The qualifiers for this season’s Saga Insurance Masters get underway next week. Jimmy White, the champion in 1984, will face Matthew Stevens, winner seven years ago, in the tie of the first round less than a year after they played in the wildcard round at Wembley.
A note of caution to anyone wishing to watch this match: it is being played at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield where seating is severely restricted (some tables have no seats at all) so I’d check before rushing to the steel city hoping to watch these two Crucible nearly men doing battle.
That aside, it seems unlikely, given recent form, that Jimmy will win this qualifying event, which leads to the inevitable speculation about whether he will be awarded a wildcard for the Wembley tournament in January.
I think he should be and this is why…
Jimmy White has, through his many ups and downs, been one of the most significant figures in the game’s history. His natural, attacking style helped revolutionise snooker in the 1980s and his Crucible duels with Stephen Hendry in the 1990s were compulsive viewing.
At 45, he remains the most popular player in the game. His form has deserted him but his fans have not.
This could easily be Jimmy’s last season on the circuit. He’s 78th in the current provisional rankings and finds the qualifying set up at Pontin’s, Prestatyn hard to adapt to after years and years of playing in the top flight on television. If he doesn't finish in the top 64 at the end of the campaign he will be relegated.
What better way to reward him than with one final fling in his hometown?
I understand the arguments against. Jimmy has done little for three years so why does he deserve an invite? Why not give it to a star of the future rather than a figure from snooker’s past?
But – and here’s the point – wildcards are meant to reward either popularity or achievement.
Assuming there are three wildcards again, give one to Dominic Dale or Jamie Cope or maybe Judd Trump by all means, but give the other to Jimmy.
It’s true that he didn’t bring many punters in for his match against Stevens last season – I’d say around 600 – but the match was scheduled for a Monday afternoon (hardly prime time) and you can bet that he fetched in at least 300 more spectators than anyone else would have managed in the same slot.
Here’s what I’d do: stick Jimmy on the first night at Wembley against Steve Davis, who has to play in the wildcard round.
What better way to kick-off the tournament than these two legends going head-to-head?
I don’t usually have much time for the obsession with snooker’s past, but I’ll make an exception here because, with Davis on the verge of dropping out of the top 16, it could be the last Masters for both of these players.
They deserve respect for the considerable roles they have played in making snooker the successful television sport it is today.
Such a match would attract publicity, spectators and plenty of TV viewers. Plus, you’re guaranteed one elder statesman in the next round.
There isn't a player on the circuit who doesn't owe these two veterans a debt of thanks - so let's see it paid.