The first snooker player I ever interviewed was a teenage Paul Hunter.
He was very shy, which was fortunate, really, because so was I.
Interviews and press conferences with snooker players are varied experiences. They are often mundane. Sometimes they are emotional. Occasionally they can be explosive.
The usual drill is to have the winner of the match in, unless the loser is a big name, in which case they have to spend an unpleasant ten minutes fielding questions from the finest flowers of snooker journalism when they’d rather be kicking a cat somewhere.
Some take losing better than others. Stephen Hendry has a few times been rendered completely speechless. Some others resort to swearing or even stomp out.
I have sympathy for this in retrospect. At the time I’m more concerned with how I’m going to pad out 25 paragraphs of purple prose without a single quote.
It’s not always the players who are the problem. When Hendry won his seventh world title in 1999, the post match press conference began with one hack, who had availed himself well but not wisely of the free bar several times during the course of the day, asking him how he’d been feeling on Christmas Day.
Nobody knew why.
Then there’s always the guy from the local paper who wants to ask what the player thinks of the venue just as they are opening up about something interesting.
Most journalists are of course just looking for a story. I’ve always tried to be respectful, although I did once get into a semi-heated discussion with Quinten Hann about his penchant for smashing into the pack.
That’s about as Paxman-like as I get.
In truth, the relationship between players and media is a little cosy. Too cosy, some may argue.
It’s certainly true that, at times, off colour behaviour by players has not been reported.
This is why it was such an irony that one of the only press conferences to take place without a single British journalist present – Ronnie O’Sullivan in China last year – ended up being such a big story.
God bless the internet.
Still, cosy it may be but this is much better than having to jump through hoops just to get a few quotes off someone, as happens in a few other sports.
The players are generally a credit to the sport in terms of how they give their time up for interviews.
I’ve been to press conferences that have threatened to last longer than some matches.
One such featured O’Sullivan after he was knocked out of the 2004 Irish Masters. It was like Jackanory. He couldn’t stop himself. And we lapped it all up: strange and yet profound as it all was.
The funniest part came about 20 minutes in when a German journalist arrived, explained he hadn’t caught the first part of the press conference and asked Ronnie if he could repeat it all.
Thankfully Ronnie declined, otherwise we’d all still be there now.
(This press conference went on so long and was so bizarre that I left before the end, fearing I might have a nervous breakdown at the absurdity of it all).
O’Sullivan can be great value like that, he can also be difficult. I’m sure this doesn’t surprise anyone.
I’ve seen Ronnie laughing and I’ve seen him almost crying, notably in Newcastle in 2001 when he talked darkly of hanging himself from the city centre bridge.
There have been other emotional moments over the years.
I recall a tearful Chris Small dedicating his LG Cup win to his late grandmother.
I well remember John Higgins bristling with anger when he announced he was withdrawing from the 2000 Grand Prix – having just reached the quarter-finals – because of a mix up over dates.
And then there was Hunter after he won what proved to be his last ever match, late one night in York.
Up close he was clearly very ill. That first interview with him felt like a lifetime ago.
Of course, the great shame is that such is the media’s growing ambivalence towards snooker that many of the great quotes and stories simply never made the papers, but maybe I’ll put them all together one day.
I think a lot of it would answer the constant sniping about the lack of ‘characters’ in the game.