JOHN SMYTH: 1928-2007

John Smyth, one of snooker's leading referees in the 1970s and 80s, has died of cancer at the age of 78.

Smyth was the first man to referee a Crucible final in 1977 and also donned the white gloves when Alex Higgins won his second world title in 1982.

He was famously in charge when Kirk Stevens compiled his 147 break at the 1984 Wembley Masters.

Smyth worked as an Underground driver, where he was Picadilly line snooker champion six times, before becoming a referee in 1978. He retired from the circuit in 1996.

Shortly afterwards, he looked back on his career. "I spent 28 years on the Underground but gave it all up when snooker began to get big on television," he said.

"John Street, John Williams and myself got more and more work as the circuit grew. In the end, my employers saw more of me on TV than they did at work.

"People told me it was daft to give up the Tube and that I'd never earn a living from snooker. They said it would never last on TV, but they were wrong."

In 1977, Smyth formed the Professional Referees Association and was PRA president at the time of his death.

He officiated at the first 13 Masters events in London, with Stevens' maximum against Jimmy White one of his career highlights.

"I'd got to know Kirk when he first came over," Smyth remembered in 1998. "He didn't have much money so I used to drive him to the exhibitions around the country for about 18 months while he got himself settled.

"There were something like 2,500 people packed into the arena, some of them standing. Kirk and Jimmy were such popular players that the atmosphere was incredible. It was like nothing else."

Smyth was a regular visitor to the Crucible after his retirement and was a well respected figure in the game who will be sadly missed.

He died on Thursday in Chesterfield, where he lived with his wife, Val.

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