Snooker (not great) news and a lovely podcast

The Scottish Open 2018 starts today, and maybe not surprisingly, Ronnie has withdrawn from it. Surely winning the UK Championship yesterday has taken a lot out of him and he deserves a break. His next event will probably be the Masters in January.

Meanwhile, this podcast by Rhiannon Lambert and Ronnie is worth a listen, especially with the end-of-year celebrations, and over-eating coming soon!

FoodforThoughts

Regarding the sports itself, it was announced in the media last week that a ban will be enforced on adds for gambling and betting on TV during sports events. There were many articles in the press about it, and this is one of them, by the Guardian.

UK betting firms back live sports advertising ban

Online gambling firms such as Bet365, William Hill and Ladbrokes agree ban amid fears of impact on children

Online gambling companies have agreed in principle to a voluntary “whistle-to-whistle” ban on advertising during live sports, in an effort to address concerns about their impact on children.

Companies such as Bet365, William Hill and Ladbrokes would agree not to advertise during live sports, including after 9pm if the event started before the watershed.

While the proposals have yet to be approved, they are likely to be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the five major gambling industry associations next week, with a view to implementing the ban within six months.

A senior gambling industry figure said he would be “surprised and disappointed” if the measures were not agreed and said that while not every online betting firm would support them, all were likely to comply.

“It would be a very brave company that would stick its head above the parapet in isolation,” he said.

The whistle-to-whistle ban, which excludes horse racing, would involve the industry falling into line with Labour party proposals.

The advertising proposals, first reported by the BBC, have been put forward by the Remote Gambling Association (RGA), which represents online betting firms.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said: “I’m delighted that gambling operators have adopted Labour’s proposal of a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertising during live sport.

“With over 430,000 problem gamblers in the country, many of them children, the number of adverts during live sports had clearly reached crisis levels.

“There was clear public support for these restrictions and I’m glad that for once the industry, led by [the RGA], has taken its responsibilities seriously and listened.”

Several chief executives in the gambling industry, including the bosses of William Hill and Paddy Power Betfair, have said they would support greater restrictions on advertising to protect children.

Concern about the normalisation of gambling has risen due to the sheer volume of ads during televised sport.

Research by the Guardian during the World Cup found that children were “bombarded” with 90 minutes of gambling adverts during the tournament.

Shares in gambling companies fell on reports of a plan that would restrict their ability to reach TV viewers, while broadcasters are also likely to take a significant hit on lost advertising revenue.

One senior executive at a media agency told the Guardian that gambling ads were worth £200m to broadcasters last year, with the majority going to Sky and, to a lesser extent, ITV.

Online gambling companies are thought to have learned a lesson from the resistance shown by the Association of British Bookmakers, which fought tooth and nail against the cut in maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals.

Their campaign was ultimately unsuccessful and caused considerable damage to the industry’s reputation over efforts to prevent curbs on machines that the government branded a “social blight”.

RGA chief executive Clive Hawkswood is thought to be determined to get the measure approved by the gambling industry before he steps down in January.

It requires agreement from the National Casino Forum, Association of British Bookmakers, Bingo Association and the amusement arcade body Bacta, although their blessing is likely to be a formality as the online industry is by far the biggest TV advertiser.

The RGA has also put forward other proposals but is expected to stop short of adopting Labour’s stated policy of banning gambling companies from sponsoring football shirts.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, spokesman for campaign group Fairer Gambling, said: “This is long overdue but to be truly effective it should have also included bans on shirt and league sponsorship and pitch-side rolling displays.”

This is indeed good news as far as I’m concerned, and it’s not just about children either. But for snooker, a sport that is relying so much on the gambling industry, at least outside China, this might be only the start of a massive issue, very similar to what happened with the tobacco ban. If the bookies see their TV adds cut off, they will be less likely to sponsor live sporting events because the whole point for them is to expose their “brand” and promote their “products”. This was coming, and it baffled me how much in denial so many fans were when I raised the point earlier. I very really hope that WS will act wisely and diversify their sponsoring sources. And it might not be that easy because the strong association with the gambling business has created an image already that many other businesses don’t want to be associated with, especially in mainland Europe.

