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.

Stephen Hendry chats with Willo … and my perceived negativity.

Here is the Instagram chat between Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams. Quite interesting and enjoyable.

Willo is bored out of his skull, has been a bit unwell, and isn’t looking forward to the prospect of playing the World Championship behind closed doors.

Here is Phil Haig reporting on that part of their conversation:

Mark Williams would prefer no World Snooker Championship than an empty Crucible

The World Snooker Championship is likely to go ahead this summer, but with the very real possibility of no fans being in attendance at the Crucible, Mark Williams would rather it didn’t.

The main event of the WST calendar has been rescheduled to start on 31 July and chairman Barry Hearn is confident it will go ahead, although it seems unlikely there will be anyone there to see it.

The Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy states that sport will be returning to broadcast from 1 June, but behind closed doors, making the July start date likely, but spectators unlikely.

There is to be another review on 4 July, which could see limited crowds let into the Crucible, but nothing is confirmed yet.

While some players will be keen to play the World Championships in any form, three-time world champ Williams would rather skip the event for a year than play in an empty auditorium, having played behind closed doors at the Gibraltar Open in March.

‘I’ve just come back from playing in Gibraltar when there was no one there and what’s the point?’ Williams told Stephen Hendry on Instagram.

‘There’s more atmosphere in the club, at least there’s someone at the bar or playing next to you. There was no one there, it was like “what are we doing here?”

‘It’s just going to be strange. Imagine paying in the Crucible, 9-9 in the first round, the visor goes up in the middle and there’s no one there, not one person.

‘If it does go ahead they’ll probably have the most viewing figures they’ve ever had because there’s not many sports going on

‘Would I prefer it to go on? Probably not if I’m totally honest, I’d rather not play if there’s no crowd, it’ll be so strange.’

WST have promised that the full prize money will be paid to players even if no crowds are present at the Crucible, and the financial issue will be bigger for some players than just overcoming an unusual atmosphere.

Speaking to Metro.co.uk when the coronavirus crisis first struck, world number 11 Dave Gilbert said: If the Worlds gets postponed then that’s a real shame, but if it gets cancelled it’s a disaster, we’re going to lose out on a fortune.

‘I’ve had a couple of good years, but I feel bad for everyone, there aren’t many players in our game who can not get paid for six-months plus.

There are a few, I don’t know the bank accounts of anyone, but if Judd and Ronnie and Selby start struggling for money then we all will be. There will be players down the rankings who might be really struggling.’

Hearn is expecting the event to go ahead and is pushing so, partly for this reason, as it is the biggest payday of the season for players involved, all of whom have seen their earning powers destroyed by the global pandemic.

‘I think we have every chance of at least staging it,’ Hearn told Metro.co.uk in April.

‘It will be with the normal prize money, it could cost us £2.5m in gate money, but that’s life, every battle comes with losses and it’s not an issue.

‘The prize money will stay the same, the players will be able to earn their money, because don’t forget most of my sportsmen are self employed.

‘They’re not contracted players like footballers, cricketers or rugby players where they’re negotiating how much to wave or defer, my guys aren’t getting anything.’

Hearn knows that losing the fans is a significant loss, but it would not be as big a loss as the whole event being cancelled.

‘It’s important for me that my players have the chance to earn money because this is the biggest one of the lot,’ he said.

‘It would be a tragedy to stage it with no one there, but if that’s the only thing we can do, that’s what we’ll do. We are talking about mitigating the size of tragedies.’

Answers to some questions:

Best win was his last World Championship win in 2018, with his family there, and proving everybody wrong.

The best decision was to give it another go when his wife convinced him not to retire and go to Steve Feeney to improve his game.

Toughest opponent? Ronnie or John Higgins

Favourite venue? Preston Guildhall. Names a few others but the Crucible isn’t one of them.

The infamous “Bangkok incident”

Williams doubts that Ding will not win the World Championship now. Too much expectations, and pressure. Ding is probably the best never have won it. He’s only 32 but Hendry thinks he’s past his best.

Rules change? Three misses and then ball in hand for the opponent instead of frame forfeited.

Turning to commentary when retired? Not really.

Remembering Alex Higgins and the little silver piggy charm he gave him. They got along well. He still has it.

The lockdown has got Willo so bored and frustrated about staying home all the time, that he now wants to play as long as possible, even badly. And when he drops off the tour … there is the Seniors tour.

Now back to the article above, yesterday’s post and my perceived negativity…

Let me first say that I certainly don’t want “to cancel everything”. I would love to see snooker return as soon as it can return safely. Barry Hearn brands the possible canceling of the World Championship a “tragedy”. The real tragedy would be if someone – a fan, a player, a referee, an official, a member of the BBC crew or the media … anyone – would get the disease because they attended the event, and dies, or survives but their health is gravely/permanently damaged, or they pass it to someone, maybe an elderly parent who dies… THAT would be a tragedy, not the cancellation of a sporting event no matter how prestigious. The canceled event can be staged another time, the dead person(s) can’t be revived. I don’t want that to happen, and I feel that nobody has right to take ANY risk about it if it can be avoided. That’s my view and nothing will change it.

Now specifically about the World Championship.

