World Snooker: Judd Trump in the role of fearless newcomer

21 year-old Judd Trump, who has been narrowly defeated in the final of the World Snooker Championships, played the familiar sporting role of the fearless newcomer attempting to overturn the established order.

He was up against three times world champion John Higgins. Higgins has been in the top six for 15 years whereas Trump was ranked 24th before the start of the current championship.

When sports fans are “neutral” – that is to say without any allegiance to a particular competitor based on their nationality or team – they often instinctively have a preference for either the veteran champion or the young upstart. As a rule, the majority favour the youngster, perhaps because sport needs a constant supply of new talent.

Even John Higgins acknowledged in an interview about Judd “he’s the new wonderboy the sport’s been looking for”. Meanwhile Trump, who is generally diplomatic, hinted at what he really thinks when he said “a lot of the top players are getting a bit older and there are more gaps for people to come through”.

Conforming to tradition, the younger player is full of daring and panache, showing “no fear” in his first semi-final appearance. In contrast, as befits the older player, John Higgins is a “consummate tactician”.

It is curious how perfectly the two players have fulfilled these stock sporting roles. In golf you could contrast Rory McIlroy (inevitably described at the US Masters as “fearless”) and Matteo Manassero with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who were said to be making “a last stand against the fearless kids”.

In men’s tennis a few years ago the dominant champion Roger Federer faced the upstart Rafael Nadal. Now they and Novak Djokovic comprise the established order but one day they will face a new challenger. No doubt he too will be fearless.

It would be harsh to criticise either media or fans for repeated stereotyping as there is clearly a link with the natural order of things: the confident young man wants to prove he has come of age while the older man fears that a loss against a younger rival will be a sign of his own mortality.

It’s not so different in the world of the arts, politics or business where the established leaders also eventually face a challenge from impetuous youth and commentators are perpetually trying to identify the next star. In international sport, however, the shift from the old to the new generation is often particularly abrupt and brutal. No wonder it’s the older generation who are fearful.

On this occasion it was experience that prevailed over youthful promise: the wily old pro hangs on for another year.

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