Jimmy White, 25 times on from the last of his six snooker world final wins, tells Donald McRae about some interesting darkness out with Alex Higgins

“I‘m flying,” Jimmy White says with that cheeky old-time grin. He pats his waistcoat, loosens his relationship and looks ready to celebrate his 39 years as a professional snooker player and the even more incredible fact he is still here one early morning in Sheffield. After overcoming cancer, crack, a lottery garb that payment him over a million pounds and the heartache of losing six world championship finals, the Whirlwind is ready to show off his much younger girlfriend and his renewed determination to keep playing.

As ever with White, a residue of hurt persists. Just before his 57 th birthday he had hoped to return to the Crucible in the world championship, which began on Saturday. After winning his first qualifying competition, White faced the world No 19, Ali Carter. White zipped into a brief lead before his dream died with a 10 -4 defeat.

“I’m disappointed,” White says, his smile crinkling into a sneer.” I didn’t induce and that’s sickening. It’s frustrating because, at my age, I’m not expected to win. But I trained well, drawing 147 s in practice, and I’m 3-1 up. I’m in control and then little errors creep in. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself, because I’d been practising really hard for three months. I might have burnt myself out .”

White lost nine of the next 10 frames.” He got his confidence back ,” he says of Carter.” This competition is very mental and I lost focus. So if I got to get to Q School to get back on tour I will. But if they give me another wildcard to stay on tour I’ll practise five hours a day so I’m ready .”

If I am stupefied that White, such a gifted player in his prime, wants to keep grinding away, the Whirlwind seems blown away to have endured this long. When we recollect Alex Higgins, his fellow snooker genius and reprobate who died in 2010, White suggests that losing their epic semi-final at the worlds might have saved him.

” I would’ve died if I’d beaten Higgins and won the world championship in 1982 because I’d exactly acquired cocaine and I liked to suck ,” he says.” I always liked cocaine- whether wino or sober. It was no one’s blame but my own. I’d just become famous, because we only had four canals in them days and, instead of queuing round the block to get into a West End nightclub, I was getting the medicine. I had such merriment, even though I can’t remember much .”

Quick guide

P6, W0: White’s world finals

1984 … Steve Davis( 18 -1 6 ): White lines 12 -4 but draws it back to 16 -1 5 before Davis goes on to retain his world-wide title.

1990 … Stephen Hendry( 18-12 ): 21 -year-old Hendry prevails his first entitle comfortably.

1991 … John Parrott( 18-11 ): White is whitewashed 7-0 in the first conference and spots no way back.

1992 … Stephen Hendry( 18-14 ): White affirms conducts of 12-6 and 14 -8 but Hendry wins 10 chassis in a row to secure the triumph.

1993 … Stephen Hendry( 18-5 ): White beaten with a session to spare.

1994 … Stephen Hendry( 18-17 ): Final goes to adjudicate frame and White is 37 -2 4 up where reference is misses the black. Hendry clears up.

Photograph: Ian Walton/ Allsport UK

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Years of cocaine use led to the dark coiling of cranny.” I’d knock about with Kirk Stevens[ the former snooker pro from Canada] and he’d be on crack. One era I tried it. It’s the most addictive thing ever. Kirk had no idea how to get cocaine. But I’d come from the street, so I knew 20 dealers. For me to get cocaine was easy. So I became fixed on cranny for a few months. It’s like being an alcoholic. The first hit is the best- like your first liquor. When you’re smoking cracking it’s pure but you never hold on to that first hit either .”

How did he kick cranny?” I couldn’t get any money out one night. I had drained one history altogether. I got the heebie-jeebies. I had a day trying to think and then I knew. I had to stop .”

White chortles.” I’d be a great cocaine polouse. I can recognize parties on it from miles away. So I bided away from them because I shat myself. I’d let a lot of people down .”

How is Stevens?” Kirk’s a tree-surgeon now. He’s shape. He’s happy .”

White is also joyful.” I don’t suck. Don’t inhale ,” he says before turning to his girlfriend, Jade Slusarczyk, a 32 -year-old who used to be a walk-on girl at darts tournaments.” If we have a bottle of wine-colored I want to start dancing in the restaurant .” White cackles and then, after he and Jade stress their sobriety, he says:” I’ve got five grandkids. And I’ve got Jade. I deter her away from Specsavers .”

Jimmy White Alex Higgins after triumphing a doubles entitlement together in 1984. Photograph: Bob Thomas/ Getty Images

Higgins, in differ, could not save himself.” I firstly played Alex in an exhibit when I was 13 ,” White recollects.” He comes down to a operating men’s fraternity in Balham, which my pa operated, and been seeking to chat my sister up. So my brother wanted to knock him out. It was the most horrendous first has met with your hero ever. I should’ve known.

” But the only time I fell out with Higgins was when I had a dwelling in Surrey. Swimming bath, snooker room. Higgins came over and we became drinking. Your best friend drove us in a Mini Metro. We were drinking the working day and I decided to drive after another two gallons of wine-coloured- for which I apologise. I disintegrated into a wall. The windscreen flipped out and Higgins, who never wore a seatbelt, fly out .”

