In my opinion, Mark Allen is the real deal. He will be one of snooker's top players for many years to come.

Yesterday, I watched part of his match in the Maplin UK Championship against Andrew Higginson, who himself played with great fluency.

Allen impressed me a lot. He compiled a number of big breaks - including a 146 - but his safety was also good and he played the right way in winnng 9-7.

The 21 year-old from Antrim reached the top 32 in the rankings after only two seasons on the main tour, which is good going by anyone's standards. He will surely join the top 16 next season.

I like his aggression and will to win, although he was in the wrong when he swore at the referee during his round robin match with Ken Doherty in the Grand Prix last month.

Allen immediately accepted he had been wrong. Before and after a match he is a mild mannered chap, it's only in matches where he becomes particularly animated.

And what's wrong with that? As long as he curbs his emotions and doesn't flout the game's ettiquette then I think it's refreshing.

At Telford, he will play Stephen Hendry, who beat him in his first pro event, the 2005 Northern Ireland Trophy.

Allen was over-awed then. It's fair to say he won't be when they meet in just over a week's time.

"I was a bit star-struck because it was my first tournament,” Allen told me. “But this is my third year on the tour and I don’t feel I have to look up to anyone any more.

“You have to give every player the same respect whoever they are. I’m just out there to do a job. It’s a tough match but I think I’m capable of winning it.”



Everyone here at Snooker Scene sends our sympathies to Jimmy White whose father, Tommy, died today at the age of 88.

Tommy was a regular fixture on the circuit and his friendly, cheerful manner never wavered despite all those Crucible disappointments.

Like all Jimmy's fans, Tommy experienced many highs and lows over the years but remained immensely proud of his son's achievements.

When Jimmy won the 2004 Players Championship in Glasgow, Tommy leapt out of the crowd to embrace his son and the man he beat in the final, Paul Hunter, also now sadly gone.

The moment was sweeter for Jimmy - and everyone who knew Tommy - because his dad was there to celebrate with him.



Here's a very simple question: who exactly believes that snooker fans are all insomniacs?

I ask because despite the 00.53am finish to the 2006 world final and the 00.54am finish to last season's Crucible finale, the final session of next year's showpiece showdown is scheduled to start, once again, at 8pm.

When John Higgins beat Mark Selby 18-13 last season, 2m viewers were watching. 5.2m had been watching 90 minutes earlier but most of them switched off, presumably because they were tired ahead of another week at work and could not stay with it.

How many children - the stars of snooker's future - woud have been watching at this time?

Let's not forget that there were still another four frames possible in the match.

Let's also remember that for many of those watching on Eurosport on the continent it was an hour later.

Very little got in the newspapers the following day because it was simply too late to meet print deadlines. Most of the coverage the day after this was focused on the scheduling.

Higgins himself was adamant the timings had to be changed to avoid a repeat of all this.

Surely, we all thought, lessons would have been learned and the final session this season would start at, say, 7pm.

In fact, nothing has changed and it's hard to see - barring a runaway - how another late, late show can be avoided next May.

The final afternoon session is, according to the booking form, supposed to start at 2.30pm. This was the case last year but it was changed to accomodate live BBC coverage of the women's FA Cup final and I'd be prepared to bet the same will happen this season.

Late night drama is all well and good but one of these days - perhaps next year - the final will finish at close to 3am and the sport will be a laughing stock.

They got away with it this year. Why take the risk next year?



Jimmy White faces a tough fight to keep his place on the professional circuit after crashing out of the Maplin UK Championship qualifiers in Prestatyn tonight.

White, 45, was beaten 9-7 by Mansfield’s Lee Spick in the second qualifying round of the £500,000 tournament.

The 1992 UK champion had needed to win three matches to reach the televised phase at Telford next month.

And White was hoping a good run in snooker’s second biggest event would kick-start a nightmare season in which he has failed to qualify for the final stages of the first four ranking events.

White, once as high as second in the world rankings, has fallen to 73rd in the provisional standings.

Only the top 64 at the end of the season will be guaranteed their places for the 2008/09 campaign.



Jimmy White, six times the Crucible runner-up, has been handed a tough qualifying draw for this season's 888.com World Championship.

Assuming White defeats Matt Selt or Fraser Patrick, he will have to beat Andrew Higginson, last season's Welsh Open runner-up, and the always tricky Mark King to make it through to the TV phase.

