Michael Holt, Alan McManus and Stephen Hendry about the coming “Championship League”

In the press yesterday, Michael Holt was full of praise for Barry Hearn and looking forward to the Championship League starting on June 1.

Snooker’s imminent return is incredible, important and energising, believes Michael Holt

Phil Haigh – Tuesday 19 May 2020

Michael Holt

Snooker will make its return in less than two weeks after the coronavirus hiatus, and despite the inevitable dissenting voices, Michael Holt believes it is an important step forward as the sporting world adapts to the global pandemic.

The Championship League will begin on 1 June at the Morningside Arena in Leicester, with 64 players competing behind closed doors for a £20,000 top prize. All of which will be broadcast on ITV.

Strict health and safety rules will be in place, with all players, officials and staff tested for coronavirus, the venue and all equipment sanatised and social distancing measures enforced, even during matches.

With the majority of other sport yet to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis, World Snooker Tour (WST) is attempting to help lead the way.

Chairman Barry Hearn has pushed hard to get the sport up and running again, less than two months after the 71-year-old suffered his second heart attack, and world number 25 Holt believes he should be backed in his fight for the players, fans and, of course, viewing figures.

‘Snooker, like everyone, for the foreseeable we’ve got to change the way we are,’ Holt told Metro.co.uk. ‘Until they get a vaccine or whatever happens on that front.

‘I will be playing in Leicester. It’s nice to have something to practice for and as much as I’m loving life, it’s nice to get out the house. I’ve negotiated with the club, they’ve let me in to practice.

‘It’ll be strange, it’ll be a bit weird, I suppose, with the new things in place, social distancing and whatnot, but we’ve got to accept that going forward things are going to be a bit different.

‘All credit to Barry and his team for getting the event on. It would be easy for him to sit back, use it as an excuse to do nothing and not forget about the snooker players but, you know…he’s had a heart attack!

`‘Him and his team have got the event on knowing that the players have to earn money and it’s incredible he’s even attempting it, really. If it does go ahead, all credit to him, incredible.

‘He’s a promoter and he knows it’ll be good for snooker. The fact we’re being proactive, trying to move forward, if you just stand still, where’s that going to get you? He’s accepted we’ve got to do things differently so let’s have a go.

‘On the criticism, nobody ever made a statue of a critic. People just like to have a moan. If you don’t like it don’t watch it, and if you don’t like it don’t play in it, stay indoors.’

Michael Holt

Holt is well aware that competing creates more of a health risk than staying at home, but is putting his faith in WST’s safety measures and feels that small steps back to normality need to be taken.

‘We’re getting tested,’ the Hitman continued. ‘No [I’m not worried], you can look at it how you like.

‘People are dying, it’s a risk leaving the house, I suppose, but I have to look at the stats. I’m not in the high-risk demographic, none of my family are.

‘What can I say? It’s one of those, I’ve got to leave the house at some point. What do you do? You have to do something. You take the precautions you can and carry on.

‘They know what they’re doing, they want to take the best precautions for obvious reasons. Just make the decision and do your best to protect yourself.

’ The rearranged World Snooker Championship is due to begin on 31 July in Sheffield, and the Championship League will be a first step back towards the Crucible.

Holt’s superb Snooker Shoot Out win in February saw him climb to number 25 in the world, meaning he still has to go through qualifying for the Worlds, so is keen to get back into some rhythm ahead of that critical contest.

‘With the World Championship potentially going ahead, it’s a bit of a trial run for that,’ continued the 41-year-old. ‘I’m looking forward to playing and at the end of the day it’s an opportunity to earn money, which is one of the biggest reasons I play.

‘I’ll be playing and trying my best, 100%, give it everything. It’s a nice warm up as well, if you play well, have a run, put you in good stead for the Worlds qualifiers. For every reason it’s important.

Michael Holt

‘I’ve been playing a bit, had a few games the last week or so. For me personally, I’m having the best time of my career, really.

‘I’ve been playing well for a while, won the Shoot Out, I know it’s not a normal format, but I’ve had some good performances  and I feel great, I’m happy to play as much as I can because everything’s going okay at the minute.

’ The last WST event played was the Gibraltar Open, which came to an end with Judd Trump lifting the trophy on 15 March. With the majority of players having no access to a table at home there is likely to be some rustiness in Leicester, but the Hitman is unconcerned.

‘It might show in this tournament because it’s come quite quick, but players have had 8 or 10 weeks off, we used to have that in the summer all the time,’ Michael said.

‘You don’t forget how to play in 10 weeks. I’m quite lucky, I’ve always been able to pick my cue up and feel okay. I’ve been playing a little bit and I feel alright now. You lose a bit of match sharpness, playing proper frames with people. But in terms of playing shots, it doesn’t take long to get back to normal. Other players will be different though.

‘Some players benefit from having a bit of time off, the season’s basically wall-to-wall so some might be better coming back, a bit more eager.

‘It’ll make you miss it, I’ve missed it, missed playing. I’ve always loved playing anyway, had periods where I’ve not, but at the minute I love it more than ever, for a few years now. Players will come out of it changed.’

While no one has an issue with the Championship League being played behind closed doors, the potential of the upcoming World Championship going ahead with no fans is anathema for some snooker fans.

Undoubtedly an empty Crucible would be a below-par experience but Holt does not want to see the event cancelled and, in a situation where it is impossible to please everyone, has backed WST to make the right choices,

‘It’s not as good obviously,’ said the Hitman, ‘Hopefully I get through and qualify and walking out at the Crucible with no one there is going to be strange to put it mildly.

‘But these are strange times we’re living in, we have to make the best of what we’ve got and move forward. I don’t think it’ll be like this forever, but the other option is no event.

‘Snooker is a sport that is watched by 99.9% of people on the TV. It’s a massive TV sport and it’s growing all the time. It will be watched, and if there’s not many other events on, it might be watched by even more.

‘The criticism, for me, people just like to moan. People love it, they’ll never stop moaning. You just have to do the right thing, carry on and do your best.

All credit to Barry and his team for getting it on, I don’t think there’s many other people that would have achieved it.

