Pro Snooker News

We are only on the third day of the year and already the first snooker event of the year is over. Indeed Neil Robertson beat Jack Lisowski by 3-0 in the final to win the Championship League Snooker Event 1.  Neil is through to the Winners Group. The overall winner of the event gets a spot in next season Champion of champions.

All results can be found on snooker.org. 

Action continues today in Coventry with the Championship League Snooker Event 2. This event will finish tomorrow night and you can follow it here on snooker.org 

Also, Worldsnooker has published the draw and format for the television stages of the German Masters.

Here’s the updated draw and format for the final stages of the 2019 D88.com German Masters at the Tempodrom in Berlin, following the completion of the qualifying rounds.

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

The tournament runs from January 30 to February 3, with top stars including Mark Williams, Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy, Kyren Wilson, John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby battling for the title. Tickets for certain sessions are still available – for details click here

Despite the pre-Christmas qualifiers slot, we have a good line-up this time.However the winners of the last two events before the holidays break are missing. Neither Ronnie, nor Mark Allen entered. Ronnie though should be in Berlin as a pundit and commentator.

This event is important because it’s the last one counting  before the World Grand Prix, the first of the Coral Cup events.

Here is where things stand regarding that event (WPBSA)

The Cheltenham Race

2nd January 2019

There is just one event to be completed in the race to qualify for this season’s Coral World Grand Prix which will be staged at The Centaur, Cheltenham Racecourse for the first time from 4-10 February 2019.

As in previous seasons, the event will see 32 players contest the title with a top prize of £100,000 to be won and the field is now almost set for the prestigious event won last year by Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The event is the first of the new ‘Coral Series’ tournaments, also comprising this season’s Coral Players Championship and the all-new Coral Tour Championship this spring.

Who will qualify?

As was the case last season, the top 32 players on the one-year ranking list will qualify to play at the World Grand Prix.

This differs from the official two-year rolling list as the one-year ranking list includes only prize money earned since the start of this season at the 2018 Riga Masters, through to and including the German Masters.

This covers a total of 11 counting events, 10 of which have now been completed following Mark Allen’s victory at the Scottish Open before Christmas.

The state of play

A year ago, £57,000 was enough to seal qualification for the tournament, but this time 32nd placed Gary Wilson is currently poised to qualify with £48,600 heading into the final stages of the German Masters in Berlin.

However, with Wilson already having lost in the second qualifying round for that tournament, he could still be overtaken if any of up to 12 players below him on the one-year ranking list who have qualified for Germany are able to run deep at the Tempodrom.

Of the players currently ranked within the world’s top 32 on the official world ranking list, eight are set to miss out on qualification for Cheltenham as it stands, based on their prize money earned this season (current one-year positions including prize money earned at the German Masters qualifiers in brackets):

  • Zhou Yuelong (33)
  • Robert Milkins (34)
  • Luca Brecel (37)
  • Graeme Dott (39)
  • Anthony Hamilton (40)
  • Liang Wenbo (49)
  • Martin Gould (65)
  • Anthony McGill (72)

Of these players, only Zhou Yuelong and Robert Milkins have qualified for the final stages in Berlin and so can add to their tallies, each needing to win at least two matches to have any chance of qualification.

Gary Wilson playing snooker

The eight lower-ranked players currently in position to qualify on the one-year list are:

  • Martin O’Donnell (16)
  • Noppon Saengkham (19)
  • Mark Davis (21)
  • Zhao Xintong (23)
  • Matthew Stevens (25)
  • Stuart Carrington (26)
  • Yuan Sijun (28)
  • Gary Wilson (32)

Of these players, almost all look well-placed to stay there, with only Gary Wilson sweating on other results as detailed above.

The Race to the World Grand Prix concludes with the start of the final stages of the 2019 German Masters on 30 January.

 

Jimmy in Lincoln for a good cause …

JimmyExho11.01.2018

This is a special exhibition as it’s gathering money to support disability snooker.

The man behind this exhibition is Nigel Coton, a disabled player himself. He knows how difficult it can be for disabled players to fund their participation in WDBS events, as many are on benefits and quite lonely. Nigel himself is not in that situation but he wants to help those less privileged because for many of those players, WDBS snooker is very important: it’s a place where they feel welcome and valued, and for some it’s even their only “family”.

So, if you can, come and support this great event.

Remember, Ronnie did a similar exhibition in 2017, and this was the result

There is only one VIP non playing table for five persons left, but there is still plenty of seats available in the arena.

VIP tickets offer ringside seats, a Champagne buffet and the exclusive “meet and greet” reception before the main event from 16.30 to 18.30.

The Arena doors open at 18.30 and the main show starts at 19.00 sharp.

I will be there … with my camera. Beware!

To start the new year…

First I want to wish every one of you, and your loved ones, a peaceful, healthy, happy and succesful year to come. May 2019 bring you the best.

Happy2019

In 2018, this blog has got 101 013 visitors. and over 280 000 views. Thank you! Really,

Thank you!

