#SPOTYforRonnie

Snooker personality of the year is upon us and Eurosport, amongst others, have been starting a social media campaign to get Ronnie in it. 2019 has indeed been remarkable year for Ronnie, who won five titles in the course of it, the last being his records breaking seventh UK Championship only a week ago.  It uses the hashtag #SPOTYforRonnie

Here they tell you why Ronnie deserves to be nominated for SPOTY

There is of course also a case for Mark Williams as well, after his extraordinary win at the Crucible last May, not forgetting the press conference and  celebrations that follow.

But in terms on “recognizability” by average Joe, Ronnie is by far the most marketable figure in snooker, and the one more likely to attract votes even from those who follow our sport only casually.

The recognition is long overdue and Hector Nunns on twitter reminded us why. This article is already four years old but still very much “up-to-date”.

ANOTHER BBC SPOTY SHORTLIST WITHOUT O’SULLIVAN

ANOTHER BBC SPOTY SHORTLIST WITHOUT O'SULLIVAN

RONNIE O’Sullivan may or may not have deserved to make the shortlist for this particular year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year Show, but the annual programme celebrating the sporting year this Sunday will be another reminder that he has never even been nominated and put forward to the public vote.

This year O’Sullivan has won the Masters, the Welsh Open making a 12th and all-time record 147 maximum break to win it, the Champion of Champions and the UK Championship in one of the best finals of recent years, chucking in another 147 in the event. And all done with the usual panache and style that has even fellow pros purring, drawing in TV viewers in the millions.

Let’s be generous to this year’s much-changed BBC panel and note some of those achievements occurred after the shortlist was announced, and also that he fell short in the big one, the World Championship final at the Crucible, losing 18-14 to Mark Selby in a match which he unusually let slip. If you believe that a world title should be some kind of pre-requisite to be nominated then there is at least a reason this year, although that is a decent campaign by most normal standards.

However the BBC have now given themselves a serious problem over O’Sullivan and wider sporting recognition for him on SPOTY – and it stems purely and simply from bewildering past oversights, and from not nominating him when they should have.

If not earlier, they should have had him on the shortlist in 2012, when his career was all but saved by sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, and O’Sullivan went from being 4-0 down in the first round in January at the German Masters to beating Andrew Higginson, winning his first ranking title for two and a half years in Berlin, and then winning a fourth world title and a first for four years.

And even more unforgivably, he should have been on the shortlist last year, incredibly waltzing to a fifth world title after finally doing what he had threatened for years and taking almost an entire season away from the game to recharge the batteries.

Having not taken these opportunities to give O’Sullivan the chance of at least a public vote for the recognition, either a) he never will be; b) the pressure reaches such a level he might get nominated in a year he shouldn’t be to make up for it; or hopefully c) he does win another world title, by no means guaranteed, and the chance is finally and belatedly taken to push his claims.

In recent casual conversations with sports editors they have expressed amazement that O’Sullivan has never been on the shortlist, since he transcends his own sport in the way great sportsmen do. And yet it is some of their colleagues who have in the past been in part responsible, making up the numbers on the panel who decides – alongside BBC senior management, and a selection of the great and the good of British sport.

There just seems to be a snobbery that persists about snooker, and a bias, agenda, call it what you like towards other sports. There is simply no other rational explanation as to why O’Sullivan has never been on the shortlist. This can’t be levelled at the public – they aren’t even getting the chance to vote – so it is the panel. A public vote would in my view in the years mentioned above have resulted in something akin to darts legend Phil Taylor’s second place in 2010.

Steve Davis, working for the BBC at the recent UK Championship, stated as diplomatically as he was able that O’Sullivan there was “more emphasis on sports where you sweat”, in fairness probably as far as he could go before in all likelihood earning some kind of rebuke from his employers. Davis, of course, finished in the top three five times in the 1980s in the days of a free vote.

His BBC co-presenter and commentator Stephen Hendry was stronger after last year’s baffling omission, raising the snobbery concern. O’Sullivan himself is pretty philosophical when asked about it, just accepting that he and his sport are not the cups of tea of those doing the judging.

In fairness there was a time in his career when O’Sullivan probably didn’t help himself, with the regular talk of retirement and hating his own sport – but the work with Peters has seen almost all of that disappear since 2011. And there is a valid reason he is called a genius to the point of monotony. That he is a genius.

