'Mick even made money off it' – Ronnie O'Sullivan exclusive on 25th anniversary of greatest 147 break in snooker history
Ronnie O'Sullivan has won six world titles over the past 30 years at the Crucible Theatre, but the snooker GOAT is most fondly remembered by the wider world for the five minutes and eight seconds of potting utopia he achieved in his flawless 147 in 1997. Here he reflects on his career "wow" moment. Stream the 2022 World Championship and much more top snooker action live and on demand on discovery+
#OnThisDay: Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record 147 from 1997
He collected a whopping £147,000 for compiling the fourth 147 break in World Championship history in 1997, but it would not be outlandish to suggest Ronnie O'Sullivan has earned far, far more from that life-enriching, awe-inspiring maximum than he could ever have imagined.
Studying the footage of failing to put a foot wrong on Monday 21 April 1997, even O'Sullivan – a record 38-time ranking event winner with six world titles, seven Masters, 15 competitive 147s and over 1150 centuries to his name – probably wonders how he reached the potting promised land in only his fifth year at the Crucible Theatre.
On the 25th anniversary of snooker's greatest, and indisputably most iconic break, the 36 balls potted in those five minutes and eight minutes in Sheffield remain a rapid trajectory in time that transcends the ancient sport.
The 20th competitive 147 break of 175 (and counting after Graeme Dott's latest glorious effort) compiled since Steve Davis rolled in the first televised maximum against John Spencer at the 1982 Lada Classic remains the most electrifying few minutes known to man's imagination and green baize geometry.
#OnThisDay: Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record 147 from 1997
"You know, it's mad when I look back on it," commented O'Sullivan.
"I look back on it and it was a great break, but it also tells me why up to that point I hadn't quite won the world title because it was just so fast, so instinctual that you can't keep doing that sort of stuff.
"I had to learn and develop as a player, but if you put it on your showreel, yeah it would definitely look quite good on there. Of all the things that I've achieved in snooker, that would have to be up there as one of the highlights of my career. Yeah, it was brilliant to have made that 147."
Produced eight years before YouTube was invented, it became a viral phenomenon long before Facebook, Twitter and Insta existed.
Millions and millions across the globe have wired themselves up to a sequence of pots that sum up why O'Sullivan has progressed to become the snooker GOAT ahead of a record 30th straight appearance at the 46th World Championship on Saturday.
If you think you can catch some kooky footage on TikTok, young O'Sullivan was fiddling around with his own engaging short-form content a quarter of a century ago.
Initially wrongly timed at five minutes and 20 seconds, it was officially rounded down and ratified as five minutes and eight seconds by the Guinness Book of Records before 21-year-old Ronnie was officially dubbed 'The Rocket' for the fastest 147 of all time. It is unlikely to be bettered for time or timing.
Leading 8-5 against Mick Price on his way to winning 10-6 in the first round, Price broke off for the 14th frame before O'Sullivan slots a long red after his opponent caught a safety attempt thin.
It was fitting that Len Ganley – the sport's most celebrated 1980s referee beyond the advent of colour TV – was on hand to fetch the balls, never once breaking sweat while O'Sullivan went into positional autopilot, never once losing control of the white ball.
"Big Len was one of our top referees," said O'Sullivan. "I think that is how I got my nickname 'The Rocket' after that break. It was a good moment. I still remember it pretty well.
"And I also remember getting beat in the next match (13-12) to Darren Morgan. I thought: 'how do you go from making a 147 to losing in the next round?' Everyone thinks you are going to win the world title and then Darren Morgan puts me in my place. But Darren was a good player, a good solid pro."
When Cliff 'The Grinder' Thorburn revelled in the first 147 break at the Crucible in 16 minutes and four seconds during a 13-12 win over Terry Griffiths in the second round in 1983, a contest in which he had drag himself away from his packet of snouts while Terry puffed away gleefully in the corner, there was plenty of Cliff edge interludes to revel in the moment.
"Good luck mate," said the BBC commentator Jack Karnehm as Thorburn ominously crouches over the final black before dropping to his knees and making for his complimentary tabs to calm the nerves seconds later.