The year starts with something I find both great and amusing. Apparently Eurosport ran their own version “SPOTY” in the UK, this one voted by the fans of sport, and this is the result.

It makes you wonder what would have happened if BBC wasn’t restricting the people’s choices, via a panel that clearly is not representative of the “average” sports fan.

Well done Ronnie, and here is to more of the same!

Ideally with at World title thrown in?

And snooker is back with the Championships League 2019.

To conclude the year

Worldsnooker has published this feature about what was certainly the best match of 2018:

As 2018 draws to a close we reflect on the best match of the year: the Betfred World Championship final.

Two giants of the baize clashed in the first ever Crucible final to be contested between two players over the age of 40. Mark Williams defeated John Higgins 18-16 in what turned out to be a true classic. In terms of the drama and the standard of play, it stands alongside the all-time great Crucible finals.

The snooker public were captivated by a match which saw Williams aiming for his first world crown since 2003 and Higgins searching for an illusive fifth world title.

Welshman Williams had enjoyed a dramatic resurgence across the season as a whole, winning a ranking title for the first time since 2011 at the Northern Ireland Open and adding further ranking silverware to his collection at the German Masters.

Scotland’s Higgins was appearing in his second consecutive world final, having suffered a heart-breaking 18-15 defeat at the hands of Mark Selby a year earlier.

Williams could have been forgiven for coming into the final somewhat jaded as he only just overcame Barry Hawkins in a nerve-shredding semi-final 17-15, which ended in the small hours of the morning. After completing his media obligations, the down to earth Welshman re-fuelled with a 2:30am pit stop at a city centre kebab shop.

That seemed to do the trick as when play got underway, just a matter of hours later, he showed no signs of tiredness. After moving 4-0 ahead and being pegged back to 7-7, Williams went on to win seven consecutive frames to lead 14-7.

Higgins was on the brink of a potential defeat with a session to spare, but summoned an epic fightback to level at 15-15, making some astonishing clearances along the way.

Williams regained the upper hand and led 17-15 and looked set to get over the line in the 33rd frame until he missed a match-ball pink. Higgins produced another nerveless clearance of 68 to keep his hopes alive.

Williams was typically undeterred and knocked in a break of 69, initiated by a sensational red to the middle pocket. That secured a glorious 18-16 victory and his third world title. He then stoically fulfilled a mid-tournament pledge to do his post-match press conference naked if he won the title.

Hector Nunns is one of snooker’s most prominent journalists and is author of the 2017 book ‘The Crucible’s Greatest Matches’. This year’s final came too late to make the book, but Nunns rates the 2018 final as one of the all-time best.

He said: “Sport conjures up moments when the hype proves to be fully justified, and the classic ‘Class of 1992’ final in 2018 was just such an occasion. Mark Williams saw his phlegmatic character tested to the limit as John Higgins came back to 15-15 from 15-10 down with so much at stake, and perhaps only a player as laid-back as the Welshman could have shrugged that off and kicked on once again, also overcoming that missed pink to close it out at 17-15.

“A battling and proud Higgins dug so deep to make a fight of it, and by his own admission that huge effort and the subsequent disappointment carried over the summer into the start of the season. The enduring rivalry between two players who have sparred since junior days was the backdrop narrative to this final, and Williams honouring a rash pledge to do his winner’s press conference in the nude spoke volumes for his integrity and gave us in the media headlines and back page pictures to die for.”

The famous 1985 black ball final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor may never be beaten in terms of its edge-of the-seat conclusion, but today’s standard of play is light years ahead. There wasn’t a single century break in the 1985 final, while this year there were six tons and 24 more breaks over 50.

Six-time Crucible king Davis believes that the level of performance in the modern game is so high, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to push barriers in terms of the standard at the top level.

Davis said: “The new brigade can’t really improve on the standard the top guys are already producing. There was a time when you go back to my era and Stephen Hendry’s period, when the ceiling of achievement had not yet been reached. The current era are getting to the point where they are close to the level that humans are physically capable of reaching on a snooker table. Therefore, the new guys aren’t leapfrogging over the top like we did in the 80s and Hendry did in the 90s. To do the same with John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan is near on impossible.”

A World Championship final isn’t just special for the two players doing battle on the baize. It is the highlight of any referee’s career too. Overseeing snooker’s biggest match holds special significance for Brendan Moore as he is born and bred in Sheffield. He took charge of his second World Championship final in May, having already donned the white gloves for Mark Selby’s 18-14 win over Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2014.

“This year’s final goes down as the best I’ve ever refereed,” said Moore. “My first world final with Ronnie and Mark was fantastic. However, the atmosphere this year combined with the way this match went made it extra special. The comeback from John on that final night session was just awesome. The fact that other than the opponent I was the next person to shake hands with the winner was a great feeling in itself. It’s the only game I have refereed which I have watched back from first ball to last just to witness the actual match again.”

