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Life Lessons Through Sport: Jimmy White
"This might sound crazy but I still believe I can win the World Championship now"
Last Updated: 14/08/20 9:33am
"Always tried, always failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better." Never could literary god Samuel Beckett's words mean so much to one of the greatest triers of them all - Jimmy 'The Whirlwind' White.
A six-time World Snooker Championship runner-up over a period of 10 years, including five years in a row from 1990-1994, the man who was known as the 'People's Champion' never quite got over the winning line.
You have got to hand it to White for an abundance of perseverance and that's the topic of his interview with Sky Sports' Sarah Stirk in the series Life Lessons Through Sport, which is now available to view On Demand.
Filmed during lockdown, White opens up about showing patience and determination as he continued to make finals at the iconic Crucible Theatre - the home of the World Championship.
He may have been the unstoppable force of snooker at the time, but he continued to run into the immovable object in the shape of Stephen Hendry. White fell to defeat four times in finals to the ruthless Scot, who was in his pomp during the 1990s.
His most heartbreaking defeat came in 1994 when he was edged out 18-17 by Hendry in what turned out to be his last Crucible final. "He's beginning to annoy me," White famously said in the aftermath of defeat.
White had also lost out to Steve Davis and John Parrott in Sheffield finals, never managing to lift that famous trophy.
However, at the age of 57, White's perseverance finally paid off when he captured the 2019 World Seniors Championship at the Crucible. A poignant triumph in more ways than one for one of snooker's legendary stars.
Born in Tooting, South London, White fell in love with the sport after going to the pub and watching his dad in action on the green baize. By the age of 12 he was playing up to 10 hours a day at his local snooker club.
"I've been on the road for forty years," White tells Stirk about how it all started. "There was a guy named Bob Davis who had a black taxi and we'd literally put a pin in a map and travel in his taxi with (fellow professional) Tony Meo. Within a couple of hours of finding the local snooker club, we challenged anybody for a game and of course us being two young guys there were plenty of people who thought they would win. We just had three years of us going all around the country beating everybody for money.
"From having no money and coming from a very proud working class family, it was tough. But then all of a sudden we had loads and loads of cash. I realised that this was a great opportunity to do what I love for a living. I was going to tournaments up and down the country and I was able to win anything from five to seven thousand pounds. It was a huge amount of money from nowhere, but my love for the game has never changed. I still get a fantastic buzz going to practice and going to play tournaments as I did when I was a kid."
I only have to produce the form from the practice table but keeping the consistency, you can lose focus. I still make 147s, I still compete to a high level - it's just getting it right on the day.
White admits that fame did get to his head in a time when there was only four TV channels and snooker was prime time viewing. When Dennis Taylor famously beat Steve Davis in the 1985 'Black Ball Final' an incredible 18.5 million people tuned in to watch its thrilling conclusion, which went beyond midnight.
"My perspective (at the age of 20, 21) was to go with the flow," White said. "My biggest problem was I'm my own man and I didn't take any advice from anybody. I got plenty of advice from my family and close friends but I was on a rollercoaster and I was having fun. Unfortunately, the alcohol and the drugs came along and in between all that I was playing snooker and also gambling. It was insane looking back."
White, who won the 1980 World Amateur Championship in Tasmania, Australia, said he made a "mistake" not going to Sheffield that year in order to gain more experience of playing at an elite level.
He went into the 1984 Worlds having claimed the Masters title, but despite mounting a fightback against Steve Davis, he went down to a narrow 18-16 defeat.
"Not only did I have to face the great Steve Davis for 10 years, Stephen Hendry came along, who attacked the balls. He was such an incredible potter with self-belief. I had to handle a different type of player," said White.
Six years later he was back in the final, but then came a devastating run of defeats over the course of the next five years, but White revealed that he would recover from the devastation of losing pretty quickly.
"After the World Championship we would have three months off so we would go to Mallorca for the six weeks holiday with the kids, so it was a quick reality check when you've got four kids to look after."
White went on to say he has the ability to finally win the Worlds at 58. Whether it's just a romantic notion, he stands by his beliefs.
"This might sound crazy but I still believe I can win the World Championship now," he said. "I only have to produce the form from the practice table but keeping the consistency, you can lose focus. I still make 147s, I still compete to a high level - it's just getting it right on the day.
"People might not think that's realistic because of my age, but it's not like football or boxing, so long as your eyes are OK and you have a love for the game and a desire to practice, desire to win, who knows."
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