Desmond Kane

Allen outburst invokes memories of Hurricane

Desmond Kane

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Is the Pistol the new Hurricane?

After the Hurricane, came the Pistol. After the calm, came a peculiar snooker storm. He may have galloped to the Haikou World Open in China with a swashbuckling 10-1 stuffing of Stephen Lee on Sunday, but Mark Allen garnered few admirers among the game's rulers for denouncing the sultry and apparently stinking environs of Hainan Island in the South China Sea, a locale not unaccustomed to gathering clouds.

Allen touched down in China before taking to Twitter to lament the general smelliness of the place. He described its inhabitants as "ignorant". At such thought-provoking times, it is easy to suggest that Mark 'The Pistol' Allen has more than a touch of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins about him.

Northern Ireland breeds sports figures earthy and feisty. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Like Belfast-born Higgins, Allen - a son of Antrim Town - emanates from the school of thought that suggests what immediately springs to mind must be shared with others, whether or not it is helpful to the greater good.

Like Higgins, Allen appears to be a serial offender in the eyes of World Snooker, the game's governing body. Like Higgins, Allen has the propensity to play the game with a carefree demeanour that can sometimes be tough to restrict within the confines of a snooker table.

Whatever Allen achieves in snooker is unfortunately overshadowed by what he blurts out. This has sponsors running for cover, but it certainly makes for some interesting matter.

Allen can be quite a tetchy character. I remember being in the immediate vicinity when a prickly Allen was quick to rubbish a radio interviewer after he fell to Neil Robertson during the Masters at Alexandra Palace in January. This came moments after Allen had rubbished Robertson's alleged methodical style of play during the match.

Allen has embraced the Pistol moniker. He has markings on his cue to celebrate the handle. It is quite an apt nickname after he gave World Snooker both barrels for opting to sell off another tournament to China amid a growing portfolio of similar events. Having failed to give off the whiff of Honolulu, a week on the Isle of Dogs would have perhaps been a preferred choice of venue for Allen amid the humidity.

He tweeted: "This place is horrendous! It just baffles me how world snooker continuously go out of their way to put tournaments on in the middle of nowhere.

"Dead cat found this morning. Any wonder this place stinks. Must be dead cats all round the town. Journey a nightmare. People are ignorant. Place stinks. Arena's rubbish, tables poor, food is horrendous. Other than that I love China."

Allen later withdrew the initial barrage of shrapnel before deciding that he was more or less right in the first place. "Just to let everyone know, I'm not spoilt, disrespectful or ungrateful. Simply telling it how it is. As usual people jump on the hate-Allen bandwagon. Might've been a bit harsh a few hours ago in my tweet.

"Not all Chinese people are ignorant. I stand by everything else though. I did take back the ignorant part but the smell is a joke. Not telling any lies. Nearly being spat on and general poor manners and personal hygiene are very poor."

Astonishingly enough, he held himself together well enough to win his first ranking event with a bit to spare in such allegedly defective elements.

Social clubs rather than social networking would have been the choice of Higgins in his pomp. We should perhaps be grateful that snooker players like Allen no longer get on the grog during matches. One can only imagine how Higgins would have greeted China if he had been unhappy with his lot while getting hammered on Tsingtao and a torrent of cheap tabs. One could never see Higgins, world champion in 1972 and 1982, being bothered with such Twitter nonsense back in the day.

Allen's comments were not quite on the scale of the international incident that saw Prince Phillip allegedly tell a gathering of British students in 1986 that they would become "slitty-eyed" if they stayed in China "much longer", but it merited some attention. National newspapers rarely commit space to a snooker story unless it has nothing to do with the actual match.

The traditional print media gave up on snooker a long time ago. China's devotion to snooker is all the more important these days. If snooker limits itself to the UK, it is a dead sport potting.

Allen's recent comments are tame compared to the shenanigans of Higgins, who once head-butted a referee during the 1986 World Championship in Sheffield. He punched another official four years later at the same vexed venue.

'The Pistol' has yet to threaten to have an opponent taken out despite taking a dislike to fellow player Stuart Bingham in recent times. He described Bingham as a "bottler". In comparison, Higgins was banned after threatening to brandish a pistol in Dennis Taylor's direction and have him shot. For the record, Bingham outplayed Allen on his way to winning the Australian Open.

China has embraced snooker in an era when cigarette companies, once the natural fossil fuel for snooker tournaments, are no longer allowed to associate their brand with the old sport in Britain.

Snooker has been in freefall, but is suddenly aware of the need to mollycoddle China, its new foster parent.  Before his World Open win, Allen snared the Chinese invitational tournament the Wuxi Classic with a 6-0 win over Ding Junhui in 2009. Allen is unlikely to escape disciplinary action for his latest outburst after WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson uttered his disappointment for criticising a "great friend (China) of our sport".

Allen is hardly a lone sportsman in fraternising with contentious moments. The English golfer Paul Casey once said he "hated" America before a Ryder Cup contest. He later withdrew the comment having set up his base in the US.

Allen is covering old ground in China. He was recently fined for swearing and urging World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn to resign after disagreeing with Hearn's future plans for snooker. It should be noted that Allen was not the only figure unhappy with the sojourn to the Far East.

Trump lost 5-4 to Allen earlier in the tournament before commenting: "Starbucks mmm something normal after a week or (sic) horrific food and drink."

Whether or not you agree with Allen is irrelevant. He is a colourful character, who adds a touch of spice to a sport badly in need of such rent-a-quotes. He is merely a snooker player, not an envoy. Professional snooker needs quirky personalities to be themselves rather than sticking sackcloths over their heads if it is to sell itself in new territories.

Higgins continues to feature prominently among the most popular figures to play the game. His death in 2010 came over 25 years after he last lifted a tournament of any note, but his place in folklore lives on. The 'People's champion' did not become the ultimate crowd-pleaser by keeping out of mischief.

Whatever else is said about the whole stinking mess, Allen's latest dalliance with notoriety is not bad for business.

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