Monday, January 22, 2007

Counterblast at the snooker

In the wake of the inescapable and depressing stories of racist bullying on Celebrity Big Brother (I have never watched any version of Big Brother and do not intend to, but, as I say, the story is inescapable), and the consequent rise in the ratings for that programme, last night's snooker witnessed a refreshing example of conduct otherwise.

I don't really watch snooker, but for a very long time now many of the men in my life (and a very few of the women) have. As with cricket, I have succeeded in remaining blissfully ignorant of any of the workings of the game, much to the exasperation of said men, Tom in particular. But I do, by some kind of feminine osmosis akin to noticing the colour of cars but nothing of their make, engine size etc etc, manage to pick up a fair amount about the names, personalities and interpersonal dynamics, family situations and historical associations of the players of these sports.

Ronnie O'Sullivan (that's the gloomy dark-Irish-type one with the bouts of depression and the father in prison who sometimes suffers crises of faith about what's-the-point-of-playing-snooker-anyway), was beating his opponent hollow. When Ronnie plays, as with Jimmy White ( he's the big old veteran with the salt-of-the earth missus and the kids who never quite wins and used to play at the same snooker club in London as an old boyfriend of mine), the place is, as Tom puts it, like a bear garden, with loyal, you might say, but rough, rowdy and belligerent supporters making their presence felt.

His opponent was a gauche but gifted 19 year old Chinese boy called Ding (-I can't tell you much about him, but he seems shy, is pudgy and spotty and doesn't speak much English) who had made a promising start and won the first couple of frames. However, under the onslaught of Ronnie's virtuoso play and the abuse and hassle of the crowd, he totally crumpled into a tearful heap, and effectively threw in the towel.

Ronnie took the lad, with his interpreter, into his own dressing room for some considerable time. When they emerged, it was announced that play would continue. When the barracking started again, Ronnie faced the crowd and said something along the lines of "If you don't like what you're seeing, then get out and go home". He continued to play unprecedentedly magnificent and dazzling snooker, and to beat poor Ding hollow.

When the game concluded, there was more booing and heckling at the presentation. O'Sullivan angrily requested that the offenders be removed, and put his arms around the defeated youngster and kissed him on the forehead. He went on to pay him a warm and highly complimentary tribute as a player.

There is decency in the world.

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