Unbelievable world best snooker  Ronnie O’Sullivan suffering from anxiety and depression which might be threaten to …….

Unbelievable world best snooker  Ronnie O’Sullivan suffering from anxiety and depression which might be threaten to …….

Ronnie O’Sullivan at Alexandra Palace

The next time Ronnie O’Sullivan turns up at Alexandra Palace, Freuds, Edelman and the other big PR firms should send their graduate trainees and tell them to take copious notes. Because, over a few otherwise unremarkable soot-grey January days, the most compelling man in British sport gave yet another masterclass in controlling the narrative as well as the cue ball.

Nearly 100 years ago, the British Independent Labour party MP James Maxton said: “If you can’t ride two horses at once, you shouldn’t be in the circus.” Last week O’Sullivan, snooker’s ultimate ringmaster, grabbed the harnesses of at least three. Not for him a single-minded focus on chasing down a record‑breaking eighth Masters title. At every press conference he also made a headline. While, for good measure, he reignited his guerilla campaign against World Snooker, which threatens to make the Thirty Years’ War look like a brief skirmish.

The Ally Pally, as it is affectionately known, has seen better days. But for O’Sullivan it was “disgusting”, “dirty”, and “freezing”. He has form here, of course. Last year he likened Brentwood Leisure Centre, home of the English Masters, to “a car-boot sale”, while in 2018 he described the K2 Leisure Centre in Crawley as “a hellhole” that “smelled of urine”. In each case the target was snooker’s authorities, who he believes are not doing enough to promote his sport.

After his semi-final victory, tremendous pots were followed by more entertaining potshots as O’Sullivan told his younger rivals that their brains were too slow. And, for good measure, that they needed to get their act together “because I am going blind, I have a dodgy arm and bad knees – and they still can’t beat me”. The Rocket? More like a Catherine Wheel, spraying barbs and insights here, there and everywhere. Was any of this a distraction? Hardly. O’Sullivan raced into the final on Sunday against Ali Carter before becoming the oldest Masters winner with a 10-7 victory.

Someone at close quarters to O’Sullivan once described him to me as a kid who loves to throw grenades and watch what happens. In truth, he could also teach Wolfie Smith about agitprop. But while his approach often rubs World Snooker and his rivals up the wrong way, it works. Fewer events are now played at leisure centres, because after O’Sullivan’s numerous comments about the K2 – which included how Peter Ebdon had been shouted at for walking too loudly by a “really angry” bowls player after his match – World Snooker changed course.

There is a second point here. While O’Sullivan is a one-off, the way he approaches the media should be a blueprint for those in sports which struggle for oxygen in our football‑dominated landscape. Why? Well, he talks to the press. He says interesting things. He can be fascinating, moody, contradictory and surprising all within the same conversation. When it comes to snooker he is an extraterrestrial. But in being so open off the table, he also becomes multidimensional.

The last time I sat down with him, it felt like the interview equivalent of breaking off by smashing the white ball into the pack. It was a lot of fun. But you were never sure where it was going to end up.

In one breath he described his joy of campaiging with Ed Milliband and lamented how since they “took away the unions and people power, people are fucked, basically”. In the next he talked about his willingness to appear on I’m A Celebrity … insisting that sheep’s testicles wouldn’t put him off. “I had a bull’s cock in China,” he said. “It was quite nice. Best thing on the plate.”

Along the way he also praised China for building snooker halls and spending money on young people. “This country doesn’t,” he said. “All we invest in are the banks, people ripping the country off, sending the country skint and then we bail them out.” More recently O’Sullivan got misty eyed over the days of tobacco sponsors, who made all the players “feel special”. That tells you something. While he is intelligent, he doesn’t fit in an easy box.

Early in O’Sullivan’s career the venerable Clive Everton wrote on these pages about there being “two Ronnies”, with “one an authentic genius comparable in his field to Best or Beckham, the other a depressive to whom his sublime talent can be a burden and the game an ordeal”. His mood still flits from upbeat to bleak, as a recent documentary shows. And yet still he has produced an extraordinary body of excellence over three decades.

It seems scarcely believable that O’Sullivan played his first televised match, the Cockney Classic, when Margaret Thatcher was still in power. At some point, like all the greats, he will no longer be able to hit the highest notes. So the game’s authorities should treasure him while they can. They will certainly count the cost when their narky genius retires.

In fact, looking back at our interview, something else he said about World Snooker still lingers. “I’m quite smart and savvy,” he insisted. “I understand the game and what’s going on. I can’t help it – if I smell something I say it’s bullshit.”

O’Sullivan then told us his favourite movie was Braveheart, which he insisted was about freedom above anything else. “They will never take my soul, they will never take my spirit. I just won’t have it,” he said, with a passion that would surely have impressed William Wallace himself.

And as a summation of O’Sullivan’s life philosophy it was hard to beat, either.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *