An EGM of the players has today resulted in a change to the WPBSA constitution allowing the board to freeze a player's ranking for a whole season for medical reasons.

The vote went through 19-5, meaning Paul Hunter, still fighting cancer, will not have to play this season (assuming the board, as expected, grants his request).

This is a humanitarian issue and one on which the players and WPBSA should be congratulated for getting right.

Paul's ranking will be frozen at 34th and, hopefully, he can pick up his career in a year's time.



As I write this, Ronnie O'Sullivan is in Las Vegas preparing for his debut on the IPT Pool circuit.

Despite what you may have read, though, we are not losing him to the American game. Ronnie will be back in good time for the Northern Ireland Trophy, which starts in Belfast on August 13.

It's hard to predict what sort of season he will have. In theory, he should probably win everything. At his best, he's the best. For me, there's only John Higgins and Stephen Hendry at their very best who can beat him.

However, we all know there's more to Ronnie - and by extension his on-table fortunes - than this raw ability. His mental state is precarious to say the least and this makes following his progress a fascinating business.

During the 2004/05 season he won five titles; last season he won just one. There's no way of knowing which extreme will apply during the new campaign, or whether he will fall somewhere between the two.

I have a theory, though, that Ronnie will actually become more successful as he gets older, in contrast to most players. At 30, he is no longer the wild child of snooker and having become a father in February has some stability in his life.

He seems to be more at ease, even if he is still capable of cracking up - as witnessed against Graeme Dott at the Crucible.

You'll recall he gave his cue away to a boy in the crowd at the end of that match, but I'd fancy him to knock in a century with a broom handle.

With Ronnie, only one thing can truly be predicted: the unpredictable.

That's why he's such a positive for snooker.



Last week I went to Nottingham to interview The Spinto Band (l-t-r Tom, Nick, Joe, Jon, Jeff, Sam) for the magazine. You probably know we don't have a music column but I enjoyed myself so much that I'm thinking of pushing for one.

The band, who are into snooker in a big way, couldn't have been nicer guys and they did a great show for an enthusiastic audience (any night that ends with an up tempo cover of Tiffany's 'I Think We're Alone Now' has to be considered a success). Check out their album 'Nice and Nicely Done' and their blog http://shark-dance.blogspot.com/

I should apologise to Jon for the photo which shows him with demonic red eyes. Perhaps it was all the talk of Alex Higgins.

Meanwhile, here's a slightly shortened version of the article which will appear next month...


Wilmington, Delaware has a population of around 73,000 and, it’s safe to assume, not a single snooker table. It does, however, now have six snooker obsessives in the shape of The Spinto Band, a delightfully energetic indie group fast accruing a large following in Britain.

The sextet, whose album ‘Nice and Nicely Done’ earned a 9/10 review in the NME, landed in the UK during the Wembley Masters and were immediately entranced, if confused, by what they saw.

“We were in the UK in January, put the TV on and they were showing this game called snooker,” said guitarist Jon Eaton. “We watched it for about three hours before we started to figure out what was going on. Early on, it was really just a puzzle.

“We couldn’t understand why the guy in the white gloves kept putting the pink back on the table, but it seemed kind of cool.”

Despite their puzzlement, the band, which features two sets of brothers, Tom and Sam Hughes and Jeff and Joe Hobson, plus Eaton and Nick Krill, quickly became hooked.

So quickly, in fact, that it wasn't long before they were dedicating a gig to Ronnie O’Sullivan at Centrepoint Snooker Club in London.

“Ronnie has become our inspiration,” said Krill. “We had banners which read ‘what would Ronnie do?’ at our record release gig. We had stickers with it on, too, and someone made me a t-shirt. Ronnie’s the man.”

“Maybe Ronnie could do our album artwork. That’d be cool,” added drummer Jeff Hobson before Eaton, somewhat hopefully, asked, “do you think Ronnie would like to be in one of our videos?”

The band has only seen action from the Masters and 888.com World Championship but already have their favourites outside of O’Sullivan.

“We liked seeing (Ryan) Day jumping over the ball twice (against O’Sullivan),” said Jeff Hobson. “It was a classic moment. He got really flustered.”

“And we like ‘Cueman Fu’,” added his brother.

“Yeah, we really wanted a Ronnie-Fu final,” said Tom Hughes.

Some felt this world final, contested in the end by Graeme Dott and Peter Ebdon, was one of the worst ever seen at the Crucible. For the Spinto Band, as the only world final they’ve witnessed, it was gripping fare right until the last ball.

“We were actually happy our show ended so we could watch the match,” said Sam Hughes.

“As soon as we were done we ran out because we wanted to watch it,” added Krill.

“We were on our tour bus and stuck a big aerial up so we could get the TV working,” said Eaton. “They had that longest ever TV frame. I think that lasted about as long as our whole set.”

Tom Hughes added: “Half an hour in, I went out to get Indian food, which took half an hour, and when I came back it was still the same frame. I couldn’t believe it.”

“Maybe Dott and Ebdon aren’t the most exciting people to watch. They’re a bit dry but we had some money on the match,” Eaton said. “We’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with the pair of them.”

In fact, the band has nicknamed Ebdon ‘The Robot’ and say he’s unlikely to have any future gigs dedicated to him.

Inevitably, the Spinto Band wanted to take to the green baize themselves but despite their enthusiasm found it tough going.

“We sort of know the rules but sometimes when we play crazy things happen, like two balls go in at the same time and then we’re not sure what to do,” said Sam Hughes.

