Sport

How Ronnie O'Sullivan and other snooker stars ditched booze and fags enjoyed by the 1980s generation of players for running and veganism

WITH millions watching on TV in the 1980s, snooker players were household names and acted like hard-partying rock-and-roll stars.

Bad boys like Alex ‘The Hurricane’ Higgins and Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White were known for sinking pints and potting balls, and chain-smoked their way through matches, often enjoying VIP access at the best London nightclubs after they played.

While Canadian hellraiser Bill Werbeniuk could somehow get through 28 pints and 16 glasses of whisky before and after a crucial game.

Yet these days, with the odd notable exceptions, leading players are more likely to be found running on a treadmill than racking up expensive bar bills.

Believe it or not, some are even ordering vegan sandwiches during the intervals.

The days of yesteryear, when players regularly drank, puffed and snorted their way through the snooker circuit are clearly long gone.

'IT'S A BIT MORE SERIOUS'

John Virgo, a world championship semi-finalist, told SunSport: “You couldn’t get away with what the players did back then now. You would have to rein it in.

“I wouldn’t say it’s more professional now because the likes of Ray Reardon, Rex Williams and John Spencer were the ultimate professionals.

“It’s a bit more serious. Because of the money in the game, players are too involved in winning and perhaps don’t think about entertaining the crowd.”

You couldn’t get away with what the players did back then now. You would have to rein it in."

But that hasn't stopped some modern day players whetting their whistle with booze.

Mark Williams, 44, has had plenty of all-night benders since winning a third world Crucible crown 12 months ago.

The kebab-eating Welshman, who partied until 7am after his last triumph, even prepared for his 2019 defence with a trip to a Sheffield casino.

And Mark Allen won the Scottish Open last December, despite being “hungover” for the majority of his run.

The Northern Ireland potter had five heavy sessions during the event in Glasgow, drinking during the breaks to steady his nerves.

But the quantities of alcohol consumed these days are nowhere near the gigantic drinking habits of the greatest legends.

'BIG BILL'

In a sport of heavy drinkers, the undisputed king was ‘Big Bill' Werbeniuk.

The 20-stone star claimed he suffered from a hereditary nervous disorder which caused his hands to shake. Drink, he argued, was the best solution to calm himself down.

The girthy star would routinely consume six to eight pints before a match and then one pint for each frame.

After acquiring a medical certificate for his beer-consumption, he once tried to claim his drink expenses against tax! No surprises for guessing he failed there.

And in January 1990, Werbeniuk reportedly downed 28 PINTS of lager and 16 whiskies as he lost 10-1 to Nigel Bond. Once the match was over, he drowned his sorrows at home with a bottle of scotch.

Wild tales of excess don't end there. During a match in Australia, Werbeniuk was said to have drank 76 CANS of lager. It's also worth noting he split his trousers live on TV in another match.

“I’ve had 24 pints of extra strong lager and eight double vodkas, and I’m still not drunk,” he once boasted.

Heartbreakingly for Werbeniuk, his retirement from snooker came with a sad ending, involving bankruptcy and living off disability benefits.

He died aged 56 in Vancouver in January 2003 and his name lives on as the high point of snooker’s era of excess.

I’ve had 24 pints of extra strong lager and eight double vodkas, and I’m still not drunk.”

Virgo recalled a funny incident when Werbeniuk managed to get a marker sloshed.

He revealed: “After every frame, Bill would go to the toilet. He once asked the marker to get him a pint between frames.

“At the end of the match, he got a bill for 22 pints of larger. I said to the barman: ‘he only had 16. Where have the other six gone?’

“They went looking for the marker. He was in the referee’s dressing room, lying on the floor, paralytic drunk! Bill burned them off with adrenaline, but the marker didn’t. I dread to think what the scoreboard looked like.”

For some, drugs were also part of the scene back then. White, a six-time finalist, recently said he would often have cocaine and booze in equal measure.

THE WHITE STUFF

White, 57, a pal of Rolling Stones reformed wildman Ronnie Wood, told The Guardian: “I always liked cocaine – whether drunk or sober. It was no one’s fault but my own.

“I’d just become famous, because we only had four channels in them days and, instead of queuing round the block to get into a West End nightclub, I was getting the treatment. I had such fun, even though I can’t remember much.”

TEETOTAL AND VEGAN

Today, players wouldn’t dream of staying out late if they were playing the next day.

Ronnie O’Sullivan has battled his demons with substance abuse, but now, aged 43, he runs most days and cares passionately about nutrition.

Australian Neil Robertson says his biggest vice was being addicted to computer games. He is also a proud vegan – though some players take the mick, saying he should eat a steak whenever he loses.

White laments the good old days when players lived on the edge and didn’t care about their image.

He said: “Snooker is still popular as a sport all over the country but the players have become more professional now.

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“TV audiences maybe liked the players joking around. They were trying to win, but put some laughter into what they did.

“You have to remember there were only three channels to choose from (in the 80s) and there’s a lot more choice now.”

John Virgo: Say Goodnight, JV – My Autobiography, available now in paperback, John Blake publishers


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