‘It’s one of those situations where there’s no perfect answer, it’s damage limitation. There are going to be people on the wrong end of any decisions and there’s not a lot they can do. They’ve got to make a decision that hurts the fewest people.’

While the Shoot Out champ is excited to get back on the baize, lockdown has been timed pretty well for the Holt family as it has given them time together with new arrival Sadie, although her brother was not entirely impressed with her timing.

‘We’ve enjoyed being together 24/7 basically,’ said Michael. ‘We’re still married, which is great news. It’s been a nice time, we’ve made the best of it.

‘She was born on 10 March, which is Jude’s birthday, his second birthday, which ruined it a bit. They’re going to have some good parties in the future. She came along fine, everyone’s fine, Amy did amazing.

‘The doctors have done really well, they were coming out at the start and we’ve done some video consultations. It’s strange times we’re living in, they’ve changed the way they’re doing things as well to cope with it, like everyone.’

Michael Holt’s praise for Barry Hearn’s and his team’s efforts is totally justified and it’s nice to see him eager to play again, even if conditions will be difficult. Make no mistake, they will. Making sure that social distancing is respected, that all equipment and the place are kept sanitized, that any potential infection is spotted immediately … all that will result in a lot of constraints for players and officials. And that’s just at the venue. But players and officials will have to stay somewhere, preferably in just one place that they have for themselves, with the same precautions being applied. And there is also the small matter of traveling, particularly for those who aren’t living in England.

Part of those issues was discussed by Stephen Hendry and Alan McManus in their chat last Monday.

I haven’t listened to the whole chat yet. I must confess that I struggle badly with their heavy accent. Even Reanne Evans, who of course is a native English speaker, reflected that she was close to the point of needing subtitles 😉.

But in the first half of their chat, they discuss the coming Championship League and it doesn’t look like many Scottish top players will be there.

From what I understood … Alan certainly does not intend to enter, and, for what he reports, nor do John Higgins, Stephen Maguire or Graeme Dott. John has a table at home, but the others didn’t have access to a table to practice. And John himself wasn’t apparently too keen on practice during the lockdown. Alan said that it would be a lot of hassle to play under those conditions, that traveling wasn’t straightforward and that going there unprepared was probably pointless.

Of course, younger players, hungrier, at risk to lose their tour card or just plain skint might see it differently. Someone like Scot Donaldson might be one of them: he did well this season and will certainly want to do well at WC qualifiers, should that go ahead. This would be good preparation for it.

Can Ronnie win another World title or two? Would Judd Trump beat Steve Davis?

Stephen Hendry was on Instagram, chatting with Alan McManus this time, and the question was raised, whether Ronnie can surpass Stephen’s record of 7 World Titles.

Here is Eurosport reporting on the two great Scots opinions

Hendry: O’Sullivan has ‘three or four more world titles in him’

Ronnie 2013 World Champion

Stephen Hendry is convinced Ronnie O’Sullivan can win “three or four more world titles” if he is determined to become snooker’s greatest Crucible champion.

The seven-times world champion Hendry insists O’Sullivan can still overtake him as the game’s most prolific winner despite celebrating the last of his five world victories in Sheffield seven years ago.

“If he wants to and his head is right, I think he can win another three or four world titles,” said Hendry during an Instagram chat with Alan McManus, who won the 1994 Masters with a 9-8 win over his fellow Scotsman.

McManus believes O’Sullivan, 44, has underachieved in his 28-year professional career despite drawing level with Hendry on 36 ranking event victories and becoming the first player to compile over 1000 career centuries.

“Probably (has underachieved). How many goes has he had at Sheffield? 27 goes or something. He’s won it five times which is good,” commented McManus.

“He looked like he was never being bothered properly until the early 2000s or something,” said Hendry.

He’ll always be a genius, but there seemed to be a time when he was suddenlythere to win.

McManus is slightly baffled by O’Sullivan’s recent comments regarding the length of the World Championship being too long for him and feels the Essex player should trust in the advice of sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters.

“With me, I’m such an emotional player and person, to try and hold it down for 17 days, I’m beaten before I go there sometimes, it’s just not a great tournament for me. It’s like asking Usain Bolt to run the marathon. It’s just not suited to his genes or personality,” said O’Sullivan.

McManus is adamant the duration of the event should not be an issue.

“I think we can safely say, can he win another world title? The answer is yes, of course he can,” said McManus.

“I don’t know about this 17-day thing he talks about. The first week you are only playing one match. I think he needs to get tuned in properly.

That guy Steve Peters seems to help him whatever he does. I would get him in tow and just get on with it.

Hendry says O’Sullivan cannot be blamed for not enjoying the challenge of the World Championship.

“Ronnie admits that he isn’t really interested in being there for 17 days. You can’t argue with that. If that’s how you feel, that’s how you feel,” said Hendry.

McManus feels a dream final would be an O’Sullivan showdown with undisputed world number one and world champion Judd Trump if the postponed tournament goes ahead behind closed doors at the end of July.

“He’s capable of doing it. Whether he can be bothered putting the work in to be able to do it, I don’t know it,” said McManus.

“It would be good if he gets to play Judd in the final. It would actually be interesting to see Ronnie being the underdog.

“Judd is the top man now, let’s face it.”

Funnily enough, Neil Robertson, talking to Desmond Kane, had expressed a similar opinion just a week ago

Robertson: O’Sullivan can still equal Hendry’s world record haul

Neil Robertson - Ronnie O'Sullivan

Desmond KaneDesmond Kane

By Desmond Kane

Ronnie O’Sullivan can still reach Stephen Hendry’s record Crucible haul of seven if he wants it badly enough, according to 2010 world champion Neil Robertson.

Australia’s greatest player believes O’Sullivan – world champion in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2013 – has the ability to add to his total of five victories despite last winning snooker’s ultimate event seven years ago with an 18-12 win over Barry Hawkins.

Hendry’s Crucible record is arguably the last major one O’Sullivan has yet to topple having lifted seven Masters and seven UK titles, compiling over 1,000 centuries and joining Hendry on 36 career ranking event wins.

O’Sullivan last reached the world final when he lost 18-14 to Mark Selby in 2014, but has suffered several surprising defeats in recent times including a 10-8 defeat to amateur qualifier James Cahill in the first round a year ago, one of the biggest shocks of all time.

