I am going to risk mixing my sporting metaphors this post by going off piste and talking about snooker. In particular, I want to talk about Ronnie O’Sullivan. I am sure many of you who read my blog will ask: who? And then ask: why? You write about politics not about sport, never mind a marginal past time like snooker. This is where friends you miss the point! There is a parallel both for life and for politics.
I grew up in the 1980s watching and admiring the exponential growth of snooker and its protagonists. Standing at the top of this great sporting leviathan stood Steve Davis, the greatest player of his era and at the time, ever. He bestrode the snooker and sporting world like a goliath. And believe it or not he won Sports personality of the Year in 1988, the only snooker player ever to win it. Not bad for a player labelled boring by the critics; winning a popular vote of the public! I admired him for his ability, his will to win and his never give in attitude. I found it inspirational and was something I learned from. And before anyone says it, no I’ve never mixed politics with sport or music for that matter. If I did, I would be truly bored and boring!!
The sport of snooker has never in my opinion ever truly reached the heights it achieved in the 1980s. Certainly not in terms of public interest in the UK. Yes, Stephen Hendry took the standard to a new and greater level in the 1990s and redefined how the game was played. However, for whatever reason, its popularity faded during this time. It is having a revival at the moment across the globe, not least of all in China where the sport seems to be growing faster than their economy. It’s only a matter of time before the Chinese dominate the sport I am sure.
That being said, the quality of the play today is higher than it’s ever been. That is beyond doubt. And without doubt, the best of them all is Ronnie O’Sullivan. His rise to the top of the sport has been as different to Davis’s as it can be. A troubled soul in the past who has had well documented run-ins with authority and suffered publicly with his mental health. I honestly do not know what he has done to overcome or cope with his problems. Maybe someday he will share his experiences with those who suffer similarly. It is without doubt though totally inspirational.
I’m not one for hyperbole but this guy is on another planet. It is a great pity the sport of snooker doesn’t get the coverage and exposure it did in the 80s. If it did, we would be hearing about a superstar of sport ranking alongside the likes of Messi, Federer, Bolt and Mayweather. He is that good and I would argue better. As he gets older he seems to improve. Easy you might say in snooker. After all, it’s not a sport is it?
It is. The days of gentlemen in their late 40s winning snooker championships in smoke filled halls whilst downing alcoholic drinks are long gone. Davis did for the older players in the 80s and today the top players are all in their 20s or early 30s. The profile has changed. Yet O’Sullivan is redefining that. At a time when the standard is at its greatest ever with the competition at its most fierce, he is putting the sport and his younger opponents to the sword in his late 30s. It is truly remarkable to watch and culminated recently in defeating his Chinese opponent by 9 frames to 3 whilst knocking in a maximum 147 in the last frame.
He has shown you can turn adversity around and overcome huge challenges. He has shown you should never give up. But most of all, he is probably blessed with the greatest natural talent of any of his sporting contempories anywhere in the world. We should cherish him because we will not see his like again. To paraphrase Ali: He is the greatest!