Whirlwind White urges investment in young talent

Dylan shows promise on World stage
Snooker prodigy Dylan Smith

JIMMY WHITE is returning to the Victoria Snooker Centre in Tunbridge Wells for an exhibition evening on Friday May 25.

The legend known as the ‘Whirlwind’ will take on local players – and is set to resume his rivalry with Paddock Wood prodigy Dylan Smith.

He first appeared at the venue on Camden Road seven years ago, when he entertained a sell-out audience with his exciting potting style.

Graham Martin, the Victoria Centre’s owner, said: ‘It’s with great pleasure that we welcome back the people’s champion.

‘Jimmy has been a popular choice to return to our club,’ added Graham. ‘Over the years he has also become a friend of ours, always obliging with requests that we have required.’

The 56-year-old Londoner, who was awarded the MBE for his services to the sport, will be accompanied by leading referee Michaela Tabb, and walk-on girl Jade Slusarczyk.

Graham explained: ‘The evening will consist of 10 frames against local players including Tunbridge Wells Snooker Open runner-up Matt Simpson and local 10-year-old starlet Dylan Smith.

‘We will also we will have a charity auction frame. So get your tickets now, this one is not to be missed.’

Even though Jimmy has been playing on the professional circuit since 1981, he enjoys the opportunity to mingle with the public up close at events such as this.

‘It’s an absolute pleasure to play the exhibitions, a complete joy, and it’s a chance to get to meet the people,’ he told the Times while holidaying in the Cayman Islands.

And he is looking forward to taking on Dylan again after playing him at an event in Tenterden earlier this year.

‘Dylan’s a very good little player,’ said Jimmy. ‘His enthusiasm was great and his cue action was fine. My advice would be to keep up that level of enthusiasm and just keep playing.’

Although he has won almost £5million on the pro circuit, Jimmy is celebrated as possibly the greatest amateur to play the game, so he is full of encouragement for places like the Victoria Centre.

‘When I was amateur, I won everything going,’ he said. ‘In those days it was different, there were a lot of competitions every weekend.

‘I was talking to [world No 1] Mark Selby about it and he said he used to play every weekend. Young people like Dylan have got to play in as many tournaments as they can.’

But he fears for the future of the sport because of a lack of facilities like the Tunbridge Wells club in the UK, so that the best young talents are currently coming out of the Far East.

‘The problem at the moment is there are no young players coming through, they are mainly from China. There’s nothing at grass roots level here.

‘World Snooker [the sport’s governing body] has got to put back more practice facilities for them, they are not all like Dylan who can play at the club.’

However, the top of the game is in rude health. ‘Snooker has never been so popular and for the new professionals, the prize money has never been so good.

‘Now they’ve started the seniors’ tour there have been lots of players coming out of retirement. Snooker’s in the best shape it’s ever been in.’

Although Jimmy has slipped down the rankings in recent years – he is now 93rd in the world – he retains his enthusiasm for the game and says he can carry on playing for years to come.

‘As long as the eyesight is okay and you still have the enthusiasm to practise, there’s no reason you can’t carry on winning,’ he said. ‘It’s not like footballers and boxers, who slow down as they get older.’

Mark Williams was lauded for winning the World Championship two weeks ago at The Crucible at the age of 43. Jimmy was commentating on Eurosport – and full of admiration.

‘I watched every pot, it was a brilliant match. It’s great for Mark, he’s had a fantastic year, and John Higgins can hold his head high.’

Jimmy has infamously never won the game’s greatest crown despite appearing in six finals, but when asked if he had any regrets about that he growled: ‘I’m still playing, you know.’

The Whirlwind was always something of an enfant terrible in the snooker sphere, and was impressed that Williams kept his promise to conduct his press conference naked if he won.

‘He didn’t think he was going to win, but he’s a man of his word,’ he chuckled. Had Jimmy ever done anything like that in his wild years? ‘I’ve done that a couple of times,’ he said mischievously.

Tickets cost from £25. To book, call 01892 525833 or 07748 104314

PICTURE: PASS ON A FEW TIPS Jimmy White with local prodigy Dylan Smith and Sky’s Jade Slusarczyk PHOTO: Lucy Shaw

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