IN THE AFTERMATH of the World Championship final a month ago, John Parrott, himself a former world champion, was asked by the BBC presenter Hazel Irvine what the future held for the new winner, Stuart Bingham. Parrott’s response was spot on: “It doesn’t matter. His name’s on that trophy and it’s never coming off.”
Bingham himself was back practising last week. He said: “it was nice to miss a ball and think ‘never mind, I’m world champion.’”
There were two reasons so many people within the sport and in the wider public were genuinely delighted for Bingham after his absorbing 18-15 victory over Shaun Murphy at the Crucible. The first was that they recognised how many years he had slogged away at the game’s coalface, entering tournament after tournament, many long forgotten, during his journey from member of supporting cast to a leading light of the sport.
The second was that Bingham himself is such a nice bloke. Down to earth, genuine, unaffected, it was very easy to warm to him.
But what, to address Hazel’s perfectly reasonable question, does the future hold for him? Before we know it, we’ll be down to talk of the blasted ‘Crucible Curse’ but before then he has a season worth of snooker to come in which he can revel in being introduced as reigning world champion. He will be seeded first or second in every event, a perk of being world champion, and you can bet that he will play in just about every tournament.
At 39, he is nearer the end of his professional career than the start so there won’t be quite as close a scrutiny of his results as for a younger player. But there will be more expectations, perhaps including those from Bingham himself.
What often happens to new world champions is that they are inundated with requests for personal appearances, exhibitions, interviews and so on and, because it is largely new to them, they do most of it. This can have the effect of depleting their competitive reserves. A small example: a few hours before his first session against Tony Knowles in the first round of the 1982 World Championship, Steve Davis, who had been here, there and everywhere in his year as champion, was signing copies of his book in a Sheffield newsagent rather than preparing for the match ahead. He lost eight of the nine frames and was eventually beaten 10-1.
“The trophy has been in the back of my car and I’ve been everywhere – to snooker clubs, cricket clubs and hospitals to go and meet people. I’ve said ‘yes’ to everything so far, so in a way it is nice now to get back on the practice table and back to what I do best,” Bingham said.
The good news is that he surely does not strike anyone as the sort of person who will let all this go to his head. I’d be surprised if he starts rocking up at tournaments in flash cars with a boot-licking entourage, making demands of all and sundry.
Indeed, one of the nice things about snooker is that most players come from humble backgrounds and manage to retain a fair degree of humility even when they become successful. Mark Williams, for instance, never changed at all from the cheeky teenager who first broke through to the cheeky veteran who is now world seniors champion.
The bottom line is that Bingham loves snooker. He even seems to love practising, which usually becomes a chore the older a player gets.
This season, then, is his reward for all those years of toil. It’s an extended victory lap where he will rightly be feted as champion of the world. He'll want more titles and may well win some and there will be disappointments because there always are but they will be mitigated to an extent by being able to go home and stare at the most famous trophy in the game.
As Parrott said, once your name is on there, it’s on there for life. If the future becomes defined by being described as a former world champion then that isn’t such a bad legacy to leave.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.