The bottom line is that O’Sullivan would be far more recognised – and for good reason – than many of those shortlisted this or last year. He would be more recognised than most footballers. Probably six of this year’s crop could happily go down the street without being spotted. Fame isn’t everything, but O’Sullivan is widely known for his supreme talent and honours on the table and a certain notoriety, fascination and intrigue off it.

Personality, let’s call it. Let’s see if anything changes if he can equal Davis’s world title tally in Sheffield.

 

Photograph by Monique Limbos

It still valid, every word of it.

There were also plenty of players supporting the idea on social media. Such recognition would benefit snooker as  a sport and all its exponents. Asked the question in Glasgow this week, Mark Allen’s answer was unequivocal.

 

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.

 

 

 

Ronnie spoke to the sponsor ahead of the UK Championship 2018

This is the interview on Betway’s blog

and it’s not just about snooker of course, in fact it’s mainly not about snooker …

Ronnie O’Sullivan on healthy eating, exercise and snooker

UK2018ronnie_BetwayInterview

If you asked a snooker fan how Ronnie O’Sullivan was able to win a record-equalling five world ranking titles last season, they would tell you it’s because he’s a genius and probably the greatest player to ever play the game.

Both statements are true. But O’Sullivan believes the reason he achieved something that is beyond most players, never mind one who’s more than 25 years into his professional career, is because he started eating healthily.

The Rocket said so himself in July 2018 while cooking a Thai curry on Facebook Live alongside Rhiannon Lambert, the Harley Street nutritionist who he says has “re-educated him” about food.

“Before I met Rhiannon, I was playing well enough, but I was running out of steam,” says O’Sullivan, who is 3/1 in the snooker betting to retain his title at the 2018 Betway UK Championship, which is the reason this phone call is taking place.

“I got tired because I was eating bad food. But once I started working with Rhiannon, I started eating differently.”

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Lambert writes on her website that ‘keeping nutrition simple is the easiest way to maintain a healthy lifestyle’, and her recipes left O’Sullivan feeling “more energised” and “alert” during matches.

“I’m getting 100 per cent out of myself now, whereas before I was probably getting 85 per cent of myself,” says O’Sullivan, who won just one ranking event the season before he claimed five. “I think the difference between winning two tournaments a year and winning five is them moments where I was able to see the match through the end without feeling like I wanted to go and have a kip.”

The 42-year-old’s explanation is not as romantic as the one about him being a genius who can pitch up to any event and win it, irrespective of whether he has been practising or not.

That’s why those who have followed his career – some for more than a quarter of a century – are reluctant to believe it. He did win five World titles eating whatever he wanted, after all.

“I think most people think I was born with a cue in my hand and that when I get on the table it’s all a piece of cake,” says O’Sullivan, “but that’s not the reality. I have to work hard.

“There’s other top players. They’re so slight, but to make those gains on your opponent takes so much hard work and preparation. They make the difference between winning 6-4 and losing 6-4.”

O’Sullivan, who describes healthy eating and fitness as his “main passion”, first met Lambert in July 2017. “I was her guinea pig, really,” he says. “I bought totally into it and it made a massive difference to my life. I’ve learned how to put better nutrition into my body.”

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He cooks every day when he’s at home and does so in batches. “I like to train, I like to go to the club, so I don’t want to be around a stove all day,” he says. “Everyone’s got busy lives, so it’s good to have food prepped and ready to go – plus you save yourself a few quid.”

Healthy eating is harder to maintain when on the road competing in tournaments – “I’ll always take stuff with me… snacks like a jar of peanut butter, some rice, some tuna” – although he says the food in Thailand and China, which host several tournaments a year, as “incredible – some of the best I’ve ever eaten”.

“I think the UK’s probably the worst place I’ve ever been for food,” he continues, unprompted. “It really is. I see what some places serve up and I just think: ‘Wow. No wonder we’re not producing great athletes.’

“You look at other countries eat and it’s fresh, proper grub. I think it makes a huge difference to your development. I travel in Europe a lot, to places like Bulgaria and Romania, and even there the tomatoes taste different, the cucumbers taste different. In the UK, it’s quantity over quality, and I’m trying to avoid being part of that system.”

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O’Sullivan wants to help others avoid being part of it, too, which is why he and Lambert will release a health and fitness book, Top of Your Game: Eating for the Mind and Body, in December 2018.

“I meet a lot of people who are trying to lose weight,” says O’Sullivan, “but they’re making decisions on food by reading food labels that say low in fat but are actually caked in sugar and certain stuff that’s worse than fat.

