Reflecting on the decade: the year 2010

This is the first of the “years” series. For each year of the decade, I will look back at a small selection of very significant moments/events in that year. Of course making such a selection is always a matter of personal choice and interest. I’m due to overlook things that are important to others, and probably to bore a few with subjects they don’t find interesting…

Of course 2010 was the year Barry Hearn took control of Worldsnooker. On June 2, 2010, Barry Hearn Hearn was backed by 35 of the top 64 players at a WPBSA extraordinary general meeting in Sheffield; 29 voted against him. Hendry, Ding and Ebdon had been his most vocal opponents. This was the start of a radical transformation of the sport with a huge increase of the number of tournament as well as the money on offer. I already touched some key features of the Hearn decade in other posts.

For me though, 2010 was the year of my first World Championship, and I was privileged to spend it in the media room and in the snapper boxes, and it was a quite extraordinary championship too.


The hights

Neil Robertson becomes World Champion

Neil Robertson came to the Crucible unsure that he would be able to compete to the end of it, should he go deep: indeed  his partner Mille was expecting their first child, and the baby was due on the week-end of the Final! Compete he did, and he won the whole thing. Baby Alexander was considerate enough to wait for another ten days before making his entrance … It wasn’t all plain sailing though. In the last 16, Neil was trailing Martin Gould by 11-5 at the end of the second session. The first two sessions were played on the same day (April 23) and Martin Gould played absolutely blistering snooker … as he can. It was a mesmerising performance from Martin. Then he had to sleep over it, and it was his undoing. The next day, Martin was a shadow of the player he had been in the first two sessions, and a determined Neil Robertson came back at him and eventually won the match 13-12. There was no stopping him after that. His mum flew over from Australia during the Final and stood proudly at his side on the floor when he lifted the trophy after he beat Graeme Dott by 18-13 in the final. It was a very emotional moment for both of them. Neil is a very proud Aussie and being the first Australian to win the World Championship at the Crucible was huge for him. It should have made all the headlines in the next day papers … but it didn’t.

Steve Davis qualifies for the World Championship for a record 30th time and goes on to send the defending champion home in the last 16

At the age of 52, Steve Davis beat Mark King by 10-9 in the last 32, then the defending champion, John Higgins, by 13-11 in the last 16, to reach the QF of the Championship. I will always remember the last frame of this match. I watched it from one of the commentary boxes. It was incredibbly tense. The great Steve Davis was barely able to breath as he potted the last balls. They had the whole Crucible for themselves, the match/session at the other table had finished early and the whole Crucible was living the moment with Steve. When he eventually won, Steve got a standing ovation.

Here is a footage of the last balls. The quality is poor unfortunately.

and Steve’s press conference

Steve was beaten heavily by Neil Robertson in the QF round. It was his last competitive match at the Crucible.

The low and ugly

And it was a very low and terrible moment for our sport  … the News of the World scandal.

In the media room at the Cucible …  the last session of the second semi final between Graeme Dott and Mark Selby was underway. All the signs were there that this was going to be a late finish. I was working on pictures whilst following the match on the screens at the same time. Suddendly I became aware that the atmosphere in the room had changed: it was too quiet, and almost grave. One of the journalists, behind me, was looking at his screen, a colleague at his side, both obviously in shock. One of them said  “This looks very bad” … They had stumbled upon an article, and a video, to be published in the next issue of the “News of the World”. The video showed John Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney, discussing with a group of people in Kiev about how they could make money by fixing matches in future events, get more players into the scheme and how to “laundry” that money. . They were smiling and toasting. The video had been filmed a couple of days before…

We were asked to keep quiet and embargo the news. Pat Mooney was a member of the WPBSA board of Directors, John Higgins was still technically the reigning World Champion. The sponsor was a betting company, Betfred. It was very bad indeed. There were fears that they could withdraw their support to snooker because they wouldn’t trust the integrity of the sport anymore. Barry Hearn immediately had a meeting with Fred Done, who reassured him that he would not do such thing. John Higgins was immediately suspended.

An immediate concern in the media room was the impact the news would have on Graeme Dott who was also managed by Mooney. Graeme won the semi final, and it was immediately obvious that he had no clue about what had been going on. He was in shock and immediately distanced himself from Mooney. Wether it impacted his performance in the final, we will never know for sure.

You probably know what happened next. Pat Mooney immediately resigned from his position as director of the board and was later permanently  banned from every interaction//business related to snooker. John Higgins got a hefty fine, and was banned for six months. The best part of the ban though was served over the summer and, actually, John Higgins didn’t miss that many events, and none of the big ones.

Here is a  press report on John Higgins fine and ban

John Higgins banned from snooker but cleared of match-fixing

John Higgins, the former snooker world champion, will be free to resume his career in November after he was cleared of match-fixing at a disciplinary inquiry into allegations, revealed by the News of the World, that he agreed to throw frames for money.

The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association withdrew the match-fixing charges after accepting Higgins explanation of his encounter with an undercover reporter from the newspaper posing as a businessman.