There is a possibility that it can be held safely, under closed doors, come the 31th of July. Anything else would not be safe. I read posts saying “The Crucible is less than 1000 people”. Yes indeed, but it’s a very intimate venue, people sit extremely close to each other, and some are close enough to the players to be able to touch them. The proportion of elderly persons in the snooker audience is usually quite high. Unless the crisis is totally under control NOBODY has the right to take such a risk, no matter how much money is at stake.

However, the qualifiers yield an even bigger challenge, as they involve a much higher number of persons and they need to start mid-July the latest. The qualifiers is the part of the World Championship that is ultra-important for the lower-ranked players, the ones who are currently suffering the most from the lack of earnings. They are also ultra-important because for many players, it’s where their career could be revived … or ended.

Here are excerpts of the conversation I had this morning on Twitter with Phil Haig, the author of the above article, and Gary Moss a snooker blogger and journalist.

Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 10.12.41Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 10.13.07Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 13.16.49

Those were my points

Here are the reactions.

Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 10.08.10Screenshot 2020-05-13 at 10.06.37

Many of you may never have been backstage at the Crucible or at the EIS. I have, Gary has and Phil Haig may have. The logistic is extremely important in the current situation to keep  everyone safe.

The Crucible is a great venue for the fans – especially when we get to the one table setup – but it’s actually too small for its purpose when it comes to snooker nowadays. There isn’t much room for anything, be it players/referees room, dressing rooms, media room, practice area, tournament’s office, or hospitality. Everything is small and cramped. And even if there are no spectators some very basic things may prove difficult. Ideally, the players dressing rooms should be cleaned/disinfected each time it’s reallocated. Well during the first two rounds it’s reallocated at every session… and if one session runs late, there might not be enough time for player one to undress, and pack their things, cleaners to do their job and player two get ready for their match. Unless the schedule is completely reconsidered, with an earlier start and bigger “gaps” between sessions. It would be possible – maybe – but probably not with an audience. I can’t see the theatre opening at 7:30 so that the snooker can start at 8.

The real issues are with the qualifiers really, and it’s not just logistics. It’s also about the travel restrictions, their possible consequences, and the fair treatment of all players whose livelihood is at stakes. That’s where the last of the above screenshots comes into the conversation, and you see Phil’s last answer. There is a lot to think about, and surely WPBSA is thinking about those issues. I trust Jason Ferguson about that: he’s a former pro, he will have gone through all the uncertainties associated with being a self-employed sportsperson and he loves his sport to bits.  But he isn’t the boss, and he isn’t a businessman first and foremost. Barry Hearn is a businessman, and I’m not sure I trust him 100% here.

 

 

 

 

Stephen Hendry reflects on his last World Title

We are now in this part of the year when there is usually no professional snooker played, as the Q-school is about to start…

Only that we are still in lockdown, the last events of the 2019/20 season weren’t played when scheduled and it’s unclear whether they will be played at all. It’s also unclear if  – should the 2020 World Championship be canceled – when snooker eventually comes back, it will be the start of a new season, or if this season will be extended up to the 2021 World Championship.

What seems to be certain is that we have weeks ahead of us with no professional snooker to be played. Typically, in such times, we reflect on past events and engage in debates…

Here is a great interview of Stephen Hendry published by WST

This year marks the 30th anniversary since snooker’s most prolific World Champion, Stephen Hendry, notched up the first of his seven Crucible crowns.

Scotland’s Hendry became the youngest ever winner of the World Championship, aged 21 years and 106 days, in 1990. He went on to make further history by the end of the decade, beating six-time World Champion Steve Davis’ tally of Crucible titles, by securing his seventh in 1999.

We’ve caught up with 36-time ranking event winner Hendry to look back on his 1990 victory, which acted as a catalyst for an unparalleled monopoly of snooker’s biggest tournament.

Stephen, first of all what were your emotions like heading into what was your first Crucible final in 1990?

“I basically couldn’t wait to get started. I’d beaten John Parrott in the semis and that meant I’d become world number one already. I was full of confidence going into the final. I’d played Jimmy so many times, I knew our games suited each other. We both liked to go for shots and take risks. We both knew we were going to get chances. I couldn’t wait for the final to start, I didn’t even think there was any chance I was going to lose at all. I was just so confident.”

Do you think that your record as youngest ever World Champion is likely to be broken in the future?

“It is an interesting question, I’ve been asked that a couple of times. People ask what is more likely to be beaten, seven world titles or being the youngest at 21. Probably looking at it, they are both going to be very difficult, but I don’t see anyone coming through at the moment. You would probably have to look at the young Chinese players to see anyone with potential. The game is so competitive coming up through the rankings. To get to the stage of winning the World Championship at 21 is getting more difficult.”

Did you allow yourself time to celebrate after that first victory or did you turn your attentions to amassing more titles straight away?

“I think my manager and I had a plan between us. It was us against the world when I turned professional. Steve Davis and Barry Hearn pretty much had a monopoly on the game. Steve dominated the game throughout the 80s.  Our plan was to take over that dominance. I knew personally that winning the 1990 World Championship was only the start.

