Today marks the sixth anniversary of the passing of Leeds snooker ace Paul Hunter.
Like many poignant deaths – from JFK to Lennon, Elvis to Cobain – snooker fans around the world remember where they were and how they found out about this untimely of deaths.
For me, it had only been a few months since I had left school and just a matter of weeks into my new life as an independent student – away from the comfort and normality of a family home.
After wrestling away the internet connection from one of my fellow flatmates, there it was, one of the main headlines in that day’s sports news on the BBC website.
I was relatively lucky. Even though I had just turned 18, at that time I had not really experienced any personal death of enormous magnitude nor had I anyone in popular culture that meant so much to me that their death would have any significant meaning.
I sat at the desk, literally stunned. I texted my brother and rang my mother, both of whom avid snooker fans, but for the rest of that day I couldn’t get over the shock of what I had read – and what was a devastating reality.
It was one of those unusual moments in life where you’re both not surprised but in a state of shock at the same time.
I was not surprised because we had all witnessed his fight with cancer in the previous season and his final appearance at the Crucible was a heartbreaking one. The fact that he always took the pain and the inconvenience with such decency and without anger, publicly anyway, was a testament to his character.
But I was in a state of shock because, well, at such a young age, 27, one still had the secret hope that he would have been able to pull through.
Hunter had always been popular both on and off the circuit. With good looks, blonde locks and a boyish charm he was dubbed the ‘Beckham of the Baize’ and was a personality that snooker owed a great debt to in his decade of prominence.
After winning the Welsh Open aged 19 in 1998, Hunter was perhaps best known for his three Masters titles – all of which claimed 10-9 with seemingly miraculous comebacks.
Of course, a revelation shortly after his first triumph over Fergal O’Brien that he owed a debt of gratitude to his then girlfriend Lyndsey for a self-titled ‘Plan B’ during the interval also bolstered his mood and chances of emerging victorious – and caused quite a media frenzy.
Hunter never won the World Championship, indeed he never even reached the final, coming closest in 2003 when he came within a frame of beating Ken Doherty in one of the most memorable Sheffield semi-finals of all time.
People remember the gracious manner of his defeat, always genuinely applauding the other player if he had got the better of him on any given day. Hunter didn’t like to be on the wrong end of a defeat but he wasn’t going to lose any friends over it either.
One good thing did come from his last year, and that was baby daughter Evie Rose – ensuring he left a legacy with Lyndsey, now his eternal wife.
In snooker, tournaments and trusts are named after him, players and fans remember and talk about him often, ensuring his legacy in this sport will live on forever.
Categories: Snooker News