Here comes the whirlwind

Alex Robertson catches up with snooker legend Jimmy White at Sheffield’s Crucible theatre, the spiritual home of the global game

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Still 10th in the all-time ranking of snooker event winners, Jimmy “The Whirlwind” White is one of the most popular players the game has ever known, earning him the nickname “The People’s Champion”. His fluid, attacking style won him two of snooker's three majors: the UK Championship (in 1992) and the Masters (in 1984) and a total of ten ranking events, though he never won the World Championships. He’s still busy playing, and is currently taking part in the Snooker Legends World Seniors tour.

You’re still one of the best-loved players of all time. What do you think it is that people particularly connected with, and what did they love about your style?

I attacked the game. I always went for my balls, and that cost me a few tournaments, but it was exciting for me to play like that. The crowd enjoyed watching me play.

Where I grew up, I was taught to lose gracefully, and perhaps there was a combination of taking risks, then not only sometimes losing, but losing with pride which I think people appreciated.

You had Alex “Hurricane” Higgins when the game first started really getting big and he had a bit of stardust when playing, then you had myself, and Ronnie O’Sullivan (5 times World Champ), and now you’ve got Judd Trump (current World Champion). There are roughly 14 years between each of us, and we are all players who just wouldn’t play it safe, we just had to attack the game.

At the end of the day I won 10 majors, and although I got into six finals, I never won the world championships. I am still playing so I’ve not cancelled that out as a possibility. You’ve just got to connect right in the right game after all!

Your great successes came during what was arguably a golden age for the game. How is the UKs talent stacking up at the moment?

Most young players at the moment are coming from China, there aren’t a lot of young players coming up from UK and Ireland. I think Jason Francis from Snooker Legends is making the playing scene for Senior players look really good, and this has a lot of older players coming out of retirement. Hopefully this will encourage more interest in the game, and then it’s about getting more grassroots activity, and more coaches out there. Additionally, the UK needs some academies to drive talent forward. There are lots of academies in China and there were 5 Chinese players qualified for the World Championships this year out of 16 places, which is a feat in itself.

What have been the most significant changes to the game in the 40 years you’ve been competing?

From a technique perspective, people are more organised, you’ve got DVDs teaching you how to work on “Cue Actions” and helping you learn playing styles of great players. When people get started, they make sure they have a great cue and have a good playing surface to play on. People can access good kit easily online and that makes a big difference.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is getting involved with Eurosport to deliver short training clips to be shown alongside the 2019 World Championships, and it’s like being trained in tennis by Roger Federer, which is amazing. We didn’t have these things when we were getting started.

Snooker had a reputation for being pretty boozy in the 80s and 90s. What was it like being in the midst of that, and has it changed in the modern game?

It’s like the footballers these days. Back in the day you’d see a footballer out on a Thursday night drinking and dancing. A snooker player wouldn’t think twice about having a few beers before playing. But everyone now is trying to have the clearest head they can. When I was at the top of my game, I enjoyed a few beers before playing and it settled me into the game. They stopped the beer and cigarettes, but the game is still the same.

The World Seniors’ competition is coming up. How does it feel to be playing alongside so many familiar faces, and do you fancy your chances?

I play a lot of exhibition games, but I’m really excited about this and going back to a lot of top venues. When we are doing the Snooker Legends tournaments with players like Cliff Thorburn, Tony Knowles, and myself. We get to meet the public and connect with them, beyond just the serious bit of playing the game. So the World Seniors’ competition should be no different and we’ll be taking time to meet people and enjoy ourselves.

We get to play at the Crucible and I love playing there. It’s just a great place. It’s unique and has been built around the game, it’s absolutely perfect for snooker.

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