He has twice lost in the quarter-finals over the past five years being unseated by Stuart Bingham in 2015 – a year where he removed his shoes during a first-round win over Craig Steadman – and Ding Junhui in 2017.

There was also the infamous incident with Ali Carter in a second-round defeat in 2018 where both players bumped into each other at the table.

“Yeah for sure Ronnie could win seven. It all depends on his head,” Robertson told Eurosport. “Last year was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

“Ever since he lost to Selby in the final, every year since has been really strange. He lost to Barry Hawkins (second round in 2016) which was an unbelievable match.

A lot is expected of him. Not so much from the crowd. He just seems to attract a lot more attention from people away from the table. Nothing bad or anything, it’s just he is the superstar of the game so he has to deal with a lot of that.

“He was quite open and honest about how he has approached this season. He has been quite attacking and playing to enjoy it rather than not really enjoying it at all.”

O’Sullivan has vowed to commit to a full schedule over the next two years. “I do think for the next two years I might just focus and play in every event I can possibly play in,” he said on Instagram. “Give it one last shot and see if I can get my game to a level where I’m confident of winning.”

O’Sullivan’s five-year Crucible record

  • 2019 Lost 10-8 James Cahill (first round)
  • 2018 Lost 13-9 Ali Carter (second round)
  • 2017 Lost 13-10 Ding Junhui (quarter-finals)
  • 2016 Lost 13-12 Barry Hawkins (second round)
  • 2015 Lost 13-9 Stuart Bingham (quarter-finals)

History suggests O’Sullivan will struggle to land even one more world title at the age of 44 at an event he admits he dislikes due to the elongated and exhaustive nature of it over 17 days in Sheffield. Six-times world champion Ray Reardon remains the oldest winner of the Crucible era aged 45 and 203 days in 1978.

This year’s rescheduled event is due to begin on July 31 and is likely to be played to behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic if it goes ahead. O’Sullivan is ranked 18 on the game’s one-year list. His last ranking event victory came in March 2019 when he beat Robertson 13-11 in the Tour Championship final in Llandudno.

Robertson feels O’Sullivan’s desire is the key to any future success.

“He has still played to a decent standard, but not really to the levels he reached over the previous two seasons when he won around 80 percent of all the tournaments he played in,” said Robertson.

“Which was an insane record. It all depends on what his mindset is, and what he wants out it. He has said he plans to give it a real good go.

“For the game, it would obviously be brilliant if he wants to compete again at most of the events. That would be fantastic even though it would lessen mine and everybody else’s chances of winning events including Ronnie’s too.

“It will be a fantastic challenge to see Ronnie playing more that we should all welcome.”

Desmond Kane

Well … personally, I would love to see Ronnie win ONE more. I would be delighted if he gets to six. Of course seven would be fantastic, but just one more would make me perfectly happy. Can he do it? I’m not sure. Does he still have the game? Definitely in my opinion. Does he have the desire? Probably. The real issue – in my view – is neither desire nor ability, it’s a combination of stress related to the expectations everyone puts on him, anxiety caused his own perception of the very high standard he is expected to deliver and the scars left by the 2014 defeat to Mark Selby. The latter are not to be underestimated. That defeat did hurt, very badly, and not just the defeat but the manner of it. Ronnie and Mark go along well nowadays, and there is huge respect between them, but the scars remain.

In my opinion, Ronnie’s best chance to win another World title would be to head to the Championship as an underdog, just like in 2012 and in 2013. In 2012 he had only just avoided to have to qualify after two terrible seasons, in 2013 he came as the World Champion but having just played one low key match all season, a match he had lost. If the focus and expectations are on other players, then he has a good chance to avoid the early rounds “banana skin” (*).  Once we get to the one table set-up, the whole atmosphere of the Championship changes. It’s no more a cramped venue made even more claustrophobic by the curtain in the middle. It’s a proper arena. It’s still a bear pit, but that doesn’t matter: so was Goffs in Ireland, and it was one of Ronnie’s favourite venues.

(*) I know that many fans think that Ronnie must be a confident player, considering how much he has won so far in his career. Nothing is further from the truth. He’s an anxious person. He’s been open about his depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. He’s learned to cope with that better than in the past, but it’s not gone, it never will, it’s part of the person he is. When he can get in the zone – only him and the table in a bubble – he’s incredibly strong under pressure, but when he can’t … he’s vulnerable.

Another World Championship related question was also debated between Stephen and Alan: what would happen if Judd Trump was to face Steve Davis in his prime?

Here is what Eurosport took from their conversation:

Generation game: Could Davis at his best topple Trump?

Judd Trump - Steve Davis

Stephen Hendry and Alan McManus agree that Steve Davis in his prime would have caused real problems for world champion and world number one Judd Trump with his superior tactical game.

Seven-times world champion Hendry believes Trump in top gear would win a world final “18-7 or 18-8” if the pair met at the peak of their powers, but added that his old rival’s “granite” safety game would give him a chance.

Three-times World Championship semi-finalist McManus points out that it would not be a foregone conclusion because of six-times world champion Davis’ ability to starve his opponents of chances.

“It’s tough. When you discuss different eras, you have to remember this: the day that Davis won his world titles, all the days between now and then hadn’t happened yet,” said 1994 Masters winner McManus on Instagram

“He didn’t know about Judd. He was playing the guy in the other chair.

“You’ve got to take that into account. I only played ‘The Nugget’ in the nineties, and I thought he was an unbelievable player.”

Trump produced the greatest performance in a world final with an 18-9 win over John Higgins in the 2019 final, a match that saw him make seven century breaks.

While Hendry feels Trump will carry snooker to a new level, he agreed with McManus that Davis – Crucible winner in 1981, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988 and 1989 – was a fearsome competitor in his pomp.

“There was time when you wondered: ‘How could you beat him?’,” said Hendry.

“I think Judd is possibly going to take the game to a new level. Judd would probably beat him, but I’d be interested to see.

“Judd would probably beat him 18-7 or 18-8. Something like that.”

McManus recalled the UK Championship final in 1990 when Hendry edged Davis 16-15 in one of the sport’s all-time classic clashes at Preston’s Guild Hall.