Defeat hit Higgins hard. Despite reaching September’s China Championship final, which he lost 10-9 to Mark Selby, he has openly admitted to suffering a lack of motivation to get back on the baize.

“It still hurts,” reflected the Wizard of Wishaw, several months after the result. “I’ve lost two finals in a row. It has been heart-breaking to pick the cue back out of the case. I was well behind. I was basically looking as if I was out of it. I just didn’t want to lose with a session to spare. Before you know it you are right back in the thick of it. Mark did really well to clear up in the last frame. I suppose it was good, the comeback was on. But I started really badly and he put me under pressure as well.”

For Williams it was a moment which he thought he may never enjoy again, having had to wait since 2003 to appear in another Crucible final. However, the unflappable Williams managed to remain calm in the crucial closing stages.

“Even when I missed the pink at 17-15, there was no tension going through my body,” he recalls. “I knew that if I got a chance in the next frame I would make a decent break. Even if it went 17-17 I would have felt totally calm. I wish I knew why. If you put a heart monitor on me, it wouldn’t be going any faster than as if I was playing in the club.

“I think from the quarter-finals onwards myself against John Higgins was the final that 95 percent of people would have chosen, because we are two of the older players. The younger guys will get their chance. But everyone wanted to see this clash and I don’t think they were disappointed. I don’t think John can play much better than that and I can’t play better than that.”

More Great Crucible Finals

1985 – Dennis Taylor 18-17 Steve Davis
Snooker’s most famous match saw 18.5 million people tune in on television and witness Dennis Taylor complete a fightback of epic proportions in the most dramatic of conclusions. Steve Davis had already won three of his six world titles and had looked nailed on for a fourth when he cruised into an 8-0 lead. However, popular Northern Irishman Taylor clawed his way back into the tie and went on to win a thrilling black ball battle in the decider.

1994 – Stephen Hendry 18-17 Jimmy White
Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White met for the fourth time in a Crucible final in 1994 and it looked as if the Whirlwind was set to land snooker’s biggest prize for the first time when he had the balls at his mercy in the decider. However, with a 37-24 lead, he missed a routine black off the spot and Hendry ruthlessly pounced with a break of 58 to inflict another heart-breaking defeat on his opponent.

2005 – Shaun Murphy 18-16 Matthew Stevens
Shaun Murphy and Matthew Stevens produced a blistering standard of snooker in an enthralling final, which saw the Magician fire in 16 breaks over 50 on his way to winning the title. Murphy, age 22, was a 150/1 outsider coming into the event and became the first qualifier since Terry Griffiths in 1979 to lift the trophy.

2011 – John Higgins 18-15 Judd Trump
There was an electrifying atmosphere when one of the sport’s greats met a precociously talented 21-year-old for the world title.  John Higgins carried a 13-12 lead over Judd Trump into the final session, where a raucous crowd greeted the two players. Scotland’s Higgins won four of the last five frames to surge to the line and broke down in tears after clinching the title for the fourth time.

The standard set by the Class of 92, throughout their career will indeed be very hard to beat. But i still find it worrying that there isn’t one player under 25, outside Asia, who seems to even get close to the standard the Ronnie, Mark Willams, John Higgins, Stephen Lee, Matthew Stevens, Paul Hunter and more showed well before reaching their 25th birthday. Of course, in part, the decline of the amateur game is to blame, but I’m also convinced that the current system isn’t helping them either. It’s extremely brutal. Yes, players can learn from defeats, but if the gap is too big, this is unlikely to happen, and it’s dispiriting.

As for the 2011 final, I was on the floor when the players got down the steps ahead of the final session. I’ve never experienced anything like that, before or since. The tension and excitement were extreme. Higgins who had served a ban at the start of the season, and lost his father only recently was indeed in tears. But there will always be a question: what if Judd Trump hadn’t gone for that incredibly difficult blue in the fifth frame of the third session? He was leading by three frames. Had he got it, his advantage would have been five frames. BUT he missed it, and Higgins went on to win the next three frames as well … it felt like a turning point, right when it happened and it really proved to be exactly that.

Women in snooker …

Another “end of year break” feature by Worldsnooker 

By Shabnam Younus-Jewell

This is the year the Doctor regenerated as a woman for the first time, landing in Sheffield and declaring: “Half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman.”

Well, the city’s very own Tardis that is the Crucible Theatre has seen plenty of steely Scottish men playing indomitable snooker over the years, one of them holding a record seven world titles. But is it an alien thought to imagine a woman joining the cast at the World Championship one day soon?

The eleven-time World Women’s champion Reanne Evans has come the closest. She has competed on the professional circuit and became the first woman to qualify for the venue stages of a full-ranking event at the 2013 Wuxi Classic. In 2017 she was just two wins away from making more history, after beating Robin Hull 10-8 in World Championship qualifying at Pond’s Forge. She called it her “best win.”

Evans remains the greatest player the women’s game has seen but she’s had to relinquish her number one status to a new, worthy rival, Hong Kong’s Ng On Yee. Could she now be the one to break through the snooker stratosphere and go where no woman has gone before?

