Sport lacking the characters of old
Weird Wide World of Sport
Published 02/04/2016 | 00:00
I tuned into a bit of snooker over the past week and despite witnessing some dazzling play and precision shot-making in the Players Championship, I still yearn for a few more old-school characters to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
Sadly, snooker these days is more like an ad for L'Oréal hair products, with pop-star wannabe haircuts and dodgy highlights.
Oh for the days of Willie Thorne's shiny, bald head illuminating the Crucible Theatre.
There was a time when players drank as many pints as they played frames and brought the giddy atmosphere of a lively pub to the proceedings (not that I'd be advocating a return to the days when the intake of copious amounts of alcohol on the job was commonplace).
Now all we get are metronomic machines making their way around the table in dreary, albeit devastating fashion.
The modern game is sadly lacking in banter or individuality, but admittedly there is a greater mastery of the green baize.
There is no question that the modern game has improved immeasurably quality-wise since the days when snooker was mainstream, with break-building and safety play now at a different level from a few decades ago.
However, what enticed viewers to watch the sport in its glorious heyday in the 1980s wasn't just the quality of the snooker but also what the sometimes crazy cueists would literally bring to the table and the sensational soap opera that surrounded them.
Deeply flawed genius Alex Higgins was undoubtedly the most colourful character that the game has ever seen, but there were many more that brought a cocktail of intrigue and controversy to the sport.
The white-suited, drug-dabbling genius Kirk Stevens; the pint per frame 'giant of the game' Bill Werbeniuk; Joe Johnson, who came from nowhere to hit the headlines; and of course crowd favourite Jimmy 'The Whirlwind' White are just a few who spring to mind.
Before anyone gets their undergarments in more of a twist than a non-league defender with Messi running at him, I'm in no way suggesting that sportsmen should be drunk as a newt or coked up to the eyeballs in the name of entertainment, but it sure did seem to help in those days.
Of course, the same could be said of most sports nowadays. Unfortunately, interesting personalities are at a premium in pretty much all codes.
The days of guys like Muhammad Ali and George Best are sadly long gone, with the odd exception like the effervescent Usain Bolt, who has the rare ability to entertain a crowd with his larger-than-life personality as well as his sublime sporting genius.
Undoubtedly there's a dearth of real characters that would get you on the edge of your seat, in comparison to the cavalier style of the past,and tennis is a prime example of the metamorphosed face of professional sport.
Years ago we had confrontational, yet intriguing, characters like McEnroe, Connors and Nastase but in more recent times we've had the personality-starved stars Federer, Murray and Djokovic, who would have you nodding off the minute they open their mouths.
Returning to snooker, Ronnie O'Sullivan is probably the only real dyed-in-the-wool character in the game at present, someone who is definitely in the mould of Jimmy White and Alex Higgins.
The viewing public have a fascination with sportspeople who live on the edge and have a frailty to their personality and, love him or hate him, Ronnie O'Sullivan is one of those interesting subjects who attracts viewers and gets people talking.
With the standard of the game higher than ever and the errant genius O'Sullivan his usual unpredictable self, there's still enough to get excited about as the world championship approaches.
In terms of characters it may be a more boring ballad than Snooker Loopy, but you can't have it all.