The perennial crowd favourite makes his bow at Prestatyn on January 8. The final round will be held at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield from March 7-10.

White failed to reach the Crucible last season when he lost his first qualifying match 10-4 to Jamie Burnett.

The full qualifying draw is now available to view on worldsnooker.com:


It will take eight days and a great deal of snooker to find the 16 qualifiers who will join the elite top 16 for the final stages of the Maplin UK Championship.

The qualifying for snooker's second biggest ranking tournament got underway at chilly Prestatyn today with 80 hopefuls doing battle for the Telford places.

I've given up attempting to predict who will come through because the strength in depth these days is such that literally anyone could.

Only four of the qualifiers for the Grand Prix in Aberdeen made it through to the Northern Ireland Trophy at Belfast.

Even though the formats were different, this illustrates that the days of players qualifying for every event with a string of victories under their belts has gone.

The UK qualifiers are two days longer than originally planned because only the top 16 are seeded through this season rather than the top 32 as in previous years.

Therefore, the likes of Matthew Stevens [the 2003 winner], Joe Swail and Mark Allen will be in action in North Wales next week alongside former champions Jimmy White and John Parrott.

I'd advise anyone who has never been to Pontin's to go and watch because there's always plenty of drama in the qualifiers, especially when the nerves start to bubble up.

The prize of playing on TV is such that, on a good day, you can see more twitching than in one of Bill Oddie's nature shows.



Ding Junhui set a new world record during his extraordinary 6-0 victory over Stephen Hendry in the partybets.com Premier League in Glenrothes tonight.

The 20 year-old Chinese ace knocked in three centuries on the way to amassing 495 points without reply in opening a 4-0 lead over the seven times world champion at Rothes Hall.

The run of unanswered points was one more than the record of 494 set by John Higgins during his 9-2 thrashing of Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2005 Grand Prix final.

Ding fired in breaks of 133, 87, 136 and 138 before Hendry finally stopped the rot by scoring five points at the start of the fifth frame.

But the Scot broke down and Ding pounced with a run of 54 to lead 5-0.

And Ding then wrapped up the whitewash by adding the sixth having out-pointed Hendry 636-41.


I learned today that the great uncle of Gemma Atkinson, the actress currently appearing on British TV in I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here, was the three-times world champion John Spencer.

She is taking part in a campaign for Everyman, which is Europe's first and only centre dedicated to male cancer research.

John died in July 2006 after a long and painful battle with cancer.

In support of the campaign, Rileys are aiming to raise £150,000 to help fund further research.



Congratulations to Dave Harold for beating Ken Doherty 5-0 in the final of the Swiss Open.

This is the latest in a number of satellite events around Europe that are not only providing players with opportunities to get some good match practice but are also spreading the snooker word.

Dave is now 40 and one of a number of players who could figure in a World Seniors Championship, were such a thing to be organised.

The last, and indeed only, Seniors World Championship was staged some 16 years ago when Cliff Wilson beat Eddie Charlton in the final, with the tournament open to over 40s.

Think of the quality of the field using the same criteria today: main tour players Steve Davis, Jimmy White, John Parrott, Harold, Nigel Bond, Tony Drago and David Roe and possibly the likes of Tony Knowles, Mike Hallett, Willie Thorne, Cliff Thorburn, Darren Morgan, Joe Johnson and Alex Higgins.

Stephen Hendry himself turns 40 in just over a year's time and Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon aren't far behind.

Would anyone else like to see such an event?



A good time was had by all at the Snooker Writers Association annual dinner on Sunday where the cream of snooker journalism was joined by our award winners Jamie Cope (Newcomer of the Year) and Andrew Higginson (Achievement of the Year).

Snooker Scene's editor and BBC commentator Clive Everton was also in attendance to pick up his Special Award in recognition of his long service and continuing battle for free speech with World Snooker, who have so far spent more than £100,000 of its members money trying - without success - to put him out of business.

Clive was first writing about snooker more than 40 years ago and his passion for the game remains as strong as ever. As Steve Davis said at the Crucible last year when Clive celebrated his 500th day there: "Thanks very much for all the memories and thanks very much for being such a snooker fan. You've given a lot of people a lot of pleasure by continuing with the magazine and all of your enthusiasm."



Ronnie O'Sullivan compiled the first century of his professional career as a 16 year-old at the Norbreck Castle Hotel, Blackpool during the long hot summer of qualifying for ranking events in 1992.

