(By "Half-Butt," in London "Sporting Life," January 3.)
A lot of good ink has been spilt over George Gray. Much has been written of the boy and of the boy's play. Appreciations have been penned by the dozen, the score, and the hundred. And yet I wonder if the last word has been said. Do we even now truly realise what this pale-faced great little corn stalk has been doing these last few months? Do we appreciate the sheer splendour of his performances? Scribes have exhausted their adjectives of appreciation, paeans of praise have run dry. But Gray's billiards is history, and only as history can it be properly surveyed.
We have been too near to see the thing in its true perspective and our capacity for wonder has been a little dulled. For Gray is singularly lacking in one thing maybe he is much the better for being so - he has not the showman's instinct. If he had, he would not have flung about those huge breaks of his with such lavish prodigality. He would have kept them up his sleeve and let the British public have one now and again just to be going on with. But no he has given full measure pressed down and running over, until amazement has been transformed almost into blase boredom. For admiration never thrives on satiety, and we have come to expect the abnormal and to feel aggrieved when by some odd chance he has not given it to us. What a wonderful epoch making time it has been in the billiards world! History has been made daily, almost hourly, this Titanic youngster. And yet there have been those so blinded willfully blinded by insular prejudice that attempts to belittle the great have been unceasing.
A MAKER OF NEW STANDARDS
This modest youth who has captured the fancy and won the heart of the great sporting public, owes his success, we have been told, to mastery of one trick shot; he is simply a trick billiardist. Or the theme has been varied by a constant emphasising of the weakness of Gray's opponents, and the perfectly fatuous deduction mane from that that Gray would go all to pieces against a class opponent. With all due appreciation of, say, Inman's fighting qualities is it conceivable that he would exercise such a numbing influence over George Gray as to convert his brilliance into mediocrity? Granted that his average might suffer, probably it would, but then you may grant so much and yet leave George Gray a very, very remarkable billiard player.
I have seen Gray break-building on three occasions. Each time he has exceeded the 800, and once passed the 1,000 but I must confess that to me, at any rate, the entertainment- as an entertainment - would quickly pall. There is nothing of the subtle charm and delicate inter-play of variety that is seen in a Stevenson break. Gray's methods are obvious, they lie on the surface; Stevenson on the other hand, always "keeps us guessing"; his resource is limitless, and his ingenuity a thing of beauty. But looking at Gray's billiards, not as an entertainment but as an exposition of skill, then only one verdict can be possible. The boy is positively uncanny in his cleverness. It is difficult, almost impossible, to appraise him relative to the English professionals, for his play is something outside and beyond the routine of English play.
He has dropped into English billiards with the utmost unconcern; all the perplexity and purturbation have been on our side and he has left us all a littledazed. Our billiards was so staid and decorous before. We had accustomed ourselves to certain standards, and very elevated standards we considered them Stevenson's 802, for instance, we thought of as something to be imitated but hardly attained. And then with delicious sang-froid this pleasant man- nered boy from the land of the Southern Cross comes and pulverises all our venerated standards of excellence, sets up some mammoth ones of his own, and seems to be only just cognisant of the fact that he is doing anything remarkable.
SOME STIRRING MOMENTS
Watch him while he is on a "Gray's special." He gets down to his work very low and takes a fairly long sight down his cue. And then there is that pendulum delivery of his, faultless in timing and perfect in strength, and well, that is all. He has no mannerisms; he just plays billiards quietly, without fuss or ostentation, and plays it magnificently. If he is aware of the fact that he is doing anything out of the common, he does not show it. I have seen him show emotion twice; once when he just missed his 1,000 break and once when he got it. Probably the latter was the more trying situation The tension was painful; every- one's nerves were taut as steel as he travelled his last 50. And then sud denly the strain was relaxed. George Gray had reached his thousand! A moment, perhaps two, and then the realisation that there had been a mistake; another 3 was needed. It was enough to shatter the confidence of a veteran, but this wonderful boy just sighted again - taking perhaps a second or two longer over the operation - made his stroke, and his first 1,000 was history. And then for a second the veil was lifted, and we saw that young George Gray was no billiard machine after all, but a very human boy.
It is not enough to say he is a boy; he might be a boy in years and a care- worn veteran in disposition. But he isn't. He is such a boyish boy, with such a sunny, happy smile that his play stands out with all the greater force of contrast. Think what he might have been. Think of the atmosphere in which he lives - physical and spiritual.
Both are trying terribly trying for a boy. Day after day, week after week, he is the vivid centre of attraction in a densely-crowded billiard salon, with banked-up terraces of eyes focussed on himself, watching almost breathlessly every stroke. Watched! He is always being watched. And all the time he must keep the most marvellously precise control over brain, hand and eye. For he knows he must not fail - must not disappoint. It is so fatally, sotragically easy to become a fallen star.
That is his environment; what might it not have made of George Gray? It might have crated a nervy, neurasthenic precocity, a self-conscious, vain, and generally objectionable prig. And what has it created? A happy, normal, natural boy, free from affectation, free from "side" and in a word - free from pretence. Which only goes to show that Gray is a little sportsman and a little gentleman
THE RIDDLE OF THE FUTURE
He has all the unconcern that is characteristic of his age, or, rather, of his youth, Striking of matches, scraping of feet shuffling in seats are matters of supreme indifference to him. He is certainly more impervious to little annoying and distracting disturbances than any of our English professionals. Or is it that he is so wrapped up in what he is doing that he does not see and does not hear these little pinpricks? Probably the latter alternative is the correct one. For the time being nothing exists for him but the green cloth before his eyes and the red ball as it travels on it eternal pilgrimage away from the middle pocket and back to its Mecca. The sea of watching faces and the drowsy hum of whispered admiration are merely the setting to which he has become accustomed. Perhaps the picture to him would be incomplete without this setting, but it has no other meaning. Nerves? You forget he is not 20 yet. He is there to play billiards and he certainly plays it.
His future? Who can tell? If his development proceeds on normal lines who shall put a limit to the possibilities of that wonderful cue? He has shown himself facile princeps in one branch of the game, and that the basis and foundation of all other branches. What shall we see when George Gray, tiring of 'in offs," takes to the top of the table game? Will the magic of his cue remain, or will it depart? A riddle the answer of which lies in the mists of the future. We can only "wait and see."