A good guy if ever there was one

If Stephen Hendry says it is time he laid his cue back in its case I have so much faith in his thinking power to believe it must be the truth. Good luck, Stephen, you have given us a lot of pleasure. Look after yourself, writes Ted Corbett.

Stephen Hendry, supreme snooker player and world champion seven times, is one of the elite sportsmen of the world, so great that he is in a class of his own like the batsman Don Bradman and the golfer Tiger Woods, the footballers Pele and Maradona, Roger Federer, the tennis ace, and Muhammad Ali, my favourite heavyweight boxer even if some prefer Mike Tyson.

Hendry retired during the recent world championships even though he had beaten John Higgins, another Scottish champ, one round before his comfortable defeat.

He probably felt — and I know him to be an honest man and true to himself — that his great days were done and that as he will never be anything but wealthy he ought to retire before he dribbled away all the qualities, all the talent and all the winning ways that made him the champ to stop all other champions.

It was his spirit that made him a wonder. Other snooker champions, like Steve Davis, Joe Davis and Ray Reardon had just as much to offer, applied their techniques correctly, built their big breaks as efficiently and kept the steel in their temperament for the biggest occasions.

Hendry had something extra; even when he was at the top of his game, even when the demands of maintaining his position were hardest, he had the humility to see another person's point of view. For all he was quiet, not ever sure if he deserved to be in the company of other sporting gods, he could be so helpful that it is worth recording.

Whatever points score faced him when he went to the table, however well his opponent was striking the ball, Hendry's cue arm remained relaxed, his grip stayed loose and his eye never let him down. He set high standards and now that his body has begun to defy him he feels he has more to gain from retiring than from chasing titles he may never win.

Let me tell you just what sort of good guy he was.

In my change over from snooker to cricket, I met a wicket-keeping great as he watched two of his team mates playing a game of snooker. “Do you play yourself ?” I asked, knowing that he was such a perfectionist that if he played at all he would want to be good.

“Yes and I would love to play better. Perhaps one of the snooker champions would give me a lesson or two if I asked nicely,” he added wistfully. I said I would find out and a couple of days later, I went back to see him.

“Stephen Hendry has always wanted to meet you and would love to give you a couple of pointers,” I said. “He is in London now, but he has to travel home on Saturday and he is willing to go whichever way you say to meet you.”

Thus it was arranged, so I thought, bar for the precise details of time and place. I wanted a picture of the two of them playing, the cricketer wanted to meet Hendry and Hendry was willing to drive 100 miles out of his way to meet the cricketer. What could be neater?

A week later I checked with Hendry's manager, who said: “I can't believe how much Stephen is looking forward to this meeting. I am surprised at his interest in cricket. He is really keen.”

I tried to check with my wicket-keeping friend but, typical of him, he was “not available.” Then I got a message. “Tell Hendry I'm sorry but it is my only day off for a month and I don't want to spend it playing snooker.”

I am not saying he did anything wrong, although he is not known for his open-handed way of life. He is typical of the team players who feel they have short time at the top and must take every advantage if they are to survive in the face of intense competition.

That is the reason I have never identified him. Unfair to pick him out, I have always thought when so many of his fellows have the same outlook. I could write about a dozen other team players who feel they must take the selfish route.

Hendry was disappointed, but he bore no ill-will. “Tell him to get in touch whenever he wants to put this” – and these are his words — “historic meeting back in place.”

It never happened. The cricketer was always too busy but Hendry never felt let down. You don't meet many nice guys in sport — the sort of selfishness shown in this example is typical — and among all the champions I have met Hendry stands out.

Barrie Hearn, Mr. Snooker if ever there was one, with a finger in many pies since he brought Steve Davis into the professional game and from his management and his accountancy skills and interest in the darts world, became a millionaire many time over, says Hendry should never have retired, that he should still have the drive and ambition to accumulate another world crown or two.

Well, Hearn and I have been disagreeing for 40 years and I don't suppose this will be the last time.

If Stephen Hendry says it is time he laid his cue back in its case I have so much faith in his thinking power to believe it must be the truth.

Good luck, Stephen, you have given us a lot of pleasure. Look after yourself; it works for many and you deserve — please excuse the pun — a big break.