‘Stand by tea’ – Ronnie O’Sullivan mad for a brew with Oasis icon as Masters plan sees Rocket hit 30 golden years at top
Ronnie O'Sullivan marks the start of his 30th year as a professional at the Masters in an astonishing feat of cultural longevity. The six-times world champion – fresh from winning last month's World Grand Prix – is still at the top while his mate Liam Gallagher prepares to make a triumphant return to Knebworth a quarter of a century after the Oasis icon played to 250,000 fans in Hertfordshire.
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It feels like half the world away. When Ronnie O’Sullivan became the youngest Masters champion at the ripe old age of 19 years and 69 days with a 9-3 win over John Higgins in February 1995, Oasis were already huge Rock ‘n’ Roll stars in Blighty courtesy of decade-defining debut album Definitely Maybe.
Later in the same year, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? was released as the Gallagher brothers became the most priceless band to come out of the UK since Welsh actor Richard Burton handed missus Liz Taylor a Krupp Diamond in the 1960s.
Some might say otherwise, but not many of the 250,000 diehards attending Oasis' sell-out Knebworth gigs in August 1996 will argue the toss.
At the height of the Britpop era, an estimated 2.6 million people – a whopping five percent of the UK population – apparently applied for tickets to the weekend shows. The Manchester lads, consisting of Liam, Noel, Bonehead, Guigsy and Whitey, played two nights when they could have sold out two weeks.
It was the first major gig the young Rocket washed up at. "There were so many people there and everyone looked like Noel Gallagher," he said.
The demand to roll with it feels a bit like O’Sullivan – the ultimate entertainer with a stylish, no-nonsense air of the Gallaghers continuing to adorn his gait – returning to the Masters in old London town after the tournament was forced behind closed doors in Milton Keynes last year due to the pandemic.
At the age of 46, the snooker GOAT is a grand master beyond compare when it comes to the game's second most coveted competition outside of the Crucible Theatre.
The invitational event also saw him equal and overtake Stephen Hendry's 775 centuries as the sport's heaviest century maker of all time. He stands on 1,128 before his 27th appearance at the Masters with fellow 'Class of '92' member John Higgins (860) second in the rarefied standings.
Over 2,000 raucous, salivating O’Sullivan diehards will cram into the Alexandra Palace to see him begin his quest for an eighth Masters title against the attacking threat of 'Jackpot' Jack Lisowski on Tuesday afternoon (LIVE at 12:45pm GMT on Eurosport).
For a player who first surfaced at a ranking tournament in Dubai in October 1992, it is a feat of astonishing cultural longevity similar to the sounds of a generation. Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same.
A quarter of a century on finds the indie fan and independent thinker fresh from claiming a 38th ranking title at the World Grand Prix last month and continuing to mine for snooker gold as mate Liam Gallagher prepares for a triumphant solo return to Knebworth in June with 160,000 tickets sold and an extra night laid on.
O’Sullivan has enjoyed a few refreshments with the Gallagher brothers with Noel revealing that he also knew snooker hell-raiser Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins when the Northern Irishman lived in Burnage, Manchester and he sung Christmas carols to the ‘People’s Champion’ as a kid.
I’ve rarely played snooker, I don’t go to snooker tournaments, I would like to go and see Ronnie play though. He’s f***ing far out, he’s the real deal.
"I’m not an avid snooker or pool player, or watcher for that matter. If Ronnie is in a tournament and he gets to the quarter finals, then I’ll probably watch it."
A few years ago, O’Sullivan memorably performed Wonderwall after downing tools at a media conference while snooker fans also voted Oasis number Rock ‘n’ Roll Star as their desired Rocket walk-on tune via Eurosport’s digital platforms.
O’Sullivan would love a sneak preview of Gallagher’s material for Knebworth far from the madding crowd. A heady brew these days for the more considered but committed crowd-pleaser involves being mad for a cup of tea rather than caning it.
“I’m not a huge fan of being among big crowds. I’d rather go and watch Liam in a recording studio when he is on his own," O'Sullivan told Eurosport.
I can sit there and go ‘alright Liam, want a cup of tea? Yeah, put the kettle on Ronnie, I’ll have a cup of tea'. And I can enjoy the music in peace.
“I would travel for that, no problem, but I don’t fancy being among 70,000 other lunatics p****d out of their heads.
“I would just be keen to get out of there. It is not my vibe really.”
Jimmy White presents Ronnie O'Sullivan with the Masters trophy after victory in the 2016 final.