“That’s what Rhiannon done for me. She re-educated me. I’ve been fast-tracked in a way, and I think it’s nice to be able to pass that on. People want to be able to make proper decisions.”

O’Sullivan’s other passion is fitness and he describes himself as a “decent club runner”. Unlike eating healthily, however, he doesn’t believe keeping fit improves his game.

“You don’t really have to be fit to be a snooker player,” he says. “If you eat well and play snooker, you’ll be absolutely fine.

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“I just done it because it was a good outlet for me. I had quite an addictive nature, so I thought: ‘Well, if I’m going to be addicted, I might as well get addicted to something that’s really good for me.’

“That was running, keeping fit and training. At least if I am going to over-do it on something, the worst that’s going to happen to me is that I end up with a few sore calf muscles, or my shoulders are a bit tight.”

Or a damaged heel, which O’Sullivan currently has. It’s not stopping him from exercising, but he is likely to need surgery if he wants to perform at his best again.

He did a Park Run last weekend and finished the 5km course in 20 minutes, a time he describes as “useless”. It’s not, although it is some way below his record of 17 minutes and nine seconds.

“I want to get back that to that,” says O’Sullivan. “But to do that I’ll probably have to get my foot done. I’ve convinced myself I’m going to have the operation, so it’ll mean three or four weeks in a boot ‘til it heals properly.”

But with snooker’s glamour events still to come, any extended absence will have to be carefully planned.

“I might just wait ’til after the World Championships or after the Masters – I don’t know,” says O’Sullivan. “I do know it’s something worth getting done.”

Being “where I want to be, when I want to be” is important to O’Sullivan at this stage of his life, of which snooker remains a huge part.

“I still love playing,” he says, before correcting himself. “When I say love playing, I like playing. Some days I love playing, some days I’m like…” He exhales.

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O’Sullivan’s role as a pundit for Eurosport, which often means he provides analysis on tournaments he is also competing in, complicates that relationship further.

“That’s my problem,” he says. “I love doing it. I love sitting there with Jimmy White and Neil Foulds. I love the crew at Eurosport – there’s no pressure. And I get to talk about a subject that I’m quite knowledgeable on.

“It’s a dream job, really. But then I’ve got my other head on, thinking that I want to be competing and doing the best at snooker, so… I don’t know.”

O’Sullivan plans to keep playing competitively until that desire “goes, really” and says he’ll head to York for the UK Championship – which, at 13 days, is snooker’s second-longest event – and “give it my best”.

Providing he eats and plays well, there’s an excellent chance O’Sullivan’s best will be good enough to win yet another ranking title.

 Ronnie O’Sullivan was talking to Betway on behalf of the 2018 UK Championship, where he is the defending champion.

An interview with Steve Feeney

This interview was published today in the Independent

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s coach Steve Feeney on his innovative methods giving the Rocket another gear

The inventor of SightRight explains to Lawrence Ostlere what he can teach snooker’s greatest natural talent, how he deals with the sceptics, and reveals plans to conquer a host of other sports – even football

Ronnie O'Sullivan has not won a world title for five years

Ronnie O’Sullivan has not won a world title for five years ( Getty Images )

The snooker world first began taking Steve Feeney’s unique coaching methods seriously around the time Stuart Bingham won the 2015 World Championship. For a while Bingham had been just another journeyman with a shrinking hairline and an expanding waistcoat, so when he began playing the snooker of his life aged 39 to become the Crucible’s oldest first-time champion, the game took note.

Then there was Mark Williams. The Welshman had sat down with his wife at the kitchen table to discuss retirement before he sought out Feeney’s help; he soon won his first ranking title for seven years and within 12 months was transformed into a 43-year-old world champion.

The world titles of Bingham and Williams gave Feeney’s patented SightRight methods credibility in the face of much scepticism, and now the snooker world awaits the verdict of the game’s most natural talent. Ronnie O’Sullivan officially started working with Feeney over the summer, and won the Shanghai Masters in September before reaching the semi-finals of the English Open. There, in between critiques of the Crawley leisure centre’s distinct aroma, O’Sullivan produced a mesmerising maximum break in the second round reminiscent of his very best. “Ronnie’s loving it,” insists Feeney of his SightRight training.

SightRight works by correcting parallax error, a deception of perspective caused when inadvertently but consistently looking across the line of aim, rather than directly down the centre. It is a coaching method approved by World Snooker, and has proved most effective for older pros whose eye dominance has changed over time.