“The famous UK final between you and him in 1990. I know how well you were playing. He was playing good, wasn’t he?,” said McManus.

“The other thing you have to say is that Judd would need to play well to win otherwise ‘The Nugget’ would get him.

“Davis was an unbelievable player. I played him in my first final (Asian Open in 1992) in Bangkok. I never missed a shot, I played awesome, one of the best matches I’ve ever played.

“He beat me 9-3 and I was over the moon with myself.”

This, in my opinion, is an impossible question to answer. For a start, the conditions were quite different, notably because of the heavier cloth. This made some shots easier to master (I’m thinking massés f.i.) whilst others were much more difficult (splitting the pack wide open f.i.). I think that Judd would struggle with those conditions, despite his tremendous cue power. He developed as a player on much faster tables and he plays a lot of shots that have balls traveling the full length of the table. It’s one of his strength and those shots might prove more difficult to get right on a slower table. Conversely, Steve Davis started playing on those slower tables and he may struggle for accuracy on the ultra-fast ones. Why am I writing this? Because players develop and hone their game in a certain context: the conditions available to them in their time. I’m not sure that Judd would play the type of game he plays now if he was born 30 years earlier, and Steve Davis might have become a different player too if he had been exposed to nowadays conditions in his prime. They are both supremely talented, and very fierce competitors, and that’s who they are, no matter when they were born, but how they developed as players would probably be different. I believe that, each playing at their prime level, Steve would beat Judd on the 80th conditions, whilst Judd would beat Steve playing on nowadays tables. But it’s a completely academic question.

At the time of writing I haven’t listened to the chat yet… probably more on that tomorrow then.

 

Happy anniversary Jason Ferguson !

Quite incredibly, it’s been 10 years since Jason Ferguson came at the helm of WPBSA.

Today, they published this interview, which in fact is the first “post” in Jason’s new blog. Here Jason shares his passion, his vision and his dreams for the sport he loves. Jason is former player. He knows what it takes, and understands the players needs as well as the challenges they face.

Ferguson’s Blog – 10 Years at the Helm

18th May 2020

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the election of Jason Ferguson as Chairman of the WPBSA, a position that he has held ever since.

In the first edition of our new periodic feature ‘The Chairman’s Blog’ Jason reflects upon some of the changes snooker has witnessed over the past decade, the growth of the sport and why despite the current global situation this is only the beginning of our journey…

To be asked to come back and steer the WPBSA again was a great honour for me. Despite being completely away from snooker for a few years, my love for this sport has never faltered.

I remember fondly the first time my father took me into a billiard hall at a Butlin’s holiday camp in Wales, I was just mesmerised by the game being played, a feeling that remains with me to this day when I walk into our venues. From desperately trying and pot that very first ball, playing in leagues and amateur events over the years, to competing on the professional tour, I cannot recall a day where I did not want to be around this sport. Working in its administration is equally as interesting and challenging. There is so much to do, we must work hard, prepare properly, be focused and very disciplined. In fact, my days now are not too dissimilar to those when I was player, the hours are just longer.

Despite our current challenges, I am extremely proud of where our sport is today, however I still believe we are a long way from what can be achieved, so we must keep the focus, keep planning and keep going forward.

Even during this current health pandemic, it is easy to see on the world’s social media platforms just how big our snooker community has become. Personally, I have seen many old photos for the first time, connected with many friends old and new, heard snooker players singing for charity, witnessed players competing online from their own homes and seen more community spirit thoughts, strangers sharing thoughts and new ideas, all from far corners of the world. All with one global family connection ‘Snooker and Billiards’. It does make you feel very humble and proud to be part of it.

Ten years ago, we entered our new commercial arrangements with Matchroom Sport, undoubtedly the largest fundamental change the WPBSA had seen. This type of commercial structure for snooker had been considered at various crossroads over the years, but at times it had proved to be too big a step to take without the guarantee of success. However, with Barry Hearn and his team’s passion for promoting events, Matchroom’s history in snooker, coupled with the will of the WPBSA playing membership, the timing was right.

Snooker is a very British export, it required further globalisation, something I was and remain very passionate about. I had worked in Asia before with snooker and I knew further growth could be achieved there. We have certainly covered a few miles in the last ten years, we travel like crazy, sleep on trains, aeroplanes and even in cars at times going between cities in order to make the next meeting or press conference. It’s not for everyone, but we must push the boundaries, find new places, new markets and new opportunities.

In ten years, our commercial operations now known as the World Snooker Tour (WST) have grown year on year, we have more events that ever before, more prize money on offer and more TV airtime than ever before. This is testament to the great teams we have at the WPBSA and WST, but I must say a huge thanks and point out the great respect I have for our players who have not faltered in their dedication and provide astonishing live drama week in week out.

Despite all this growth, we still love tradition and heritage, something I am keen to preserve in the WPBSA.

I am pleased the World Championship has continued to grow remaining in Sheffield. That is the crown jewel of the tour and it is fantastic to see the winner now receiving a top prize of £500,000, a total that has doubled over the past decade as prize money continues to grow. The Crucible in Sheffield has become the spiritual home of snooker, it is the dream of every young aspiring player to appear there and we should not take that dream away. This year may appear very different with uncertainty of crowds etc – but ask any ambitious player with dreams and they would want to play there.

“Infrastructure that can underpin the future of the sport”

As WST has delivered unprecedented growth in the sport, the responsibility on the WPBSA has grown enormously. All sports today are under so much scrutiny, they are live and newsworthy, so to command the respect as a major global sport, the WPBSA has had to grow significantly.

Over the past 10 years is that we have been able to build an infrastructure within the WPBSA that can deliver referee training, coach training, academy development and global amateur and junior events. It is an infrastructure that can underpin the future growth of the sport. We have been prudent in our management building resources, something which will carry us safely through these choppy waters right now.

One such positive change has been the formation of the World Snooker Federation (WSF) and the staging of tournaments such as the WSF Open and WSF Junior Open which took place early this year in Malta.

Our vision is to not only continue to expand our sport into new territories and to new markets, but to create sustainable growth. To do that we need solid governance, the right people in the right place and we need to form partnerships around the world. The WSF has been established to align the interests of amateur snooker, grassroots development and the professional tour because players don’t just arrive there, there must be an accessible development path for elite performers, also a way of preparing the best for life on the WST.