He fashioned his 500th last night in the partybets.com Premier League in Kidderminster.

Much has happened to him on and off the table in the 15 intervening years but one fact remains constant: on the table he is capable of genius.

O'Sullivan is only the second player to reach the 500 mark. Stephen Hendry is more than 200 ahead in first place.

However, Hendry has been on the circuit for seven years longer than O'Sullivan.

And if you average out the number of centuries per season for the two players they each come out at 31.



It isn't so long since darts was generally a bit of a joke in Britain.

The split in the early 1990s that resulted in two World Championships led many to predict the sport would whither and die.

In fact, it has grown to such a degree that it is now one of television's leading sports.

Each day next week, ITV4 will show around five hours of live coverage of the Grand Slam event featuring players from the PDC and BDO.

The top prize is £80,000 - more than the winner of every snooker ranking event bar the World and UK Championships will pocket - and a full house is expected at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

The rise in interest in darts can be attributed squarely to one man: Barry Hearn.

It was Hearn who realised the game's potential and marketed it with his usual flair and sound commercial decisions.

Let us not forget that two decades ago he was one of the biggest figures in snooker as manager of Steve Davis and various other leading players.

Hearn led expeditions to Thailand, Hong Kong, China and other outposts and helped build up interest that led to major tournaments being staged in these places.

He had bags of ideas and generated big bucks for his players but ran into what every entrepreneur who has ever become involved with snooker has suffered: envy and suspicion because he wanted to make money for himself.

The WPBSA's attitude to such people - from Mike Watterson to Hearn to Ian Doyle to Altium - has always been the same: we don't need you, we can do it all ourselves.

It is this attitude that has left snooker stagnated with fewer tournaments than in previous years and falling prize money while darts has thrived.

Hearn markets his sports at the top end. He concentrates on the stars - like the great Phil Taylor - because they generate the interest.

Because of how snooker is run, the same consideration has to be given to the world no.96 as the world no.1.

Actually, if the WPBSA used Hearn's model, the world no.96 would end up earning ten times as much as he does now because the sport as a whole would have a higher profile and there would be more playing opportunities.

Hearn still promotes snooker's Premier League but gradually became frustrated with the snooker world and concentrates instead on darts and other sports.

Nobody laughs at darts today. Snooker can learn a great deal from the way Hearn has transformed that game and should treat the next entrepreneur to come to our sport with greater respect.



As a boy, Shaun Murphy's twin ambitions were to be world champion and world no.1

Two years ago, he achieved the first; in the latest provisional ranking list he is up to no.1 so well on his way to achieving the second.

The rankings don't lie. Of the seven ranking events staged so far in 2007, Murphy has won 1, been in the semi-finals of 3 and the quarter-finals of another 2.

This record of consistency suggests Murphy will be hard to shift when the rankings receive their annual revision after the 888.com World Championship next May.

To me, Murphy is the only top player around who exhibits similar characteristics to Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, in terms of his will to win and work ethic.

John Higgins, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Williams are three of the greatest players of all time but did not - and still do not - have the drive of Davis and Hendry.

Players can become too comfortable and take their foot off the gas. Davis and Hendry would always forget about a tournament they had just won to concentrate on the next one.

Murphy seems to be cut from the same cloth and I feel he has more than one Crucible triumph to come.

He isn't to everyone's taste. The well publicised 'chalk-gate' incident with Stephen Maguire at the 2004 Grand Prix hardly endeared him to many.

Some dislike his religion, but this is just prejudice plain and simple.

And let's not forget how unpopular Davis and Hendry were with some people in their pomp.

Is this the age of Murphy? It's too early to say.

But at 25 he has time on his side and the world at his feet.



He may have been saddled with a ridiculous nickname (what on earth is the 'Merlin of Milton' supposed to mean?) but on the table Stephen Maguire has proven this week that he is pure class.

His confidence was knocked by failing to put away Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round of the 2005 World Championship but the Glaswegian does not appear to have suffered a negative reaction to losing 17-15 from 14-10 up in the Crucible semi-finals last season.

By beating Fergal O'Brien 9-5 in the Northern Ireland Trophy final in Belfast tonight, he becomes only the 15th player to have won three or more ranking titles.

Up to third in the provisional rankings, he can relax a little now that his three-year wait for a title has ended and will surely challenge in the rest of this season's events.

Snooker is becoming increasingly difficult to predict but Maguire, like Dominic Dale in Shanghai and Marco Fu at the Grand Prix, had to play some top class stuff to win the title, capping a terrific and well supported week in Belfast.



