Tony Drago, one of snooker’s most popular characters, is on his way to recovery after a serious health scare.
Last year, the 53-year-old from Malta suffered heart failure – a condition in which the heart struggles to pump blood around the body – and he subsequently spent a month in hospital in March this year.
Drago and Ducan Bezzina won the team event at the EBSA European Championship in June
Former world number ten Drago was relegated from the tour in 2016 and admits he will never play pro snooker again, though he did play in the recent World Cup of Pool and will compete in snooker’s Rokit Seniors World Championship at the Crucible in August.
But his main priority is his health, having been through a terrifying experience. He explains: “I have never liked going to the doctor, but I realised I had to because I was getting very tired. Even walking from the yellow spot to the green spot I was getting out of breath.
“The doctor told me I had heart failure and sent me straight to hospital. He said that if I had come one or two days later it could have been a lot worse. They said my heart was beating like someone aged 130, not 53. I didn’t need surgery but I had a lot of injections. They had to reduce water retention in my body. I was in hospital for a month.
“Now I’m ok, I feel better. I have to take 11 tablets every day, and watch my weight. For many years I didn’t look after my health, and in the end it catches up with you.”
The Tornado remains popular with fans across the world
Drago lived in London for most of his snooker career but is now back in his native Malta. “I am living with my mum and making up for many years I spent living away,” he said. “I look after her and she looks after me – she makes sure my tablets are on the table because I forget to take them.
“I know I’m never going to play on the tour again. Even if Barry Hearn offered me a wild card I would say that I can only play in six or seven events a year because I don’t want to spent time away from home any more.
“I play a bit of snooker at an academy in Hamrun – practising with Alex Borg because he is back on the tour and I want to help him. I enjoyed playing in the World Cup of Pool and I’m really looking forward to going to the Crucible again for the seniors event in August.”
Drago’s career highlights included a run to the final of the 1997 International Open, a memorable win over Stephen Hendry at the 1999 Masters, a quarter-final appearance at the 1988 World Championship and victory at the 1993 Strachan Challenge where he beat Ken Doherty in the final. One of very few snooker players to make a successful cross-over to the blue baize, he won the World Pool Masters in 2003 and was named Most Valuable Player at the 2007 Mosconi Cup.
Known for his charisma, flamboyant playing style and speed around the table, he still holds the record for the fastest frame (three minutes) and fastest century (three minutes, 31 seconds).
Sometimes there’s a lot of time to kill at tournaments.
“I had a brilliant career,” he reflects. “I came from a small country and lived in the UK for a long time, which wasn’t easy. I had a good life. I made it into the top ten in the world and won some big matches. I wanted to do more of course, there are players who have won tournaments and with respect they are not as well known.
“Players like Jimmy White, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Alex Higgins won a lot more than me, but we all loved entertaining the fans. If I lost 5-4 but someone told me it was a great match and they enjoyed it, that meant more than winning a boring match 5-0.”
Drago will play Dene O’Kane in the first round of the Rokit Seniors World Championship in Sheffield in August, for more details click here