“The target before winning the first one was to make history in the game. If someone had said after that first one, you would win another six I would say I fancied my chances, but I wouldn’t believe it 100%. Steve always set the targets in my career that I tried to either emulate or overcome.”

How disappointing was it that you never faced Steve Davis in a World Championship final?

“We were battling for a good few years over the world number one spot. It would have been great. I think to not play either Steve Davis or Ronnie O’Sullivan in a Crucible final is a little regret. I watched back the semi-final with Ronnie in 2002 the other day. It was just a fantastic match. We were both playing aggressive snooker and making centuries. It was like a boxing match, punch for punch. That was the way I liked to play snooker and it would have been great to play a final like that.  I probably never played as well as that again at the Crucible even though it was 2002. You look back on these matches after retiring. I found that when I was doing my book it is easy to forget things, good and bad, and only remember them looking back afterwards.”

Did your World Championship final win over Mark Williams in 1999 feel different to the others given that it was your seventh title?

“Without a doubt. I tried to go through the whole tournament and concentrate match by match. But it was always in the back of my mind. Every press conference that was what people were asking about, so you could never forget about it as hard as you tried.

“It was relief and a monkey off the back. When I got to four, five and six the next step was to break the record. I’d gone two or three years without winning it. You don’t want it to go on for too much longer or you start trying too hard. It was an amazing World Championship win, because the season before it I’d played terribly. I lost 9-0 to Marcus Campbell, I lost three times to Tony Drago. No disrespect to him but I hadn’t lost to him in my whole career. So after that season, to come back and win was even more special.”

Peter Ebdon announced his retirement recently. He is a player you faced in two Crucible finals. What are your memories of him as a competitor?

“He was a strange player because you could go five or six nil up and he would all of a sudden play his best snooker. He was a phenomenal competitor. When he first burst onto the scene there was no doubt he rubbed people up the wrong way, including me, because he was different, he was a breath of fresh air. We had a great rivalry, which I enjoyed for five or six years. We played a lot of semi-finals and big matches. His shot selection was a bit unique and a bit unorthodox. He was a fantastic snooker player, you don’t get to three world finals and win one without being that. The last few years his game hasn’t been what it was and he has got a bit bogged down maybe because of the injury, but people forget how good he was.”

Tomorrow Stephen will be back on Instagram, this time grilling his good friend mark Williams. That should be fun!

Regarding debates …

Two lists were published on twitte today by Phill Mudd:

That very much summarises it…

Keep in mind that Ronnie, John Higgins, and Mark Williams have been in competition with each other since the 1992/93 season and that from the late 90th until 2010/11 when Barry Hearn took over, they had not that much to play in; the 2007/08 season, for instance, featured only six ranking events, the Masters and the Premier League snooker. That was when they were supposed to be in their prime. You can only win events if events are actually available to play in.

Neither dominated snooker like Davis and Hendry did, but then Davis and Hendry both had a spell of several years in their career when they had little opposition coming from players in their age group. Judd Trump is in that position at this moment in time too. Of course, he still has to beat great players, but if you look at who he did meet in finals over the last two seasons, they are guys who are either in their late 30th (Selby, Murphy, Neil Robertson) or well into their 40th (Ronnie, John Higgins, Mark Williams).  A lot of pundits predict that, in the coming years, he will achieve the kind of dominance Davis and Hendry enjoyed. Time will tell and it will be interesting to watch it unfold… or not. 

Meanwhile, the stats above show why Ronnie is – for the time being – the best/greatest player ever in modern snooker history.

 

 

 

Barry Hearn’s “all -times” 10 players

This was published yesterday by Eurosport

All-time top 10: Who does Barry Hearn rate as the greatest players in snooker history?

Barry Hearn Gallery

Desmond Kane

ByDesmond Kane

World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn, Britain’s legendary sports promoter, talks Desmond Kane through his all-time top 10 list of green baize greats. Hearn, who has managed a myriad of snooker icons including Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan, has never missed a World Championship since the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield first hosted the blue-chip event in 1977.

Crucible - Hearn Sponsors

You’ve got to be careful you don’t miss someone out as people can get mortally offended. I don’t really value the older players as I don’t think they were particularly good in comparison to what we witness in the modern game. Guys like Cliff Thorburn and Dennis Taylor had some wind behind them on their day, but technically we live in a different world.

When you watch the old snooker today, it looks terrible in comparison. They miss balls, the cue action looks different and they move on the shot. This is the best era of all time in terms of ability and in my 45 years of watching world-class snooker. Forgive me if I’m going to be brutal with the older players, I just don’t think they would have survived in today’s game.

When you talk about the greatest, you also have to consider their legendary status, the iconic moments you want to watch over and over again. That’s what we are trying to do by releasing a lot of those clips with the launch of Matchroom Live from all the sports I’ve been involved in. It will allow the fans to enjoy some wonderful moments for free.

In these days of inactivity and boredom, we thought it would be a good chance to catch up on all those memories that we’ve helped to create over the past 40 years.

I wouldn’t be here without snooker, I have to be honest about it. It is a great sport and I got lucky because nobody else recognised its potential at the time. Thank God it was put on mainstream television.

