching it on the box,” said O’Sullivan.
“John Parrott was in a snooker on the brown. He missed it, and the referee said: ‘foul four, and a miss’. Tony Knowles has said to the referee: ‘Yeah, put the white back’.
“Parrott suddenly gets down to pot the brown, blue, pink and black to clear up. Knowlsey is going mad. He is saying to the referee: ‘He couldn’t see that brown.’
“Poor Knowlsey. He was getting out of his chair, and was fuming. But it was funny to watch.”
It might be perceived as a bit mean to find that incident funny, but, myself, I have witnessed Tony Kowles getting quite worked up about something related to snooker and he got so passionate about it, despite the fact that nobody was disagreeing with him in that particular case, that indeed, it became actually funny.
Regarding the above incident, what puzzles me most is the fact that John Parrott must have known that the white had not been correctly replaced, and said nothing. Unless, of course, Tony’s perception of the situation was wrong from the start. That’s possible because, a player sat in his chair at the Crucible, certainly does not have the best view on the table.
Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he will always regret engaging with boxing trash talk before his World Championship semi-final with Stephen Hendry in 2002.
Ahead of his Crucible clash with seven-times world champion Hendry 18 years ago, O’Sullivan infamously said he would like to send his opponent “back to his sad little life in Scotland”.
It is a moment the Essex player always regrets – he later apologised to Hendry – but believes his close friendship with former world featherweight champion boxer Prince Naseem Hamed did not help before getting inside the ropes with his fellow 36-times ranking winner.
“I wonder – rightly – whether he’s been listening to a certain Sheffield boxer with a penchant for shooting his mouth off,” said Hendry in his autobiography Me and the Table.
“In the last couple of seasons, my pal Prince Naseem has visibly switched his loyalties from me to Ronnie, and the latter has been spotted hanging out with Naz’s entourage. So it’s not surprising there’s a bit of fighting talk.”
The pre-match barbs backfired on O’Sullivan as he lost 17-13 to a fired up Hendry in the semi-finals, who also admitted it is the only grudge match he ever played at the iconic Sheffield venue.
Hendry rolled in breaks of 125, 124, 122, 113, 100, 81, 73, 65, 63, 59, 58, 55 and 53 as he won five of the last six frames to progress to the final, punching the air in completing victory.
“That was terrible. I blamed myself for that,” said O’Sullivan.
“It should never have happened. But I’m also blaming Naz for getting me so revved up. He said to me the day before the match: ‘You should be more like this, or more like that.’
“It was okay for Naz because he was a boxer, but I’m a snooker player. You have to respect your opponent. In boxing, they like that sort of trash talk to sell tickets. It wasn’t really me. I was easily led. When I said it, and when it came out, I was gutted.
It is something I will always regret for the rest of my life. Stephen was my hero, and still is. I never a meant a word of it. I’ve told Stephen that, and apologised to him. I have a lot of time for Stephen, and he accepted my apology. We’re good mates now – we have a solid friendship.
“It was a big mistake on my part.”
It was indeed a very bad idea and it backfired big time. It also led to quite heated – and colourful – discussions between fans of both players on forums and message boards, notably on BBC 606, long after the players themselves had patched things up!