Speaking of mainland Europe, Snookerstars have announced on Facebook that the Paul Hunter Classic 2019 will take place, but as an invitational event for 16 players only. I’m not sure at this stage what the status of the event will be, nor if it will still be a pro-am. My guess is that no amateurs will be involved in the main competition. This is both a good news and a bad news. Good because I really feared that he would disappear entirely, bad because this was the best pro-am you could play in, or watch, and it has been ruined. Making it a full ranking event, without the financial backing to attract top players has killed it. And getting financial backing from sponsors in mainland Europe is extremely difficult (see above!)

 

“The Break” – a review

TheBreakCover

The third volume of the “Soho nights” serries is out since November 15.

This is the “trailer” on amazon.co.uk

The Break explodes into the gangland world of 90s Soho, by snooker world champion and national superstar, Ronnie O’Sullivan.

It’s 1997 and Cool Britannia’s in full swing. Oasis and Blur are top of the pops and it feels like the whole country’s sorted out for E’s and wizz.

But it’s not just UK plc that’s on a high. Life’s looking up for Frankie James too. He’s paid off his debts to London’s fiercest gang lord, Tommy Riley. His Soho Open snooker tournament is about to kick off at his club. The future looks bright.

But then Frankie finds himself being blackmailed by a face from his past. They want him to steal something worth millions. It’s enough to get him killed. Or banged up for life if he says no.

Frankie’s going to need every ounce of luck and guile that he’s got if he’s going to pull off the heist of the century and get out of this in one piece.

The Break is the third, fast-paced Soho Nights thriller, by snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.

I just finished reading it and here is my attempt at a review.

I quite liked the book, better in fact than “Double Kiss”. One reason is that the action starts right from page one, which is good. The plot is rather straightforward – not too many ramifications – but there are a few funny original ideas and characters along the way. I won’t say more, not wanting to spoil your read … The book will not  get the Nobel prize of  literature, but it’s fast paced, entertaining and the suspense – how the hell will Frankie get out of this mess? – sustained to the very end. Just what you want on holidays or for a chill out couple of evenings. The plot again would work well for an action film.

The psychological similarities between Frankie and Ronnie are once again obvious. The questions opened in the previous two previous books though aren’t answered, which probably means that there will be at least one more book to come. We still don’t know if/how Frankie’s father has been framed, and we still don’t know what happened to his mother.

Ronnie O’Sullivan will be at WHSmith in Bluewater next month.He will be signing copies of his newest Soho Nights thriller, The Break on Tuesday, December 18, from noon.

Simply the Best – Clive Everton

Simplythebestclive-everton

I just finished reading “Simply the Best” by Clive Everton, so here is my review for what it’s worth. Before I do this though, I want to point at Clive’s introduction and his acknowledgement that Ronnie – politely – declined to co-operate to this book. Ronnie indeed hasn’t particularly friendly feelings towards Clive mainly because he feels that Clive’s reading of and writing about some of his own comments and behaviours aren’t a correct reflection of what he actually felt and meant. This is something I have heard from Ronnie himself.

Clive goes through Ronnie’s life and career, nearly year by year, and every significant match Ronnie played is documented by comments made at the time, either by Ronnie himself, or his opponent, and sometimes by others involved like officials or witnesses. As such this book is an invaluable source of documentation as Clive certainly unearthed excerpts of the interviews and press conferences recorded “live” after matches, be it wins and defeats. It doesn’t always make for a very easy read such is the wealth of information offered to the reader. But it does take us to the rollercoaster of emotions and mood swings that paved Ronnie’s career, and it highlights how much working with Steve Peters has changed his outlook on his career and on himself.