Apologies to anyone I’ve left out of my top 10. It is only a personal opinion. This is how I see it since I started snooker promotion in 1975. I’ve worked with most of the greatest players. They’ve shared my house, my heart and some of them have shared my wallet.

I’m 45 years in and this is an honest appraisal.

1. Ronnie O’Sullivan (England)

  • World champion 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2013
  • Masters champion 1995, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017
  • UK champion 1993, 1997, 2001, 2007, 2014, 2017, 2018

screenshot-2020-05-08-at-08.11.26.png

Number one is Ronnie O’Sullivan. He is a genius, an unbelievable talent. He has been winning matches and events since he was 12 years old. And he’s still winning now at the age of 44.

I’ve worked with most of the greats of the game, but I don’t think I’ve seen a greater natural talent. His achievements speak for themselves really including that unbelievable 147 in the 1997 World Championship that will probably never be bettered.

Watch Ronnie O’Sullivan make the fastest 147 in snooker history on Matchroom Live

2. Stephen Hendry (Scotland)

  • World champion 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999
  • Masters champion 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996
  • UK champion 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1996

Screenshot 2020-05-08 at 08.24.46

Hendry was the greatest winning machine of all time. Unmissable, unbelievable in his prime. He looked like would never miss when he was among the balls. He had a mental strength, desire and an ability to win like no other player.

3. Steve Davis (England)

  • World champion 1981, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989
  • Masters champion 1982, 1988, 1997
  • UK champion 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987

Screenshot 2020-05-08 at 08.26.57

Steve Davis had the greatest concentration and temperament in the game during his domination of the 1980s. Like Hendry, a winning machine that just wanted to get inside your brain. He’d leave his opponent’s brain in a jam jar. A ruthless operator.

You could bet your last fiver on him, and 99 times out of 100 you were going to get paid. That’s why he was called ‘The Nugget’.

I met him in 1975 and we started our adventure in 1976. There was a lot of gambling back then before snooker really exploded on television. I’d promise him a £25 appearance fee every night, and would cut him a share of the winnings if he won which he nearly always did.

Watch Steve Davis win his first world title in 1981 on Matchroom Live

4. John Higgins (Scotland)

  • World champion 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011
  • Masters champion 1999, 2006
  • UK champion 1998, 2000, 2009

John Higgins

Reardon would come in at number five. Ray was ahead of his time. He was an unbelievable competitor. He is probably the greatest player to come out of the post-Joe Davis era.

6. Judd Trump (England)

  • World champion 2019
  • Masters champion 2019
  • UK champion 2011

Judd Trump - Barry hearn

I’m going to go for Trump at six. He is on his way to becoming a true great of the sport. He may well shoot up the top ten in the next few years.

This kid has the potential to be perhaps the best of all time. There is a long way to go, but he’s got everything from the winning ability to the flair. He’s a wonderful mixture of a player.

7. Mark Selby (England)

  • World champion 2014, 2016, 2017
  • Masters champion 2008, 2010, 2013
  • UK champion 2012, 2016

Mark Selby - Barry Hearn

You look at somebody like Selby and you see a cast-iron winning machine. The key to his success is a formidable mental approach to the game. He absolutely never gives up.

He perhaps does not have the excitement or flair of others on the list, but is absolutely ruthless. Ruthlessness is a key component of all these guys, but especially so when you don’t have the natural ability of say a Ronnie or a Judd.

8. Paul Hunter (England)

  • Masters champion 2001, 2002, 2004

Paul Hunter

I’m going to put Hunter in at eight. I’m including him in my all-time list because he was an unbelievable talent. He was getting better and better and could really have gone on to become one of the leading all-time greats.

Unfortunately, we tragically lost him to cancer at only 27, but that doesn’t stop us recognising the talent that he possessed. He is well worth his place in the top 10.

Watch Paul Hunter win his third Masters title in 2004 on Matchroom Live

9. Alex Higgins (Northern Ireland)

  • World champion 1972, 1982
  • Masters champion 1978, 1981
  • UK champion 1983

Alex Higgins

Simply because of his charisma and his effect on the game, I’ll go with Alex Higgins at number nine. I don’t think he would have won much today because he went for so many risky, outlandish shots and missed. The professionals in this era don’t miss.

You can’t give them chances, but a top 10 of all time without Alex Higgins in there wouldn’t make sense.

10. Jimmy White (England)

  • Masters champion 1984
  • UK champion 1992

Jimmy White

There are so many contenders for the final place when you think of fabulous competitors like Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy and Peter Ebdon. The list goes on. All great players, but I’m going to go for my old mate Jimmy White.

When I watch the old school snooker, how this bloke didn’t win a world title is beyond me. I keep watching it still expecting him to win. He’s in positions where you wonder: ‘how can you fail Jim?’

He’s got solid technique and a sound temperament, but when he saw the land of milk and honey and Moses was leading you across the river bed in the greatest scene in the movie, he stayed a bit too long there and the water crashed down on you. I think I’m being kind, but the game owes him because he was such an amazing, exciting player.

He’s a great bloke and a true ambassador for snooker.

Desmond Kane

As always when reading those top 10 things, this one will leave most of us wondering why this or that player isn’t in it … and why some are in it.

