RONNIE O’Sullivan breezed into the last 16 of the Betfred World Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Wednesday.
However the issue of the troublesome footwear lingered on beyond the 10-3 win over a valiant Craig Steadman, the Rocket having played a frame in his socks on Tuesday.
O’Sullivan, now 39 and going for a sixth world title, completed an otherwise routine victory over debutant and qualifier Steadman wearing his third pair of shoes of the contest.
The world No2 has avoided a fine for reacting to tournament director Mike Ganley’s urgings at the end of the sixth frame, which he lost.
Snooker’s dress code is strict and others including Matt Selt – who is rumoured to have been on the phone to the authorities – have fallen foul of it.
But after ditching uncomfortable shoes O’Sullivan had gone shoeless before being lent a pair by saviour Ganley. The footwear – with a winning three frames to zero record, better than many players will ever achieve – will now be auctioned for charity.
Is it a crucial story? Not really. Was it all a lot of fun? Very much so. Did it get snooker a lot of publicity? Amazingly, yes. O’Sullivan’s socks made back pages – but let’s leave what it all says about the Brits as a nation for another day.
O’Sullivan, who now plays Matthew Stevens on Saturday, said: “I had trouble with my new shoes. If there is anyone out there, Russell & Bromley or any of these top shoemakers, send your boys down.
“I’ve got these old battered things on I've had for ten years, if they want to offer. Mike Ganley's shoes, I thought what the hell? But they were comfortable it was like heaven.
“I've got no fashion sense at all. I had the last ones for ten years but I left them in a hotel. I just had these old ones, this battered pair I ended up finishing the game with.
“So I had to buy a new pair and I just bought the wrong ones and they were bashing my feet so I just had to take them off. I ended up walking bare feet going out of the Crucible on Tuesday.
“[Mike Ganley said] you can't play in your socks. I got a pair of his stinky old shoes and I thought 'Oh no' but actually they felt great.”
O’Sullivan, who also revealed his four current obsessions were “snooker, running, cooking, boxing” before jokingly adding “and sh*gging!” also feels he is finally finding the correct balance between taking his sport seriously enough to compete at the highest level, and finding other interests outside the game.
He added: “I realise the snooker can't and won't go on for ever. There is no point doing what Stephen Hendry did, coming here and not winning and getting disappointed.
“You have to embrace it and treat it as a jolly day out. I'm hungry. I will never lose that competitive edge, it is just managing that.
“I am 39, I am going to be around for another 40-odd years. Unless I am going to turn in to Fred Davis and Joe Davis, still potting balls when I'm 75, we have to look at other options.
“It's like leaving school. I'm leaving school soon. There is no point leaving here with no skills, it's been great doing things like the TV show and presenting. I will be a pundit and like one of you lot soon.”
Stevens, twice a runner-up at the Crucible, beat Mark Williams 10-2 in the all-Welsh clash and re-run of the 2000 final. “I feel very comfortable here, but will be a huge underdog against Ronnie,” he said.
“It feels great to win, but I’m sure Mark wouldn’t swap it for the final he won back in 2000. It’s amazing we have never played here since. I just feel good in myself, happier in my personal life and it makes a difference.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos