"Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that."
Me and the table
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Stephen Hendry, John Blake 2018. ISBN 978 1 78606 586The autobiography of Stephen Hendry tells the story of how he went “from being a kid who got a small snooker table for Christmas to becoming the best player in the world…from a toy table in a cramped bedroom to the very top of the tree in terms of success”. It took him to a point when he became a millionaire, lived in a mansion and to a stage in life where he and his wife spent £50,000 a year on clothes. But the success comes at a price: “I haven’t lived a normal life since I was a teenager”.
The book begins with a riveting account of a defeat in the World Championship. He describes honestly the struggles towards the end of his career when he realized he could no long do what he used to be able to do…“I will miss snooker, but I won’t miss the kind of snooker I’m currently playing”. The realization that he is no longer a winner, that he loses regularly to players he used to beat easily is hard to take. It leads to a “mixture of shame and depression” to the point where it was a relief to lose on an outside table because he felt he “just can’t face the embarrassment of the spotlight any longer”.
Another poignant quote: “The old football cliché that it’s a game of two halves rings true for my career. The first half was all about dominating and taking winning for granted. The second half was marked by a downward spiral, from something that came to me so easily to a point where it became incredibly hard”.
The journey from his excitement in playing against his heroes – Jimmy White, Alex Higgins or Steve Davis – to the point when he was able to compete with them and ultimately beat them is fascinating. Playing Steve Davis is something “I will relish and fear in equal measure”. He describes in detail beating Davis for the first time. At the other end of his career, there is a defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan when he recognizes O’Sullivan’s “time has come, and he knows it. My time is passing, and I too know it”.
The role of his manager who controlled his career and at times his life is described, well summed up: “For so long I’ve resented his bollockings and general control-freakery, but I realise that no matter how much he annoys me. I need him to kick my arse on a regular basis”.
The saddest part of the book is his divorce. Throughout the story there are regular references to his “great marriage and nice lifestyle” and to thirty happy years with Mandy. Then he meets Lauren, single and twenty years younger. In a matter of fact way he simply says “we realise we’re falling in love” and “Lauren and I become closer and there comes a point where I can’t hide my feelings any longer”. And on that basis he leaves his wife and children.
A very readable book.