Snooker legend Jimmy White says the reason he has continued playing is because he carries a small hope of one day winning the elusive world championship – despite losing the last of his six finals almost 20 years ago.
In Jimmy White: Sports Life Stories, which is due to air on ITV4 at 10pm on Tuesday 26 November, the 'Whirlwind' says his main thrill and focus in life remains snooker. He reveals the distractions he believes affected his performances during his heyday are behind him, telling the documentary he has now quit smoking, has no interest in gambling and rarely drinks.
While younger men like Ronnie O’Sullivan have come into the sport and become world champions, he says while winning the title which he lost out on six times between 1984 and 1994 is increasingly unrealistic, he holds out a hope that he could one day still do it.
“I’m proud of getting to six finals. I’ve won ten ranking tournaments, I’ve won 46 invitation tournaments, I’ve won the world doubles, the world matchplay, the world amateurs.
“It’s this one tournament, basically our blue riband tournament, that I’m still chasing. I’m still chasing the dream of being world champion.
“You know, to get to six [world] finals of a game like snooker playing the style that I do is a feat in itself. If I didn’t think I could win I wouldn’t play. Realistically, you know my boat has sailed.
“I still feel that, you know, if you can get it together and you keep practicing, keep working on your technique, which I’m doing at the moment, and I’m winning the games, so who knows. You know I haven’t given up yet. I haven’t given up, and as long as my game’s still there there’s no reason why I can’t go on and win the world championship.
“Obviously you’ve got some fella there now called Ronnie O’Sullivan who’s in the way and the likes of John Higgins, it’s a lot harder but not impossible.”
Five times world champion O’Sullivan, meanwhile, says Jimmy has simply been unlucky. But he doesn’t believe he still stands a chance of winning that elusive world title.
“I think the hardest battle was to keep coming back to the world championship, to keep coming back year after year. You know, that took courage and I just think he was unfortunate that he came up in an era when Stephen Hendry was playing, because if he wouldn’t have done I’m sure he would have won the world title.
“Jimmy is one of the most optimistic people I know. He still thinks he is going to win the world title and to have that belief in yourself is a good asset to have.
“In my heart I would love to see it happen but in my mind, and I know what it’s like to go through that, and knowing the standard of play, the type of players that are around, to me it’s highly unlikely. But it’s not because he’s not good enough, it’s just a physical thing.”
Jimmy’s eldest daughter Lauren says despite how convinced her father is that he will win the world title, she thinks he may be destined not to.
“It must be very disappointing for him but you wouldn’t know it from every time he talks about it or his career or anything, you wouldn’t think that it was a bad thing and I think it was just one of those things that wasn’t meant to be. Not his destiny, rather than anything else.”
Son Tommy White says he respects what his father does for him and has done in the past - especially as it pays for his schooling.
“It’s good that he’s going out and still achieving at the age he is, doing what he’s doing. Working hard for my education. That proper drives me on.”
Jimmy talks about snooker’s high-profile years of the 1980s and ‘90s, when he was at the top of the sport. He admits he enjoyed the lifestyle.
“I was getting a lot of attention, getting a lot of money, you know, and having a lot of fun. I would drink too much and I would be out too late. And obviously the gambling, you would be gambling when you’re drunk so you’re making terrible mistakes. But I sort of quietened down on the gambling and it went to the nightclubs and messing about, you know, seeing that side of life. There was just a lot of drinking going on.”
But the drinking and the gambling led to a chaotic home life for his then-wife Maureen and their children, he says: ”Me and my wife because of my behaviour, we had an up and down relationship, a love-hate relationship, all the time we would split up, I must have re-furnished 50 flats over the years. But, you know, she’s a wonderful woman, a wonderful mother.”
On reflection, he says his drinking and gambling may have prevented him from winning and dominating the sport: “No disrespect to the players that I beat but my preparation was bad. Obviously if I had my time again I would have prepared better and I would have won more tournaments but there was no balance at all. I was pretty selfish in the way that I thought that if I practiced I could still drink and party.”