You can look at it from several angles, of course, the two main factors for me being:

  • How much a player has achieved
  • How much they have impacted the sport, be it in the way it’s played, in the way it’s perceived or by broadening the audience it reaches.

With that in mind, in my opinion, there are blatant omissions in this list and guys who should not be there too.

The missing ones…

Mark Williams

World Champion: 2000, 2003, 2018
UK Champion: 1999, 2002
Masters Champion: 1998, 2003
22 ranking titles

256920Mark Williams World 2018

How Mark Williams has been left out of this list is beyond me, not just because of his record, but because he’s one player many fans are able to relate to, much more so than John Higgins for instance. He’s a “people’s champion”, a family guy, the no-nonsense type. He definitely should be on this list.

Ding Junhui (14 ranking titles, 3X UK Champion, 1 Masters)  and Neil Robertson (18 ranking titles, triple crown winner – 1 World, 2 UK, 1 Masters)

Those two have achieved a lot, but that’s not all. Both of them have been trailblazers.

Without Ding, snooker would never have exploded in China, the way it has and China would not have invested in the sport the huge amount of money they are injecting in it for years now. He’s inspired a whole generation in his country.

Neil Robertson has shown the world that you can come from a place where snooker is not rated, where opportunities aren’t great. He still became a prolific winner, and surely has more titles to come. Neil also has been a fantastic ambassador for snooker. He’s a positive person, a hard worker. He’s extremely open and honest.  He’s not afraid to speak out but always in a measured way, without aggression. He’s an excellent role model.

The ones I would remove from the lists …

Paul Hunter

Paul Hunter died far too young and he was a charismatic player.  But he hasn’t achieved that much. Of course, he won the Masters three times, but his record in long format competitions – UK Championship and World Championship – wasn’t great, and, to me, there is absolutely no certainty that he would have been World Champion. Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams, John Higgins and Ronnie all had won all three majors by the time they were 25. Paul was nowhere in that league. I can’t help to think that, had he not tragically passed away so young, he would never be in this conversation.

Judd Trump

“He is on his way to becoming a true great of the sport. He may well shoot up the top ten in the next few years”, says Barry Hearn.

Simply, it’s too early to put Judd in this list. He has the potential, and probably a better opportunity than most who are on this list to finish his career with a fantastic record. He has more tournaments to play in than ever before, and, let’s be honest, for now, nobody in his age group standing out as a possible challenger.

If we have this conversation again in, 5 to 10 years, I fully expect to have Judd in there and very high on the list. But not just yet.

Jimmy White

Sorry, Jim. I love you, I love the way you play, but you have under-achieved. Just one UK and one Masters. Six World Finals and no titles. Not enough given your talent.

Jimmy White has been a great ambassador for the game, still IS a great ambassador for the game. He loves it more than anyone else. He was extremely gifted. His longevity as a player is extraordinary. But his record sadly speaks for itself. He didn’t have the dedication to “curb” his lifestyle. He was unable or unwilling to compromise on his attacking approach. He will forever be in the top three of the fans who lived – and suffered – through his career,  but nowhere that high in the records book.

 

 

 

Crucible or nothing says Barry Hearn

This was published by Eurosport today …

Hearn: World Championship will be cancelled if Crucible is ruled out for second time

Hearn Trump Crucible

By Desmond Kane

Barry Hearn has revealed the World Championship is likely to be cancelled for a year if the tournament has to be called off for a second time at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d rather get it on at the Crucible this year or have nothing,” World Snooker Tour chairman Hearn told Eurosport.

I don’t want to lose the World Championship. It’s an important thing for the sport and the TV audience of millions around the world.

The World Championship was due to start on April 18 and finish on May 4, but was postponed because of the health crisis engulfing the globe.

A provisional date for the 44th staging of the sport’s biggest tournament in Sheffield has been rearranged that would see the tournament begin on Friday 31 July and end on Sunday 16 August with dates yet to be set for the qualifying rounds.

Crucible - Hearn Sponsors

Depending on health advice from the UK government, the sport’s organisers World Snooker Tour have stated they will consider the following scenarios:

  • Playing the event with a reduced crowd
  • Playing the event behind closed doors
  • Postponing the event to a later date again

But Hearn is adamant that he would rather cancel the tournament – with sponsors Betfred awarding £500,000 to the champion in an overall record prize fund of £2.395m – for a year than attempt to reschedule it for a third time later or elsewhere in 2020.

“To be honest, if you went past it you would have to say that you would cancel the event for a year,” said Hearn. “That would be a sad loss because players need to earn money.

“Snooker players are self-employed people, they don’t know when they are going to work again. We are working hard behind the scenes. If we can’t do it with a crowd, we’ll do it without a crowd for the 500 million watching worldwide on TV.

“These are difficult times for sport in general. No-one really knows what we’re doing, and hopefully the government will shed some light on what we’re allowed to do in the next few days.

“The prize money is £2.5m. We won’t be changing that whether there is a crowd there or not.

I can’t think of any reason why I would want to cancel, to be honest. In these difficult times, it is a time for character, for people to stand up around the world. Look, if it loses money fair enough, but when it makes money that is good for us as well.

