Monday, November 02, 2009

On hating the only thing you’re good at

A nice piece in the Guardian here about the fact that Andre Agassi hated tennis.

It appeals to me, the somewhat tragic aspect of the sportsman who hates the only thing he can do. Other examples that spring to mind are Stan Collymore (football) and Chris Eubank (who used to regularly profess his loathing of boxing, but as with so much about the man, it was hard to tell to what extent this was a pose).

A much better example is Ronnie O’Sullivan, by some distance the most gifted snooker player ever. Some people actively dislike the man, but I think it’s a failure of empathy to damn O’Sullivan’s various brainstorms and mood-swings and lashings-out. He is a man in a very strange situation: he hates snooker. He is visibly bored and irritated by the prospect of having to poke all those frigging balls into the poxy little pockets over and over again. But he can’t do anything else and all of his peers envy his outrageous talent. And always the mediocrities, the keen tryers, the sad-acts who go on to make a living talking about this most trivial of pastimes, are endlessly nagging, nagging at him to knuckle down and be a ‘professional’.

But professionals are in many ways the bane of sport, the stodge. O’Sullivan is the only snookerist worth watching. That’s why, as well as being the most disliked player, he’s also the most popular.

16 comments:

martpol said...

Yes, I don't think it's going too far to say that watching O'Sullivan can actually be a profound experience. There is an emotional subtext which makes his potting of balls more interesting than anyone else's.

There are others for whom this was true, for different reasons. Alex Higgins was outrageously talented but a thoroughly horrible, self-destructive person. Jimmy White was brilliant but never quite achieved his main ambition, i.e. being world champion. Watching him in the years after he lost his edge but still desperately wanted that final accolade was quite tragic; all the more so because the harder he tried, seemingly the more likely it was for him to mess it up at the final hurdle. Sports psychologists would have a field day with that now.

Brit said...

Yes, those are the three snooker draws. White was a crowd-pleasing choker, doomed to sail effortlessly over every fence except the last, where he would trip himself up. Higgins was like O'Sullivan in that he played as if the game was a waste of time, but he was a less interesting psychological case study: basically a malevolent self-loathing drunk. O'Sullivan loathes himself in more interesting ways.

In football I suppose you might compare George Best and Gazza. But Best mostly enjoyed his life to the full, whereas Gazza hates every minute of his.

malty said...

Childhood plays a pivotal role in the attitudes of professional sportsmen, as it does with all of us. Interestingly many snooker players and footballers were drifters until their chosen sport "rescued" them. An old employee of mine was Gazzas next door neighbour in Dunston and friendly with the family. 'Problem' was how he described them. The discovery of their talent catapulting them into a world some find hard to cope with.
Little wonder we see so many headlines, and little wonder many loathe their existence.

Willard said...

The ease with which certain gifted individuals dominate their sport or profession might have something to do with it. I think this might be the case with O'Sullivan. As observers, we are amazed by their skill. The gifted individual just shrugs their shoulders and goes off looking for a new challenge.

worm said...

I too would hate myself if I had to spend my whole life wearing a bowtie and a shiny waistcoat.

Gaw said...

I admire people who see through all the bull and hype that surrounds sport, even if it can deprive us in the end.

Barry John retired at 27, young for any era, having played transcendentally beautiful - and winning - rugby for Wales and the Lions (he was one of the geniuses behind the latter's first series win in NZ in '71).

His decision came upon him suddenly. Having ceremonially opened a bank he exited to come face-to-face with a girl, who promptly curtsied to him. It says a lot for the man that his response was 'this is ridiculous' rather than 'what can I do with this?'.

I realise most of you are philistines with little or no interest in rugger, but do take a look at this - royally sublime.

Brit said...

Heh heh, well I suppose one man's bull and hype is another man's transcendental beauty and royal sublime, Gaw... I see a bloke running with a ball in his hands - wake me up when he's doing that while having to use his feet, eh?

malty said...

Gaw, I live near Melrose, need I say more.

Gaw said...

'...wake me up when he's doing that while having to use his feet, eh?'

So you missed Keith Jarrett's chip then? Open your eyes and open your mind...

Brit said...

I thought that was an accident...

martpol said...

I suppose one man's bull and hype is another man's transcendental beauty...

Similarly, I hereby stake a claim that snooker is in fact a game of great strategy, intelligence and yes, beauty. Just because you have to wear ridiculous clothing to play it, Worm, doesn't make it liable to lead to philosophical and emotional breakdown!

Brit said...

I seem to remember Jarvis Cocker describing snooker very well: "It's basically people doing geometry and then going 'unh' [performs cueing action]."

He was a fan, too.

malty said...

Of course the gentleman's game is billiards.
Snooker is interesting, if only it didn't go on for so long and have you seen the price of the tables!

Gaw said...

Snooker's too difficult, involving consistent concentration. Pool is the game if you want to have a knock up to accompany a few pints.

martpol said...

Brit:

But it's when everything is sheer instinct that they pull out the crowd-pleaser. (A note on this one: by the standards of early 80s snooker, this was an outlandishly quick shot time.)

Gadjo Dilo said...

Hmm, interesting; cricket's Phil Tufnell us another case in point, but then he seemed to made a whole career out of his "attitude problem".