Sheffield United footballer Billy Sharp has enjoyed a tremendous time on the pitch, gaining back-to-back promotions with his boyhood club and scoring a late equaliser in the Blades’ first game back in the Premier League earlier this season.
However, you may not know that the 33-year-old hitman, who has now notched up over a century of goals for Sheffield United, is a snooker enthusiast. Sharp owns a table at his house and makes a point of coming along to watch whenever the World Snooker Tour arrives in Yorkshire.
We caught up with Sharp to find out what it is that attracts him to the green baize…
Billy, how did you originally get into snooker?
“One Christmas when I was younger my parents got me and my brother one of those fold up tables from Argos. At the age of about five or six, I used to play as if I was in an actual championship. I made the draw and played it out as myself. I used to get my dad to be the MC as I was coming down the stairs to play.”
As a footballer you are used to playing in raucous atmospheres. Having been to watch snooker on numerous occasions how do the two atmospheres compare?
Billy Sharp and Sheffield Utd team mate Phil Jagielka with snooker referee Brendan Moore
“I can’t imagine what it is like playing that shot to win the World Championship. All eyes are on you but there is just silence. I’d much rather everyone was talking and not taking notice of me playing the shot, but different sports are played in different environments. Snooker players have to deal with a lot of pressure. I know how hard it is to play on a full size snooker table.”
How impressive is it to watch snooker’s top players in full flow?
“I think I am lucky that because I play snooker a bit, I can appreciate how hard it is and can see the amount of practice they have to put in. Some players are more naturally blessed with ability than others, but they all have to put the hours in. They need to be at it every minute of every frame. They require great concentration levels.”
You have been invited to tournaments by Ronnie O’Sullivan before. Is he your snooker hero?
“Ronnie is the best ever to play snooker. Just some of the things he can do when he is at the table are incredible. The way he can swap hands and go left-handed is amazing. Some people thought he was taking the mick, but it was just a way to express his talent. I also have a lot of respect for John Higgins and Mark Selby, but Ronnie is definitely my favourite to watch.
“Sometimes it is frustrating watching him, but when he is on form he is unbelievable. It is great to be able to watch him live and I am very lucky to have done so. Hopefully I’ll get to see him again soon.”
How important is it as a sportsman to have a more informal competitive pursuit away from your profession?
“It definitely helps to have something which can get you out of the way of all of the hustle and bustle for an hour or two. It is nice just to be able to come up to my snooker room. Snooker is a sport which generally relaxes you, but it can also frustrate you at times. It is just so difficult.
“I just really enjoy playing with my friends. It is a great sport for socialising. I prefer snooker to pool because there is a lot of thinking involved. Once you play a lot you can see the shots and you can get better. It is something which you can work at and there is always room for improvement.”