Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Pistol Mark Allen vows to keep shooting from the lip

Professional smoker player Mark Allen pictured at Crumlin Snooker Club

If you have never met Mark Allen, it's fair to say you might have the wrong impression of him. You may think he's a bit of a cocky loudmouth, forever shooting from the lip and full of his own importance.

Maybe that's why some have labelled the 27-year-old from Antrim as "the bad boy of snooker", a term once regularly used to describe another Ulsterman with a cue.

The late, great Alex Higgins lived up to the mantle, but Mark Allen, "the bad boy of snooker?" Give me a break.

Hate to ruin the image, but Mark Allen, known as 'Pistol' in the game, is one of the good guys, down to earth, genuine, helpful and unaffected by all the publicity he has generated.

He's also a highly gifted player, though he recalls he "used to be one of the worst junior players in Antrim".

Practice clearly makes perfect and by the time he was 15, Mark's parents were so convinced that he would be a hit in the sport that they re-mortgaged their house to fund his career. Since then Allen, who is colourblind, "it rarely causes me problems on the table", has not looked back.

"Even if I hadn't have done anything in snooker I know my parents would have been proud of me for trying," he reflects.

"Maybe it just gave me extra motivation and knowing that other people believed in me it gave me more self belief. To put that much trust in me at just 15 meant a lot."

At 18 he became World Amateur Champion.

Shortly after he turned professional and has risen up to become one of the best players on the planet with ranking tournament victories to his name and a genuine chance of winning the 2013 World Championship which gets underway at the iconic Crucible Theatre on Saturday.

Allen's press conferences will be as popular as his matches. He says what he thinks and in an era when many players are like robots, this straight talking bloke from Northern Ireland stands out.

He's been a headline act having engaged in a war of words with World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn over how the game is run and he's questioned the sportsmanship of Chinese players and insulted their country.

"Journey a nightmare. People are ignorant. Place stinks. Arenas rubbish, tables poor, food is horrendous. Other than that I love China," read an infamous twitter outburst when he was playing a tournament in China where, despite that rant, he has won multiple events, is hugely popular and has just landed two new sponsorship deals with Chinese companies.

Mind you, he could do it with the cash after being fined around £20,000 last season for some of the things he said.

So, does he have any regrets about his past remarks?

"Regret is a strong word," he says.

"Perhaps I would like to have worded things a little bit better in the past.

"I think with some of the things that I have said the truth has got lost because of the controversy surrounding some of the comments.

"There is a lot of truth in what I say but obviously the most controversial aspects are what makes headlines.

"For instance it's said me and Barry Hearn don't get on, yet we know that we do get on and we are the only two who really matter.

"I'll always speak up for what I believe in. If there are some changes that Barry is making that I don't like I will say so and Barry doesn't mind me doing that. He welcomes people giving opinions. I'm one of the few that do.

"The mistakes that I've made in the past are that I've maybe been a little naïve and worded things too strongly.

"I take more time to think about what I say now – but I still want to get my opinion across.

"Unfortunately at the moment some snooker players are scared to say what they really think because of the rules that have been brought in.

"You can get heavily punished with fines and suspensions and that has stifled the players a bit."

I wonder though if Allen worries he will be remembered more for his talking away from the table rather than his play on it?

He says: "I want to be remembered for winning tournaments and I do feel that I have started to do my talking on the table. I've won three tournaments in 12 months and I'd like to push on and win a few more.

"If people want to call me 'the bad boy of snooker' they can do it. I don't care.

"If it helps bring more money into snooker and in turn that helps me make more money, then they can call me what they like.

"The people that matter to me know what I'm really like and that's what is important to me."

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