At the height of the UK snooker ‘boom’ in the 1980s, the amateur game was incredibly strong with hundreds of players competing in many events. Many players broke through in the early 1990s like Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams, John Higgins and more, but amateur infrastructure contracted badly and as such, we have seen the average age of a top player remain high on the WST.

Future talent

10 years on, there is an abundance of future talent coming through from all over the world. Europe is becoming particularly strong through the work of our partners the European Billiards & Snooker Association which is now finding activity in well over 50 countries. China, Thailand we know are producing great player. I hear many people assuming Chinese players will take over the tour.

It is true there are many talented young players, but there are interesting twists coming in our future story with amazing juniors like Iulian Boiko from Ukraine, new talent in Ireland like Aaron Hill, Liverpool’s Sean Maddocks and a great Austrian Florian Nuessle and many more. We will take a look at this junior talent on our media feeds this week, but I can assure you that there are many new and exciting players out there ready to bring new drama to our screens.

It is crucial that we are able to get the balance right from elitism at the top of the sport, to having a system which can capture that person who first walks in a snooker club for the first time where we provide that person an equal opportunity, wherever they are from, to become into a star of the future.

We have continuing to go out into new territories such as Africa more recently. Snooker’s inclusion in the African Games by the African Billiards and Snooker Confederation last August was a major step in the right direction. It is a new area where snooker is growing, particularly Morocco where many new clubs have opened. By working through an official African sports authority, we can work and plan for the future, in a region where there are over 50 countries.

A Sport for All

There is a lot more to the WPBSA that meets the eye, as a world governing body, governance of the sport goes without saying, but underneath this players body is a group organisation demonstrating just how diverse snooker and billiards are.

The World Women’s Snooker Tour (WWS) runs a calendar designed to bring more women into the mainstream professional sport. It is a matter of time with women playing numbers up that we will see talent breaking through to the WST.

World Disability Billiards and Snooker (WDBS) is delivering great results, a carefully constructed tour in many categories has seen amazing talents appear. So much so that WDBS players appeared at the Crucible Theatre last August, earning their rightful moment at the pinnacle of our sport.

We preserve our history and heritage with our founder sport ‘English Billiards’ through our group organisation World Billiards (WBL). Incredibly, Billiards has delivered growth, with the 2019 World Billiards Championship being played at the prestigious RAVC in Melbourne, Australia.

The outlook for international travel appears uncertain for the short term and major events may look a little different for a while, but there is no intention to rest. Behind the scenes, we are all working hard, the WPBSA has good management and staff.  I am excited about getting back out on the road at the appropriate time.

During the past 10 years, there have been some great moments. From seeing players win that first world title like Stuart Bingham, the emergence of the incredible Judd Trump, the achievements of Ronnie O’Sullivan, the gradual return to top form of Mark Williams was nothing short of emotional, and seeing an old practice partner, Anthony Hamilton, who always gave 100%  win the German Masters.

Snooker to me is magical, from the highs and lows our players go through, to the arriving in a new place with nothing but a clean sheet of paper to get started. I remain as excited as ever to get on with the job in hand and I hope to serve the WPBSA for many more years to come.

Jason Ferguson is someone who, in my own experience, is always open and there for the players when things get difficult. He doesn’t look at the players solely as exponents of their sport, he looks at them, first and foremost, as human beings, going through highs and lows, joy and pain, as life and sport unfold. He’s also an incredibly hard worker and someone who will always try to be fair. If a player is out of order, of course, it’s his job to tackle the situation, but I know, because I’ve seen him at work, and talked to him countless time, that Jason will always listen, show understanding and try to find solutions that last rather than just punish.

Thank you, Jason!

Thai heroes …

This was published by WST today:

Former world number three James Wattana has spent the past few weeks in Bangkok helping the poor and homeless affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Wattana hasn’t seen his own wife and son for three months as he is following advice not to travel to his home outside the Thai capital. Instead, the three-time ranking event winner, a national hero in Thailand, has been devoting his energy towards helping those in need.

Alongside volunteers including fellow snooker player Dechawat Poomjaeng, he fronts regular donation events where they hand out bags of supplies.

“There are eight million people in Bangkok and many of them are now homeless with no work and no food,” said 50-year-old Wattana. “I am trying to do something. We give out bags of rice, eggs, cooking oil, washing powder – whatever we have to keep people happy.

“We have already helped more than 10,000 people and we have another event this week where we will hand supplies to another 3,000. The donation events have to be carefully organised with the government’s help because we need to follow the social distancing rules.

“It makes me feel good to do something for the Thai people. Perhaps snooker has not done enough for them in the past. This is the time to help. It’s much better than being at home and doing nothing.

“I would like to start my own foundation where I can be a guide to helping people and providing money, food and drink. I am going to auction my cue to raise money. This is like a new job for me.

“It’s hard not to see my family – my ten-year-old son doesn’t understand why I can’t come home. But I have to follow the rules.”

Wattana became Asia’s most successful player in the 1990s when he won a string of tournaments, climbed into the world’s top four and twice reached the semi-finals of the World Championship. He was made a Commander Third Class of the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand, a rare honour for a sportsman.

He is still on the pro circuit thanks to an invitational tour card and is currently ranked 89th. “I still love the game and the challenge,” he added. “I would love to play in the World Championship qualifiers. But I don’t know what the future holds, whether I will be able to travel to the UK. The clubs in Thailand are closed so there is no practice. For now I am doing something more important.”

James Wattana is a hero in his country, and he is living up to his status. He is a hero of a human being, quite simply. The less known Dechawat Poomjaeng may be an “original” and someone whose antics have baffled and amused, but he’s a great person and that’s what really matters when it really matters. Thank you, James, and thank you “Poomy”!

A good article about referee Terry Camilleri

This was published yesterday by the “Independent of Malta” and it’s good to read. 

50 Shades of Greats: Snooker referee Terry Camilleri

Simon Farrugia Sunday, 17 May 2020

Terry Camilleri

Terry Camilleri was born on 19 January 1974. He hails from and lives in the small village of Kalkara. He is married to Elaine and has two children, Thomas and Emma. He made a name for himself and for our country through the game of snooker and today he is considered as one of the world’s best referees.