Feeney, right, with Mark Williams and the man who brought them together, Lee Walker (Getty)

“Once you’re aiming from the perfect sighting position and set up to the shot with the correctly aligned technique, it’s like me giving you a gun that I’ve already set up, aimed perfectly, it cannot move,” explains Feeney. “All you have to do is pull the trigger, and as long as you squeeze that trigger correctly, it hits the spot. I can stand on the other end of the shot and I can steer a player into the shot perfectly just by knowing how they see straight.”

An obvious question at this point is to wonder why a master of the game like O’Sullivan would need to realign his technique. In a way Feeney’s forensic approach jars with the very idea of ‘the Rocket’, a man who plays on instinct and emotion, who operates outside the laws of physics which govern the rest of us and brings unpredictability to such a methodical game. But a truth of modern sport is that unadulterated natural talent no longer really exists. Gone are the days when Alex Higgins and Bill Werbeniuk could sink six pints before a match, and another one each frame. Sporting greatness now requires an obstinate will to improve, and perhaps the reality is that O’Sullivan’s sixth world title is going to take hard work, perseverance, even innovation.

O’Sullivan is chasing Stephen Hendry’s record seven world titles (Getty)

“With Ronnie, he’s seen what’s happened with Mark Williams, with Bingham. And the best players in the sport like to stay ahead of the competition,” says Feeney. “If me working with Ronnie can keep him great for longer, that’s a great thing. People say: ‘Why would Ronnie ever need this?’. If Ronnie needs a proven method that he can transition to – well I see Ronnie as Nick Faldo: two years he worked on his swing, two years he was criticised, but the rest is history.”

It is a brave man to tell proven professionals they’ve been doing it wrong all their lives, but that is part of Feeney’s schtick. He requires an element of faith from his subjects as he shifts their entire perspective three inches to the left or right. The former world champion Shaun Murphy remembers the day he called Feeney over to his house, the year after he was beaten by Bingham in an epic 2015 final. Feeney arrived, unpacked his training gear and embarked on some testing. Murphy says he was stunned when the big reveal showed that what he thought was the centre of alignment was nowhere close – something Feeney calls “the eureka moment”.

“If you imagine the best in the world being proven that they’re off-line, that raises some big questions,” says Feeney. “It’s disruptive technology, a paradigm shift in the coaching world. It challenges the status quo. If you can keep proving and proving then in the end people can’t ignore. In the early days, any paradigm shift has to come with proof, more proof, more proof until the doubters – and Mark [Williams] was one – start saying ‘There must be something in this’.”

Mark Allen has questioned the virtues of SightRight training (Getty)

Williams once called SightRight ‘sight-wrong’, among other less polite rhymes used on the tour. One of the more outspoken cynics is Mark Allen, the world No12, who questioned whether too much credit is being sent Feeney’s way for the achievements of Williams and O’Sullivan, two of the all-time greats of the game. Allen once tried SightRight too, but said it wasn’t for him.

“If people try it, that’s one thing; if people work with me for a period of time, that’s another,” says Feeney. “Those people that are comfortable where they are, they will do the same old thing and their results won’t change. Those who want to be successful will change and do the right things.” Is SightRight not partly a mental reassurance, a kind of placebo effect? “Some say it’s all up top – I can’t agree with that. There are certain fundamental technical things that a player must have.”

Feeney is now broadening his horizons with an adaptation of SightRight for golf putting coaching. “Within the next two to four years I’ll probably have between 500 and 1,000 coaches across both [snooker and golf],” he says. He has also worked with professional darts players and has plans for basketball, cricket and even football, having already worked with a Championship striker. “With footballers it’s how they receive the ball, more accurate passing, more accurate striking, more accurate penalties. I can even find the flaws where the assistant referee is not seeing straight across an offside position. Parallax error comes across in football in quite a huge way.”

How far can SightRight spread? Feeney still has his snooker critics to persuade and much will depend on O’Sullivan; Feeney is well aware that the Rocket’s sixth world title would be the ultimate endorsement. The catch-22 of now working with one of the game’s greatest is that even if O’Sullivan wins at the Crucible in May, to claim his first world title for six years, there’s no proving he wouldn’t have done it anyway. What seems clear is that SightRight is effective for some and not so for others; Williams swears by it, one of 11 players on the tour using Feeney’s methods, a number which continues to swell.

