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Sex, drugs and...more drugs: 7 players who prove snooker is a bad-ass sport

Jimmy White’s recent revelations have caused a stir but the sport has seen its fair share of bad-boys.

This article was originally published in November 2014

Jimmy White – crack cocaine

White World Snooker Finals Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Whirlwind’s admission that he smoked crack cocaine was earth-shattering. White has always had a reputation as a rouser, the crowd favourite. But the vivid picture he paints of sinking to such depths went above and beyond the usual circuit whispers.

White struggled with excessive drinking too, admitting in 2007 that he was ‘drunk for a long time’. As he also details in his autobiography, gambling was another vice, saying that he once blew £128,000 on horses and cards.

Alex Higgins – general hell-raising

Snooker Source: Duncan Raban/Duncan Raban/EMPICS Entertainment

Though there was always a temperamental streak to him, Higgins’ slide can probably be traced to an incident in 1986 when he head-butted an official in 1986. He never really recovered from the £12,000 fine and lengthy ban.

Despite turning the clock back on occasion, he was never far from pressing the self-destruct button and in 1990 he was slapped with a twelve-month ban after assaulting a press-officer backstage at The Crucible after a first-round World Championship exit.

Ronnie O’Sullivan – pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches

Snooker - Irish Masters - Final - Ronnie O'Sullivan v Matthew Stevens - City West Hotel Source: Haydn West/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Much has been written about O’Sullivan’s family background and the dysfunctional nature of his upbringing (after his father was imprisoned for murder and his mother was jailed for tax evasion, a teenage Ronnie had to care for his younger sister and manage his dad’s chain of Essex sex shops). Inevitably, there have been a litany of incidents in his professional career.

In 1996, he was served with a two-year suspended sentence, a £20,000 fine and told to pay £10,000 to charity after being found guilty of assaulting a tournament official. Two years later, after winning the Irish Masters, he tested positive for marijuana and subsequently stripped of his title.

In his autobiography, O’Sullivan wrote of his battle with drugs:

“I remember getting to every World Championship and thinking, ‘I can’t wait ’til this tournament is over ‘cos then there’s no more drug tests, I can go out and smash it.’”

“I loved a joint. The only problem with a joint is that one spliff follows another, and another. (I would have) any old drink, it didn’t matter. Throw in a few spliffs. Then at 7am the sun would come up and I’d think ‘I’ve done it again’. The birds would be tweeting and I’d think ‘I’m bang in trouble’.”

“At my worst I had to have a joint first thing in the morning just to function. But loads of time snooker got in the way of my benders, rather than the other way round.”

Stephen Lee – fraud

Snooker - World Snooker Championships - Day One - The Crucible Theatre Source: Gareth Copley/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Lee is a former world number five but is best remembered for his 12 year-ban from the sport after being found guilty of seven counts of match-fixing.

The chairman of the match-fixing tribunal, Adam Lewis QC, said that Lee wasn’t a cynical cheat but “rather a weak man, who under financial pressure, succumbed to the temptation”. The investigation found that Lee deliberately lost matches against Ken Doherty, Marco Fu, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby while he had agreed to lose certain frames against other players.

Earlier this year, Lee was in court again after agreeing to sell one of his snooker cues to a fan in Hong Kong for £1600. But, though the money was transferred into his account, Lee never sent the cue. He pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud while it also transpired that he was living on benefits since his snooker ban.

Tony Knowles – sex

Snooker Source: Duncan Raban/EMPICS Entertainment

In Knowles’ second appearance at the World Championship, he demolished reigning champion Steve Davis 10-1. He was 26, with sallow skin and a mullet. A playboy was born.

He gleefully boasted of his sexual escapades in many British tabloids (this was at the height of the snooker boom across the UK) and the motor-mouth machinations resulted in a £5,000 fine from the sport’s governing body for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’.

His reputation proceeded him and writing in Black Farce and Cue Ball Wizards: The Inside Story of the Snooker World, Clive Everton says:

Among female followers of snooker, there came to be a brisk sale of ‘I said no to Tony Knowles’ T-shirts and badges.”

Knowles reached three semi-finals at The Crucible but the coverage of his sexual exploits ensured his reputation and standing within the game greatly diminished from the mid-80s onward.

Kirk Stevens – cocaine

Snooker - Embassy World Professional Snooker Championship - Crucible Theatre Source: Duncan Raban/Duncan Raban/EMPICS Entertainment

A Canadian, Stevens was with Jimmy White during one memorable crack cocaine episode that played out in a hotel room during the Irish Open. It wasn’t long before Stevens admitted to a drug problem and returned to North America for treatment.

Before that though, he had done enough to rise to fourth in the world rankings and popped up frequently in the latter stages of multiple tournaments. But he lost the final of the 1985 British Open to Silvino Francisco – the South African later claimed Stevens had been ‘as high as a kite’ during the match.

Upon returning to Canada for good in 1991, Stevens didn’t watch a snooker match for two years and now works as a car salesman.

‘Big’ Bill Werbeniuk – the demon drink

Bill Source: Bill Werbeniuk via Facebook

 I’ve had 24 pints of extra strong lager and eight double vodkas and I’m still not drunk.”

Werbeniuk was another Canadian and his doctors claimed he suffered from a hereditary nervous tremor in his hands. The logic was that only alcohol eased the complaint. So, Werbeniuk drank. A lot. Some said he’d go through 50 pints of lager a day. But remarkably, he remained a consistently good player though the highest he’d ever get was the top-eight. But, he made the quarter-finals at The Crucible on four occasions – the run beginning in the late 1970s before he hit his peak in the 1984/85 season.

But around this time, doctors told him to switch to a drug, Inderal, for health reasons. Banned by the governing body, it eventually led to him suffering suspensions and he began to drop lower and lower in the rankings. After basing himself in the UK for a long time, he moved to Vancouver and eventually retired there, living on disability benefits. He died in 2003 aged 56.

‘Jimmy has always been a wild boy in the the mold of Alex Higgins’ – Ken Doherty

Jimmy White: I smoked crack at Irish Masters, drugs cost me 10 world titles

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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