Stuart Bingham: I swear on my baby’s life I’ve never bet on myself
Stuart Bingham tells Desmond Kane he is in fine fettle ahead of the World Championship after burying the misery of last year's gambling ban.
There are as many odds flying around the Crucible Theatre as there are snooker balls. With a bookies handily placed outside of the main arena, you can almost bet on two flies climbing the wall. And someone will probably take that bet. In the past, Stuart Bingham might have loved a slice of that action.
Bingham, nicknamed the 'Ball-run, is a 22/1 shot to win a second world title with title sponsors Betfred. In betting parlance, he is a good each way bet to reach the last four. Especially when he reveals his desire is to reach the one-table stage at the Crucible Theatre.
The only problem being, he is not allowed to back himself because he then leaves himself open to accusations of match-fixing. These days it carries with it dire consequences, much more serious than a player snapping their cue before a key match.
The straight-talking Bingham has been stung once, and does not intend to again spin the wheel of fortune with a gilded 24-year career that peaked with world title riches here 2015. It was a very good year in which he overcame Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy to lift the old pot.
Former world champion Stuart BinghamPA Sport
Conversely, last season was the worst of times. The Basildon player was walloped with a six-month ban in October 2017, three months of which were suspended, and hit with a £20,000 fine despite the WPBSA acknowledging that he did not try to "influence matches or engage in any corrupt activity".
Bingham apparently bet over £35,000 on snooker matches over several years, but denied betting on his matches.
This year he has won the English Open title and the Gibraltar Open while finishing runner-up at the Welsh Open in a season that has allowed him to bury the memory of the misery.
“I feel like I’m playing as well as I’ve ever played. Obviously it was a bit stupid a couple of years ago getting banned,” said Bingham, who faces fellow former world champion Graeme Dott in the first round.
“But I’ve come through that and I feel like it has made me a stronger person and a better player.
“It took its toll getting banned for three months from what I loved doing. Like a normal person, I was having a punt now and again.
" I hold my hands up, I never had a bet on my own games. Obviously they found the account I was using did have bets. But I swear on my baby’s life it had nothing to do with me. But I broke the rules and I’ve taken the punishment."
Bingham broke down in tears when he carried off the English Open with a 9-7 victory over Mark Davis in the final.
“It was hard trying to prove people wrong. I have my family there so everything was all rolled into one. The emotions all came out,” said Bingham.
Bingham is like millions of blokes up and down the country, plenty of whom play professional sport. When he was not playing snooker, he enjoyed a flutter, but those innocent times have gone as people try to exploit the system for personal gain.
If betting is a huge business worth billions, so is fraud.
But Bingham can see the irony in a snooker tour that is almost exclusively sponsored by betting companies in a bigger way than tobacco did back in the 1980s and 1990s before the ban on smoking endorsement.
“Every event we have nowadays is sponsored by a betting company. It’s thrown in your face,” said Bingham.
“When I turned professional 20 million years ago, we could do that. As rules have changed, I can’t remember the last time I read my contract with World Snooker.
“Which is stupid on my part. A few people did basically the same as me and they got three months suspended so didn’t have to miss any time off.
" They found things I’ve done. It was hard not to go against it when it came out what I did and didn’t do. "
“It took 10 months to get to that stage, and I wanted to get it over and done with.”
Bingham flew up from Southend to Doncaster for the media day on Friday “so he could to get back and get a couple of days practice” over the weekend.
“I’m a nervous as anything. Watching all the finals, and seeing people lifting the trophies. It brings back the memories,” said Bingham.
“Four years ago. It has gone quickly, but feels like it was a lifetimes ago.
“The form players are Ronnie, Judd and obviously Neil, but I feel like I’m just under those guys. I’ve got to a few quarters, semis and finals, and obviously won a couple.
“I’m looking forward to a nice couple of weeks.
“Graeme is definitely one of the best players who has come through the qualifiers. He breezed through that. You know what you are going to get with Graeme.
“I’ve got to play well to win, and scrape him off the table.
“After the worlds it took my two weeks to get back to normal. It just takes everything out of you.
“To get to the one-table set-up again would be magical, but I’ve had a good season and I can’t look past the match against Dott.”
Bingham earned plaudits from tennis icon Martina Navratilova during his run to the title four years ago, a surreal moment in a serene victory.
“I was gutted I didn’t get to meet her, “ he said. “I was on the Claire Balding Show and we were in the same building. It would have been great to meet her as I was a massive fan of hers in the 1980s and the 1990s. It was surreal really.
Not at surreal as finishing on top of the snooker world. At the ripe young snooker age of 42, Bingham has been here and done it, but there are some memories that are better left to rot in a darker room than a hushed snooker hall.
Desmond Kane at the Crucible Theatre
First-round results & latest scores (best of 19 frames)
- Mark Williams (Wal) 10-7 Martin Gould (Eng)
- David Gilbert (Eng) 3-6 Joe Perry (Eng)
- Barry Hawkins (Eng) v Li Hang (Chn)
- Kyren Wilson (Eng) v Scott Donaldson (Sco)
- John Higgins (Sco) 10-7 Mark Davis (Eng)
- Stuart Bingham (Eng) v Graeme Dott (Sco)
- Shaun Murphy (Eng) 10-0 Luo Honghao (Chn)
- Neil Robertson (Aus) 10-1 Michael Georgiou (Cyp)
- Mark Selby (Eng) 10-7 Zhao Xintong (Chn)
- Luca Brecel (Bel) 9-10 Gary Wilson (Eng)
- Jack Lisowski (Eng) v Ali Carter (Eng)
- Mark Allen (NI) v Zhou Yeulong (Chn)
- Judd Trump (Eng) v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Tha)
- Ding Junhui (Chn) 10-7 Anthony McGill (Sco)
- Stephen Maguire (Sco) 10-9 Tian Pengfei (Chn)
- Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 4-5 James Cahill (Eng)