This is a heart-warming sequel of sorts to a pair of blogs I composed twelve months ago highlighting the inspirational resilience and never-say-die attitude of legendary snooker star Jimmy 'The Whirlwind' White. Jimmy, who famously lost in six world finals at the Crucible Theatre without ever lifting the title, finally laid his Crucible hoodoo to rest last August when he lifted the ROKiT World Seniors Snooker Championship at Sheffield's famous theatre of dreams. Last night he repeated the feat, retaining his world title in spectacular style by recovering from 0-4 down to beat Irishman Ken Doherty 5-4 in a final packed with drama befitting the sport's greatest stage. Earlier in the day, White had compiled the highest break of the championship, a majestic 130 clearance, en route to beating his old nemesis Stephen Hendry 4-2 in the semi-finals. The Whirlwind's championship victory, and the manner in which it was achieved from a seemingly irretrievable interval deficit, was once again testimony to his remarkable reserves of determination, staying power and his love of the game.
In spite of all the disappointments White has suffered over the years, he has never lost his enthusiasm, nor his love of competing. His remarkable Crucible victory, achieved at 58 years of age, provides hope and inspiration to anyone who's ever taken a beating and come up short in pursuit of their goals. The message sent out by his success is clear - never give up. No matter how tough things get, no matter how many times you've been knocked down, if you keep on getting back up and trying again then sooner or later you're going to break down that door. With three world seniors titles now to his name, The Whirlwind has firmly cemented his place as the most successful player on the World Seniors Tour, which continues to grow in quality and prestige since its humble beginnings a decade ago. The seniors events now enjoy the full support of the game's governing body, the WPBSA, and are seen as an integral part of protecting the long-term welfare of the game's legendary players after they have passed the peak of their playing and earning potential.
This emphasis on the duty of care which the WPBSA feels towards its players was further reinforced at this year's ROKiT World Seniors Championship when the event adopted SOS Silence of Suicide as its official charity. The charity was founded by Seniors Board Director Yvette Greenway-Mansfield and her husband Michael Mansfield QC to raise awareness of mental health and to eradicate the stigma, silence and shame surrounding suicide. In partnership with the snooker tour, it aims to raise £14,700 through the First Poke challenge to help provide a permanent phone line where anyone within the snooker family who is suffering from any mental health issue can call and someone will be there to listen. The charity currently offers a free, confidential, one to one online chat support service between 1-6pm every day. Speaking to MC Rob Walker during the championship, WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson emphasised the stressful nature of professional sport in which fluctuating fortunes and emotions are constant, and of the need to safeguard the welfare of players and ensure adequate mental health provision. A statement released on the World Seniors Facebook page said: "Around 800,000 people a year are dying by suicide (Source: WHO). If what we do as a snooker family can prevent one of these deaths, it will stop another family being devastated. On average if your shot time ever hits 35 seconds, during that thinking time someone somewhere in the world has taken their own life. Makes you think. We want to encourage everyone to speak up and eradicate the shame, stigma and silence that surrounds suicide and mental health in general. Please visit the SOS Silence of Suicide website and read their story, learn what they do and how they do it. Once our events are able to host an audience we will provide a safe and secure place where anyone suffering with mental health issues can talk to one of the SOS Team. ‘First Poke’ will also continue to contribute to SOS. We look forward to announcing many more initiatives in the new season with this fantastic charity."
Speaking about the campaign, Yvette Greenway-Mansfield said: "For anyone unfamiliar with snooker, the amount being raised represents the highest break in snooker – 147 – can anyone do this on the #firstpoke challenge? We would like to say a huge thank you to World Seniors Snooker, WPBSA, Jason Francis, Jason Ferguson, all the players taking part and mostly YOU for helping us to help others."
At Phoenix we're passionate about mental health and wholeheartedly support this vital initiative which represents another massive step forward in raising awareness of the importance of mental health in sport. The issue of suicide, particularly among young men, is one we've highlighted before in previous blogs (Working Together - World Suicide Prevention Day) and whilst awareness is undoubtedly growing, much more still needs to be done. We recommend everyone check out the SOS Silence of Suicide website to learn more about its vital work in bringing together everyone affected by suicide. To donate to the Snooker Family First Poke Challenge, simply visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/firstpoke