31.7.08

KEN DOHERTY: THE PRO'S PRO



Ken Doherty took part in a promotional day for the Northern Ireland Trophy with his good friend Joe Swail in Belfast yesterday.

Ken was a perfect choice and not just because this is an Irish tournament.

He is, and always has been, one of the best ambassadors snooker could ask for.

I’ve interviewed Ken many times after he’s lost a match, sometimes when he’s lost in frustrating circumstances to a player he knows he should have beaten.

He has never been anything less than professional and courteous, answering every question properly and never once spitting his dummy out.

His 1997 world title triumph was a surprise in as much as he beat Stephen Hendry in the final but it was also extremely popular, not least back home in Ireland where tens of thousands turned out to salute him as he paraded the trophy in Dublin.

He has been in two world finals since. To get to the last one in 2003, he won one of the best matches I’ve ever seen to come from 15-9 down and beat the late Paul Hunter 17-16.

What was particularly memorable was the sportsmanship between the two players afterwards. I know Ken would have been as gracious as Paul was had the result been reversed.

Two years ago he was ranked second in the world, his highest ever position. Last season he was fourth but he heads into the new campaign 18th, out of the top 16 for the first time in 15 years.

He doesn’t complain about this or blame anything other than his own results. He will simply turn up at the qualifiers in those events where he isn’t starting out at the final venue and play.

Ken is as down to earth as anyone on the circuit but he is the only snooker player I know of with an interest in renaissance art, in particular the painter Caravaggio.

He married an Australian psychiatrist, Dr. Sarah Prasad, and the couple have a young son, Christian.

I have no doubt that Ken will move into the media and commentary in the next year or two. His genial manner is perfect for it.

But I hope he continues to play for the foreseeable future and would personally be very happy to see him return to the top 16.

Snooker needs players who demonstrate a commitment to their sport beyond merely turning up and pocketing the money.

Ken Doherty still has much to give to a sport he has done more than most to promote during his 18 years on the circuit.

30.7.08

CHRIS SMALL'S BATTLE ENDS - WITHOUT A PENNY

Chris Small, the 2002 LG Cup champion and one time world no.12, has abandoned his long battle to receive money from the WPBSA benevolent fund.

Chris retired from the professional game three years ago because of a debilitating disease of the spine, ankylosing spondalytis.

Despite this, he has not received a single penny from the benevolent fund - which was set up to help players in this very position.

The full story appears here in tonight's Edinburgh Evening News.

It says the WPBSA wanted him to provide a medical certificate proving his illness, which would have cost him £250 - a not insignificant sum for someone relying on state benefits.

This begs the question: did they think that despite quitting snooker and spending long periods of time in a wheelchair he was somehow putting it on?

29.7.08

TEN GREATEST MOMENTS IN SNOOKER HISTORY: 3

1997 - RONNIE O'SULLIVAN MAKES MAXIMUM IN RECORD TIME

There have been over 1,000 century breaks made at the Crucible, thousands and thousands more elsewhere and 63 officially ratified 147s since Steve Davis made the first in 1982.

But there’s never been anything like the five minutes, 20 seconds of genius served up by Ronnie O’Sullivan one Monday afternoon in April 1997.

O’Sullivan, at the time 21, had struggled in the opening session of his first round match against Mick Price and trailed 4-3 before winning the last two frames to get his nose in front.

Breaks of 91 and 86 made it 7-4 and the result no longer seemed in doubt. At 8-5, O’Sullivan knocked in a red from distance, the cue ball flicked off another red and knocked the black towards a corner pocket.

From then on it was perfection. On 49, he went into the pack and the table was at his mercy. On 89 he split two reds that were impeding one another.

After that he never looked liked he would miss. There was barely time for the audience to contemplate it in any case.

Why does this 147 rate higher than any other? Because it was the perfect demonstration of sheer natural talent.

O’Sullivan made the game look ridiculously easy. Anyone who has ever played snooker – at any level – knows that it isn’t.

Also, the break was one of those moments that lifted snooker from the sports section of newspapers and gave the game wider currency.

It is something we have come to rely on O’Sullivan for more and more over the years, often to his detriment.

That afternoon in 1997 he had an average shot time of under nine seconds and earned £530 a second for the maximum.

It was worth every penny. O’Sullivan failed to make good on this moment of brilliance by losing in the next round. He would not win the title until he was 25.

But in terms of what can be achieved on a snooker table, this break stands above any other.

ALL AROUND THE WORLD

In the last week alone, this blog has been read by people in 41 different countries.

This is one illustration of snooker's global appeal. It isn't properly represented by the the composition of the professional circuit - of the 96 players, only 13 are from outside Great Britain and Ireland.

However, there is far more to snooker than the pro game and it is good to know there is so much interest around the world.

For the record, we have had visitors from the UK, Germany, Ukraine, Ireland, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Russia, Finland, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Canada, USA, Israel, Norway, Belgium, Lithuania, France, Spain, China, Switzerland, Australia, Latvia, Netherlands, Sweden, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Singapore, Belarus, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Malaysia, Nigeria, Egypt, Mauritius, Brazil and Denmark.

