Wednesday 20 February 2019

Tommy Conlon: 'Mark Allen true to snooker tradition of elbow bending at the table and the bar'

thecouch@independent.ie

Mark Allen. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Mark Allen. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

Tommy Conlon

With Hurricane Higgins and Big Bill Werbeniuk alas long gone to the great Crucible in the sky, it fell to Jimmy White, the last of the hellraisers, to impart some fatherly advice on the perils of booze and the green baize.

Mind you, Mark Allen seemed to be doing all right anyway, for he'd just won his semi-final in the Scottish Open having turned up hungover after a week on the piss in Glasgow. It looked like he was about to pay the price in said semi, trailing 4-0 at the interval against Welsh journeyman Daniel Wells. The crisis called for emergency action. Allen headed to the bar for a few straighteners, "a couple of Magners to settle me down".

Upon the resumption he won six of the next seven frames to reach last Sunday's final. The previous Sunday he'd been beaten by Ronnie O'Sullivan in the UK Championship final but had walked away with £75,000 in prize money for his trouble. And he planned on tearing a hole in it over the coming days. "I did say I was gonna come to Scotland and enjoy it," he said after the Wells game.

The Antrim man was true to his word. In between dispatching three Chinese challengers in the early rounds, he was knocking the sherbets back goodo of an evening. The partying caught up with him in that first session with Wells on Saturday. "I only had four or five drinks last night," he explained on Eurosport. "Other nights I been out and had more than my fair share and I felt OK the next day. (But) I felt horrendous this morning when I woke up - maybe I didn't have enough!"

And what had he been drinking, asked presenter Andy Goldstein? "Strawberry and lime Kopparbergs," replied The Pistol, helpfully. To be fair, he wasn't gloating about it. He openly admitted he'd "shown disrespect (to) the tournament". In a separate interview he said it was "the first time I've done that in my career and it's not something I'd advise to anyone".

On the other hand, he wasn't exactly racked with guilt either. With ace cue man Shaun Murphy awaiting him in the final the next day, surely he'd lie low on Saturday night? "Yeah, but like I could stay in tonight and go to bed early and feel horrendous tomorrow," he replied as a mischievous smile spread from ear to ear. "So I may as well go out and have a good time."

It was at this point that White, sitting beside him on the Eurosport sofa, brought his vast experience to bear on the situation. He "very rarely" drinks now but he hadn't forgotten the lure of a jar, even during world championship matches at the Crucible - in fact, especially there.

The intervals lasted 20 minutes. "And I used to go and 'ave 'alf a lager in the players' lounge," he fondly remembered, "then I'd go to the Embassy (sponsors) lounge and 'ave 'alf a lager, then I'd go and 'ave one with the reptiles - the press - and then I'd 'ave one in the bar." At this point in Jimmy's reminiscences, Allen and Goldstein are cracking up.

And at this point too we were transported back to those imperishable scenes where the likes of Werbeniuk, Higgins and other assorted hustlers would smoke and drink their way through every frame, never mind the interval. Indeed it was the classroom swots such as Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, with their chaste sips of water, who were seen by many as showing "disrespect" to the urchin spirit of snooker's rackety, Brylcreemed glory days.

In Bill's big hand the pint looked more like a thimble, and he seemed to treat it as a trifling quantity too, such was the speed with which the suds would disappear from the glass. On one occasion which has passed into lore, he was said to have literally drunk the Scottish professional Eddie Sinclair under a snooker table, having quaffed an estimated 42 pints of the blonde foam (the exact number has never been verified).

And Higgins of course had long ago turned his bloodstream into vodka, hosing it down the gullet with an orange mixer usually, in between playing some of the most outrageous shots ever executed with a pointy stick. Before the 1979 world championships, he decided to give up the gargle and stick to tea. Obviously it was always going to be one of the most futile efforts at temperance ever known to man. Duly beaten by Terry Griffiths, the Hurricane was heard to swear afterwards: "Fuck the tea, I'm going back to something stronger."

Perhaps mindful of the dangers of such sudden abstinence, and not unaware that he was dealing with another strong-willed Northern Irishman, White last Saturday counselled The Pistol to think carefully before ending his spree abruptly. Some tapering off might be the most sensible course of action. "If you're doing it all week, like, my advice to you tonight is just have like two or three pints and see how you feel," suggested Jimmy, the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Allen's Luke Skywalker. "Don't have none cos if you have none you'll feel worse."

The next day, and suitably moved by Jimmy's words of wisdom, he beat Murphy 9-7 to win the Scottish Open, the trophy for which is named after one . . . Stephen Hendry. Against all known modern thinking, Allen had prevailed by following the way of the Werbeniuk, as opposed to the way of the dry shite.

His reward for bending his elbow at the table, and indeed the bar, was another £70,000 in prize money. But now he was going to put the cue away for a few days, he declared, and "enjoy the Christmas" - because clearly he hadn't been enjoying it enough already.

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