“We love all the nicknames like the ‘Rocket’ and Alan ‘Angles’ McManus,” said Jeff Hobson. “We gave ourselves little nicknames when we went to play. We called Tom ‘the Fluke’ because he was lucky.”

Krill added: “We’re not very good and sometimes something happens and we ask each other ‘what the heck was that? Is there even a rule for it?’ because we’ve never seen it happen on TV, like when the cueball flies off the table or something. We also take a really long time to play a frame.”

They were honest when asked who the best player in the band is. “Nobody’s good,” said Tom Hughes. Eaton added: “I think my highest break is four. I’ve potted a red and a colour but the next red is the problem.”

Snooker has never been big in America and there seems to be little immediate prospect of this situation changing.

In the 1980s, Steve Davis and his manager Barry Hearn went to Dallas for exhibitions and the game has attracted some interest in New York, which the American association is trying its best to foster.

The International Billiards and Snooker Federation are staging its inaugural World Team Championship in San Jose, California this month but the USA is such a vast place that the notion of Snooker suddenly hitting it big seems almost absurd. Snooker usurping pool in America would be like Billiards usurping snooker in Britain.

The Spinto Band, though, are doing their best to change this. “We’ve got a few other people into it, so we’re doing our best to spread the word,” said Eaton.

“At the moment, there seems to be a big push by ESPN for dominos because poker has been so successful,” said Sam Hughes. “If dominos can get on TV so much then I don’t see why snooker can’t.”

Joe Hobson added: “It might have a chance with such great characters. If people got to know them they’d take to it.”

“A couple of years ago I’d have said Americans wouldn’t be patient enough for something like snooker but I think now people have more time for niche sports,” said Krill.

“The only thing is that it might be looked at as a curiosity. People would be saying, ‘look at this crazy game British people play.’

“I was thinking I could probably become the Snooker champion of Wilmington, Delaware as long as I can find a guy to play.”

The band, perhaps naturally, have become fascinated by Alex Higgins, who lived what is often described as a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

“We were hoping John Higgins was related to him in some way,” Eaton said. “I’ve looked the Hurricane up on the internet and I guess he’s out of control. I’d like him to make a comeback.”

The Spinto Band isn’t the first rock outfit to be seduced by snooker. Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones is a good friend of Jimmy White and the Stones are so into the game that they have a man on their tour whose sole job it is to erect a table wherever they are.

Bernard Butler, formerly of Suede, now of The Tears, has attended a few tournaments, such is his fascination with the sport.

For sheer enthusiasm, though, The Spinto Band take some beating.

“It’s a great game and it seems to be on all the time when there’s a tournament happening,” said Sam Hughes. “We can’t get enough of it.”

The Spinto Band’s album ‘Nice and Nicely Done’ (Virgin Records) is out now.
Their new single ‘Oh Mandy’ is released on August 14.


JOHN SPENCER: 1935-2006

John Spencer, the three-times world champion, died on July 11 at the age of 70.

John had been ill for many years. In 1985, he was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a muscle wasting disease which effectively ended his playing career. Treatment for this condition led to severe depression. During the last few years, he had been battling stomach cancer.

John bore all these health problems with trademark good humour and did much to raise awareness of Myasthenia Gravis, including parachute jumps.

He was also WPBSA chairman during the early 1990s and a leading member of the BBC TV commentary team.

John loved snooker. He was grateful for the opportunities it gave him and was a good friend to many in the game.

Snooker is poorer without him. He will be sadly missed.



Further to my post about Paul Hunter here, http://snookerscene.blogspot.com/2006/06/why-paul-hunter-deserves-break.html, an EGM will be held on July 24 to ask the WPBSA membership whether they want to change the constitution to allow a player's ranking to be frozen for a season.



What is the point in wildcards for the Masters? They can only be to boost ticket sales and media interest.

Two are available and, with almost perfect symmetry, there are two obvious candidates: Ding Jun Hui and Jimmy White. Yet World Snooker plan to run a qualifying tournament for the second place, meaning that unless Ding or White wins it one of them will miss out.

This has been done to ‘give all the members a chance’ of playing in the tournament. Actually, they already have this chance. All they need to do is get in the top 16. Obviously, this is tough but the Masters is supposed to be for the elite. That’s the whole point of the tournament.

Ding ludicrously missed out last year even though he’d won two of the previous four ranking titles. The decision to ‘give all the members a chance’ actually resulted in only 48 entries from a main tour of 96.

Snooker has long had global aspirations and, through Ding and the Chinese market, they are being realised. World Snooker did a fine job of establishing the China Open in Beijing two seasons ago and ran another excellent event earlier this year. Ding is key to this and, put simply, he must be given as much exposure as is possible.

White is very much on the back nine of his career having dropped to 35th in the world rankings but he remains a hugely popular figure and the game’s leading draw.

The Masters is likely to be played at the Wembley Arena, round the corner from the Conference Centre, which has been demolished is part of the stadium redevelopment. White’s continuing Wembley presence would guarantee plenty of press coverage and, despite his alarming decline in form, his fortunes in this tournament in recent years have been fairly good. He certainly wouldn’t just be making up the numbers.

No disrespect to whoever wins the qualifying event, but having, for example, the world no.40 – whoever he is (I’ve just checked, it’s Dominic Dale) – wouldn’t do as much for the event as having both Ding and White there.

As it transpires, one of them will now have to win the qualifying tournament to ensure this.

This attitude - making decisions not on commercial grounds but to keep the rank and file happy - is what has held snooker back for far too long.