There has always been a glorious touch of theatrical farce attached to Ronnie O’Sullivan’s gilded snooker odyssey over the past 30 years. Nowhere more so perhaps than at the UK Championship splattered across England's green and pleasant lands.
O’Sullivan went from the ridiculous to the sublime during his first two trips to a tournament he has conquered a record seven times and counting.
After falling off a cliff in 1992, the young O’Sullivan scaled snooker’s table mountain a year later in toppling Stephen Hendry – the world champion and undisputed world number one – to become the youngest winner of a ranking tournament aged 17 years and 358 days.
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It is a record he still holds 28 years later, but his debut at the event is etched in similar folklore.
O’Sullivan came across the marvellous 58-year-old maverick Cliff Wilson – Ray Reardon’s old chum and cue ball adversary from the Welsh mining town of Tredegar – in the last 32. At stake for the 16-year-old potting prodigy O'Sullivan was a match with Hendry in the last 16 live on television in what probably felt like a sure thing.
Despite suffering from ill health and poor eyesight that blighted his life and times and fighting the ravages of time in the death throes of his career, Wilson remained an explosive, instinctive potter. Armed with a packet of smokes and his imagination, Wilson's idea of a safety shot was trying to pot balls off the chandeliers.

Cliff Wilson at the 1988 World Championship.

Image credit: Eurosport

The former world amateur champion – he claimed that prize with an 11-5 win over 1986 world champion Joe Johnson in 1978 before turning professional a year later – recovered from trailing 4-1 to complete a rousing 9-8 win at the Guild Hall in Preston.
It was the only time O’Sullivan faced Wilson on the professional circuit and came two years before he sadly died in May 1994. His passing came only five months after the buoyant Wilson recorded a century break at the International Open.
“One of my highlights is obviously the first one I won which was amazing. Incredible feelings when you win your first ranking event in the UK and beating Hendry to achieve that,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport.
“I also think the last one I won in York where I beat Mark Allen in the final in 2018. That was epic to beat Hendry’s 18 majors and to do it in such style. You know I think I played good from start to finish so that was a really top moment for me in my career.
“Losing to Cliff Wilson was probably my worst defeat at the UK.”
Set against the backdrop of his father being handed a life sentence for murder in 1992, it is a defeat that remains vivid.
O’Sullivan enjoyed knocks of 145, 102, 74, 66 and 55, but lost a final-frame decider to Wilson, who rolled in three 54 breaks of his own.
“That Cliff Wilson match was incredible. He did pot some balls though, I'll give him that,” said O’Sullivan.
I made a couple of centuries, but I remember feeling so disappointed when I lost that match. It was a tough one to take, but I remember that very well.
“That was a tough one. It was my first UK Championship and I remember not taking that loss very well.
“I knew if I won that match I was going to play Hendry on TV and that was all I dreamed of doing.
“To play Hendry on TV at that age would have been my dream so that was obviously disappointing and I think also because my dad just went away at the time. I was finding that hard to come to terms with.
“Every time I lost, I felt then I felt like he may have thought he was to blame for me not doing well so that was kind of a lot to take on at the time.”

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Snooker historian and commentator Clive Everton once described Wilson as a “greater talent” than O'Sullivan's fellow six-time world champion Reardon and compared their exhibition bouts back in the Valleys to snooker “bare-knuckle” battles. O’Sullivan doubts whether he had the staying power to rival his former mentor Reardon.
Wilson lifted the Welsh Amateur Championship in 1956, 1977 and 1978, but worked in the steelworks at Llanwern until he turned professional at the age of 45. He was once coached by the great Joe Davis, but probably played snooker in the wrong era.
“I just don't think he was as obviously dedicated or professional as someone like Reardon," explained O’Sullivan. "Reardon treated it like a job. His passion and his heart were in it.
“I think Cliff Wilson used to make sure he was in the top 16 and then once he made sure he was in the top 16, he’d go and live in Spain for the next six months.
“It was just like a means to an end to him. No matter how much ability you have got, if you don't put the work in you can only go so far.
He obviously had a lot of talent which I get. If he had applied himself he could have possibly been as good as Reardon, but to say he was better than Reardon is a tough one to say you know. Reardon was special.
“But he was a good old boy. Tough old Welshman.”
O’Sullivan faces another attacking Welsh potter Michael White in the first round of the UK Championship at the York Barbican on Wednesday night (7:30pm GMT LIVE on Eurosport).
Despite winning two ranking titles, White is playing under amateur status after losing his tour card and battling mental health issues in recent years.
O’Sullivan feels his opponent remains talented enough and young enough at the age of 30 to resurrect his once burgeoning career.
“He’s been on and off the tour, but should never be off the tour. He’s far too good,” said O’Sullivan. “He had a strong junior and amateur career and is a double ranking event winner. You just never know why people fall off, but sometimes they've got their own problems.
Your game can deteriorate and go missing for spells. And maybe that's what happened to Michael, but there is time for him to get back there competing with the top guys.
"It's a tough sport, you know. I call it snooker depression.
"Some people struggle with it and it's important to get help. You have to work on your weaknesses. If one of them is the mental side of it, then you need to work on that side of things and work on yourself.”

ROCKET RONNIE'S UK VICTORIES

  • 1993 Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-6 Stephen Hendry
  • 1997 Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-6 Stephen Hendry
  • 2001 Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-1 Ken Doherty
  • 2007 Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-2 Stephen Maguire
  • 2014 Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-9 Judd Trump
  • 2017 Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-5 Shaun Murphy
  • 2018 Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-6 Mark Allen
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