The petite potter has won three world women’s titles and four UK championships. She’s also been recognised in her country by being named ‘Best of the Best’ at the Samsung Hong Kong Sports Star awards twice. However she hasn’t yet managed to beat a male player during any of her three opportunities to qualify for the World Championship in Sheffield.

One of the game’s greats, six-time world champion Steve Davis once commented that women may not be as “obsessive” as men, which could be why they are not reaching the higher levels of the game yet. On Yee believes men and women are not on different planets mentally, they just need to play against each other more. “We need experience at the same venues and environment, everything,” she said. “The first time I went to the World Championship qualifiers everything was new to me. The audience, the big venue, cameras. If we can have more experience and practice, then we can be the same.”

The sport’s governing body, The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, continues to encourage women to play the sport and insists there is nothing stopping them from going to the top.

Chairman Jason Ferguson said at this year’s Ladies’ Day at the Crucible in May: “There is no reason why a woman can’t achieve the same as a man in snooker. There are no physical barriers. We’re trying to remove any barriers. We just want more women to play.

“This is an amazing sport, a mixed gender sport, our World Snooker Tour is open to anyone, it’s all about being good enough. We’ve had progress, the players have been around for many years, it’s just clubs and facilities haven’t been attractive for women to take up the sport.”

The World Women’s Snooker Championship started running in 1976. For six of those years, around the turn of the century, the final stages were held alongside its professional equivalent, at the Crucible Theatre. The name Selby is a familiar one in today’s game and funnily enough, it was one Vera Selby MBE who lifted the first World Women’s trophy. She did it again in 1981, beating Mandy Fisher, who went on to win her title three years later.

Fisher has been instrumental in creating World Ladies Billiards and Snooker and is now President of the body.  “Back in the 80s, I would go to challenge matches and exhibitions all around the country and very often I’d go to clubs where it said no women allowed in the snooker room,” she said. “Thankfully the world has moved on a lot since then.”

If the sport is now more welcoming to women, what is preventing them from turning professional and reaching the top of the game? Fisher said: “We need to see more women playing on the television so they are role models for other girls. It will also attract more sponsorship.”

So how soon could we see a female player in the first round of the World Championship? She added: “I’ve been involved in women’s snooker and running it for the past 40 years. I just hope in my lifetime I will see that happen.”

The chance to perform on the game’s biggest stage is earned only by the most consistent and resilient of players. They all want to play under the spotlight at the Crucible Theatre, where stars can shine. But the majority admit it’s the most intimidating of spaces, where they feel like they’re doing battle in a parallel universe.

On Yee touches the goosebumps on her arms as soon as the iconic venue is mentioned and her eyes light up brighter than her eccentric yellow-framed glasses. Does she want to be the next Time Lord, with her cue a formidable weapon in the snooker galaxy? “Of course my ultimate goal will be playing at the Crucible, with the live broadcast, so my family and fans can watch me back home,” she says, with her endearing giggle. “I don’t know if I can be the first woman to do that, but I’m working on it. I also have a slogan. If you believe it you can achieve it.”

On Yee will be defending her world title as part of the World Snooker Federation Championships at the Dubai World Trade Centre in the UAE from 28-31 March 2019. The winner will earn a place at the Betfred World Championship qualifiers in Sheffield in April.

Nine years ago I was writing this on Matt Huart’s blog

Some thoughts about the Ladies in snooker…

Reanne Evans, the dominant force in the ladie's game

First … I want to thank Matt for inviting me to post on his blog and offering the opportunity to share some of my views on a not so well known area of snooker, the Ladies’ game.

I’ve been following the ladies for a while now and I have been in three ranking events already this season. There is no denial that the level of the ladies’ game is way behind the men’s. Reanne Evans, 24, is the current WLBSA World Champion; she’s won it five times, she’s also the current IBSF World Champion. She’s undefeated for 49 matches in WLBSA ranking events, and counting. Her high break in competition is 140. That’s pretty impressive and yet she hasn’t been able to qualify for the main tour, despite taking part of the PIOS in the past. Also she will certainly lose her IBSF crown in the coming days because she hasn’t been able to travel to India to defend her title, by lack of a sponsor. So what’s wrong? Will we one day see a female amongst the game elite, or not?

“No, because girls are inferior …”

Yes, I’ve read that, literally, on forums. I’m hugely interested in neuroscience and I’m the first to accept that, on average, there are significant differences between “women’s brain” and “men’s brain”. While girls are usually better at verbal and social skills, boys have a better eye-hand coordination and spatial perception, both characteristics that would make them more apt to a game like snooker. They are also more competitive, again on average.

I wrote “on average”… because that does not mean anything when considering the individual. So you would expect that, given snooker does not require real physical strength, provided enough girls play the game, and proper coaching, at least some of them would be able to compete with the top boys. Today this isn’t the case. So why?

