After eight long years Earl ‘The Pearl’ Strickland, one of pool’s most famous and notorious sons, will be back in the hothouse of the Mosconi Cup for the USA against Europe at Alexandra Palace on December 7 to take part in the annual battle for transatlantic bragging rights.
The man born in Roseboro, North Carolina just over 60 years ago would be a legend of the game purely for his many achievements, including three world championship crowns and five US Open successes – the first of those coming way back in 1984 – and over 100 professional titles.
But along with all the unparalleled shot-making and steely fierce competitive streak Strickland has left a trail of carnage in his wake following a career peppered with outbursts, mood swings, volatile and impulsive behaviour and frequent clashes with opponents, officials and fans.
Strickland, selected by USA captain Jeremy Jones as a wild-card pick with the Americans having lost nine of the last 11 matches, said: “I didn’t really think I would be back again. I thought I had passed that point with my age but there’s one remarkable thing about me is that I am still intact at 60 years old.
“My favourite memory is from when I was captain and we beat Europe 12-1 in 2001. Barry Hearn told me I was a genius. I have a couple of other memories like winning it with the final nine-ball in 2000. I can’t remember all of the years. It’s hard to remember every year and what happened.
“I was ready to play, though. I still think I play as well as I ever did. Maybe my break isn’t as good as it once was but I still play a good game and I am capable of winning matches. That’s why I am not bowing out. If I knew I wasn’t capable of being a threat to win a match or point, then I would bow out and let someone else play. I can still play. I will be ready. I am healthy.
“I hope the players can think ‘I want to win for Earl’. I hope they put the past behind them for the moment and all the things that have happened. I don’t expect every player or person to bow down to me. If we can just put away everything, as we’ve done in the past for just a week, and they rally around me as the old guy and they can get winning some points and matches.
“I’d want to win it for me if I was a young player and I saw a relic like me on the team who you didn’t think you’d see again.
“It should scare Europe, me on the team; I do not care what they think. I am capable of winning matches right now the way I am playing. I have a new stick and it has reinvigorated me. I know my nerves aren’t like what they once were, but I will be trying harder than ever.”
The unique setting of the Mosconi Cup, with its’ Ryder Cup-style format of individuals in a team environment, has been a huge part of Strickland’s life – and the rewards and pressures have resulted in some of his biggest highs and most controversial lows. He has appeared 14 times – only Johnny Archer has played more for the USA – and holds the joint-record number of wins at nine with Archer.
There were the memorable wins and personal contributions in 2000, 2001 and 2005 when he won the MVP. But then there was the smashing of his cue against Thomas Engert - a match he later won – and clashes with fans the same year against Nick van den Berg with Michaela Tabb refereeing.
In the 2003 9-ball World Championship Strickland let rip with an angry tirade against snooker’s Steve Davis, who was taking part. But perhaps the most enduring image of Strickland is him leaping on top of the table having won a third world title in Cardiff against Francisco Bustamente of the Phillippines, and shouting “I’m the king of the world!”
The combination of brilliance, outspokenness and run-ins with authority has seen parallels drawn between Strickland and snooker’s six-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, another regularly portrayed as a troubled genius - though like the American, appearing far calmer these days.
Strickland, who grew up on a farm harvesting tobacco, cotton and vegetables before heading for Houston and the pool halls, added: “Ronnie’s not only trained in his sport he is also conditioned. He does a lot of running as I do. You must have good hobbies to last a good time at any sports. You must have other activities to keep you healthy.
“For example, I am a good tennis player and I’ve been running for almost 30 years every day. That’s the reason why Ronnie is at the top in snooker it’s because of the other activities that he plays so well still. I am still intact even though I’m 60 and I have to credit that to my fitness routine.”
EARL STRICKLAND – IN HIS OWN WORDS
“There’s no way pool is a sport. It’s a very flimsy, clumsy game – not a sport.”
“I’m border-lining genius, and insanity.”
“You want to see some real pool, and see guys sh*t on themselves?”
“I’m one of the greatest athletes America has ever produced.”
“Pool has taken over my mind, my soul, my life – everything. It’s like a drug, I have got to have it. I eat, sleep and play pool.”
“I’m a good person inside – it’s just that when I play pool, sometimes I’m a little bit different.”
“If you think this is some kind of game or something, it ain’t no game, I’m dead serious – I’ll shoot your liver out and hand it to you.”
“I’m sick of listening how I have trashed and burned this sport with my antics – John McEnroe had the same antics.”