He was fined £75,000 and given a six-month ban for the lesser offence of bringing the game into disrepute for failing to report the reporter’s approach. As he was suspended in May following publication of the allegations he can resume competition in November.

The independent tribunal was more harsh on Higgins’s manager Pat Mooney, a former director of the WPBSA. It ruled that Mooney had been fully aware that the subject of match-fixing might be raised in discussions with the reporter, and was pursuing financial gain by encouraging Higgins to take part.

The tribunal chairman Ian Mill QC said that Mooney had only escaped punishment on match-fixing charges through a technicality as the competition in which fixing was discussed is not strictly covered by WPBSA regulations.

“The Association maintained that Mr Mooney had intended to act fraudulently and corruptly as alleged,” Mill said in his judgment.

He ruled that Mooney should pay £25,000 costs and be banned from playing any official role in snooker for life. Mooney resigned from the WPBSA in May, and told the hearing his involvement in snooker is over.

Higgins and Mooney were filmed by the News of the World in Kiev in April, days after the Scot had been eliminated from the World Championship by Steve Davis.

In the film, and transcripts subsequently published by the newspaper, they were heard apparently discussing throwing frames in a proposed new competition. Higgins appeared to discuss how easy it would be to miss pots deliberately to throw a given frame, and how best to obscure his payment of 300,000 euros (£261,000) for co-operating with the proposed betting sting.

Higgins denied that he had any intention of co-operating with the plot, but said he had played along with the reporters because he feared for his safety and wanted to end the meeting as soon as possible.

That version of events was accepted by Mill. “He would never throw, and had no intention at that meeting of throwing any frame of snooker for reward,” he said.

Higgins said he was delighted to be exonerated: “I am guilty of anything it is naivety and trusting those who, I believed, were acting in the best interests of snooker and myself,” he said. “I make this promise [to my fans]: John Higgins will be back and he’ll be back winning”.

In a statement Mooney’s solicitor said: “Mr Mooney bitterly regrets being caught up in the News of the World’s entrapment and is unreservedly sorry for the impact the sting has had on snooker and Mr Higgins in particular.”

Here are the findings against Pat Mooney as reported by snooker scene on their official blog


Ian Mill QC was unimpressed by Pat Mooney or his story and has recommended he is permanently excluded from playing any future role in snooker.

He said Mooney, “committed the most egregious betrayals of trust – both in relation to the Association, to which he owed fiduciary obligations as a Director and by reason of his great influence in the world of snooker, and to Mr Higgins whose entire career and professional future he inexplicably put at serious and wholly unjustifiable risk.”

His full findings were:

‘Mr Mooney’s conduct is, in my judgment, of a completely different order of seriousness. He was first made aware not later than 8 April 2010 by the undercover journalist posing as a businessman (“Mr D’Sousa”) of the fact that those behind him in the purported business venture were looking to make money through gambling in circumstances where frames in snooker matches were deliberately thrown. Yet, he made no disclosure at the time of this stated requirement to the Association, to Mr Higgins (whom he represented in snooker matters, who was one of his partners in the business (World Series Snooker) which Mr Mooney was representing in his discussions with Mr D’Sousa, and most significantly who was targeted by Mr D’Sousa as the player required to throw the frames) or to his other business partners in World Series Snooker, Debbie Mitchell and Adrian Stewart.

Furthermore, despite this requirement being stated, Mr Mooney not only continued his engagement with Mr D’Sousa thereafter but persuaded a materially ignorant Mr Higgins to accompany him to meet with those behind the venture in Kiev. He accepts that, in continuing that engagement and by the words spoken by him on 8 April 2010 he had led Mr D’Sousa to believe that the throwing of frames was something that could be achieved.

Once in Kiev, on 29 April 2010, it was made clear to Mr Mooney on several occasions (in Mr Higgins’ absence) that the subject of frame throwing had to be discussed with Mr Higgins.

Still, he said nothing to Mr Higgins until minutes before the meeting the following day.

When he did mention the subject to Mr Higgins, Mr Mooney misrepresented to him the position, stating that it was possible that the subject might not come up at all.

Furthermore, despite at the time owing fiduciary obligations to Mr Higgins as his snooker representative and to the Association itself (he was a Board Director of the Association at the time), Mr Mooney did not advise Mr Higgins to make it clear that frame throwing was out of the question, and he did not even discuss with Mr Higgins the possibility of leaving Kiev without attending the meeting. In so behaving, in my judgment, Mr Mooney was motivated by concerns as to his own position to the exclusion of all others. He had positively responded to the requirement of frame throwing in all his previous discussions and he had brought Mr Higgins to Kiev expressly to discuss this aspect of the matter. He was concerned as to the consequences for him if these assurances proved groundless.

At the meeting in Kiev on 30 April, Mr Mooney continued to represent himself as able and willing to participate in, and to procure, corrupt frame throwing. Thereafter, he neither reported the events which had occurred to the Association nor encouraged nor advised Mr Higgins to do so.