White shakes his head.” Higgins stands up and he’s shouting:’ I’ve got nine lives, child !’ I’m feeling sober now and I drive to my house … the windscreen wipers are attacking us. I drive into the garage and the engine tumbles out. If we’d been driving we could have been seriously hurt. But Higgins is flying, saying,’ This is great !’

” After I get my friend to pick up the windscreen, because it’s got my reputation on the tax disc, I feel safe. But I’m not ready for Higgins. He takes me to the snooker table and says:’ Let’s play for money, newborn .’ He wouldn’t stop. I hurled him out. He knew the neighbour and I didn’t get on so he went next door and said I’d assaulted him. That was Higgins .”

What happened when they next witnes one another?” He said:’ Hello, babes. How are ya ?’ He had methods where you’d be fuming with him and then he’d say something and you’d forget about it .”

In the traction of throat cancer, Higgins barely ate in the last months.” It was frightful ,” White says.” As much as me and his sisters done things for him it was no good. They did far more than me, plainly, but he fell out with them. So he wasn’t noticed for 10 daytimes. He died of famine. It was horrific .”

Jimmy White carries Alex Higgins’s coffin in 2010. The funeral was retarded to allow White to travel back from Thailand. Photograph: Cathal Mcnaughton/ Reuters

White and the sisters had raised fund to buy a new set of teeth for Higgins’s ravaged mouth.” We promoted three clumps of money for him ,” White says.” But you pass money to a gambling it’s like imparting heroin to a buff. The coin just made him enthusiastic to gamble more. I belief Guinness maintained him alive- the cast-iron in it- because he wasn’t eating much. He was his own worst opponent .”

The funeralwas retarded to allow White to return from Thailand.” When I got the announce saying he had died, I was numb. It was evil .” White helped carry Higgins’ coffin and” 4,000 beings rowed wall street. It was unbelievable- but just so sad .”

Higgins’s last-place world championship name came in 1982 when, in that memorable semi-final, White was 15 -1 4 onward. White was 51 -0 up in the next frame, which would have won him the competition, when he demonstrated Higgins, who had been drinking heavily, an opportunity. Taking on shoots that needed outrageous fortitude and daring, Higgins cleared the table with an interruption of 69.” That was his best. There were three or four shootings in there which- to the pressures- will never be repeated. The drunker he got, the calmer he got .”

White appears away, “ve lost” the recollection.” I was in awe of him. I was watching my hero playing. That clearance is the best ever realise .”

Snooker followers drool over the splendour of Higgins, White and Ronnie O’Sullivan. But who does White consider the best of a troubled trio?” O’Sullivan. I’ve probably get more natural talent than both of them. But what O’Sullivan done was special. He took a little of Higgins, a bit of me and a little of[ Steve] Davis, and became his activity accomplish. Perhaps his greatest gift is his positional play .”

Jimmy White:’ I simply want to get back to the Crucible .’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond/ The Guardian

White and O’Sullivan make a fine punditry partnership on Eurosport.” Yeah, we have a bit of fun. It’s not so serious. The BBC is a little bit predictable but with me and Ronnie you’re not sure. I actually experience cultivating as a scholar .”

Surely he wishes he was playing rather than watching?” Yeah, I feel sick sometimes. Undoubtedly I’d love to be playing .”

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This year labels the 25 th anniversary of White’s sixth and last world championship final which he lost 18 -1 7 to Stephen Hendry. In the settle frame White simply needed to sink a few more dances to secure his first world entitle when he missed a straightforward pitch-black.” He was 16 -1 4 up, but I won the next two chassis and it was there for me in the last. But I blinked on the black. In snooker you’ve only got to slightly move your premier to find trouble. It’s probably the abuse that’s gone through my body that establishes the abrupt movement.

” But my life’s totally different now. I want to produce some of the snooker I indicate at shows. I played Ronnie on the Legend tour and harboured my own for 10 darkness. You can’t do that unless you’ve still got it- because Ronnie’s the best player I’ve ever seen. So I merely want to get back to the Crucible .”

White during the course of its 1994 final with Stephen Hendry, which “hes lost” 18 -1 7, a sixth successive final demolish. Photograph: Mike Cooper/ Allsport

White speaks so endearingly it prompts a cliched question. If he had the chance would he do anything differently?” I would have prepared differently before big-hearted matches but I wouldn’t change my life. I’ve had a right crack. On my 50 th birthday the Rolling Stones played at my party at Grosvenor House. That’s not bad for a kid from Tooting .”

We swap contact details and I smile when I experience his quantity concludes with 147147. It seems just right for the maestro but I dread the end for White. Q school is a notoriously difficult route into the main tour as it is filled with hungry young participates from around the world.

On Saturday evening, as a beautiful daytime fades away, my phone pings. I read White’s identify. He needs two tries to send me the glorious report as the first textbook proposes he has prevailed a “tool” poster. I imagine him laughter as he rails against predictive textbook in his second letter. Then, saying ” I’m delighted”, the polite old charmer confirms he did not need a wildcard to avoid Q School. World Snooker, knowing how much they need his abide popularity, have returned his full tour card. He will be back playing after the world championship.

I think of Alex Higgins outcry” I’ve got nine lives, baby !” after their drunken gondola crash. His great friend has escaped the end again. Jimmy White, the Whirlwind from Tooting, will enjoy every last drop of life he has left in snooker.

Watch snooker’s macrocosm championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport Player


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