Surreal does not cover it, not even close. One minute the eight-year-old was playing at a six-foot table and watching Joe Johnson defeat Steve Davis in the 1986 World Snooker Final and the next – in the blink of an eye relatively – come through the curtain himself, the Pucket Dynamo of Larkhole Graeme Dot.
It’s the final of 2004 and Rooney is by his side. Never O’Sullivan or Ronnie O’Sullivan, just Rooney, like Ronaldinho. Same kind of class, really. “Rooney has that aura,” Dutt says. “Not many have it, but he does.
“Davis had it. Hendry had it. I really think John Higgins is the absolute best, but he still lacks the aura. No idea why, no idea what it is.”
Rooney did Hendry 17-4 in the semi-finals, then beat Dott 18-8 in the final, but Dott is OK. Nobody beats Rooney when Rooney plays like Rooney. It came with a lot of pluses and a £125,000 check.
His life began to turn around soon after. If you want to hear about the bottle in the big game of snooker, listen to Dott. If you want to understand sports psychology, sit down with him and absorb his story. If you want to go to the dark side, they will take you there as well.
Depression and Narcolepsy – Practically every word that comes out of his mouth is a fixation, the equivalent of breaking a century after a century break after a century break.
So back to Rooney and the semi-finals of the 2006 World Snooker Championships. Rooney leads 5-3 and has doubts. He played well and was down by two.
Big Del Hill comes into the room and runs on his leg. Dale is Dott’s coach and he says, “Rooney doesn’t like playing with you, don’t go away, stay with him and he won’t like it.”
Dot stuck inside. Rooney didn’t like it. Patience in safety battles. Rooney didn’t enter and was upset. “He went to 8-8 and shook my hand and it was like a double jerk, kind of holding my arm,” Dutt recalls. “You could tell he sipped. I thought, ‘I got you.’ I knew it, I could feel it.”
Rooney does 17-11. He’s back in the final against Peter Ebdon this time.
“When the adrenaline leaves you, it’s awful.”
John Higgins later told him that he was destined to win that year. It was about Alex Lambi, his father-in-law, his teacher and one of his best friends. Lambi was dying of cancer, but reached the crucible in the final. Thin, weak, but there. Victory is written in the stars.
“I won the first and second cycle,” Dott says. “I came for the last day training but I could hear the live TV and everyone say Ebdon is coming back and I’m going, ‘No, he won’t.’ I know if I win the third session you will break for him.
“And I won the third session. I’m 15-7. I only need three. Everything was sorted in my head – what I was going to say when I won and all that. In the interval, we had an hour. I went to sleep.”
Upon his return, he felt more comfortable than ever in the tournament. But from the depths of snooker hell, the demons arose. “It’s 15-8, 15-9, 15-10, 15-11,” explains Dutt. “It doesn’t happen quickly because Abdoun is just suffocating you.
“I’m back in the locker room, and Dale and Alex are talking to me but I can’t hear them. I’m gone. As if appropriate. I have these horrible feelings about the biggest advance anyone has ever made into worlds and lost. It’s embarrassing. When the adrenaline leaves you, it’s horrible.” .
“I know every player will watch the final and I also know every player will know I went because you can’t hide it. You can see the bottle. Only snooker players notice. It goes to 15-12 (the frame took 74 minutes), then 15-13. I managed to Break 60 to make it 16-13 and everything was like a pint of blood. It goes 16-14…”
Dutt went to the toilet, threw water on his face and told himself to continue the attack. If you see a destiny, stick with it. And play quickly. Play on instinct. You’re going down, my friend. Save yourself.
“I play fast but on another side of my mind I hear slow, and that’s a huge part of the game and I argue with myself,” he says. “You said you’re going to play fast so you have to play fast.
“I’m on a break to hit 17-14 and I’m so nervous it’s unrealistic. I really feel like I’m going to get sick. I don’t even know how the balls are going. That statement was the best of my life. I was fine again. I knew I was going to win, but If only people could see the torture. It really took away the fun.”
Alex Lambi died later in the year. Perhaps Higgins was right. Maybe it was destiny that Dutt won.
He’s always wondered what caused the awful mental health issues he experienced in the 18 months to two years after Lampe’s death, but a psychiatrist once told him it might have had something to do with not spending time grieving the death of his stepfather. . He was always on the road playing tournaments. Snooker was an escape but maybe also a prison.
“I was a coincidence,” Dutt recalls. “Even thinking about it now, it was like a horror movie.
“One day my wife was going to college – she was studying to be a nurse – and I was in the living room. The TV wasn’t on but I was just staring at it. She went away, came back at 2 in the afternoon and I’m still there. I just stare. Or people call. On the phone. Tell them I’m in the bathroom. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.”
He can still play – and lose. He is believed to have lost 17 consecutive games at once. He says he doesn’t even remember having participated in some of the tournaments he’s been in. He was wearing one shirt because he knew he was going to be out in the first round.
He was playing in China once and he was crying in his chair. Put a towel over his face to hide it.
“I don’t actually talk to him, but Ronnie called me and was asking about my condition because he went through it too,” Dutt says. “I thought it was really nice of him. He doesn’t really talk to me, it’s not like we were buddies, but it was nice to do. And I looked at him differently after that.”
His wife, Eileen, made him go to the doctor. “My wife is an absolute rock,” he says. “unbelievable.”
Medication put him on the right track again, but it was tough. “I had dark thoughts,” he explains. “Whether you’ll do it or not, but sure, there’s no point in lying. I had thoughts. I thought about snooker too, but what am I going to do? No qualifications, what job am I going to get?”
“Everything I did was Snooker. When I was supposed to be on my exams at school, I was in Finland playing an amateur tournament. I don’t know anything else.”
‘I hope you never play with the helmet’
All of that made his final appearance in 2010 even more special than his victory four years earlier, despite losing to Neil Robertson. His depression was under control but his sleep disturbance was now under control. Paramedics believe he is suffering from a form of narcolepsy.
“Part of the brain controls sleep and I’m not working,” Dutt explains. “My wife filmed me, and she put it in an interval. I just move constantly. My legs don’t rest, that’s another thing. Legs kick in bed. Flips and turns nonstop. Every time my brain is about to go deep into sleep I wake up and that’s why I don’t recharge .
“Bad narcolepsy, you need to wear a helmet because you can fall asleep anywhere without warning. I hope you never get to that – playing snooker with a helmet on.”
He laughs at the absurdity of the idea, but this is very dangerous. “I was exhausted in the 2010 final,” he recalls. “Not a lot of people know this, but I’m very serious, I went into the locker room in the last interval and Neil 14-12 or something and I said, ‘I can’t win.’ And my teammates went, ‘What do you mean you can’t win?’ I So tired, I can’t play, see if it was a boxing match I’d throw in the towel.
“I knew I wasn’t going to hit a horn or a century or a ninety. I knew if I was going to win a tyre, it would be a little tyre, a 40 break and a safety fight, and I think if that happens I’ll need to be here until three in the morning. I’ve been practicing the time. I wouldn’t be up at three in the morning, let alone try to play snooker.”
Robertson beat him 18-13, but getting to the final was sweet enough. Three world finals, one world title. Most snooker players will take this career in a heartbeat. Covid-19 brought the depression to the surface again last year, but now he knows the triggers, and he knows what to do to deal with it.
He’s missed out on the Crucible for the past two years and wonders if he’ll ever get back there again. It’s a long road but he won the biggest battles of his life. It’s like what Big Dale said during the semi-final against Rooney. Just hold on. “Oh, I’ll be fine,” he adds. “I’m not getting younger but I’m not going to give up. I’ll keep going.”