Snooker under a Towel

Ronnie O'Sullivan sits with a towel over his head during his match against Mark King in the 2005 UK Championship

Words and Pictures by ERIC WHITEHEAD

My eyes were fixed on Ronnie, inwardly screaming at him not to take the towel off his head. I aimed, focussed, ready for the shot. It seemed simple, but it wasn’t!

UK Snooker, York, 2005 — Being in the right place, at the right time, turned an impromptu visit to a Saturday evening snooker match into an unforgettable picture may only happen once in a lifetime.

On 11th December, 2005, I drove into York. I don’t usually attend snooker tournaments until Monday, so it felt strange to be here at 4pm on a Sunday evening.

After checking into my B&B, and unloading all my gear, I pondered about what to do for the rest of the evening and decided to go to the venue to set up my gear ready for tomorrow.

Ronnie was playing Mark King that evening, I had no work for that match so I thought I may as well take some stock images of him for my library.

The match started, and I rattled off a few shots. Then it happened! I didn’t take much notice at first. Initially, I thought that Ronnie was just wiping his face with his towel. It didn’t make a picture; I had loads of that kind: expression pictures. A few seconds later, I realised what Ronnie was doing.

Ronnie behind the veil during the UK Snooker in York

It was adrenalin pumping. I knew an incident like this would only happen for a few seconds. I felt around on the floor and grabbed my zoom lens, snapping it onto the camera. My eyes were fixed on Ronnie, inwardly screaming at him not to take the towel off his head. I aimed, focussed, ready for the shot. It seemed simple, but it wasn’t!

In those few seconds, the BBC cameraman had moved in front of me. He too had seen the shot. I had to move my chair, slowly, very slowly. I wanted to move quickly, very quickly! I was anxious to get the shot, yet any second I knew I could lose it.

Mark was setting up his shot. He was on the ball, and I was eye level with him, directly in his line of sight. Tentatively, I leaned around the cameraman. I wanted Mark playing directly towards me, with Ronnie, sat like a member of the Klu Klux Klan, in the background.

I focussed on Ronnie. Click … click. Two or three shots secured as Mark lined up his shot. The picture was in the ‘bag’, I breathed a long sigh of relief.

 

Mark was oblivious to what Ronnie was doing, and any sudden movements by me could distract him. It was a critical moment; he was lined up for the black into the corner pocket. I couldn’t risk distracting him.

Seconds seemed like minutes as I waited for him to hit the ball. I must have looked a comical figure, leaning at 45 degrees around the cameraman, my hand resting on the floor.

It was exasperating, yet Ronnie kept the towel on his head. I couldn’t believe it. I still had the picture. Mark played his shot, got up from the table, and in that split second I dragged the chair sideways, lifted the camera, had a clear shot, aimed at Ronnie, then!

Ronnie O'Sullivan sits with a towel over his head during his match against Mark King in the 2005 UK Championship

It was not to be that easy. Mark moved in front of Ronnie. Leaning over the table, he lined up for the red, obscuring Ronnie. I dragged my chair sideways, again! Mark was on the shot, looking directly at me. I stopped.

Again, I had to wait until he had played his shot, desperately hoping that Ronnie would keep the towel on his head. I knew that after the black Mark would play for the red. If he missed, the picture was finished: Ronnie would come to the table. Mark pocketed the red. I moved the chair slightly. I was ready.

Mark stood up; I grabbed a couple of shots of Ronnie. Fantastic, the shot was safe. Mark got down to play the red. It was the shot I wanted. I was in the perfect position: Mark in the foreground, Ronnie sat behind him, still covered by a towel, amazing.

Ronnie O'Sullivan sits with a towel over his head during his match against Mark King in the 2005 UK Championship

What had seemed like hours, was, in fact just a couple of minutes. I looked at my watch. It was a great picture, but unfortunately I knew it would be too late for the evening editions. Except for the major news stories, or features already planned, the papers would have already ‘gone to bed’.

I didn’t hold out much hope for the Tuesday editions either, because the picture would be old by then, and I would have to find space among the football. Unless something stronger happened during this match, then it was a dead picture – although a great one.

Ronnie O'Sullivan uses the towel in his match against Mark King in the UK snooker
Ronnie O'Sullivan calmly sits under a towel during his match against Mark King

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