The answer is: because not many girls take on the game… although according to some coaches their number is increasing. There are several reasons for that situation to happen.

  • Only too often, clubs are not very welcoming to females, if they are allowed to play at all. Certainly in the UK, many clubs are “men only”. I must say that for a mainland Europe citizen this is shocking but there we go. Even Reanne confirmed to me that she’s not allowed to play in some clubs near her home, and that in clubs where she is accepted some men don’t want to play her because she’s a female. Hannah Jones (13 years old and currently ranked 12) and her father also complained about the patronizing attitude they were facing in clubs. Girls tend to be ridiculed or hassled. This is hard to take especially for teenagers. Another consequence of this is that girls find it hard to make progress because they are not allowed or encouraged to play against tougher male opposition. This is particularly problematic when they reach a good level as having challenges is essential to motivation and improvement.

 

  • Girls are not encouraged to play snooker. Rarely will you see a father introducing his daughter to the game and to the club. From a parent’s point of view this is understandable. Not only because of the unwelcoming cultural/societal context but mainly because there is not much hope for a girl to make a living out of snooker in the present state of the game. Prize money is so low that even the world champion can’t make a living of it. It wasn’t always that bad though. In the eighties and nineties there was a much stronger ladies field, not only in UK but worldwide, with the likes of Allison, Mandy and Kelly Fisher to name only a few. In the fall of 1997, just after the Grand Prix, the WLBSA joined the WPBSA. Snooker was still huge and the ladies had big expectations. It turned out that actually WPBSA did very little to support the ladies and when the tobacco ban entered into force they pleaded poverty and just dropped WLBSA penniless. That was early 2004 and since then the ladies game has been in a real slump. The most prominent UK players at the time fled to the US to make a living out of pool, very successfully, Allison Fisher being the prime example. The Asian players didn’t have the means anymore, or the interest to come and play in WLBSA events. It hasn’t changed unfortunately. I learned very recently that Hannah is making her debuts in 9-balls as well. There at least she has a professional future.
  • Girls are not shown and not sponsored. Both things go hand in hand of course, sponsors typically want exposure. The girls are never shown on television, very rarely on streaming. If you search for Allison Fisher on YouTube you will find plenty of pool and just one example of her playing snooker, a frame in a match of doubles with Steve Davis. Knowing that Allison is most probably the greatest ever lady in the game, that says it all … When WPBSA was in charge of the Ladies’ game the finals were played in Sheffield at the Crucible. All the necessary equipment was available to record at least some of the games. It could have been shown during the men’s matches mid session intervals, or during the various diversions BBC always offers during the World Championship. No, preference was always given to snippets about the male players … playing golf or fishing or whatever. The situation hasn’t improved. This year the World Championship will be played in Cambridge in a club where the ladies are very welcome. But it’s not an actual arena, so only a very limited audience, mainly friends and families will fit in the available space. And it’s not equipped even to allow for streaming. As a consequence, not only are the girls actually paying from their own money to compete but the whole WLBSA is largely relying on people, like Mandy Fisher, Tim Dunkley and Mark Jones who do it for the love of the game, on their spare time and at their own expense. And that’s also why the IBSF defending champion is not currently in India to defend her title.
  • Women find it hard to put the hours into practice. Obviously when you have to earn a living and you can’t live on your sport, you need another job. When kids come around, it’s mainly the women who take care of them, especially when they are young. This not only limits the time they can devote to practice, it also limits their freedom to travel around to venues. Simple facts of life but they add up to the other difficulties.

Having been to several ladies events over the last year, I’m convinced their snooker is every bit as interesting and enthralling as the men’s. Not so many big breaks but, partially because of that, a lot of twists and turns, drama and tension. Bringing the ladies in the media could attract a different type of audience and sponsors. After all it’s mainly the women doing the shopping. So it’s well worth to try and improve the situation. But how?

The floor is yours for comments and suggestions…

I want to thank Chris Turner, Mandy Fisher, Janie Watkins, Mark and Hannah Jones, Tim Dunkley, Marianne Williams, Dan Lewis, Simon Markham and Reanne Evans for taking the time to discuss this subject with me and providing me factual information that contributed to the “birth” of this article.

I’m happy to say that there has been improvement since then. In particular we have seen more  young women entering events, and the standard is definitely getting better. But there is also still a lot of room for further improvement. Prejudices are still very much alive. Events like the WSF Championships are important because the women there are playing under the same conditions  than the men, they get the same exposure and the main Championship is mixed genders.

