It was a non-descript Tuesday in Bournemouth 15 years ago when Roger Garrett’s professional snooker career came to an end.
Like hundreds of others Garrett had chanced his arm on the game he loved when the professional ranks were thrown open to all-comers.
He did better than most, getting up to 85th in the world rankings, beating Dave Harold, Dominic Dale and Stephen Lee along the way.
That afternoon in 1995 he had been due to play Harold in the last 64 of the International Open but failed to turn up for his match.
His father had travelled to watch him and knew nothing of his disappearance. Tournament officials thus notified local police who found Garrett’s dress suit and cue in his hotel room.
He eventually phoned his mother to say he was on his way home but withdrew from the Thailand Open in Bangkok, which he had qualified for, on medical grounds and never played again.
Snooker is a lonely game. There are no team mates to share the load and though it is far from the only individual sport, the amount of time it takes to play and the intensity of the emotions felt in the arena, where the action takes place in near silence, make it one of the hardest to cope with mentally.
A snooker player has to face his own limitations. He is only as good as his last match. Past glories count for nothing in the present. Mistakes can haunt a player for the rest of their days.
Fans may give a player stick when he misses an easy ball, fluffs a big lead or doesn’t perform on the day but the player knows already. He doesn’t need to be told. There is no bigger critic than he himself.
Losing can be heartbreaking. It can mean the difference between being able to afford a family holiday or not, getting into the top 16 or not, being world champion or not.
That’s why players should be cut some slack for they way they behave in the immediate aftermath of a defeat.
There is a modern day tendency to regard sport, snooker included, as ‘just a bit of fun.’ You hear things like ‘I do wish he’d smile’ parroted but this is in ignorance of the fact that players are often playing for their livelihoods and there isn’t much to smile about when everthing you’ve worked for is becoming harder and harder to attain.
There’s a difference between an ungracious loser and a bad loser. An ungracious loser blames anyone but himself for the defeat. A bad loser is so downbeat at his own failures that he is often rendered speechless – Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis were bad losers in their prime.
I’ve seen players reduced to tears by defeat. And sometimes gracious words at a press conference are a cover for real feelings, which come to the fore immediately afterwards in the dressing room.
Some snooker players have consulted sports psychologists. Peter Ebdon used to be into meditation before matches.
But in a game so clearly dependent on mental toughness there have been breakdowns, big or small, even among the greats.
Ronnie O’Sullivan experiences mood swings of violent extremes, from exhilarating highs to debilitating lows.
I remember him once playing superbly at the UK Championship against Alan McManus. He was well ahead after the first session and finished Alan off in the second.
In the press conference afterwards I asked him what he had done between sessions. Without any side or pretence he replied: ‘I sat in the bath crying my eyes out. I don’t know why.’
Ronnie has many times failed to derive any obvious joy from performances that snooker fans have been entertained by. He famously walked out early in the sixth frame of his UK Championship quarter-final against Stephen Hendry in 2006, trailing 4-1 and fed up with losing, with snooker, with everything.
O’Sullivan, though, has handled the pressure pretty well in his career. Just a month on from this he won the Wembley Masters. He is a great player, a great champion and a household name.
Roger Garrett is not a household name. I don’t know what he’s doing now but he never returned to the circuit. He was a victim of the pressure that afflicts this intensely difficult sport.
I hope that whatever he is doing has brought him the happiness he was unable to find from playing professional snooker, an occupation which can yield fame, fortune and admiration but also anxiety, uncertainty and disappointment that can be impossible to bear.