Clive is firmly convinced that Ronnie Senior’s imprisonment had a profound and durable impact both on Ronnie’s career, psyche and on his life away from snooker. There is certainly a lot of truth in this and, if anything, this was confirmed by Ronnie himself in his “Sporting Live Story”. However, I believe that there is more than just that. I have known Ronnie for more than ten years now, and during the 2010 to 2013 period in particular he opened up to me about how much his “divorce” from Jo Langley had affected him, how lonely and lost he felt, and how he was prepared to do anything to make sure that he would not be estranged from his two youngest children as he had been from his first daughter. Also, when his father was finally released Ronnie had high expectations. Of course he didn’t think that all would be like it was 18 years earlier. He was an adult with children himself, not a teenager. But he thought that they somehow would be a family again. When his parents split, shortly after they were reunited, it hurt him despite his understanding that in 18 years they had inevitably become different persons and grown apart. To me, Clive doesn’t give those events enough importance in his analysis of Ronnie’s mindset at the time.

Also, it’s clear than Clive is a big fan of Barry Hearn. There is no doubt that Barry Hearn has done a lot of good and that snooker is now in better shape than it was, although, to rely mainly on one line of business for sponsoring – the gambling industry – is a dangerous thing to do and probably will backfire at a point. However some of the criticisms Ronnie expressed over the years were/are not unfounded. Players are the game’s biggest asset, and it’s the top players who attract the audience. They deserve to feel valued and respected. In his book “On the Road and Off the Table With Snooker’s Greatest”, Jason Francis tells us what the reaction was when Ronnie had a breakdown at the Crucible in 2016: “He will be fined”. Would it have been too much to ask if he was alright? And, in the October issue of Snooker Scene, Clive covers the spat Ronnie had about the Crawley venue at lengths, essentially taking side with WS. But, David Hendon, who, contrary to  Clive, was on the site, is giving a very different account, basically backing Ronnie’s claims. Ronnie isn’t the most stable person, he’s bipolar to start with, and many things he says should be taken with a pinch of salt even if he genuinely means them on the moment. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth in what he says – in fact beyond the exaggerations and sometimes insults, there usually is truth in it – and I feel that Clive’s perception is biased at times.

It certainly is an interesting reading, and one every snooker fan should have in their library.

 

 

 

“Me and the Table” by Stephen Hendry

HendryBook

In a couple of hours the Seniors UK Championship 2018 will start, and once again, Stephen Hendry will pick up his cue and try to win. I thought that this is a good time to share my thoughts about his biography “Me and the table”

The first thing I’ll say about Stephen Hendry’s biography is what it is not: you won’t find any detailed analysis of any match played by the great man, neither will you find much about the most significant shots he played. If this is what you are after, this book isn’t for you.

What this book IS though, is a recollection of Stephen Hendry’s psychological and emotional journey from the carefree debuts on the small table he got as a Christmas present, to winning everything, to not winning anything and, eventually to retiring,  and going to  promote and play 8-balls Chinese Pool in China. Stephen Hendry takes us with him through the kaleidoscope of his emotions: excitement, hope, realisation of his own talent, reaching his goals, the years of invincibility, the first doubts, the denial, the pain, the depression, and finally a kind of acceptance. It’s quite engrossing and certainly portrays a man very different from the “Iceman” image he carried around  for most of his career. Reading this book you won’t learn much new about his matches, but you will certainly come to know and understand the human person behind the cue much better.

Stephen Hendry also opens up about some aspects of his private life, and his relationship with his manager and some of his fellow players.

