20100418

Burn's classic study of snooker phenomenon


It is 25 years now since Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis kept the nation awake as 18.5 million viewers watched the final of all world snooker finals go to the very last black before the Ulsterman in the daft glasses held his cue above his head with both hands and then wagged his finger at the television camera.

Yet, as the championships begin to unfold again in Sheffield, still pulling in the punters at the iconic Crucible Theatre, still attracting at least respectable television audience, the appeal of the game, and its blue riband event in particular, still owes something to that moment.

The two protagonists are still about the place, delivering their informed punditry on the new generation.  But memories fade, the characters of what was then a soap opera as much as a sport, whose dramas and scandals would be played out at the front of the newspapers as frequently as their performances at the table appeared at the back, have long since slipped away in relative obscurity.

Happily, thanks to the percipience of a writer who was to become something of a literary celebrity, the age has been perfectly preserved on the page.

Gordon Burn, who had written with distinction about Peter Sutcliffe -- the Yorkshire Ripper -- in Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son, saw in the snooker boom an opportunity to examine a growing public obsession with celebrity through a game blessed with a cast of personalities that was unrivalled in sport.

He spent a year on the snooker circuit, following the dysfunctional lives of Alex Higgins and Jimmy White and the game's other wilder characters and observing the zeal with which Barry Hearn, an accountant from Dagenham turned sports promoter, pursued the chance to generate riches and turn his principle client, the seemingly automatous Davis, into the greatest player in the world.

The result, Pocket Money, remains the best book written about snooker and is deservedly acclaimed as a classic across all sports genres.

It was reissued in paperback two years ago by Faber and Faber. Burn, who died last year aged 61, also wrote about celebrity in football in Best and Edwards: Football, Fame and Oblivion.

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