28.7.08

IN THE NEWS THIS WEEK

The sun here in the UK may have finally shown up but there’s still plenty going on in Snookerland...

Mike Russell has won the World Professional Billiards Championship for a ninth time. Russell, 39, first won the title in 1989 and his 1,821-1,342 defeat of Geet Sethi further confirms him as the finest player of his generation.

In most sports, nine world titles would mean fame and riches but Russell will be back shortly in Qatar where he coaches the national team.

Mohammed Elhamy of Egypt is the new African champion. He won the title on Sunday in Libya.

Snooker and the world has come a long way since 1986 when Ronald Reagan ordered bombing raids on Tripoli.

Anne Marie Reilly is to referee at the Northern Ireland Trophy qualifiers next month. She becomes the third woman, after Michaela Tabb and Patricia Murphy, to join the roster of officials.

Tabb took charge of the Saga Insurance Masters final last season and must surely be a hot favourite to referee the world final if not next year then in 2010.

Still on refereeing, we may be seeing less of Alan Chamberlain on our screens this season as he has now reached the official retirement age of 65. He will still be involved but probably in a reduced role.

Alan has been on the circuit for the best part of 25 years and refereed the 1997 Crucible final as well as several Wembley Masters finals.

A presentation was made to him at the Crucible earlier this year when he was handed a painting made up of former world champions.

This last week he has been running the World Billiards Championship in his usual efficient way.

There will be a big pro-am in Belgium from September 19-21 for which the winner will receive 5,000 euros.

Plenty of top players will be taking part, including former world champions Ken Doherty, Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy, reigning Masters champion Mark Selby and world no.2 Stephen Maguire.

Joe Swail has launched his own website and very nice it looks too.

The Paul Hunter English Open is underway in Leeds and runs until August 3, the same day the second PIOS event of the season begins in Prestatyn.

June Davis, the widow of the great Joe, died last week on her 98th birthday.

She had a fine career in her own right as a singer, notably in Jack Hylton’s dance band.

A snooker playing dog that appeared on the ITV programme ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ has been run over by its owner.

Never let it be said we don’t cover all the hot topics here.

25.7.08

TO RUSSIA WITH CUES

The Grand Finals of the World Series will be staged in Moscow for at least the next three years.

FSTC Sports Management, the promoters, have signed a deal with IMM Group, responsible for tennis's Kremlin Cup.

The Grand Finals take place on November 29-30. They were originally due to be in Hamm, Germany but the schedule has been altered after World Snooker changed the dates for the Shanghai Masters.

The Moscow leg had been planned for September 27-28 after FSTC were informed the Shanghai event would not start until October 1.

However, it now begins on September 29 and it was felt this was far too tight a schedule for players involved in both tournaments.

Therefore, the September leg has been scrapped but this blow will be softened by the news of Russian investment.

John Higgins, who won the first World Series tournament in Jersey, likened it to Roman Abramovich's involvement with Chelsea.

“This type of relationship with Russia has not done Chelsea any harm and we are looking forward to the potential this offers the game for years to come," he said.

“This is exactly the type of opportunity we believed existed when we first discussed the concept of the World Series of snooker.

“While I knew snooker was popular in these regions, I really did not know just how big.

“The commercial potential this brings to both the players and the game itself is incredible.”

It's not all bad news for snooker fans in Hamm. There will now be an exhibition on the weekend of November 29-30 featuring Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The Warsaw leg of the World Series on October 25-26 remains in place.

24.7.08

NEW VENUE FOR GRAND PRIX - NOW LET'S HAVE AN OPEN DRAW

The Royal London Watches Grand Prix has a new venue and will revert to a knockout format this year.

It will be moving from the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, which has staged it for the last two years, and is heading to the SECC in Glasgow, a first rate venue that hosted the 2004 Players Championship.

For the last two seasons the early stages have been played in groups. This received a mixed response from snooker fans but most players were against the round robins.

World Snooker’s official press release states: “We would like to thank all the staff at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre for their co-operation and assistance during the last two years. Snooker has a rich history with the AECC and the Royal London Watches Grand Prix has been well supported during this time.”

This is being kind to say the least. Crowd figures were very disappointing – the main reason the tournament is moving to Glasgow.

Aberdeen is a bit out of the way for many – and the venue is not in the city centre – but it attracted huge crowds for the Scottish Open from 1997 to 2002.

Interest failed to pick up again, although some put this down to poor marketing. I well recall Ronnie O’Sullivan coming into the press room at the 2006 event demanding to know why promotional posters for the tournament had only been put up the day before it started.

He had a point.

I think Glasgow will be better supported as it is more accessible and it is good to see this tournament, which began in 1984, continuing.

This was by no means a certainty just a few months ago when it was very nearly turned into a World Cup event.

Most would welcome a World Cup but would not want to lose one of the few long running tournaments the game still has.