Contrary to nowadays childhood in the 80s was much different. Recalling his early days Terry, the sixth personality to be interviewed for this column, had this to say: “My childhood was very basic and normal at my time. I come from a family of three brothers of which I am the eldest. I grew up in the period when life was much easy and when we used to go outside to play with other friends for most of the time. It was when socialising was as it should be, playing physically with friends and meeting new friends and speaking to friends face to face. Unfortunately this is very different than the online world we are living in today, especially as children.”

Looking back at his school days, as was the normal practice, Terry attended primary school at his hometown in Kalkara. “The school was just round the corner from our house but then I moved to De La Salle College for my secondary school. I then continued my studies in finance which it is where I ended up working with a private company.”

But how did it all start? From where did this interest in the game of snooker begin?  Camilleri gave us an insight of his love to this sport. “My interest in snooker started when my father, as a carpenter, made us a snooker table at home. I fell immediately in love with the sport, but never imagined myself reaching the position I have today! I also remember watching Pot Black, a UK production, broadcast on our local channel. We used to struggle a bit because at that time TV was black and white, until I remember my grandmother getting a coloured one and we used to gather to watch it on colour TV!

Apart from snooker, Terry also had a passion for other sports. “I was always a sport lover in general. I am a football fan and used to love playing as well, with village friends and at school. I am also fond of the national Regatta and also managed to take part in it, where I achieved a second and a third place in two races. Furthermore, I am also a motorsport enthusiast.”

Terry Camilleri at WC

Though playing the game of snooker was his passion Camilleri had an orientation to start officiating games. He recounts how all this happened. “My career started when as a youth, I used to play snooker at our local youth centre. Then in 1990, I heard that a tournament was going to be organised in Malta, which was the first ever Pro-Am Tournament, which had local players and Tony Drago as a professional player. For this tournament the Malta Billiards and Snooker Association was organising a rules’ refresher course to all snooker players by a senior referee from the UK. I decided to apply to get to know the rules better and at the end of the course there was an option to take a referee exam. I sat for the exam and qualified as a Class 3 snooker referee.”

The association wanted qualified referees to take charge of some matches in this tournament. “I accepted and this was the first step I took in my career. This tournament started being organised every year and I ended up being part of the referees’ pool. Year after year snooker in Malta was becoming increasingly successful, thanks to the Association and snooker promotions and the fact that more top UK players were coming over to participate in these tournaments.”

“Moreover, more UK referees were coming to Malta for their refresher courses. After being assessed by senior UK referees, I was asked to go to the UK to referee some matches at qualifying stages. And after a couple of years I was asked to be part of a team of professional referees and referee tournaments at the top level. After consultation with my wife and family, I decided to go ahead. It was not an easy decision as I had to spend a lot of time abroad without my family. My career continued to grow over the years and eventually developed me in one of the top referees in the world of snooker.”

Terry Camilleri. replacing

In fact his experiences took him to the pinnacle of this sport. “I had a lot of experiences in my career which most of them are on the positive side. Some of them are obviously refereeing various prestigious finals of big tournaments, not just in the UK but all over the world. Obviously among various finals, some stand out in particular – the Triple Crown tournaments, the UK Championship and the Masters, which I fondly cherish.

Camilleri kept on going down memory lane. “I also have great experiences by being in charge of four maximum breaks, the famous 147. I was also lucky to referee the 100 centuries in one season of Neil Robertson and the 1,000 carrier centuries of Ronnie O’Sullivan, which are both unique in the history books until today. Obviously one also has some bad days. Although there are only a few of them I still consider them part of my learning curve.”

You made it to the top in the international field. How did you succeed in doing it? “I made it to the top with a lot of learning through the years. I have learnt a lot from my assessors. It was not an easy ride as I had to spend a lot of time abroad without my family. Sometimes you start missing them and your home country but you have to keep strong and show your determination. I have taken my success and opportunities gradually.”

Camilleri is very grateful to all those who helped him during his career as a referee which successfully grew every year and which developed him in one of the top referees in the world of snooker. This was achieved by sheer determination, professionalism, dedication, commitment and a lot of sacrifices.

Terry explains what it means for a referee from a small country like Malta being on the tour with the best professional snooker players. “As a Maltese to be in this position gives me unexplainable pride. I feel very proud and satisfied when I tell people on our circuit and all snooker fans from all over the world that I am from Malta. I feel that from a small island to be included in the top list of referees in the world is something special. A proud moment is when you are introduced as a Maltese referee in front of all the spectators in the arena and to millions of television viewers. Also a great feeling is when meeting people in the street which recognise me and tell me, we watch snooker because you are a Maltese like us, and we ended up enjoying snooker.”

But how is your relationship with the players and fellow referees? “Relationship with players and fellow referees is very good; we are very sociable between us off the table. For me it is my second family. We travel together and we are very close and ready to help one another.”

Snooker, like all other sports, was hardly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, among others the World Championships played at the famous Crucible in Sheffield.

How is the snooker world coping with the situation? “Yes at the moment, like all other sport, snooker is suspended. I think it was the best decision for everyone in the current situation. Obviously many tournaments were cancelled, among them, the World Championship, which hopefully some arrangements are being done to play the tournament in the coming summer, if things obviously get better.

Is the future of snooker, both in Malta and abroad, being hard hit by today’s technological life? “I think snooker at the moment is at its peak. We have a lot of tournaments being organised all over the world and also broadcasting snooker on TV has increased the followers drastically. In Malta, snooker is getting back to its glory days as we have passed a period where it was going downhill. Since the opening of the Snooker Academy here in Malta, thanks to a lot of people working for this with the help of Sports Malta, snooker is being developed in the correct way again and hopefully in the future we will have some players who will make it to the top professional circuit.”

Behind a successful man there is always a woman. That’s how the saying goes. But for Terry it’s not just a saying. “Family is my precious jewel. I really owe a lot to my wife who is very supportive and also with regards to me being abroad a lot of the time; she had a big responsibility in bringing up and caring for our children.”

