“It’s not an endorphin sport. It’s about controlling your emotions. A thought goes in and you go, ‘Shh!’ Then another. Then another. When you get back on the table, the only reason you pot is because you left your emotions in your seat.” These are the words of the greatest snooker player of all time, Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Later this month, the five times world champion arrives in York to compete in the UK championships. Yet behind the wall of trophies is a man with a fragile and twisted mind. Ronnie turned professional at the age of 16 after a childhood spent among the neon lights of Soho, running errands in his father’s sex shops.
In his first season he won 74 of his 76 matches, but this was overshadowed by Ronnie Sr.’s imprisonment for murder, his mother’s for tax evasion, and his own wrongful arrest for abduction. Over the years he has tackled drug addiction, alcoholism and clinical depression.
The same year that he mocked Alain Rubidoux by defeating him while playing left-handed, he was found guilty of assaulting a media official at the Crucible. It’s been no plain sailing for the snooker superstar.
Perhaps his million-miles-an-hour mind is not suited to a sport that demands such mental calmness, such peace with oneself, although his record suggests otherwise.
In 2012 he took a break from it all and became a pig farmer, before returning to the fold four months later to win the world championship with practically no preparation. That is classic O’Sullivan. The man is an enigma.
If you can, visit the Barbican Centre in the next few weeks and catch a glimpse of this complicated genius. He may not have the fiery temperament of the Rocket of old, but he still packs a punch.
And what is Ronnie’s advice for budding billiard players? “Stay away from this game. Because somewhere down the line, you’re going to wake up one day and think, ‘Fuck me’. It ain’t very healthy for your development as a person.”