Image credit: Reuters
O'Sullivan admits his idea of a large audience is probably entertaining fans at the Ally Pally after discovering the roar of Formula One was not for him.
At least the journey from the Essex outback to North London in the bleak mid-winter for the 48th edition of the sport's most prestigious invitational event involving the world's top 16 should not be too arduous.
“I'm really selective with where I go and what I do,” he explained. “If Liam was playing around the corner, I’d probably pop in.
“But I'd rather probably spend my time doing some work, maybe doing some running and go to the gym.
“Anyway, some of these things are better watched at home on the big screen. You can make a cup of tea, watch the concert and kind of get all the presenters' spin on it.
“You know, my sister once asked me to go to Formula One. I went, but would never go again. It is so much better when you are watching from home on TV, you can pause it and rewind it at your own leisure.
When you are there at the F1, it's so much noise every minute you and you get that 60 times. Every minute some car passes you and I thought: ‘Nah, this ain’t for me mate’.
“Then you have to get back home. It is a whole day whereas in the house, I get to do a lot of stuff."
Liam Gallagher concedes the Knebworth experience will be very different in 2022 after noting that the crowd were not transfixed by capturing video footage via mobile phones back in 1996. Back then, mobiles were as unwieldy as carting around a snooker cue case.
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The six-times world champion concedes attention spans are dwindling to such an extent that social media craving might be an impossible addiction to cure for aspiring talent.
“I see a lot of that when I go to practice,” said O’Sullivan. “A lot of these kids are on their phone chatting and whatever and I think that is not really the way to approach your work or your sport.
“That is time to switch the phone off, engage in what you are doing and focus for that period of time.
“You can't really do that if you're on your phone checking Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or wherever it is they do.
If you are on your phone, you are not concentrating on snooker, but a lot of the younger generation are not able to do that. Many are unable to focus. It is all about focusing, and really learning to finely tune that level of concentration.
#OnThisDay: Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record 147 from 1997
So there are some benefits to leaving the past behind even if the glory days have delivered a record seven Masters trophies for O'Sullivan in 1995, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
But imagine how much treatment his frantic, flawless 147 maximum break set in a world record time of five minutes and eight seconds (later rounded down from an errant five minutes and 20 seconds) at the 1997 World Championship would receive 24 years on? It would garner more coverage than the Cairngorms.
“The whole world's changed, where you scroll through something and if it doesn't take your attention in five or 10 seconds, you move on," admitted O'Sullivan.
“Whereas years ago, it was more of an event.
"Now people just quickly move onto the next thing. I think I prefer the old style of doing things, but then you have to embrace the new way of doing things otherwise you just get left behind.
“So yeah, we can sit here and complain and moan about it. But you can either be a part of it or not.
I think you have to take the positives from a lot of this stuff while trying to leave the negatives behind if you can.
'Not just about potting'
The widespread view in and around the confines of snooker has been a Chinese takeover of the sport since the 18-year-old Ding Junhui usurped six-times world champion Steve Davis 10-6 to lift the UK Championship in 2005.
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"They’ve got very good facilities in China and they are committed to producing talented snooker players," he added.
"They support the people that play sport out there very well, and obviously the very good ones come to the UK. There is a lot of very, very good Chinese players on the tour.
We’ve been talking about them for years, but I reckon in the next five or ten years, you will see more and more good ones coming through.
“Before they were just potters, but now they seem to be understanding that it is not just about potting.
“There is also a defensive side to snooker and a lot of the players coming through are embracing that part of it so I think you will see the standard rising even more."
The past and the present continues to belong to O'Sullivan. If he manages to reach fresh ground at the summit by celebrating an eighth Masters gong over four glistening decades, he would became all at once the oldest and youngest winner of the elite event.
As part of his Masters plan, it would be a remarkable sporting oasis beyond compare.
MASTERS 2022 DRAW
Yan Bingtao v Mark Williams – Sunday January 9, 1pm
Neil Robertson v Anthony McGill – Sunday January 9, 7pm
John Higgins v Zhao Xintong – Monday January 10, 1pm
Shaun Murphy v Barry Hawkins – Monday January 10, 7pm
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Jack Lisowski – Tuesday January 11, 1pm
Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire – Tuesday January 11, 7pm
Judd Trump v Mark Allen – Wednesday January 12, 1pm
Kyren Wilson v Stuart Bingham – Wednesday January 12, 7pm
Stream the Masters and other top snooker live and on-demand on discovery+. You can also watch all the action live via Eurosport and at eurosport.co.uk.