It was a mixed week for still impressionable thirtysomethings. In front of a Bologna police station and inside a hall in Dundalk, two nineties heroes made a little news.
Two men we couldn’t forget anyway made sure we remembered them a while longer. One made us shake our heads, the other gave us ten more minutes of enjoyment after all these years.
The two are a lot alike, when you think about it. Both ciotÃ³gs, when they were kings, neither truly got to sit on the throne. Glamourous bridesmaids at a party nobody could crash.
Beppe first; Giuseppe Signori, the man who once sold more sky-blue shirts in Ireland than the Dubs. The kind of forward for whom the words \’swash’ and \’buckling’ were conjoined. The man who excised the run-up from playgrounds all over the land. Goalkeepers everywhere gave thanks to Beppe as they threw their caps on one-step, side-footed tributes.
When Beppe was banging in the goals every Monday night on RTE, his revived Lazio side remained adrift of one of history’s greatest teams. In \’93, \’94 and \’96, Beppe was the Capocannoniere while Milan took the Scudetto.
This week Beppe – 43 now but the hair still flowing – was arrested on account of his alleged involvement in a match-fixing operation. He hadn’t a lot to say. “Have some mercy. I will meet with my lawyer and then he’ll speak for me,” he said to a newsman. We should leave it at that until we hear more.
Jimmy White didn’t say much either when he took the call in a hall in Doncaster on Thursday evening, because Jimmy had three minutes before he was due in the VIP room of a Snooker Legends gig, to sign cues and kiss babies on the latest leg of a lap of honour that could last a lifetime.
But with what time he had, he told the story of last Saturday afternoon at another Legends event in Dundalk, when the breathtaking talent that made him the sport’s favourite nearly-man chalked another line in the record books.
“This bloke had won the raffle to play a frame against me,” says Jimmy, “and the best thing was he’d brought along his own cue. And he comes up to John Virgo and says \’I’m Terry, call me Tornado Terry.'”
It had been Tornado’s lifelong dream to face the Whirlwind. “Have you seen it on the Internet?” Jimmy breaks off, as proud as if he was fetching baby photos from his wallet. Of course I had, hadn’t I emailed it to everyone I knew.
“So, yeah, I pot the lot and Tornado doesn’t even get a shot. But he loved it. They tell me it’s the first ever 147 that’s been done off the break-off.”
Jimmy doesn’t do it justice. The fluked red off a break designed to open the pack and give Tornado a handy one, paved the way for an incredible maximum. Two reds on a rail. Pink in baulk. A devilish final red with the rest.
“Yeah, I was nervous. Making a 147 is a special thing. You know I played a great pink. When the pink went in I was delighted to have got perfect on the black so the black was unmissable.”
I reminded Jimmy of words he used back in the days when Steven Hendry was his van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard in one.
“When everything’s right a funny feeling comes over me. My whole body is affected. I get all warm and my head starts to buzz. I know then that I can’t miss. I’m unbeatable.”
“Yeah, I still feel it, but it’s harder,” he says now. “When you get into a zone, people could burst a balloon next to your ear and you can’t hear. You can only hear the balls click.”
Back in the day, Jimmy added four sad words about that warm feeling; “…but it doesn’t last.” And at the end of the cruel nineties, he bankrupted himself chasing every other buzz going.
We don’t yet know what Beppe did to replace the buzz, but Italian club football, like snooker, has tumbled from those nineties heights. It’s hard to see either man’s arena hold the world in thrall again like they did in those glory days.
But at least Jimmy and his sport enjoyed a small renaissance last term. Judd Trump lit up the Crucible and White qualified for four World Series events. “If I didn’t think I could win, I wouldn’t play,” he says defiantly.
With Beppe we’ll wait and see. The arena he once lit up can ill-afford another shame.