Dennis Taylor and John Virgo did not have time to interject before O'Sullivan's final black, the 1985 world champion Taylor simply saying "I don't believe this.." when the pink dropped at a quicker pace than in Virgo's halcyon Big Break days.
At a time when the World Championship was sponsored by Embassy, these remain regal snooker memories.
While Cliff was embraced by Terry and fellow Canadian Bill Werbeniuk, who had momentarily halted his match with David Taylor on the other table, Ronnie enjoyed the congratulations of Price, Alan McManus and Billy Snaddon, who were drinking in the vibe across the divide.
O'Sullivan admits he would probably have kept the chalk after tossing it into the crowd and handing over a towel to fans as he pointed to the sky like a delirious Dickie Bird in raucous scenes of celebration. After the Hurricane era, a new 'People's Champion' was born.
"I remember Thorburn doing the first maximum at the Crucible," recalled O'Sullivan. "You had big Bill popping his head round. It was the same when I had the maximum. McManus and Billy Snaddon came round from the other table.
"It was a good moment, a special moment just to share that with everybody at the Crucible."
While Thorburn picked up £18,000, O'Sullivan's knock was worth a total of £165,000 (including the £18,000 high break prize), £4,583 a shot or £536 a second back in the day.
Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White collected £114,000 for the second in 1992 and Stephen Hendry earned the first £147,000 (plus £16,000 high break) for the third Crucible maximum in 1995.
O'Sullivan's body of work has become a priceless exhibition of cue sport perfection worth infinitely more to the wider world than the dollop of dosh doled out simply because the speed of thought and lack of fuss taken to construct it.
"I’ve learnt to not throw that stuff away because that could have gone in my memorabilia shop," said O'Sullivan.
"So now like everything I've got, I just keep it. Having that piece of chalk would have been nice. Gutted I threw it away now, but hopefully it went to a good home.
"I said to my mate: ‘Chalk, chalk, chalk. I’ve not got chalk'. It is not like in tennis when they have six spare rackets. I don’t have six spare chalks, but maybe I should next time."
Ronnie O'Sullivan during 1997 World Championship at the Crucible.
Image credit: Eurosport
Mick Price probably hopes there won't be a next time. It was not only O'Sullivan who found the price was right with his opponent Mick, the Nuneaton professional sporting a rueful smile and a pair of Dennis Taylor specs in his chair, getting in on the 147 treasure trove after retiring in 2004 to become a maths teacher.
"It’s great to be able to say I got to the Crucible and only lost 10-6 to the best player who has ever lived," Price said on Wednesday.
Sitting, watching and witnessing history from the best, or perhaps worst seat in the house, can provide its own unique slice of comfort.
"Mick actually gets a living out of doing a show now where he talks about the 147 I made against him," revealed O'Sullivan.
"I was like: ‘really?’ He goes around doing an exhibition tour as the guy that Ronnie O’Sullivan made the 147 against in five minutes and 20 seconds. I thought: ‘Good on him’. I’m glad.
"That is quite entrepreneurial. He’s kind of seized on that as the guy that Ronnie made the maximum against. I’ve met Mick a couple of times over the years and he even told me that. I said: ‘Well done, fair play to you’. He was a good player Mick."
O'Sullivan ran in two more Crucible 147 breaks in 2003 and 2008. He had to split his third helping of £147,000 (plus £10,000 for the highest break) with Ali Carter, who rolled in a second 147 a day later, but there is no doubt which one has made the biggest impact over the past 40 years.
140 maximums have been recorded since John Higgins pieced together the first of the millennium against Dennis Taylor in January 2000. 90 of the 175 have been made over the past decade.
£147,000 is no longer handed out at the Crucible because they have become an unaffordable by-product of rising standards, luxuries without such a heavy bounty.
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Yet there is a romanticism attached to that moment in time.
For a man who has seen and done it all with a snooker cue via Essex, the audacity of that break still bewitches and bewilders. Even for O'Sullivan. Even for the world champion in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2020, it remains without compare.
"You probably don't actually realise it at the time, but you know when they're still playing that clip 10, 20, 25 years on that it is special," he added.
I think it's nice to just enjoy moments in sport. You don’t know when they are going to come along, but when they happen..when they happen you just go ‘wow’.
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