Snooker: Snooker loopy, nuts are we

Karen and Glenys would die for Stephen Hendry, or at any rate go to Cleethorpes for him
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The Independent Online
In the city of The Full Monty, my taxi-driver bared no more than his soul. "It broke up me marriage did snooker. I used to play at t'working men's club three or four nights a week and t'wife threatened to leave me, like, but I never thought she would. Came home one night and she were gone. Took t'bloody car, too, the cow. Got it back, though. And t'funny thing is, I went down t'club t'night after she left and got me highest- ever break. Sixty-six. Missed a reet easy blue an' all." His name was Colin but everyone called him Woody, he said. Woody had never been to the Crucible except to drop off fares. "I prefer playin' to watchin'," he said. "I like that Tony Drago, though. That Malteser. He's reet fast round `table. Faster than 'urricane 'iggins, I reckon."

Woody dropped me by the stage door. It is easy to forget, during the World Championships, that the Crucible has a life outside snooker. My parents-in-law, who live nearby, went there once to see Amadeus. Maybe you've heard of it. It's a play about a guy called Mozart, the Ronnie O'Sullivan of the piano concerto. Which, on reflection, is a flattering comparison. After all, Mozart had turned 30 by the time he wrote Don Giovanni. But O'Sullivan was only 21 when he rattled in his 147 in the first round of the 1997 World Championship. It took him five minutes and 20 seconds, and remains the fastest maximum break ever recorded.

On Saturday, though, not even O'Sullivan, playing at the top of his form, could contain an almost robotically brilliant Stephen Hendry. Karen and Glenys must have been delighted. I met them last Wednesday, in the foyer of the Crucible. They are snooker groupies. Snoopies, if you prefer. And Hendry is their pin-up. "I've followed Stephen for seven years," said Karen, a 30-year-old travel agent from Wales. "He's got something none of the others have. He's just class. His century total says it all." "Does it?" I asked. "Oh yes," she said. "He's on 448, far more than anyone else. He's got 26 this season. He's sheer class. There's nobody else who even walks round the table like him. We're going to Cleethorpes next weekend to see him."

Karen subscribes to both Pot Black and Snooker Scene magazines. She is a member of the Stephen Hendry fan club, but considers it rather half- hearted. It issues only four newsletters a year, not enough to keep up with news of Stephen and his family. I wondered if she knew how old his son was. "He'll be three in October," she said. Is Stephen a Y-fronts or a boxer shorts man? Colgate or Macleans? Special K or Weetabix? She giggled. Two days after the murder of Jill Dando, it was perhaps not a good moment to be identified as an obsessive fan. But there was nothing threatening about Karen or Glenys. In fact, there was something rather heart-warming about the way their lives have been enhanced by the six- times world champion.

It was through their mutual devotion to Hendry that they became friends. They now share hotel rooms to cut costs and very often find themselves staying in the same place as their idol. Yes, they have even talked to him. "He's not so remote now," Glenys said. "But in the beginning I thought he was basically God, because of his ability to concentrate, which is absolutely amazing. Last year he lost his ability to focus, partly because of all that in-fighting within the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association. Stephen was very upset by that, you know." Glenys is a retired antiques dealer from Birmingham. She disapproves of the new Hendry fringe. "It grieves me and grieves us all," she said.

Later, in the arena, I spotted Karen and Glenys taking their seats in the third row, as Hendry prepared to finish off Matthew Stevens in the quarter-final. There were some shouts for Stevens, but Hendry didn't seem to mind. It was the same in the semi-final. He is perhaps sustained by the knowledge that Karen and Glenys would die for him, or at any rate go to Cleethorpes for him, which some might consider a similar sacrifice.

Moreover, he has the world featherweight champion, "Prince" Naseem Hamed, in his corner. Naz has declared himself Hendry's No 1 fan, although in truth he is at least No 3. But Karen and Glenys don't shake up the opposition like Prince Naseem. When Darren Morgan was playing Hendry, he had to ask for the boxer to be moved from the table-side VIP seats, because his presence was so intimidating. In some ways, though, there is nobody in sport more intimidating than the inscrutable Hendry himself. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if, at Naseem's next world title fight, his opponent asks for Hendry to be moved a few rows back.