Anyone who’s tried snooker knows the daunting feeling of standing over a vast 72 square-foot baize, on which a millimetre shift in how a pair of two-inch balls collide can produce a wholly unwelcome trajectory. Precision is everything, and so perhaps the most surprising thing about SightRight and its newfound competitors is that they didn’t take hold sooner. But then this is a sport that still requires polished shoes and a waistcoat, which still has its global pinnacle in a windowless room in Yorkshire, nostalgic traditions which make it an unlikely place for the epicentre of some kind of sport-wide coaching revolution.

Then again, perhaps that is why snooker is ripe for innovation. The basic tenets of technique still emanate from Joe Davis, the 15-time world champion of the 1930s and 40s. What if there was another whole level of biomechanical efficiency to be unearthed? And what if a player like O’Sullivan could harness it? For Feeney, 20 years after he first conceived of SightRight and in the face of all his doubters along the way, that would be the ultimate vindication. “What’s that phrase?” he says. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, then you win.”

There are a few remarks that I want to make about this interview

  • Parallax issues are nothing new, they are well familiar to any photographer using a camera with a viewfinder, like the one pictured below: m-leica-m-cross-category-teaser_teaser-307x205When you use this camera, your eye is behind the little rectangle that you see on the top right part of the body as pictured. The light that will “impress” the film though, is admitted through the round lens in the middle. So what your eye sees isn’t exactly the same as what the lens “sees” and captures. The consequence of this is that you might have unwanted elements near the border of the picture, that you didn’t see in the viewfinder, but the lens “saw”, or, on the contrary, have elements partially “cut” from the picture whilst you were seeing them as a whole in the viewfinder. The photography technology answer to the problem is the reflex camera where you aim at your subject directly through the lens – via a mirror – which allows you to see exactly the same image as the lens, but at the cost of additional weight and noise. How does this apply to snooker? Well, imagine that the tip could see; it’s at the end of the cue, it’s the part that needs to hit the ball as accurately as possible. That would be ideal… Unfortunately the player has two eyes and neither is at the same place as the tip. Moreover, humans usually have a dominant eye. It’s not difficult to know which of your eyes is the dominant one: just look at a not too distant object, with both eyes, then close one eye. Usually what you see will “shift”, and the shift will be more pronounced with one eye than with the other. The eye causing the less shift is your dominant one, the one that primarily determines which image your brain receives. So a player needs to learn how to align so that what they see when aiming is as close as possible to what the hypothetical “eye in the tip” would see, taking into account which of their eye is dominant and how their stance might create a parallax effect. Achieving this is the main goal of the Sightright method, and correctly applied it can only work. However “undoing” habits that are ingrained since childhood, and reconstructing new habits isn’t easy and doesn’t come quick especially if you’re a player for 30 years or more. This is not instant miracle method.
  • Steve Feeney has his critics, indeed, but not all of them are criticizing his method. Actually some of the people he has a conflict with are actually so convinced by the method that they invested in his company. What those people are unhappy with is a lack of transparency in the way the company is run, the fact that their questions regarding some business decisions and expenses do not receive satisfactory answers, and the fact that, deliberately or not, Mr Feeney always deflects the debate to make it about the method and not about the way the business is run. I must say that if he has nothing to hide, then I don’t really understand why he doesn’t simply answer the questions. That would put at least that part of the debate to rest. And I’m glad that, despite innumerable attempts to bring him in those social media conversations, Ronnie has stayed away from the conflict.
  • Another thing that has also irritated some of the players he helped is the way he tends to “appropriate” their success. Now, of course, a coach who successfully helps a player to attain their goals should be proud and there is nothing wrong in promoting a successful method. I guess it’s essentially a matter of measure and how it’s done. But, at the end of the day, it’s still the player holding the cue during their matches, it’s them facing the pressure and potting the balls. It’s them also who worked on their game in order to improve. So the victory, when it comes, is first and foremost the player’s, not the coach, even if the coach played their part. One could say that Steve Peters was key to Ronnie’s successes since 2012, and yet you won’t hear him boasting about it.
  • Finally about the tone of the article … the way Stuart Bingham is described at the start of it is not very nice to say the least. Whether this description is a reflection of Mr Feeney view on Stuart, or just the way the journalist expressed himself for maximum effect, I don’t know, but either way I don’t like it. And the last couple of sentences, in the last paragraph, is also revealing …

“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.’
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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.