“We take a bigger picture for the players and the fans. The fans want entertainment because they are bored. The players want money and they want to participate in the biggest event in the world. We don’t want to stand in the way of that so it goes ahead.”

Judd Trump, who has won a record six ranking titles in 2019-20, is due to defend his title as he bids to become the first winner to successfully defend the trophy at the first attempt. World number one Trump hit a record seven centuries in an astonishing 18-9 win over four-times winner John Higgins in last year’s final.

Hearn feels holding the event behind closed doors could be the solution despite Wimbledon, Euro 2020 and the Olympics being wiped from the summer sporting calendar due to the outbreak.

“I’d rather play the World Championship in the Crucible empty than any other venue, if that makes sense,” said Hearn. “I could put a snooker table in your living room if it’s big enough or back garden if it’s not…that’s not an issue.

I don’t think there is much chance of not being able to stage the World Championship at the end of July into August behind closed doors depending on the current numbers and government rules.

“But I think it is the Crucible. And if the Crucible has to be empty then so be it, but let’s play. We’re all greedy, we’re trying to get the best of both worlds.

We’ve delayed it as far as we can delay it. We’ve managed to secure the Crucible because we think that is important. We are big fans of Sheffield and the area around it because they’ve supported us so well over the years. We don’t want to take it anywhere else.

“It is only 900 people in there so we hope that as we ease our way out of lockdown the government can say you can have small crowds.

“Well, 900 people might count as a small crowd so there is always that hope, but we have to wait and see what the rules are. We will live by them. If the government says you can have 900 people, the Crucible will look the same as always.

“If they say we can have 100 people, one way or another we will ballot or something that would allow 100 in. If they say you can have no-one, we will still be playing it at the Crucible behind closed doors with full safety procedures in place.

“I don’t want to lose the World Championship. It’s an important thing for the sport and the TV audience of millions around the world.”

The elite eight-man Tour Championship in Llandudno has already been rescheduled in the calendar, moved from March 17-22 to July 21-26, but much will depend on how the health crisis develops over the next few months.

Venue Cymru in the Welsh town has already been transformed into a field hospital to cope with the pandemic, forcing a change of venue for the sport’s penultimate event of the season.

“We are desperately trying not cancel anything, we are trying to postpone it. Of course when you catch up to that postponed date, that relies it on being allowable to happen,” said Hearn.

“The Tour Championship is one that has been delayed. I don’t think we are going to be allowed to go back to the original venue. It’s not so much of a problem, but we don’t know when we can stage it at all at the moment.

“But we’d love to get it done in June before the World Championship. We have to just see what the rules are.”

Desmond Kane

Right … exit strategy coming?

A few things come to mind reading this

The two guys can play under social distance rules no problem

Not so sure. Even if they don’t come close to each other, they will constantly use the same table, and to a lesser extend same balls for hours in a row, with bare hands. Is that safe? Will they need to use hand sanitizer before and after each passage at the table, and the rails and cue ball being cleaned as well? Might disrupt the flow of the match quite seriously …

Well, 900 people might count as a small crowd …

Possibly, but the number is not the only thing to consider. The Crucible is a very intimate venue. Spectators are sat very close to each other, and very close to the players.

Also, if it’s going ahead with no crowd, it still needs to be on TV otherwise there is no point doing it, and I can’t see how the BBC crew could operate at the Crucible under social distancing rules. It’s not so much about the camera(wo)men you see on the floor, there are a lot more persons involved, notably working in those big trucks that you might have noticed outside the venue. It’s cramped in there.

Also, there is no way two commentators could sit together in the tiny commentary boxes under social distancing rules either. The “Bubble” studio inside the Crucible is another issue for the same reason. They would need to have the studio in a remote place. Possibly stay in the Winter Garden, if allowed and closed to the public.

They will also need to strictly limit the media on-site, potentially further reducing the coverage by the written press.  Post-match and radio interviews may also be difficult to conduct safely. I can’t see Rob Walker and the players shouting at each other from two meters away…

Venue Cymru in the Welsh town has already been transformed into a field hospital to cope with the pandemic, forcing a change of venue for the sport’s penultimate event of the season.

“We are desperately trying not cancel anything, we are trying to postpone it. Of course when you catch up to that postponed date, that relies it on being allowable to happen,” said Hearn.

“The Tour Championship is one that has been delayed. I don’t think we are going to be allowed to go back to the original venue. It’s not so much of a problem, but we don’t know when we can stage it at all at the moment.

“But we’d love to get it done in June before the World Championship. We have to just see what the rules are.”

I might be a pessimist, but the way I read this, the Tour Championship is very unlikely to happen. And ITV would have the same social distancing issues with their crew than the BBC at the Crucible. Hendry recently said that such an event involves 80 persons from ITV on site. That’s a part fans never see, and very few know

In short… I can’t see it happening.

Days 14 and 15 of “No Crucible”

Today is Jimmy White’s birthday … he turns 58.

Happy birthday Jimmy !

There wasn’t really anything that particularly interested me from Eurosport or WST over the last two days. BBC Crucible Classic matches though were good ones: the 2011 and the 2013 finals. I was fortunate enough to be there both times.