Taking a more personal side I asked Terry what is his favourite food. “I like every type of food but I certainly would choose Mediterranean. With my condition as a celiac I cannot eat everything so I have to be very careful especially when we are travelling with regards to food.”

Snooker took him to different parts of the globe but which country does he consider as his favourite destination? “I consider the UK as my second home country now, but I like travelling to all other destinations. Every country has its own beauty and characteristics.”

Though Camilleri has a very hectic life, does he have time for hobbies? “I enjoy watching football and especially go to watch Manchester United playing when I can. Also I like to go and watch the Malta National Team matches. Having said this I enjoy watching any sport on TV. I consider myself a sports maniac!”

And when Terry has some free time on his hands, away from the world of sport what does he like doing? “I enjoy doing maintenance work at home which makes me relax a lot. Also going for a walk with my family around my home town Kalkara, which is part of the beautiful Grand Harbour, is also a must. I am also a member of a Scout Group. I enjoy doing voluntary work with our group which is one of the biggest on the island at the moment. I am a member of the committee, which takes care and helps out in organising fund-raising events, camps and other functions. Although it is not an easy job to do, it is very relaxing for me as I meet up with some true friends and also gives me an unexplainable feeling in doing voluntary work.”

One final word to the young generation. “My advice is to be dedicated and enjoy doing their favourite sport, in our case snooker. You have to work hard to achieve. Nothing comes easy and success has to be gained by your abilities, dedication and professionalism. Humility should be a priority in life and always to remain humble, then recognition and success will come your way.”

Enjoy!

Professional snooker could return next month… well done Barry Hearn.

This has been reported by Hector Nunns in the press today

Barry Hearn outlines plans for snooker return with players virus tested

Snooker could be one of the first major sports to resume following the coronavirus lockdown, with a Championship League tournament for 64 players set to go ahead in Leicester next month

Professional snooker will restart in two weeks’ time – under a strict new set of health and safety measures.

A Championship League tournament for 64 players with a first prize of £20,000 is to take place at the Morningside Arena in Leicester from June 1st-11th.

This will see the game become one of the first major sports to resume following lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

The rescheduled Betfred World Championship is due to begin on July 31st and next month’s events will get players back to work and offer a chance to road-test a new safety code.

Barry Hearn
Barry Hearn is going strong despite recent scares (Picture: Getty Images )

The announcement comes after talks between WST and the DCMS and minister for sport, with input from snooker’s all-party group of MPs.

The likes of world No1 and reigning world champion Judd Trump would all have to be throat swab tested for Covid-19 prior to being accepted into the draw.

They would have to show negative, and that would apply to all entering the venue. A hugely trimmed operation would see player guests barred.

Masks would have to be worn by players at all times in the building except during the match and practice.

All those entering the venue would have to complete a full health check, and during the day no one could leave without permission of World Snooker Tour.

The venue would be fully sanitised in advance, players would be forced to wash their hands before playing, and would have personal hand sanitisers by their chair.

They must remain at least 2m apart from their opponent and the referee, and use their own set of playing accessories like rests and spiders.

In a letter sent to all professional players, WST chairman Barry Hearn said: “Health concerns, border closures and the very real possibility of playing events ‘behind closed doors’ may well be problems that exist for some time.

“In anything we do the health and safety of our players, employees and contractors is our primary objective.

“I remain, however, positive about the future of the sport and our ability to rise to the challenges presented.

“I shall next week write to you on my plans for recovery, a blueprint for activity, but bearing in mind in these uncertain times that they will be conditional on the virus situation around the world and various government guidelines.

“I appreciate that travel restrictions may mean that some of you are out of the country, however in order to stay ahead in a highly competitive sports industry, I must start the process by introducing phase 1 of the blueprint for activity as soon as possible.

“Phase 1 of these plans will see Championship League Snooker played ‘behind closed doors’ Live on ITV at the Morningside Arena, Leicester from Monday 1 – Thursday 11 June.

“One small step at a time is the order of the day, so I need to know if you wish to play in this event and I need to know quickly!

“All players, staff and contractors will be virus tested prior to accessing the venue.

“Please appreciate we are doing everything in our power to create a safe environment for your return to professional snooker.

“I would like to believe the whole Tour is behind this initiative, but it remains each players choice as to whether he or she plays in this event.

“For those players overseas who cannot return to the UK to compete, other playing opportunities are being investigated for you.”

This is great news. As you can read, organising and running that tournament under the current circumstances is a challenge and it will be difficult, and rather alien for everyone. This time there is a clear plan regarding how to protect the health of everyone involved. It will also be the opportunity to test the feasibility of running more important tournaments and evaluate how players, referees, officials, media crew and staff venue cope with the situation.

I hope that the players will give it a good go and support the initiative. Surely there will be things that may prove impractical or need improvement but the best way to find a safe working solution will be to give WPBSA and WST feedback and to collaborate with the authorities so that those issues can be resolved.

I’m also glad to read that opportunities are to be created for those who can’t return to the UK. The obvious one would probably be a similar tournament in China.

Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien and Alan McManus about the challenges ahead …

WST has today published this article about Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien having to cope with the uncertainties about the World Championship:

By Michael McMullan

While sportspeople around the world find competitive action put on hold by the Covid-19 crisis for the time being, two of snooker’s longest-standing professionals remain in an enhanced state of limbo, as they wait to play in a tournament which could be crucial to their careers.

When the circuit was effectively suspended almost two months ago, Dubliners Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien both knew they would need to win at least one match in Betfred World Championship qualifying to finish the season in the top 64.

Discussions between WST and WPBSA in terms of how the revised tournament schedule will affect tour promotion and relegation are ongoing, but retaining a top 64 spot would ensure another season for the two popular Dubliners.

Both grew up in an era when the game’s explosion just across the water in Britain was being mirrored in their home city. It was a time when there were around half a dozen high quality places to play within a few minutes’ walk of O’Connell Street in the city centre, and the suburbs were typified by one corner of south west Dublin boasting two snooker clubs within a mile of each other which had more than 100 tables between them.

With so many people playing the game, it was no surprise that Ireland enjoyed an exceptionally strong tournament scene at the time. Doherty and O’Brien became by far its two most successful products, and all these years later they are the only Republic of Ireland players currently on the professional circuit.

