Gary Wilson recalls watching Jimmy White losing the world final to Stephen Hendry in 1994 when he was a kid, but is determined to avoid a similar outcome on the fabled one-table set-up at the Crucible.
It was a night when a whirlwind hit Wallsend before quickly petering out in a sea of legendary regret. Certainly in the Wilson household. Gary Wilson’s first recollection of watching the World Championship at the Crucible Theatre on TV was the night Jimmy White came closet to lifting the old pot in Sheffield.
Wilson - who faces Judd Trump in the semi-finals over the best of 33 frames - was only eight at the time, but recalls rooting for White in his sixth and final stab at becoming world champion on May 2, 1994 after five final defeats to Steve Davis in 1984, John Parrott in 1991 and Stephen Hendry in 1990, 1992 and 1993.
White was among the balls in the final frame, but appeared to choke a black when the realisation dawned that he was on the verge of ending his reign as sport’s ultimate nearly man. The rest as they say is history with Hendry clearing up to win his fourth world title. White never appeared in another final.
It was Wilson’s most memorable childhood memory of watching the Crucible on television, and he was suddenly hooked on snooker.
“I used to watch this tournament probably earlier than seven. I was probably watching it when I had my little table, but what I mainly remember is the 1994 final between Jimmy and Stephen,” Wilson told Eurosport.
“I was eight, and had just started playing on a full-size table for a couple of months at that point.
I remember sitting in my mum and dad’s bedroom, I can’t remember why, they must have had the only TV that was half decent. I was just lying in there, glued to the screen and hoping to God Jimmy would win it. Everyone was wanting Jimmy to win a world title.
“But at the same time, I had the utmost respect and admiration for Stephen. Stephen was my hero in terms of how to play the game, but everybody wanted to be like Jimmy White, and play like Jimmy White.
“Everyone was just praying he would win a World Championship, but it wasn’t to be.”
If Wilson was bemused to see White collapse on the brink of glory, it was nothing compared to how he felt watching his beloved Newcastle United - including David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Peter Beardsley - blow up in 1996.
Holding a 12-point lead over Manchester United in January, they ended the season four points behind United with Kevin Keegan’s “I would love it if we beat them" address to the Geordie nation illustrating the state of despair.
"I used to sit with my dad watching all the matches. There were some devastating times, but when you look back now you don’t realise how good those times were," said Wilson.
Kevin Keegan, Newcastle manager, 1996
Image credit: Reuters
“You think to yourself: 'It’s only us that could have done that, could have chucked the lead away like that and lost the title'.
"Everybody thought we would win it that year, like Blackburn Rovers the year before. It looked like the writing was on the wall. We had such a good team, but just fell apart.
“The golden era was really around the mid-1990s, from around 1993 until 2000. Those were the best years for me. Obviously Sir Bobby Robson came in too and had a few good years getting us into the Champions League.”
It is perhaps not as daunting as a full St James’ Park for a Newcastle match, but Wilson believes the one-table set-up at the Crucible is as good as it gets for a snooker player.
He will experience a little slice of snooker nirvana over the next three days when he faces Judd Trump, the favourite for the tournament after Neil Robertson’s defeat to John Higgins on Wednesday night.
Wilson, 33, one above his world ranking, has enjoyed victories over Luca Brecel, Mark Selby and Ali Carter to touch down in the last four. He is not here to make the numbers up after negotiating three qualifiers to reach the tournament proper with comfortable wins over Lam, Dominic Dale and Liang Wenbo.
“I’ve got the privilege of playing in the best sporting arena in snooker. It grounds you, it really makes you appreciate things. I’m over the moon,” said Wilson.
I seen some of the interview Ali did about me, and it was nice some of the things he said. I know I need to play better. I’m not naive to the whole situation, I know a few things went my way.
“Ali seemed to think I was playing all gung-ho, but that wasn’t the way I felt at all. I was not taking any risks unduly. I was taking balls on I felt I could get, or balls that I was forced to play.
‘Listen to the applause!’ – Gary Wilson shot delights crowd
“If it goes that way, you’ve got to take them. If they are going in, they are going in. I know I have to be more proficient with other shots I was struggling with otherwise that could be the end of the road. I’m confident I can do that."
Wilson enjoyed a 5-3 win over Trump in their only previous meeting in the World Open last 32 last August, and he said: “You can end up as a spectator against any of the top players, that is the danger.
“Judd is such a powerful, flair player you can end up sitting in your chair for four or five frames having done little wrong.
“I know what I’m capable of doing. My scoring is one of my biggest assets, and I have to aim to make my opponent sit in his chair for a few frames. I don’t know whether I can believe it or not, but it is happening and I’d best get used to it.”
Since returning to the professional tour in 2013 at the age of 27, Wilson, now 33, has become a growing force culminating in his run to the World Championship quarter-finals.
The final frame of his 10-9 win over Luca Brecel was the longest at 79 minutes 31 seconds in the modern era of the World Championship, but he is happy to do the hard yards.
His perseverance guarantees him £100,000 with the chance to double that if he reaches the final. It is a far cry from earning a living as a taxi driver and working in a frozen food factory on Tyneside.
Wilson aims for a better pride in performance than losing 10-2 to Mark Selby in the China Open final four years ago.
“It’s the same in any game. Every player has that little bit inside them where they think: ‘let’s not get embarrassed today, let’s make a good game of it and play decent,” said Wilson.
“I’m going to be wanting to do the best I can. That final in China was a little bit embarrassing. I felt half decent in that tournament. In the semis against Ding, I scored quite heavily and in the final I had good chances to go 3-1 ahead, but instead I was 3-1 down.
“And from then he streamrollered me. I was missing all sorts. It was a bit of an anti-climax getting to the final, and losing 10-2.
“I made 90-odd and a century in the two frames I won, but he played well and just started going up through the gears. A little bit embarrassing that one.”
There has been nothing embarrassing about Wilson's run to the last four, but being flogged on live TV is not part of the script. Doing himself justice means winning.