Here is a good interview Stephen did about his biography

Stephen Hendry: ‘Yips trivialises it. It was much more than that’

The seven-times world champion on his duels with Davis, Higgins, White and O’Sullivan and how his famed mental strength disintegrated leaving him no choice but to quit
Stephen Hendry has not lost his competitive streak. ‘Steve Davis let it go years ago but it still hurts me, watching people win at the Crucible.’
Stephen Hendry has not lost his competitive streak. ‘Steve Davis let it go years ago but it still hurts me, watching people win at the Crucible.’ Photograph: Tom Jenkins/Guardian

“It was a mixture of embarrassment, anger, frustration, sadness, everything,” Stephen Hendry says as he remembers how his dominance of snooker unravelled into, in his mind, a shambling wreck of a game. When the end came, in the quarter-finals of the 2012 world championships, Hendry was so besieged by psychological demons “there was nothing positive left”.

Hendry’s favourite sportsmen are Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Nick Faldo and AP McCoy and he was once as imperious as they had been. He holds the record for the most world titles, with all seven being won in the 1990s, and he was world No 1 for eight successive seasons. But the great champions feel it most when vulnerability takes over.

“It started about 12 years before the end,” Hendry says of his slow decline. “Of course it’s psychological and, when you strike a cue ball, you’re supposed to accelerate through the ball. But as you tighten up you end up decelerating. By 2012 my game was shot. You’re sitting on your chair watching players leagues below you play shots you can’t. That destroyed me.”

In his new book, which provides graphic insight into this implosion, Hendry accepts that people compare his condition to a golfer’s ‘yips’. He scrunches up his face. “That trivialises it. I hate the word because it’s much more than that.”

It resulted in humiliation for Hendry. He had to qualify for his final world championship by playing at the Institute of Sport in Sheffield instead of his beloved Crucible. “It felt degrading. That’s no disrespect to other players but I had owned the Crucible for a decade with seven wins and two finals.”

Hendry ground his way through qualifying and in the first round against Stuart Bingham at the Crucible he sank a 147 maximum. Hendry had already decided to retire and become an ambassador for 8-ball pool in China. “I got to the Crucible having flown to China and back, with one day there to meet my new employers. Somehow the 147 came about. It was amazing because, of the 36 shots, only six were played properly. My game had debilitated so far it was mostly shots I wasn’t hitting properly. I’d given every shot a pint of blood to get it in the pocket. The outsider was probably saying, ‘That’s amazing.’ Inside, it felt horrible.”

He beat John Higgins in the second round but, 3-0 down to Stephen Maguire in the quarters, it was over. “Clearing up in the fourth frame, I knew if I didn’t get perfectly on the blue I’d leave myself this pink. So consequently, on the brown, you’re thinking about two shots later and ‘I can’t play it.’ I was finished.”

He lost 13-2 to Maguire and retired but Hendry had suffered worse moments. “The lowest was losing [to Robert Milkins] in China. It was such an embarrassment. In China they called me the emperor of snooker but I kept losing in the first round. I broke down. It’s the only time I’ve cried from losing. Milkins is a journeyman, someone you should never lose to.”

Hendry does not mean to sound cruel towards Milkins – but he is intent on describing, with crushing honesty, how far he fell. “I loved being the best player in the world. There was no pressure staying there. I’ve heard [current World No 1] Mark Selby say: ‘It’s hard being the target man.’ I loved it.”

He admired the way in which Woods, at his most swaggering, rarely looked surprised or elated when winning. “I really empathise with that. When you get a trophy why go jumping and crying? Winning’s a great feeling but everything else is an anticlimax. I really had to force a smile because winning was my job.”

In his book Hendry details the way in which his manager, Ian Doyle, controlled him. Doyle even made Hendry break up with his girlfriend, Mandy, because he believed the young Scot should be consumed by snooker. Later, when he had finally married Mandy, Hendry horrified Doyle by mixing with other players. But Hendry believes now that losing his Ice Man image undermined him.

“Without a doubt. In the 90s I never socialised with other players. That changed. I wanted to spend more time in the players’ lounge. I became friendly with Mark Williams. There’s no doubt it affected my invincibility. Ronnie O’Sullivan is still the best player in the world on his day now and he doesn’t mix with the players. You need that coldness. But I missed out as a teenager and thought: ‘I want to enjoy being with people and going out for dinner.’ It was to my detriment as a competitive animal.”