A number of points were made by and on behalf of Mr Mooney. On his behalf, Mr Phillips asserted both as a matter of law and of fact that I could not and should not find that Mr Mooney in fact intended what he represented as being his intention in his various discussions with Mr D’Sousa and in Kiev. His legal argument, which I rejected in a ruling which I delivered yesterday, was that it was not open to the Association to maintain such an argument, given its withdrawal of Charge 2. As a matter of fact, he invited me to accept Mr Mooney’s evidence that he was clear in his own mind that Mr Higgins would never deliberately throw a frame for reward and, therefore, to conclude that Mr Mooney could not in fact have intended to put the corrupt agreement asserted by the Association into effect. As to this, Mr Bourns on behalf of the Association pointed to passages in the transcripts of discussions which suggested that Mr Mooney might have had in mind to procure the throwing of frames though the activities of players other than Mr Higgins.

Mr Mooney gave evidence before me, during which he told me in terms that he did not intend to put any such corrupt agreement into effect. His explanation for his encouragement of Mr D’Sousa prior to Kiev was that he was playing along with him, humouring him, in order to get to meet those behind the venture in Kiev. He was so certain that what Mr D’Sousa was saying about the frame throwing requirement was nonsense that he had not found it necessary to inform any of the Association, Mr Higgins, Ms Mitchell or Mr Stewart of what had been said. Once in Kiev, when it rapidly became apparent to him that Mr D’Sousa had in fact been telling the truth, he was intimidated into acting as he did. He gave no explanation for the failure to report the matter to the Association thereafter.

I was unimpressed by Mr Mooney as a witness and I found much of his account highly implausible. I very strongly suspect that he intended to put the corrupt agreement alleged by the Association into effect without having decided precisely how he would do this (given that Mr Higgins would clearly not be cooperative). His motivation throughout was, I find, financial self interest, in particular having regard to the very valuable sponsorship undertakings being offered by Mr D’Sousa and his colleagues.

However, I have concluded that it is unnecessary for me to make such a factual finding, since it would have no impact on the sanctions which I have decided appropriate on the basis of factual findings that it is accepted on Mr Mooney’s behalf are open to me.

It seems to me that, on any view, in the light of the factual summary which I have set out above, even if Mr Mooney did not intend to carry out the agreement reached, he committed the most egregious betrayals of trust – both in relation to the Association, to which he owed fiduciary obligations as a Director and by reason of his great influence in the world of snooker, and to Mr Higgins whose entire career and professional future he inexplicably put at serious and wholly unjustifiable risk.

Mr Mooney resigned as a Director of the Association on 2 May 2010 and his membership of the Association (which derived from his position as a Director) was suspended (as were his privileges derived from his position as Mr Higgins’ appointed representative) on 6 May 2010.

In my judgment, both those suspensions must be made permanent. Mr Phillips on Mr Mooney’s behalf told me that his client’s involvement in the world of snooker is at an end. So it should be. That must remain the case.

I do not intend additionally to impose any financial sanction on Mr Mooney other than that he must make a contribution to the Association’s costs in the amount of £25,000. Mr Phillips has explained to me his client’s precarious financial circumstances in the light of the recent events which have unfolded. It does not seem to me in the light of that information that an Order to make payment of a fine would be proportionate.’

Those are the facts, and the findings about what was certainly one of the darkest days for the sport we love. It tarnished the final and took the headlights away from Neil Robertson big moment.

It’s been ten years and it’s probably time to move on. The truth though is that I still find it difficult because I stay with unanswered questions and the feeling that John Higgins got away very, very lightly – especially considering how some before and after him were punished – and I don’t understand why. John Higgins was a 34 years old man, a father, a professional sportsman, and a multiple World Champion. He wasn’t some inexperienced kid who would need guidance. If you read the part I put in blue above, it’s quite baffling to me that anyone would have needed to advice him about his conduct under the circumstances. When the subject was brought up first by Mooney, he could have refused to attend the meeting, and once the subject was brought up during the meeting, he could have left, he could have objected, or at least he could have stayed quiet and not offer a way to laundry the money in Spain where he had a property. And by any means, he could and should have reported the approach as soon as he was back in the UK. If he was innocent, why didn’t he? Was he really that scared and naïve? How did he intend to get out of this mess if he wasn’t going to go along with the match fixing? Because, yes, he was setup, but he didn’t know it, so the way he acted is the way he would have acted had the situation been a real approach.

And that is just some of the unanswered questions about this story. The NOTW suggested they were tipped or at least that’s what I heard. It’s very likely. That scam in Kiev was no cheap coup. They invested a significant deal of money in this, they must have been pretty confident about the outcome. For what purpose? Who or what was actually the real target of this setup? Was it Pat Mooney? Was is John Higgins (unlikely as it seems he only traveled because he had lost early)? Or was someone trying to undermine Barry Hearn’s endeavours by discrediting his board of Directors? After all Hearn had become Chairman of the WPBSA in December 2009 but the definite players vote was still to take place later in June 2010 and the outcome was by no means a certainty. Or what it something else altogether?

Someone must have the answers…