Snooker: Ebdon the loner is making a big noise: The pony-tail has gone but a rich talent continues to grow. Ian Ridley on the man aiming to turn the tables

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The Independent Online
IN the village that is snooker, when the gossips gathered at the corner pockets the talk of Peter Ebdon concerned the show-off who could not really play, the loner who would never be a winner, the big noise with ideas above his satellite television station.

His forthright commentaries upset the sensitive members of the community while his celebrations more Fred Flintstone than Fred Davis after a recent win had some of the traditionalists tut-tutting.

But if the game's latest tournament winner is its new bad boy, then he is one for the rather more frugal Nineties. The 23-year-old Ebdon turns out to be a peacefully married father, a non-smoker who permitted himself just a pint of Guinness after winning the Skoda Grand Prix at Reading recently. Even the pony-tail has gone.

He is nevertheless a colourful character, even if he is colour blind, which might seem a drawback for a snooker player. (The television lights and bright balls help these days to avoid the problems he had sometimes in his amateur days distinguishing between the reds and the brown.) 'I pride myself on being different,' he says.

His CV certainly has plenty of bright spots. He left school in Islington - where he obtained a life- saving qualification, played oboe in the school orchestra, studied Latin and Greek and represented North London at cricket as a leg-spin bowler - before taking his O-levels to be a full-time snooker player.

His father did not speak to him for six months at the time, though is now happily in his corner as was shown as he sat patiently through the recording at the BBC's Elstree studios of Ebdon's appearance in the silly snooker quiz programme Big Break this week.

The swagger about Ebdon now seems justified after his defeating of Stephen Hendry and John Parrott on the way towards winning at Reading, which took him up to a provisional No 8 in the world rankings and made him a favourite for the UK championships in Preston beginning this week.

'Some unkind people have said I am a showman who couldn't play the game,' he says. 'I am making those people eat their words all the time and that's one of my great motivations.'

It was not only because it was taking him half an hour to tend before a match but also because he considered it made him a bit of a sideshow that he had his pony-tail cut off recently.

Ebdon is one of the single- minded, ice-in-the-eyes breed of players. He always understood Steve Davis, he said, because he was 'made of the same stuff'. He makes much of the inner game. 'Stephen Hendry is the world champion, possibly the greatest player that ever lived, but why as a person should he be stronger than me?

'It's a pressure sport,' he adds. 'There has never been a player in any sport who has not 'gone' under pressure. It's just like pain thresholds. Everybody has their own. I have a high one and I have found that I have so much inner strength that I just get stronger. I feel I have got what it takes at the highest level and the rest will come with experience.'

His all-round game, he believes, has developed considerably and, yes why not, he thinks he can be world champion.

After bursting on to the scene, having been world junior champion, by beating Davis in the first round of the World Championships at Sheffield two years ago, Ebdon had a poor season last year. 'I let myself down by being lazy and not working hard enough at my game,' he admits.

This year, 'when everyone else was playing golf', he spent eight weeks practising in his purpose- built snooker room at his Northamptonshire home. 'It was a conscious decision to get serious,' he says.

It paid off at Reading, though some protracted air-punching after he had come from 4-1 down to beat Gary Wilkinson 5-4 in one match upset some. 'It was an emotional and psychological release,' he says.

'I was totally zoned. The people who gave me some stick don't understand snooker and sport in general.' After beating Ken Doherty in the final, the tears flowed.

And those who have muttered about his television comments? 'I look upon it as constructive criticism,' he says.

'Hopefully now that I've won a tournament people will not just regard me as that controversial commentator.'

He does not seem unduly worried that he may not be the most popular player on the circuit, one who has never yet received a wild-card invitation to a tournament. 'I don't stay in the same hotels as the others,' he says. 'It doesn't do to become too friendly with players you want to kill.

'Most people who know me know I'm an all right sort of bloke,' says the man married with a four- month-old daughter. 'I feel strongly about morals and principles and character and that sort of thing. I'm no different from anybody else. It's just that on the table I like to think, 'Right I'm going to have you'.'

(Photograph omitted)