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The Remarkable Rise of Gary Wilson, Snooker’s Tyneside Terror

ByDave Stopher

May 28, 2019 #Sports

Snooker’s World Championships are usually a time to marvel at the greats of the game as they work their magic on the Crucible’s hallowed tables, but this year’s semi-final line-up was notable for the emergence of new names. Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first-round exit to amateur James Cahill gave new stars the chance to shine, with the Wallsend-born Gary Wilson seizing his chance to make a mark on the biggest stage in snooker.

At the time of writing, Wilson is primed to take on Judd Trump in the semi-final. Trump begins as a strong favourite but Wilson has shown that he is no stranger to defying the odds. Three-time champion Mark Selby and two-time runner-up Ali Carter were both defeated by Wilson on his way to the semi-final, with the Tyneside Terror prevailing 13-10 and 13-9 respectively.

If Wilson were to triumph at the Crucible, he would become the first man to claim his first ranking title at the World Championships since Graeme Dott in 2006. The World Championships are often dominated by the same names, which makes Wilson’s breakthrough all the more refreshing. His struggles to make it in the professional game form a compelling narrative, with Wilson working as a taxi driver to fund his last shot at graduating from amateur snooker. Few would have backed Wilson at a tournament which usually rewards those already accustomed to winning.

Stephen Hendry had a near-monopoly in the 1990s, while John Higgins, Mark Selby and O’Sullivan have all racked up three world titles since 2007. If Wilson is the feelgood surprise package of the tournament, O’Sullivan’s departure is the one match that will have raised the most eyebrows. Cahill arrived in Sheffield without a world ranking, but he showed remarkable resolve to pull off a 10-8 win over the highly-fancied O’Sullivan. The Rocket told journalists from the BBC of his fatigue during the match. Yet, Cahill’s achievement should not be understated.

The tournament could have suffered with O’Sullivan’s departure if it weren’t for the gripping rise of the underdogs. Just as footballing neutrals come together in their admiration of Lionel Messi, snooker fans of all persuasions can appreciate watching the Rocket at work. O’Sullivan’s glittering career and strong social profile gives him a crossover appeal unmatched by fellow pros, the kind that can boost viewing figures.

The star gave his name to Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Snooker, a video game that pays homage to his greatest wins. Betfair’s online casino features the Ronnie O’Sullivan Sporting Legends video slot, which merges slots and snooker to deliver five reels in an environment reminiscent of the Crucible. O’Sullivan is not just an inspiration for games, even showing his presenting chops in documentary series American Hustle. O’Sullivan’s claim to be one of snooker’s all-time greatest, mixed with his engaging personality, means no player is ever likely to match that level of public appeal.

However, Wilson’s underdog story appeals to those tired of seeing the same names dominate the snooker circuit. The ‘former taxi driver’ tag is one that will sell well in the media. Wilson explained to the Evening Chronicle how a run of poor form forced him to switch his cue for a car, but his performance at this year’s World Championship should ensure that the Tyneside Terror remains a regular name on the professional circuit for future years.

While his late blooming at 33 means Wilson will never serve up a top career with the longevity of an O’Sullivan, his persistence is an inspiration for those close to giving up on their sporting dreams.

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