Alex Higgins …

As the Christmas break continues and there is action on the baize – not for the pros at least – Worldsnooker is publishing more articles of general interest for the fans of snooker. The last one is about Alex Higgins.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Alex Higgins winning the Northern Ireland Amateur Championship. By beating Maurice Gill in the final in 1968, the teenage genius from Belfast gave a clear indication that he was ready to make his mark on snooker. The Hurricane went on to win two World Championship titles and establish himself as one of Northern Ireland’s all-time great sportsmen and most extraordinary characters. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 61. We asked a few of those who knew him best to give us their favourite memories of a true legend…

Ken Doherty
“Alex was the reason I took up snooker. I first saw him play on TV on Pot Black, whizzing around the table potting balls. It drew me into the game, I was so excited to watch him. He was a true inspiration to a lot of kids in the 1970s and 80s. He was a real hero. I was the last person to play Alex at the Crucible, in 1994. During the match he had an argument with the referee John Williams. Alex was trying to tell him where to stand, and John replied: ‘I have been standing in the same place all day, I’m not in your line of sight.’ Alex turned around as quick as flash and said: ‘No, but you’re in my line of thought.’ Whatever that meant I don’t know, but it cracked me up! He was great to be around. When I was 14 I used to work as an usher at the Goffs venue in Ireland, fetching drinks for the players. He used to say to me: ‘Hey kid, if I ask you for an orange juice, that means a vodka and orange. If I ask for a vodka and orange, that means a double.’ That was the first time I met him. I knew he was something else.”

Jimmy White
“I was playing an exhibition with Alex in Aberdeen and there was a girl in a wheelchair watching. Afterwards Alex went to talk to her and her family. The next night, we were playing another exhibition in Edinburgh, and the same girl turned up again. And again Alex went to speak to her afterwards. We got chatting to her parents and we all ended up going out together for fish and chips. I could see how made up the girl was. I’m sure it’s something she has never forgotten. Alex had a big heart and did a lot of that kind of thing which was never mentioned. He was very unpredictable.”

Mark Allen
“Alex has gone down in history as being one of the greatest sportsmen from Northern Ireland. I didn’t get to appreciate him in his time, but I have watched plenty of videos and heard all the stories and I consider him a hero. He did wonders for snooker. Alex and Jimmy White more or less carried the sport for many years in the sense that they had a pop-star image.”

Mark Williams
“At the 1992 UK Championship I was playing Stephen Hendry. Before the match, Alex came up to me and gave me badge to put on my waistcoat. It was silver, in the shape of a pig. He told me it was his lucky charm which he had always carried with him, and he wanted me to have it. I can’t repeat the exact words he said, but he told me he wanted me to go out and beat Hendry. It didn’t work because I lost 9-8! But it was a very nice thing for me, at the age of only 17, to be given a gift like that by him. I never expected it and I’m still not sure why he wanted me to have it. I wore it on my waistcoat for many years and I’ve still got it in my house. I never got to see Alex play when he was at his best. I only played him once towards the end of his career. But I’ve watched videos of him and there is no one like him any more, the style he played with.”

Terry Griffiths
“My favourite moment involving Alex is playing him in the final of the Masters in 1980. It was my first Masters, staged at the old Wembley Conference Centre, which was a fabulous venue. The players had to walk up some stairs to get into the arena, and I remember coming out to 2,700 people cheering and shouting. I went to sit in my seat, looked around and just thought: ‘This is the best place I could ever hope to be.’ I was absolutely buzzing. Then Alex was introduced and the roar went to a new level. It was incredible, the reception he got. My body was tingling all over. It was an amazing experience. That’s why I always loved playing Alex, because of the atmosphere he generated. And when you were playing him you never knew whether you’d be sitting in your chair for three frames because he couldn’t miss, or at the table for three frames because he couldn’t pot a ball. It was always exciting. He did so much for snooker – not all of it good! But he was a wonderful asset for the sport as we went into the 1980s.”

Joe Swail
“Alex was an absolute idol of mine when I was growing up. So the first time I met him will always stay in my memory. I was 14 and playing in a pro-am event in Cork. I went up to the bar to get an orange juice, and Alex was sitting there doing a crossword. He turned around and saw me and I could see he was struggling with one of the clues and he wanted to ask me if I knew the answer. But he must have known who I was because he just said ‘There’s no point asking you, you’re from Belfast as well,’ then he turned his back on me! Years later I got to know him well and had some great times with him. He was one of a kind.’

Phil Yates – snooker journalist
“I was covering snooker for national newspapers as Higgins was coming towards the end of his career. There were times when he lost matches and the journalists didn’t want to speak to him afterwards because we knew he would be in a foul mood. I remember one occasion at the Norbreck Castle when he was playing in a qualifying event. Myself and one of the other writers, Trevor Baxter, already had a story that day because someone had made a 147. So when Higgins lost and the tournament director, Ann Yates, asked us if we wanted to speak to him, we said no. She replied: ‘Well, he’s definitely going to want to speak to you.’ So Trevor and I went to hide in a toilet next to the press room. We heard Alex come into the press room and say he wanted to speak to us. He was shouting: ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are’ as we were cowering in the toilet! We stayed in there until we were sure he had gone. Another time I recall at the same venue, he played a Thai called Tai Pichit in the World Championship qualifiers. In one frame Higgins made a century, a break of 137 which was one of the highest of his career. As he cleared the colours he was actually crying in between shots. In the end he lost 10-5. I spoke to Tai after the match and he said simply: ‘I don’t want to play him again. He’s crazy.’”