During his 26-year career Hendry straddled different eras and faced a range of compelling players from Alex Higgins to O’Sullivan. He describes how drink once ran through the game. “Jimmy White and the others would have half a lager while playing. Bill Werbeniuk had to start drinking four hours before a match. He had this condition where he either took beta blockers, which were banned, or alcohol to calm his heart rate. If he had a match at 10 in the morning, he got up at six to start drinking beer. Alex obviously liked to drink. Sometimes we practised and he used the table to hold himself up. But he still played unbelievable snooker.”

Stephen Hendry after beating Jimmy White 18-17 to win his fourth world crown in 1994. ‘I really had to force a smile because winning was my job.’
Pinterest
Stephen Hendry after beating Jimmy White 18-17 to win his fourth world crown in 1994. ‘I really had to force a smile because winning was my job.’ Photograph: Michael Cooper/Getty Images

Higgins was initially kind to Hendry but “it turned to resentment. He directed it at Steve Davis and then me because Alex believed he made snooker. In a way he was right. But when he wasn’t as good as us he couldn’t cope.”

Hendry was still disappointed when many younger players failed to travel with him to Belfast for Higgins’s funeral in 2010. He feels even deeper affection for White, his boyhood hero, whom he beat in four of his seven world championship final victories.

“He’d get introduced and 95% of the audience would go mental. I’d walk down the stairs to the odd boo. I liked it – being the bad one, the one who’s going to beat him. But you’d never hear a bad word from Jimmy about anybody. Higgins used to be nasty – but if Jimmy said anything, it was in jest. And he took losing with such grace.”

He smiles with nostalgia rather than in judgment. “Kenny Dalglish said: ‘Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.’ Jimmy was an amazing loser. I’m sure inside he was devastated but he never showed it. If I’d had lost that final, I would be inconsolable.”

Hendry was still a teenager when Davis demolished him in every frame of a six-game exhibition. “I hated it, losing to Steve night after night but I would do the same in his position. I’d be willing to kill the young upstart every night.”

Davis did not compliment Hendry when the Scot finally beat him – and Hendry shared that mentality. “I’d practised with John Higgins for years and when he became world champion I couldn’t congratulate him. A normal person says: ‘Well done.’ I couldn’t. It didn’t matter if it was my best friend, my brother, I didn’t want anyone else to win. It still hurts me, watching people win at the Crucible. Steve let it go years ago. That’s why he played longer than me. He treated it as a day out. I could never do that.”

Hendry and O’Sullivan have fallen out occasionally but now “we get on”. Mates is probably too strong a word because Ronnie is complex. There are times you’ll be his best friend and times he’ll virtually not say hello to you.”

There is, instead, respect and rivalry. “Ronnie’s the best player I’ve ever seen and people forget I actually played him. I was obviously on my way down and he gave me some hammerings.”

Hendry responds emphatically when asked what would happen if he and O’Sullivan met each other at their very peak. “I believe I would win. If we had a four-session match, where things change, I would back myself every time. I was stronger mentally. But he’s more talented than me, making shots left-handed and sinking a 147 in 4½ minutes. My fastest maximum would be over nine minutes.”

Flying to China 15 times a year, to promote Chinese pool, and working as a UK snooker pundit, Hendry admits that, “compared to the 1990s life now is dull. Back then you were the world’s best player. Nothing could touch you. I’ve not got a bad life now but I have days where I think: ‘What is there to look forward to? What’s the buzz?’”

He takes solace in his belief that, as arguably the greatest snooker player in history, his world championship record of victories remains safe. “I can’t see anyone beating it. O’Sullivan’s got five. He can do it if he keeps playing. But there are four others playing at that level. At his absolute best Ronnie wins. But he’s getting to that age where he’s not doing it often. He’ll talk all sorts of bullshit, saying he doesn’t care about the record. But deep down he wants to beat me while, of course, I want to hold on to the record.”

