At the age of 12, Stephen Hendry spotted a snooker table in the window of John Menzies while hunting for Christmas presents with his mother. In a captivating passage of his excellent new autobiography Me And The Table, Hendry describes how he fell in love with snooker and spent every possible waking hour learning to play, and even dreaming about the coloured balls as he slept.
The chapters which cover his teenage years and early days as a professional are fascinating. After their parents divorced, Hendry and his brother Keith lived in a single room in a council house owned by his mother’s parents. Once he started winning ranking titles in his late teens, the money allowed them to move into their own house. The two siblings would jump out from behind a bedroom curtain to scare their mother. Hendry was a boy playing in a man’s world – and beating most of them.
Among several amusing anecdotes from this period, he recalls the time he and girlfriend Mandy tried the recreational drug Poppers. When his pugnacious manager Ian Doyle found out, he gave Hendry a dressing down which “ranked me alongside Edinburgh’s worst heroin users of the kind that will one day be seen in Trainspotting.”
If there is a criticism of the book, it is that the descriptions of snooker matches are, at times, inelegant and lacking in detail. In fairness, Hendry won so many matches and tournaments during his 1990s heyday that he may only have been able to recall specific details of a few of them. As Steve Davis once put it “eventually, all the victories just roll into one.” And there are still plenty of insights into his time at the top, such as the bombshell revelation that his family was threatened with an acid attack just before the 1997 World Championship, which affected Hendry’s performance in the final against Ken Doherty.
Most absorbing of all is Hendry’s description of his decline as a player, a slow and painful downward spiral which can be traced back to his seventh World Championship triumph in 1999, finishing with his retirement from the pro game in 2012. He cities a combination of factors which caused this decline, most importantly a tendency to decelerate on certain shots which he could not overcome, and the withdrawal from the snooker scene of Doyle, chief exponent of the much-needed kick up the backside. Hendry tried everything to recapture former glories, including psychology, changing cues and coaches, but to no avail. He recalls two occasions when he sat in his hotel room crying after matches, as he came to realise that his best days as a player were behind him.
Hendry also writes candidly about the highs and lows of his relationship with Mandy and their children. And he explains his rivalries with players such as Alex Higgins, Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan. In later years he let down his guard and became friends with the likes of Mark Williams, another reason he cites as to why he lost his killer instinct on the baize.
Overall, this is riveting book for any fan of snooker and one of the sport’s all-time greats.
Me And The Table: My Autobiography by Stephen Hendry
Published 6th September 2018
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