There was an amusing but telling exchange at the press launch of the world snooker championship a little over a fortnight ago.
Saying his goodbyes and heading for the door of the RAC Club on Pall Mall, Stuart Bingham was asked if he was off to put in a few hours on the practice table. “No, I’m babysitting today,” he said. “I have to drive home and drop the car off for the missus, then I’m minding the kids.” When the Guardian piously suggested such duties don’t count as “babysitting” when the children in question are your own, he laughed. “I suppose that’s true,” he said. “But when you spend as much time away as I do, you worry they’ll forget who you are so it can sometimes feel like babysitting.”
Even his presence at the launch spoke volumes. As well as the World Snooker chairman, Barry Hearn, and the tournament sponsor Fred Done, Mark Selby was also present in his role as the defending champion. And Bingham? When in need of an obliging, good-humoured player guaranteed to turn up to such an event on time and in a suit to amiably shoot the breeze with journalists, one suspects World Snooker’s media department have this 38-year-old self-confessed “snooker geek” on speed-dial. Good old dependable Stu: knowledgable historian of the game and such a keen collector of memorabilia he has already arranged to take ownership of the table on which he won his world title.
One of the hardest-working professionals on the circuit, Bingham is perhaps the anti-Ronnie O’Sullivan: one of those players happy to capitalise on World Snooker’s revitalisation of a sport that was flatlining five years ago. During his time in charge, Hearn has extended the calendar to 50 weeks a year, conquering exotic new frontiers and increasing the number of tournaments from six to well over 20. The prize pot on offer has increased accordingly, from £3.5m to £8.5m. O’Sullivan has, from time to time, carped about the number of tournaments he feels pressurised to enter but Bingham is happy to play as many as possible and make hay while the sun is shining.
Since last June, the new world champion has played in 16 tournaments that required four trips to China, one to Australia and one to Thailand. When playing in China, players are expected to pay their own air fare but receive free hotel accommodation until such time as they exit the tournament. It is a state of affairs that means even before a cue ball has been struck, many find themselves snookered. Do you pay an extortionate amount of money for an open-ended return ticket or hope for the best only to get knocked out early and find yourself homeless and on an unwanted holiday far from home?
Such administrative dilemmas will be far from the mind of Bingham in his first few days as the world champion. The oldest first-time winner in Crucible history clearly relished every moment of his Sheffield experience and is unlikely to take exception to the manner in which various BBC pundits seemed to exaggerate the shock value of his round-by-round successes in a bid to drum up even more public interest in the tournament.
Well-meaning it may have been but it seemed patronising considering Bingham came into the tournament ranked the 10th-best player in the world, having been as high as sixth. While surprising, his victory was nowhere near as outlandish as some have suggested. His first win in a ranking tournament came in the 2011 Australian Goldfields Open in Bendigo and as a popular top-16 staple he has won two, including the world championship, since.
“He’ll be a bit dazed, a bit confused,” said Shaun Murphy, shortly after losing 18-15 to Bingham in one of the greatest finals. “It’ll probably sink in over the next few days. I remember when I won it [in 2005], two or three days later I woke up in the middle of the night and forgot that I’d won. I went downstairs and saw the trophy and thought ‘Oh! I won that!’, so that was a bit of a funny one. It’ll be too many emotions for Stuart to take in. He’ll be so excited, he’ll be over the moon and then when he gets home he’ll probably have to go and mow the grass or something.”
That or babysit his two children, before jumping back on snooker’s treadmill for yet another year.
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