The 2011 World Championship was the tournament where Judd Trump really announced himself on the big scene. Granted, he had won the 2011 China Open a few weeks before, but somehow that didn’t have the same impact. Judd came to the World Championship as a qualifier, and, on day one, sent the defending champion, Neil Robertson, back home. He had no fear, little expectations on his shoulder, played ultra attacking snooker, and toyed with the “naughty, fashionable playboy snooker player”. The press lapped it! He, and his friends, were taking on social media … triggering mixed reactions. The match turned on one shot, the blue along the rail he missed, in frame 22. he could have lead 13-9, instead, it went 12-10. He was still in the lead but, being there, I remember how the whole atmosphere of the match changed. Somehow, from there, it seemed inevitable to me that John Higgins would win. Speaking of atmosphere, the tension in the Crucible when the players were introduced for the last session was incredible. I’ve never felt anything like it, before or after, neither at the Crucible in other years nor anywhere else. The Tempodrom came close at times, but not quite the same.

The 2013 World Final was an excellent match. Ronnie was playing at the highest level, and yet, for the best of three sessions, Barry Hawkins stayed with him. Between them, they had 24 breaks over 50, including 8 centuries (6 by Ronnie, 2 by Barry). But it was not just about scoring: both played hard match snooker and the quality of the safety exchanges was extremely high. You can enjoy the pictures I took at the Crucible that year here. Barry Hawkins is a massively underrated player: at his best, he’s very efficient and dangerous. He has been inconsistent in recent years though. And, of course, at the start of the tournament, nobody was giving Ronnie a prayer. He had only played one competitive match all season, losing to Simon Bedford in the first round of a PTC… Defending the World title in those circumstances was quite an extraordinary feat and probably one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time.

Day 11 of “No Crucible”

The most interesting bit for the snooker fans yesterday was provided by the BBC: their “Crucible Classic” choice on the day was the 2003 semi-final between Ken Doherty and Paul Hunter. Paul started the last session of the match 15-9 up and still lost, by 17-16.

Ken is a great, great player, he can score heavily, but his two main strengths are a very shrewd all-round game combined with a terrific temperament. He never gives up, and rarely cracks under pressure. In the last session of this particular match, both are on show.

Paul was only 24 at the time, it was his first semi-final at the Crucible. Clive Everton, in the commentary box, reflected that pressure and anxiety got at him in that last session. It’s not really surprising, but still, with such a big lead, he should have won that match.

Whenever a match involving Paul Hunter is shown on television, social media fill with “He would surely have been World Champion, had he lived”. Well, at the risk of being (verbally) crucified, beheaded, and quartered … I’m not so sure.

“Why?” will you ask me. “Paul had a fantastic temperament, look, he won the Masters three times, from far behind, he beat O’Sullivan in one of them”. Indeed, he did.

On the other hand, his record in multi-session matches in ranking events wasn’t great. Not counting his last season, when he was obviously very ill, Paul played at the Crucible seven times, and only won five matches. His record in the UK Championship – that was played as best of 17 from round one in those days, with the final being best of 19 – he reached the SF only once, lost in the QF twice, and otherwise never got past the last 16 in ten appearances.

The way he played in that last session against Ken, pretty much reminded me of Jimmy White. Both very attractive players with flair, entertaining to watch but struggling to get over the line when in front. Jimmy was expected to win the World Championship “surely”. He didn’t. Now I’m not saying that Paul Hunter wouldn’t have, I’m saying that I’m not as certain as most seem to be that he would have done it, had he lived. And now, sadly, we will never find out.

Other than that, Phil Haig, who is really very prolific recently, has gone and interviewed Barry Hearn about Ronnie and Judd Trump

Barry Hearn explains his problem with ‘genius’ Ronnie O’Sullivan and warns him: ‘Judd Trump is the new king’

Hearn and Ronnie
Barry Hearn and Ronnie OSullivan have had their ups and downs over the years (Picture: Getty Images)

Barry Hearn and Ronnie O’Sullivan have had a complicated relationship over the years which the WST chairman puts down to one reason, the Rocket’s genius.

The snooker supremo has known O’Sullivan for three decades, twice served as his manager and is in charge of the sport that has made the 44-year-old a millionaire and household name.

However, they have fallen out plenty of times, quite seriously last year with O’Sullivan threatening a breakaway snooker tour and Hearn responding in fairly heavy-handed manner.

The Rocket is never shy of criticising snooker’s hierarchy, with Hearn describing Ronnie’s regular moans as ‘deadly dull’ during this season’s English Open.

Hearn does have sympathy for O’Sullivan though, to an extent, as he sees the work of a genius on and off the table.

The five-time world champion conjures up brilliance on the baize, but his unique talent comes with a unique mind and Hearn has learned to expect the unexpected from the sport’s biggest star.

‘This might sound strange,’ Hearn told Metro.co.uk. ‘Ronnie O’Sullivan is a lovely, lovely person, he’s also a genius, and therein lies the problem.

‘A genius is not normal, they don’t say normal things and they don’t act normally, that’s one of the reasons they are a genius and we have to allow for that. ‘

Ronnie comes out with some outrageous things and I allow for it, in the same way that I allowed for Alex Higgins because he was a genius, Jimmy White, genius, Phil Taylor, I don’t expect normality from geniuses.

