Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Billy on the Box: It’s snooker Jim, but not as we know it

Jimmy White

When will Barry Hearn learn that no matter how hard they try, snooker will, at the end of the day, remain what it is — poking wee balls around a table into holes?

It’s not a complicated concept, indeed it is a beautiful thing and kept me entertained for much of my formative years and these were far from wasted as my runner-up spot in Division Three of the Ballymena and District League proves.

I was slightly surprised then that Baz hadn’t been on the phone to invite me along to the new season of the Premier League that kicked off with all the razzmatazz of a Brethren funeral last week on Sky.

All the loud music and zany nicknames, plus a wacky presenter in former Soccer AM one-season wonder Andy Goldstein, will not make snooker exciting. It just won’t.

Nor will reducing the time per shot or other silly rule changes satisfy purists such as myself who are still suffering and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night yelling that John Virgo is at the end of the bed in a no-dad waistcoat telling you to pot as many balls as you can.

The problem is this. Snooker players, on the hole, are boring. Okay, there have been a few notable exceptions — Alex Higgins, Kirk Stephens, Tony Knowles, big Bill Werbenuik and Terry Griffiths to name but a few.

It’s sad then that Jimmy White remains one of the game’s biggest stars. The Whirlwind in his pomp was a genius; an artist on the baize whose medium was chalk and his brush a Riley two-piece that Michaelangelo could have used to get to the pokey bits in the Sistine Chapel.

Sadly, like that church ceiling, he has seen better days, but was still one of 10 champions invited along for the opening night in the glamorous setting of the Embassy Theatre, Skegness.

In fairness to Mr Hearn, he couldn’t have done more to try and get Jimmy to relight the fire of old as when he was in his pomp at the Crucible the world championships were sponsored by Embassy and played through a haze of smoke that made the table look like Tripoli on a tetchy evening.

And so with his World Seniors title under his arm, Jimmy was introduced by MC John McDonald as ‘better known as the People’s champion’. I’ll just stop you there, John. There was only one and will only ever be one, and he is no longer with us. Jimmy is and will always be the Whirlwind. He was certainly the People’s runner-up, I’ll give you that, but champion, he wasn’t.

And to make him feel like it was the Eighties, he was up against a J Higgins, the supercilious English neighbour who made Tom Selleck’s life a nightmare in Magnum.

Oh, not Jonathan, John. Sorry, I’m a bit like the MC, I get my Eighties icons mixed up at times.

Still at least the World and UK champion could be relied on for some cheeky banter with Andy, once Jimmy had been despatched with ease, but like the rest of us it was on the tip of the tongue just to tell him to belt up. David Vine he is not.

Game Two in the new and exciting format also ended up 3-0 as the Thunder from Down Under (Neil Roberson) was slayed by Matthew ‘The Dragon’ Stevens.

Like fellow fire-breathing reptile, Puff, Stevens hasn’t been heard much of lately but nice to see him back, although for the life of me I couldn’t remember the title he’d won to qualify for the Premier League.

So as he defeated Higgins 3-0 (these new rules are making for really exciting games) I found it — he won The 2011 Championship League at the Crondon Park Golf Club in Essex.

Still, if the only way is Essex, at least he can give people’s equal third-placed Jimmy a lift back to Chingford.

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