From the hundreds of players who entered the professional game when it was thrown open in 1991, O’Brien is one of the very few still around. A ranking tournament winner at the 1999 British Open, he came within five balls of winning The Masters two years later, and in between there was a Crucible quarter-final which took him into the world’s top ten.

“You’ve got to try not to think about something you don’t want to happen,” he says of his ranking predicament.

For me the issue is more about whether the World Championship isn’t played, and how it will all work if it is. Will the hotels be open, will there be somewhere to get something to eat, will there be taxis and transport to get around?

The suspension came at a particularly unfortunate time for O’Brien as he had just produced some of his best form in years to reach the last 16 of the Gibraltar Open, where he was edged out 4-3 by Kyren Wilson before being confined to barracks on his return.

I flew through Spain on the way back, spending about five or six hours in Malaga airport, so I had to quarantine by staying in the house for two weeks. I’ve not played for seven weeks since Gibraltar.”

With Ireland now in the early stages of its gradual exit from lockdown, O’Brien intends to be back on the table in the coming days, but as a precaution will put his regular sessions with players like Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen on hold and get down to work on his own.

If I’m playing with Shaun and he pots a ball which I then take out of the pocket, that isn’t illegal but it is a risk. I have the keys to the club so it’ll just be me there. I’ll even bring my lunch with me so I won’t have to leave all day.

With his wife Jean working in the ambulance service and their 19-year-old daughter Isabelle keeping up with college work, O’Brien has had plenty of time on his own recently, but has made the best of it and established a routine of sorts.

“I’m up early to go for a jog. I recorded the Crucible Classics series on the BBC so I’m watching all of those. There have been plenty of times when I’ve not touched a cue for weeks but in those times I’ve been playing golf and seeing friends, so this has been very different.”

In the race for tour survival, Doherty has been down this road before, having dropped out of the top 64 in 2017. His standing in the game saw him given a two-year invitational card to continue on the circuit, a reprieve he used to great advantage by climbing back up to 56th and earning another season by right.

His last match was on 13th March when Luca Brecel made a century in the deciding frame to knock him out of the Gibraltar Open in the first round, and that remains the last time he picked up a cue.

I came back on the Sunday and Spain’s lockdown had started the day before, so I was just happy to get home,” he explains. “My practice base is at the Radisson Hotel in Stillorgan and that’s closed at the moment. I’m looking forward to getting back hitting some balls and into some sort of routine because it’s been such a strange time, so difficult for everyone.

As a long-established member of the BBC team, Doherty would have been involved right through the World Championship had it gone ahead as planned, whether he had qualified or not.

“I miss Sheffield so much, the excitement, the matches, all the BBC lads. There’s just so much atmosphere; it’s a festival of snooker.”

Like everyone else in the game, the 1997 champion still hopes the showpiece event can happen on its new dates later in the summer, but in the meantime he has had plenty to keep him occupied during the unexpected break.

“I’ve been doing a press-up challenge online, starting with ten a day and building by one each day from there, so by the time I finished on the day the World Championship would have ended I was doing 45. I have to admit my arms are sore now!

“My son Christian is off school so we’ve been spending a lot more time together, going running and having walks. He’s been playing a bit of tennis up against the wall. It’s helped that the weather has been so good in Dublin.”

On the weekend when Doherty and O’Brien were both playing in Gibraltar, Cork’s Aaron Hill was winning the European Under 21 Championship around 150 miles away in Albufeira, earning himself a two-year tour card.

Snooker fans in the Republic will be keeping a close eye on the World Championship qualifiers later in the summer, hoping their country’s two best ever players will prolong their own careers, and ensure Hill won’t be flying the flag alone next season.

The “bold” and “red” highlights have been added by me.

The part I have put in red is particularly interesting because, without explicitely saying it, it only makes sense if there is a possibility that the “revised” tournament isn’t played in the normal format and, clearly, the delicate subject of players relegation is being examined. Obviously if some players can’t make it by no fault of them, it would be  completely unfair to relegate them, and this could affect most of the non UK based players. Also, as I tried to explain objectively, organising the qualifiers is a huge challenge. It may simply prove impossible to do in a safe way. WST is the commecial “leg” of the governing body and their focus is naturally on the “business” side of the sport, it’s sponsoring and its commercial viability. That’s where Barrry Hearn belongs. WPBSA’s focus is on the sport itself, and its exponents, the players.  They are the ones facing all the practical, and human issues created by the current crisis. That’s Jason Ferguson’s responsibility. Even if WST and WPBSA do work together, there will  be “conflicting” views on the current situation, because their main focusses are different. Those “conflicts” need to be resolved in the best possible way and the above highlighted sentences prove that they are working on it, but the solution(s) – or compromise(s) – have not been found/agreed to just yet. No wonder, it’s a very difficult and unusual situation and a wrong decision could have very grave consequences.

Another interesting article that came to my attention yesterday is this one, by Alan Mc Manus

It’s an interesting and entertaining article, describing what’s going on behind the scenes at ITV tournaments. I strongly recommend you to read it.

I will only quote one paragraph

The production crew you don’t see : From directors to programme editors, script supervisors to cameramen, set riggers to sound men, and floor managers to runners. Generally, there’s a ballpark figure of around thirty or forty on site crew at each tournament. In these times of social distancing, the picture below may add perspective, regarding logistical issues where putting on a live televised tournament is concerned. In addition you have World Snooker staff, referees, security & venue staff. Without wishing to paint a bleak picture, it illustrates the challenges ahead that we all face.

img_0137-1-1

Now … for those who seem to think that I’m unduly negative, think again. This isn’t ME writing, it’s Angles, and this crowd in the picture is the crowd that will almost certainly be needed at the “Tour Championship”, if it’s held. Remember, it’s “only” 8 players. Now think about 128 … and think again. If you don’t see what a logistic nightmare this is, and why it may well prove too much to handle whilst making sure that all involved are safe, you really need a head check.

My wish is that snooker resumes as soon as possible. I don’t want unecessary delays caused by the fact that the focus and energy are set on unrealistic goals. I’d rather have a less ambitious approach, but one that has the best chances to succeed.