I must admit that I don’t feel much admiration for Alex. Having read his autobiography, as well as Jason Francis books about the origins of the Snooker Legends shows and his involvement with Alex, my perception of Alex as a person is not exactly positive: in both books he comes across as a spoiled brat grown into a selfish, obnoxious, prone to violence and dishonest adult. Watching “The Rack Pack”  (BBC2) hasn’t changed that perception either. Of course, I am aware of his huge influence on snooker as a sport, and of the fact that he was key to snooker booming popularity in the 80th. I have watched some footage, and I can see how different he was from the rest at the time and why he was exciting. I can see why young boys aspiring to become snooker players were attracted by his style and flair. He definitely did change snooker forever. But I wasn’t around at the time and that probably explains why I’m not really “caught” into the fascination he seems to have exerted on fans and fellow pros alike in the days. I am also well aware of the issues he had, with alcohol and gambling and many in the sport have said that he didn’t get the help and support he needed and deserved. But then again, when people did try to help him, and there were quite a few who certainly did try – Ken Doherty, Jimmy White, Jason Francis, Ronnie, even fans doing crowdfunding before the word existed …  – he always managed to sabotage their efforts somehow. He never seemed to accept that his behaviour was the main problem, not the others, and that he had to change for things to improve. That he died the way he did – from malnutrition – is terrible. The state he was in was in part a consequence of his fight against cancer, but it was also largely a consequence of a life ruined by severe alcoholism. It’s extremely difficult to help and save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.

BTW if you haven’t watched “The Rack Pack”,  it’s very well filmed and interesting, albeit not 100% in accordance with the historical truth.

Here is the trailer

And the film

And the BBC documentary about Alex!

Staging a tournament

As there is no action for now, Worldsnooker is taking time to tell us what happens behind the scene and today published a feature on what it takes to stage a  ranking tournament.

Staging a ranking tournament involves many intricacies, which may not be immediately apparent. The task of showcasing the finest 128 snooker stars on the planet is one which requires rigorous attention to detail and precise execution.

Whether it be for those tableside in the arena, or those sitting in front of the television preparing for a session of world-class sport, the giants of the green baize provide entertainment to many millions of people every year.

Beaming television coverage to more than 50 countries around the world, accommodating thousands of fans in the arena and looking after 128 players, competing on eight tables, requires extensive planning.

The process of organising a ranking event typically begins years before the players take to the baize. World Snooker’s Operations Director Nigel Oldfield plays a key role in putting together the calendar and finding venues. Much like the players out in the arena, he needs to be thinking several steps ahead.

Oldfield said: “The first part of the process is finding the dates and that comes by looking at where we can fit the event within the overall calendar and undertaking discussions with broadcasters. At the moment, I have not only got a draft calendar for the 2019/20 season, but also the 2020/21 season. You need to be thinking that far ahead of yourself to be able to manage things.

“Once that has been done we need to find a suitable and available venue. The sort of venue which is required really does need to fulfil some very specific criteria, which narrows down the number of places we can go. Ideally it needs to have its own box office. But most significantly it needs to be able to hold eight tables at the same time as ensuring a good experience for the fans front of house and hosting 128 players backstage.”

The next part of the process is ensuring a packed-out crowd. Established tournaments like the World Championship sell out a year in advance. Fans queued through the night outside the Crucible to get their hands on tickets for the 2019 Championship. However, most other events require extensive promotion. World Snooker’s event management and marketing team, based in Bristol, spend months before each tournament working on branding, ticket promotions, artwork and advertising in order to raise awareness.

For events to be successful, they must be at the forefront of public consciousness. The emergence of social media as arguably the world’s most powerful news and marketing tool has changed the way we consume content. While we still obtain much of our information from traditional means like newspapers, televisions and radios, we are now equally invested in using phones, tablets and laptops for our news.

It is the job of Ivan Hirschowitz, who heads up World Snooker’s media team, to work with the global and local press to give them the access to events, while directing the in-house coverage of tournaments on digital platforms.

Hirschowitz said: “The media build up to a tournament will begin several months before it starts, usually around the opening of the box office and the announcement of the venue. We always have a partnership with the biggest regional newspaper and we’ll work with local media to build up the event and raise awareness. Social media is such an important way of communicating with fans so we have invested a lot in building up the quality of our digital content. We can convey messages about tournaments and tickets to half a million fans with the click of a button, which just wasn’t possible a decade ago.

“At our biggest tournaments we have more than 100 journalists applying for accreditation, from countries including China, Thailand, India, USA and around Europe. It has been fantastic to see snooker grow as a global sport over the past decade. During events it’s not unusual for our media staff to work 16-hour days. But you can’t beat the excitement of following a match to its conclusion well after midnight!”

Live television also requires plenty of man-hours and complex preparations from the on-site production team and host broadcaster. Eurosport televise the Home Nations series and their innovative coverage has attracted much praise from the snooker community and beyond.