‘The sad thing, for me, is sometimes the errant ideology of a genius is counterproductive to their own personal welfare.

‘For Ronnie O’Sullivan, I love him, I’ve known him since he was 12-years-old, I’ve been his manager twice, we disagree of lots of things fundamentally because he’s got too much time on his hands and he likes a column inch so he comes up with outlandish statements, most of which are rubbish.’

After a quiet season so far for O’Sullivan, with his only trophy coming at the Shanghai Masters, the world number six is eyeing-up a much busier couple of years ahead as he tries to rediscover his best form.

The Rocket has not played in every event available to him for years and Hearn believes it would be a wise move for him to be more active while he still can.

‘The over-riding factor is Ronnie O’Sullivan was born to play snooker and I don’t want him sitting in his armchair when he’s 60 with any regrets,’ Hearn continued.

‘I’d rather see Ronnie O’Sullivan turn up and play with a smile on his face than almost anything in snooker.

‘The fact he didn’t play the Masters this year or enough events to get into the Coral Championship, that’s called a mistake, a mistake made by a genius.

‘Hopefully he says: “I’m just going to enjoy my life, I really love playing snooker and I’m going to play a bit more, whenever I want.” I want him to be happy, funnily enough, and I’m certain he’s happiest playing snooker.

‘Sometimes, like this crisis, whether it’s sport, a relationship, whatever, complacency is a killer and the day you lose something, it’s quite good because you realise how much you miss it.

‘We’re all missing sport and Ronnie sounds like he’s missing snooker and that’s bloody good news.

‘He might appreciate, both of us might, a bit more when we get back to normality. Sometimes we take it for granted and that’s not the right the way out of any relationship.’

O’Sullivan is undoubtedly still snooker’s biggest star and most popular character, but he is no longer the dominant force with a cue in his hand.

World champion and world number one Judd Trump currently holds that mantle, but Hearn believes O’Sullivan will love the challenge of trying to reach the top of the mountain once again.

‘Trump is the new king on the block, I think he’s an outstanding player and he will develop into one of the all-time greats,’ said the WST chairman.

‘The competition itself, to compete, wake up in the morning with a purpose is actually more important.

‘I think Trump would be a big price favourite to beat Ronnie currently. I’m not looking for Ronnie to make improvement, he’s in his mid-40s, he’s done remarkably well to be as good as he is.

‘But like the Steve Davis’ and the Stephen Hendrys, he’s still good enough to beat nearly all of them all the time. Go and enjoy yourself son, fill your boots, make a few quid, but more importantly, get that little adrenaline rush because don’t kid me, you love it. You love it!

‘And you don’t like to admit you love it. Of course you get disappointed when you lose and that’s because you love winning. Take a leaf out of Bazza’s book. Don’t waste an hour because you can’t get that hour back.’

Judd Trump
Judd Trump won his first World Championship title last year (Picture: Getty Images)

Trump is unquestionably the best player on the planet right now, but he has certainly not reached the levels of popularity that Ronnie has enjoyed for years.

The world champ is well on his way to becoming a legend of the game, but can he become a star in the mould of the Rocket? Hearn believes so.

‘I do,’ said Barry. ‘I think Trump is an outstanding player. It’s going to be interesting watching his game and personality develop, which I think they both will.

‘I think Judd Trump is going to be one of the all time greats. I’ve got a lot of time for him.

‘He’s got a hunger which the best players have got. In any sport, as much as we say, “what would we do without Tiger Woods?” Then Brooks Koepka or Jordan Spieth comes along. Not the same, different, but still great and technical standards are moving ahead.

‘I’ve been watching the BBC archive and, not being cruel but, those players don’t look very good compared to what we see today. The way they stroke the ball, move on the shot, they miss miles more than today. Sport improves, progresses.

‘You can enjoy brilliance at any time, I can watch Ronnie O’Sullivan play all day. Left handed, right handed, cue in his teeth I think he can pot them sometimes. But lets’ enjoy the moment, make the memories, they won’t be there forever, that’s why we should enjoy it and that’s why we shouldn’t take it for granted today.

‘Would we miss Ronnie O’Sullivan? Bloody right. Would the game survive? Bloody right. Because that’s the nature of sport. People come through. Great fighters that looked unbeatable become normal and human after a while.’

I’m sure that Barry Hearn loves his problem dearly 😉

And I agree with him, watching those matches from the past, the standard wasn’t that great, although, conditions being different, it’s probably hard to compare matches from different eras in a fair way.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that Judd Trump will ever have the charisma that players like Ronnie and Jimmy White have. Stephen Hendry never had it really, and Steve Davis only got it when he no longer was a winner.

Also, although he looks unbeatable – or about – at the moment, only time will tell if Judd Trump can sustain that over a decade or more. Mark Selby looked almost unbeatable for four seasons – he was a runaway number one and three times a World Champion in those four seasons – then, suddenly, he started to struggle and his confidence deserted him. I’m not saying that the same will happen to Judd Trump, all I’m saying is – as Ronnie once put it on ES – that we should have this conversation in ten years time.