1. The right frame of mind is vital for success at the snooker table
“If I’m playing in a room with a friend or just on my own, there’s no pressure,” says Ronnie. “It doesn’t matter if I’m having a bad day not hitting the ball quite so well. No one’s watching.”
The guy that had won the tournament, I wanted to be him
“But when you’re pitted against another really good player, a top class player in a venue – let’s take the World Championships because that is the one and only tournament which really, really stands alone, for the atmosphere, for the intensity, for the nerves that it brings out in you.”
“The build-up can play tricks with your mind and it can make you go from good form to bad form. If you overthink or you freeze, it just gets the better of you. It’s not a normal situation to go and do your work [in]. So that becomes really difficult and something that I don’t enjoy really.”
2. Ronnie has held a world record for 26 years – but he doesn’t value it
Back in the 1997 World Championships, playing against Mick Price, Ronnie scored the maximum break of 147 [potting all the reds, each followed by the black and then clearing the remaining balls] in a record time of five minutes and eight seconds, spending on average less than nine seconds on each shot. The record still stands, more than a quarter of a century later.
So how does he feel about it now?
“I don’t watch that one back,” says Ronnie, “because that reminds me of when my game wasn’t in a good shape. Although I made the 147, I wasn’t really playing good enough snooker or consistently enough to win the World Championship.”
He backs this up by adding: “It’s not an important record though… In the snooker world, what is more impressive than anything is just consistency. It’s about being able to churn it out, ball after ball, match after match, becoming this rock – and at that time I was anything but a rock. But I could do moments of magic, but I didn’t want to be known for moments of magic.”
“The guy that had won the tournament, I wanted to be him. I didn’t want to be the guy collecting the nice big cheque that they give you for the 147 [£147,000 in prize money for the maximum]. I’d give all that up just to get my hands on that trophy… I need to be where he is.”
3. When he was 12 he experienced a moment of revelation
Ronnie was given his first snooker cue by his dad, Ronnie senior, at the age of seven but it took five years before he felt that he could make something of the game.
I’m a better player than I ever have been because I don’t rely on just one thing
“The first time I thought ‘I’m good at this game’ was when I was 12,” says Ronnie, “and I won a tournament at Barking, which was my home club, and it was a pro-am tournament and all of a sudden my game just clicked.”
“I was playing this guy and I just felt like I couldn’t miss. For the first time in my life I thought: ‘I’m going to clear this table.’”
“And it was like ‘Bang!’ Long red, 80… ‘Bang!’ Long red, 100. And I’m in the quarters [quarter finals] now but I feel a different player and I thought if I can keep this going, you never know.”
“I got a cheque for £600 and I got a trophy. It was half-ten, 11 o’clock at night and I’m thinking, ‘This is unbelievable.’ That’s the first time in my life where I thought, ‘You know what? I can play this game.’”
4. He impressed his school friends by turning £5 into £20 in 20 minutes
Ronnie didn’t enjoy school and despite his talent at snooker, he didn’t really attract a great deal of attention from the other pupils who were much more interested in who was good at football.
“The only time people got a bit excited when I said to my mates: ‘Shall we have fish and chips then?’ They went, ‘Yeah, we’d love that.’ I said, ‘How much money you got?’ And they went, ‘Got a pound for lunch.’”
“So we get a fiver – we all had a pound each. I went, ‘Right, I’m going down the snooker club.’ I said, ‘I’ll turn it into £20 no problem.’ I said, ‘You up for it?’ And they went, ‘Yeah, yeah.’”
So schoolboy Ronnie would enter the club and challenge someone to play him for a £20 prize: “‘You want a game of snooker?’ [They] went, ‘Yeah.’ I had 20 minutes to get this done and I went, ‘Bang, bang, bang!’ I got the £20 and I went, ‘Right, let’s go and have fish and chips!’”
Ronnie also admits that fish wasn’t always his first choice back then: “I was partial to a saveloy!”
5. Away from the snooker table, he faced many challenges as a young adult
When Ronnie was 16, his father received a life sentence for murder, and four years later his mother was imprisoned for tax fraud. With both parents jailed, Ronnie was responsible for his sister who was only eight.
“That was the point where it just went from zero to 100 overnight,” says Ronnie about the time. “Once my mum had gone away, I had no one to be accountable to, because she was another one that I knew would be so disappointed in me if I’d come back drunk or I started smoking.”
“When my dad went away, she was the next person that I didn’t want to let down. I wanted to be there for her and make sure that we both got through it – together we were stronger. That was my mindset.”
“[With] her going away, it left me on my own. And then by the time she came out, it was too late. The damage… I was already off and running. There was no stopping me.”
“I tried, I tried [to look after sister Danielle] but I couldn’t deal with it. I was already then drinking and partying. Just hanging around with people that weren’t really good for me, really.”
6. One of his close friends is a leading British artist
Nowadays Ronnie takes his physical and mental health much more seriously. He finds a run in the morning sets him up for the day. He has also taken up painting and has a friendship with Damien Hirst, who burst onto the British art scene in the 1990s, with numerous eye-catching works, including a preserved dead shark, a diamond-encrusted skull and large spot paintings.
“I can’t draw to save my life,” says Ronnie. “But what Damien gets me doing is he does a lot of dots… He has these massive canvases. And he [said], you can do this. And I was like, ‘I ain’t got a room big enough to put a canvas like that!’”
“No, he said, ‘Just get a little piece of paper. You just get smaller pens and you just do it on a different scale.’”
Ronnie feels that the experience of creating art alongside Damien is therapeutic: “This is really good for me… This is getting me in a nice place. I’m with my friend. I’m here with him. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I feel safe.”
7. He’s learned how to stay at the very top of his game – and now wants to enjoy it
Ronnie is the currently ranked number one in the world, and says this is the result of the work he continues to put in: “[I’ve] always been open to learn and becoming a better player. I think I’m a better player than I ever have been because I don’t rely on just one thing. I’ve got three or four different options of surviving within a game and at any point I can switch, which just took time because I was never really the best at anything.”
“I wasn’t the best long potter. I wasn’t the best safety player. I was always good at making breaks and scoring quickly, which is an amazing asset to have, but without the other stuff, it became a bit one dimensional.“
“Over the years I’ve had to learn to improve in a lot of areas and now I can call upon them. But I will always know that in the back of my mind that to get the job done, I need to be firing on all cylinders, which is scoring breaks at a quick rapid speed.”
“Now I’ve got to the point where I’ve improved, but it’s… how long can I keep it going for? I’ve worked so hard to get there and it’s like now I just want to make as much hay as I can and enjoy it because I suffered a lot of it, you know, and I’ve learned to not suffer, so it’s about more pleasure now.”