 

Andy Goldstein and Colin Murray present Eurosport’s programmes, with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds providing cutting-edge analysis and expert tips from the practice room. The man in charge of making sure it all comes together is producer Paul Whipps.

“It is amazing how smoothly everything runs in terms of setting up,” said Whipps. “This is our third year of the Home Nations, so once the guys are in the venue, they know exactly how to lay the cables and put things together. They are incredible.

“Once the action gets under way we are live for both the afternoon and evening sessions and I will do a running order for the whole day. We always have a 15-minute introduction before play gets started and although the agenda for the afternoon is set, you can’t really plan too much for the evening show. A lot of what is discussed will come as reaction to the afternoon. I’m relying on lots of help from the team. I’ll speak to Andy, Jimmy and Ronnie about the key points and our head commentator David Hendon often makes suggestions as well. We want to be able to react to whatever is happening on and off the table.”

Before a tournament starts, most venues are empty spaces which need lighting, snooker tables and crowd seating to be put in place with expert precision. TranSport are contracted by World Snooker to direct the rigging process and put up the event infrastructure. Will Cope oversees the process.

He said: “Two or three months beforehand we have a drawing nailed down which shows where everything is going to go. We create a set of rigging notes which tells everyone who is going into the arena, in what order and at what time. There are a range of contractors including ourselves, the carpet fitters, the table fitters, the lighting guys and the cameramen. There are a lot of elements to bring together at the right time, including the structures to support the lighting and all of the cabling. We are the first piece of the jigsaw and we have to get our work done before the table fitters can come in.”

World Snooker Services are tasked with the critical role of getting the tables in position for the action. Both fitting and servicing the tables throughout the tournament is a specialist skill which requires each element to be executed perfectly to create top class playing conditions for the world’s finest snooker stars. Pete Godwin is one of the directors of the company and has more than 35 years of experience in the trade.

“Usually you only have three days to rig the tables as you need to come in after other people have done their job,” said Godwin. “The arena tables have to be put in, up to the slates, and then left to settle overnight. You need to have enough staff there to get the job done on time, but it is a very long process and a skilled job. Before any player gets to the table they all need to be signed off. We need to do level checks, speed checks, cushion reaction check and pocket template checks. Then during the intervals or between matches we brush and iron the tables to make sure they are in top condition. As the event goes on we are also taking tables out. We go from eight tables to six, to four, to two and then down to one for the semi-finals, when we strip the table down to recover and start again.”

 

Tournament Director Mike Ganley and his team oversee the events and ultimately take responsibility and make key decisions for everything which goes on in the match arena.

“I don’t think people necessarily understand how much work goes on in the background,” said Ganley. “We have the referees, the security and officials, media and event managers, so to start with there is the handling of staff. We are constantly in touch with the players, the officials and the broadcaster to make sure that the tournament runs to plan.

“I work with a group of tournament director staff and we share the events out. Whoever is in charge for a certain event has to be the contact and make tough decisions and answer questions. The buck does stop at the tournament director’s desk. That is where it has to stop as somebody needs to have the final say.”

During a season of tournaments in the UK, we use:
2.5 kilometres of snooker cloth
96,417 tickets
2,662 hotel nights for staff
7,828 litres of water
4,650 accreditation lanyards

It’s indeed a lot of work, and I can confirm that Ivan and his team, the fitters, the TV guys, the referees, the cameramen (and women!) and tournament director staff work extremely long hours to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

However some of the things written in this article surprise me a bit. From April 2010 to January 2016 I have been in a lot of tournaments. The “Triple Crown” tournaments are usually well advertised, and them being run for years in a row in the same city and venue does help. But for the other tournaments, I must say that my own experience is that, more often than not, the locals are largely unaware that a snooker tournament is happening close to their home, even the taxi drivers, who naturally tend to meet and speak to many people, often know nothing about it. In those events, especially the smaller ones, I was often the only photographer on site particularly in the early stages. Then the local press usually sent someone for the semi finals and final, or if a local player was in action, or… if Ronnie was playing. At the big events, the UK Championship, the Masters and of course the World Championship there were more people in the media room. The BBC guys, both from television and radio, the written press and photographers. But it was mostly always the same guys event after event and their number was closer to 40 than 100. Things might be different in Asia, but when I attended the Shanghai Masters in 2012, it was roughly the same.

By the way, Hector Nunns who is a (nearly) permanent presence in the media room wrote a feature in a recent issue of Snooker Scene, lamenting about the lack of interest in snooker shown by the newspapers in the UK nowadays. This of course is not WSA fault, it’s largely linked to the rise of social media and the fact that nowadays most people don’t read papers as much as they once did. Actually to “sell” the written press tends to rely a lot on sensationalist stories and catching titles. Unfortunately for snooker, that means that, more often than not, it’s either about Ronnie or about some match fixing “scandal”. So, snooker really owes a lot to mark Williams for his naked press conference. THat put snooker on the radars…