Fergal O'Brien's break of 48 with which he clinched his 5-2 victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan to reach the Northern Ireland Trophy semi-finals in Belfast last night was one of the finest I have ever seen.

Although the context of the match was different, it would not be overstating things to compare it to Alex Higgins's match-saving 69 in the 1982 World Championship semi-finals against Jimmy White.

When Fergal came to the table the only colour on its spot was the yellow. Various other colours and sundry reds were on cushions.

He fashioned a perfect run to secure victory and reach his first semi-final for eight years.

Well done to him. Just because he didn't make the break in five minutes does not mean it wasn't excellent snooker.

There is a common misconception about Fergal: that he is a grinder; a tactician.

In fact, he is an attacking player who plays at a measured pace.

He has made 90 centuries in his career, placing him 28th on the all time list. This is not the record of someone always keeping things tight.

Fergal loves snooker. It runs in his blood. If he wasn't playing he'd be watching.

Good luck to him this weekend.



A brief word about televised matches because I've heard some criticism of Eurosport for the matches that have been chosen, not least the decision to show Shaun Murphy v Peter Ebdon rather than Neil Robertson v Stephen Maguire today.

Eurosport do not pick the matches. Furthermore, they are not consulted about which matches are chosen.

The local broadcaster, TG4, and World Snooker are responsible for deciding on who plays on which table.

It's a shame we haven't seen Mark Allen yet bearing in mind he had brought in more spectators than any other player and we won't see him tonight because (understandably) the TV match is Ronnie O'Sullivan v Fergal O'Brien.

Thankfully, it goes down to one table from tomorrow so we can see every ball after that.



Ronnie O'Sullivan today made five centuries in the five frames he won to beat Ali Carter 5-2 and reach the Northern Ireland Trophy quarter-finals in Belfast.

Nobody has done this before in a best of nine frame match.

Included in this was the seventh maximum break of his career, completed in the same nonchalent fashion - right and left-handed - as the other four centuries.

This is as good as snooker gets. It was sheer genius.

Whatever anyone may think of O'Sullivan's controversial career, you can only applaud a true sporting great at the top of his game.



The following matches will be shown on TG4 and Eurosport over the first two days of the Northern Ireland Trophy:

Afternoon: Joe Swail v Liu Song
Evening: Marco Fu v Adrian Gunnell

Afternoon: Matthew Stevens v Martin Gould
Evening: Gerard Greene v Liang Wenbo

The top 16 enter the fray on Tuesday.



110sport, who manage Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ken Doherty among others, have issued the following statement:

110sport Management Ltd, snooker’s biggest management group, have reason to believe they are victims of a smear campaign which has been directed against them by certain individuals form within the snooker fraternity.

Spokesman for 110sport, Stewart Weir said; “We became aware of this a number of weeks ago, firstly through the grapevine and latterly when we started receiving telephone calls from several newspapers.

“Once we had explained the situation to these newspapers, they decided in their best interests not to run with the story.

“However, the individuals who have instigated this campaign, and who we know are from the Yorkshire area and the Isle of Man , have persisted with their attempt to blacken our name and reputation by touting the same story around the newspaper world.

“Their claim, and not necessarily those of the players they have listed, is that several of our former clients have complaints concerning how they were managed during their time with our company.

“What we would say to those players, even after several years outside of our management, we would be willing to discuss those grievances. However, if they feel strongly enough, we would happily see them in a court of law, an option which has been open to them all along.

“We would also say that, if any financial claims are made against our company, counter-claims would be issued immediately.

“110sport are also adamant that if these underhand tactics continue against our company, we will forward our dossier on to both legal and snooker authorities.”



Here's a picture from Ronnie O'Sullivan's photo-shoot for Vasto watches in China.

Has snooker finally gone upmarket?


We send our birthday wishes to Ted Lowe, who is 87 today.

For those too young to remember him, or from outside the UK, Ted was a BBC snooker commentator for 50 years until his retirement in 1996.

He brought us Pot Black, which built snooker's popularity on TV and led to the creation of the professional circuit as we know it today.

Ted earned the nickname 'Whispering' because, in the 1950s, he would sit in the crowd to commentate and would obviously have to keep his voice down.

He still follows snooker and sent me a very nice letter this year after I wrote a piece about him in Snooker Scene.

We hope he's enjoying his birthday.