Hendry sounds, briefly, like a perennial winner again. But he is too likeable now not to give in to honesty as, considering his involvement in a new senior circuit, he admits his game is still ruined. “I’ve played it a few times and in practice I’m fine because no one’s watching. But once it starts I’m totally embarrassed by my shots. It’s horrible.”

The 49-year-old former world champion laughs ruefully. He then shakes his head when asked if he will ever free himself of these demons. “There’re probably people out there who think they can cure me but it’s a mental thing. At exhibitions I have a couple of drinks before I play to relax. It works sometimes but that’s not a way out. I have to live with it now.”

I really liked the book, but can’t help wondering whether Stephen Hendry would have been able to re-invent himself the way Ronnie has done with the help of Steve Peters. In his biography, he tells us that he turned to various people in order to get help. But the help he was looking for was mainly aimed at changing his game in order to recapture his confidence and invincibility feeling. He wasn’t ready , or able, to try to change his own mentality nor his own expectations. “I didn’t want to go there” is a sentence that comes around a few times in this book.

I certainly recommend every snooker fan to read this book.

Thai Curry and Crumble …

Ronnie and Rhiannon were again cooking together – live on Ronnie’s Facebook – as they prepare their new book “Top of your game”.

ThaiCurry&Crumble23.07.2018

So today was about Thai curry and crumble.

Here is the video they shared.

Ronnie also answered a few questions. His firs event (proper) should be the Shanghai Masters in September.

I tried the crumble myself some weeks ago and it’s really, really nice!

From Snooker Legends to World Seniors Snooker Tour

JasonBookCover2018

 

Jason Francis, creator of Snooker Legends, chairman of the World Seniors Snooker Tour and the man who has been at Ronnie’s side for about five years, tells us about his snooker and business journey since the creation of Snooker Legends in 2010 until today and the building of a viable, well organised and international Seniors Tour.

This is the “second edition” of Jason’s story, but even if you did read the first one, you will find plenty more interesting  stuff in this one.

Jason here is the narrator of his own story, and the whole book takes us through his dreams, his endeavours, his experiences – good and lesss good – and his emotions, from the day he thought about creating snookers shows featuring Legends of the game, and Alex Higgins in particular, to the idea of a proper Seniors Tour giving a future in the sport to those who have given so much to it, still love it with a passion, but aren’t quite good or strong enough anymore for the very competitive main Tour and its hectic schedule.

Along the way, Jason tells us about the players he’s been working with. Jason is a positive person and, clearly, he focuses on the good in people rather than their weaknesses. He’s telling us about the real persons, not the stereotyped images crafted by the media in order to create stories featuring villains and good guys. There are many players you will look at differently next time you see them on TV!

Jason also tells us about his sometimes difficult relationship with World Snooker and Barry Hearn. But then again his focus is on “making things work” rather than “starting a war” although, at a time, that scenario was a real possibility. There were issues, hurdles, misconceptions and, at times distrust and envy. But there were also people really wanting to overcome those and build something for the better of the sport they love.  Ultimately, now they are working together: the WPBSA Seniors Tour is reality.

Jason has been at Ronnie’s side from mid 2012 until end 2017. He tells us about their relationship, building trust and friendship, the highs and lows, the successes and the crises, the laughter and the tears and, finally, where they stand today. By the way, Ronnie wrote the foreword of this book.

I really enjoyed the book. Just one regret: the editorial work could have been better, there are a few glitches here and there and it’s a pity.

The book is available on Amazon

And here is David Hendon, assistant editor at Snooker Scene and Eurosport commentator chatting with Jason about his book:

Vegan Power?

Not really although Ronnie was thinking about Neil Robertson whilst cooking this one.

Ronnie and Rhiannon were at it again today on social media, cooking one of the receipts that will feature in their book to come “Top of your game”. So for those who aren’t on FB here it is … with some interesting bits of conversation.