Jimmy White on Ronnie O’Sullivan, his snooker future and visit to Norwich
09:58 05 February 2014
There’s a Whirlwind coming to Norwich – MICHAEL BAILEY catches up with snooker legend Jimmy White ahead of his visit
Britain’s youngest might need reminding who Jimmy White is – but the exercise will always be worthwhile because the numbers stack up. The 28 tournament wins, £4.5m in prizemoney and 318 century breaks – including a 147 at the World Championships. And of course, six defeats at the final hurdle denying him the title King of the World.
But that never stopped White, now 51, being known as the People’s Champion – a moniker still holding true to those who enjoy the game.
Of course, there’s no one needs to be reminded of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s relevance to snooker. Some would argue that at the moment, the Rocket is snooker. But the path Ronnie has travelled – left-handed magician on the baize, mercurial snooker talent, someone who gets fans going – was laid for him by White. A little payback was Jimmy taking in Ronnie’s Masters triumph last month at Alexandra Palace – the 10th Masters win of his career.
“Absolutely he reminds me of me,” said Tooting-born White. “He plays the game how I used to play and he’s definitely the second best player in the world now – behind me of course! I’m a big fan of his. I like the way he plays, so it was a privilege to watch him win.
“He’s a very dedicated player and people seem to think he’s not. Because he’s a perfectionist, when things don’t go right that’s when you see a bit of frustration with him. But he practises all the time.
“He’s not really bothered about the ranking situation because as long as he’s world champion or defending champion, he gets to be at The Masters and he’s seeded number one at the World Championships. So if he doesn’t want to play in these tournaments, he’s good enough not to.
“He is phenomenal to watch. In any sport, it’s about natural talent. You had Alex Higgins, I came along and then you’ve got Ronnie O’Sullivan. Judd Trump hasn’t really shown his true potential yet, but I’m sure he will be next.”
White won plenty of titles himself, just not on the scale of O’Sullivan – not that he’s the only player in that position. The Whirlwind is still playing and competing, with a ranking of 61 and perfectly happy to back what Barry Hearn has done with the sport since he took charge of the reins in 2010.
“In the last four years Barry Hearn has brought snooker back to life,” said White. “He’s done a great job. He has made it an international game now. It’s massive in China. But I know the World Championships is staying in the UK – and I’m delighted by that news.
“If I didn’t think I could win I wouldn’t play any more. I’d have retired and be playing very poor golf somewhere.
“I love the exhibitions but I love the tournament play too. I’m still on the tour so while I’m still there I’m going to keep on battling. I beat Ronnie two weeks ago in his own back yard in front of 1,250 people so I know my game is still there and while it is, I’m just going to be around and annoy everybody.”
It’s White’s diary that brings him to Norwich later this month, for an exhibition at Clarke’s Snooker Club for frames with club champion Orin Drake and club members Derek Davies and Mick Beales – along with one lucky reader and the remaining available frames being auctioned for charity. Whether a women or two wins the auction is a moot point. March star Mandy Fisher used to run the women’s game – but it still seems an abnormality men have not been pushed for snooker titles by women. White believes that may change.
“I grew up with Mandy and we used to go to a place in March and play lots of exhibitions – she was a very good player,” recalled White.
“I don’t think it makes a difference. You’ve got a lot of very good female players in China and in England – but they have tended to go to America to play nine-ball pool because it’s been easier to make a success of things. I don’t see why we don’t have at least one women player – there’s certainly no physical reason why not.”
Either way, White is eager for his night in Norwich: “It’s great. I go all over the country playing here and there, and I’m looking forward to coming to Norwich. It’ll be good fun.”
• Jimmy White visits Clarke’s Snooker Club in Norwich on Saturday, February 15 (7.30pm). See clarkes.org.uk or call 01603 622427 for tickets and more details
• And make sure you check out Thursday’s paper for your chance to win a frame against the man himself.