Green is the colour and snooker is the game. Neil Robertson’s passion for Chelsea FC is reciprocated by the Premier League club's ongoing captain John Terry, whose interest in the blues extends beyond Stamford Bridge.
Terry has turned up at the Alexandra Palace in London to watch Australia's leading player Robertson at the Masters, and invited the Melburnian to take the UK Championship trophy into the Chelsea dressing room last season before a Champions League match with Porto.
John Terry and Neil Robertson with the UK Championship trophy.
Image credit: Eurosport
With around £10m prize money on the go over 18 ranking events this season, Terry has probably picked up enough cash to fund the sport of snooker on his own.
JT is apparently scraping by on £50,000-a-week at Chelsea these days after accepting a £100,000-a-week wage cut last summer to remain at Chelsea for another season.
That might sound like a huge hit, but is still massive earnings when you compare it to what his mate Robbo is making. Not that Robertson is ungrateful.
Snooker has rewarded Robertson with a handsome £3.2m in prize money since the turn of the millennium, giving him a comfortable living with partner Mille and son Alexander.
Yet the amiable Aussie - whose nickname The Thunder from Down Under fails to sum up his persona as a thinking man - has been largely derided for suggesting snooker players outside of the top 20 in the game would be better off “flipping burgers” for a living than devoting hours of their lives to potting balls. And not only because he is a vegan.
In response to the Robertson tweet, the World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn pointed out that a player earning around £60,000 a year in snooker – the sum which world number 20 David Gilbert has snagged so far in 2016/17 is around £56,000 - will actually be on £45,000 when travelling expenses, hotel costs and entry fees are subtracted.
A bit more dough than flipping burgers, but certainly not enough to kick back on when you put the cue down. Robertson defends his point of view with some passion.
“Shaun Murphy (the 2005 world champion) put a blog up on his website the other week saying the tour was unsustainable with 128 players,” said Robertson.
“Due to the travelling expenses and entry fees, I know how much it costs for a player coming through.
“It is £4,000-£4,500 every year in entry fees alone. Other sports don’t charge nearly as much. It would be scandalous if they did.
“Personally, I think the fees should be scrapped. Worst case, if you win your opening match, you pay the entry fee, but not if you lose it.
“I was telling John Terry what some snooker players are earning, and he couldn’t believe it. He just said: 'wow'.
“I said to him: 'It is either top 10 or top 20, or else don’t bother.' You only see what people around 30 or 40 in the world are earning to see the problems.
“If you are a single guy, you can scrape by. But if you have got a family, snooker is not really a viable career choice.
I’m not saying that snooker isn’t a great sport because it is. But it may not be a career choice if you are not going to get in the top 10 or 20 in the world. There aren’t any other paths for you even if you are talented and don’t make it. A golfer can become a top coach, or a golf shop professional. There are other avenues.
Robertson will collect £200,000 if he wins the Masters for a second time on Sunday evening, but makes £25,000 if he loses his quarter-final with Ronnie O’Sullivan. The gap between winning and losing such matches is significant.
“The first prizes in the snooker are very good, but they are very top heavy. What do you do? Do you cut some off the top, and put it at the bottom,” said Robertson.
“Then it doesn’t become very appealing to people watching.
Golf, tennis and football offer serious money. Sport isn't about kids having fun for parents, it is all about how much their kids can earn. In snooker, you are either a player or that’s it. If you aren’t good enough to earn, you aren’t good enough. There is nothing to fall back on.
Robertson does not have to concern himself with cash flow problems. Form has been his great source of frustration this season.
Robertson will prefer a pro-Ronnie O’Sullivan Ally Pally ready for lift off than the Chinese city of Daqing, an outpost where he admits he “lost the plot” in October.
Daqing apparently means ‘Great Celebration’ in Chinese, but there was little for Robertson to celebrate when he recalls his form going south in the Far East.
During his 6-2 defeat to ‘Gentleman’ Joe Perry in the last 16 of the International Championship, Robertson was so frustrated he smashed open the reds from the break off. Yet he was even more fed up with the goings on at the venue.
Neil Robertson celebrates winning the UK Championship Final with the trophy, his partner Mille and his Son Alexander.
Image credit: Reuters
“There are always reasons why you go through a dip in form,” admits Robertson. “I lost the plot a little bit.
“It is the last 16, and I expected to be on one of the good TV tables against Joe, but I got drawn out to play in the back arena.
“You can be watching on TV and you think the venue is amazing.
“I walked out and there was four people in the crowd. Could you imagine walking out here in front of four people at a venue that holds 2,000?
“It doesn’t feel like a professional match. That set me off a little bit, and all four spectators were on their phones throughout the match.
One guy was on two phones and he was constantly texting. I said to this guy: what are you doing? The referees in China don’t really know how to handle that. I felt like swiping the phone out of his hands with my cue.
Robertson’s feeling of upset did not halt at the venue. The Birdman of Alcatraz sounded like he was better off than the Aussie in Daqing.
“I took my gaming laptop with me and there was no internet which is madness when you think of this day and age in travelling around the world,” said Robertson. “Imagine being in a China for a week, there’s no internet and all you’ve got is 120 Chinese channels.
“We were in quite a remote place in China, quite close to the Russian border. All the players were in Starbucks, but I didn’t know the Starbucks was there.
I was just in my hotel room. My head was spinning round in circles for three or four days. It eventually broke me. It felt like being in solitary confinement.
"Snooker is growing in popularity in China, but a lot of the venues have yet to get it right because it is difficult to accommodate 64 people at a venue.
“It was a shock to the system."
After the Perry defeat, Robertson lost 6-5 to Michael Holt in the last 16 of the China Championship, 6-3 to Peter Lines in the first round of his UK Championship defence and 4-3 to Marco Fu in the Scottish Open last 16. Hardly time to hit the panic button, but not what a man with world, UK and Masters titles over the past seven years is used to.
Robertson, 34, set a new record in 2014 when he became the first player to hit a century of centuries in a single season. He feels like he is back in prime form ahead of his meeting with defending champion O’Sullivan, who he walloped 6-1 in the last four of this event two years ago.
Robertson punches the air after winning century break
“He’s the only player in the world where the crowd can influence the momentum,” said Robertson.
The great Michael Jordan used to talk about playing basketball at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. The crowd was full on there, but Jordan said the crowd always appreciated good basketball. I feel that is the case when you are playing Ronnie here.
“They obviously can’t appreciate you playing as fast as he does, but they can appreciate the heavy scoring and the long potting.
A big crowd can affect momentums. One fan didn’t do me a favour against Mark Selby in the 2013 Masters final. I had come from 5-1 down to 8-6. Someone in the crowd shouted: Hurry up Selby, you boring ****....
“But it ended firing up Mark, who won the next two frames. It can end up being positive for you."
Neil Robertson and Ronny O'Sullivan
Image credit: Imago
Robertson is one of Australia’s great sporting champions, lifting the world title in 2010 he is the most successful player outside of the UK to play the game, but is resigned to the fact that there is simply no interest in snooker Down Under.
I’ve accepted no matter what I do, I’ll never get any recognition in Australia. I won the world title and got to world number one, and that is as high as the mountain goes, I’m afraid.
For Robertson the next mountain to scale is O’Sullivan. Depending on the unpredictable mood of his opponent, that can be as difficult as K2 or Crouch Hill.