But here’s my suggestion: let’s do something different and use a random draw format – like the FA Cup – instead of having seedings.

It would give it a unique identity and cause great excitement for players and fans alike as they wait to find out the various pairings.

This format was used three times for the British Open in the early 1990s.

People often say it didn’t work because Bob Chaperon ended up winning the title but they ignore the fact that the other two winners were Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White.

I think this would, together with an excellent new venue, re-energise the whole event.

TEN GREATEST MOMENTS IN SNOOKER HISTORY: 4

1982 - ALEX HIGGINS WINS SECOND WORLD TITLE

The 1982 World Championship was expected to conclude with a Steve Davis-Terry Griffiths final.

These two players had dominated the season, contesting four finals, but neither survived the first round. Griffiths fell 10-6 to Willie Thorne while Davis fell victim to arguably the biggest Crucible shock of all time, a 10-1 defeat to Tony Knowles.

With Cliff Thorburn also a first fence faller it left the championship wide open.

Step forward one Alexander Gordon Higgins.

He had won the title for the first time a decade earlier. This had had a huge impact on snooker, bringing in fans excited by his lightning fast style of play and combustible personality.

A litany of disciplinary transgressions did nothing to dilute his popularity. He was known as the people’s champion and, for a second time, he was about to become world champion.

A routine 10-5 win against Jim Meadowcroft was followed by a nerve-wracking struggle with Doug Mountjoy in the second round which he finally won 13-12 before Thorne was dispatched 13-10 in the quarter-finals.

The 69 break Higgins made to stay in his semi-final against Jimmy White has been repeated endlessly since.

Quite right too. It is an extraordinary break. As John Spencer said on commentary, it could be argued to be one of the worst breaks ever made because Higgins is hardly ever in position, but the balls he knocks in under pressure make it one of the best ever seen.

It brought the match to 15-15 and Higgins comfortably won the decider to reach the final.

He was up against Ray Reardon, an authority figure in the same way Higgins was anti-establishment.

Reardon was 5-3 up after the first session but Higgins pulled 10-7 clear after the first day.

He failed to pull away further during a tense final day and, at 15-15, Reardon was still well placed to win a seventh world title.

However, Higgins, roared on by his vociferous supporters, powered through the last three frames, limiting Reardon to only nine points.

His 135 total clearance in the last frame was his highest ever break at the Crucible.

It is the scenes that followed, though, that live longest in the memory: Higgins in floods of tears as he beckoned his then wife, Lynn, and baby daughter, Lauren, on to the Crucible stage.

The image of the three locked in a tearful embrace with the World Championship trophy is one of the most iconic in snooker history.

It represented an all too brief moment of contentment for this most troubled of stars.

23.7.08

CARPET BAGGERS

World Snooker’s latest competition reminds me of a line in Fawlty Towers when Basil is explaining to a guest about the refurbishment of the bar area.

“We thought the carpet would go with the curtains,” he tells him.

“Yes,” replies the guest, “one of them will have to go.”

World Snooker’s competition will see one lucky individual win a piece of carpet that has been well trodden in the Crucible foyer since 1987.

The carpet is described by World Snooker as “iconic.” This is, I would suggest, true as it very much resembles the coat worn by Joseph in the musical of the same name.

Its dizzying array of colours reminds me of those magic eye pictures that were all the rage in the 1990s.

You remember them: you stared at them for 15 minutes and either saw a 3D image or got a headache.

If you would like to enter the competition, email competitions@worldsnooker.com with ‘carpet’ in the subject line and tell them who the current world champion is.

For the record, I’m not entering.

I’m holding out for when they start giving away the blinds in the press room.

22.7.08

LET'S TO BILLIARDS

I recall Rex Williams once soberly informing me that “there is no such thing as a snooker table, only billiard tables.”

Rex won the World Billiards Championship seven times so who was I to contradict him?

The point he was making, of course, is that the three-ball game predates snooker. By some distance, actually, as it is believed to have been invented in the 15th century, whereas snooker came along, and was partly derived from billiards, in the late 19th century.

Barry Hearn, the gregarious manager of Steve Davis and notable others, best summed up why billiards failed to match snooker’s appeal on TV in the 1980s.

“Not enough balls,” was his verdict.

To put it another way, billiards is a game of considerable skill. It consists of cannons, pots and in-offs and requires pinpoint accuracy.

Where it falls down as a spectacle is that the top players are simply too good. In snooker, the variances of the game mean that players miss or suffer bad luck or call on the greater retinue of shot options to make one frame different to the next.

To the untrained eye, billiards is the same thing over and over again.

There have been changes over the years and needless to say they haven’t all gone down well with traditionalists. Some of them are obvious – changing the white ball with a spot to a yellow ball.

There is also a rule about having to cross the baulkline after a set number of points to stop players playing the same few shots in a particular area of the table.

It was long before this restriction was introduced that Tom Reece compiled the highest break in the history of billiards in 1907.

Making heavy use of the anchor or ‘cradle’ cannon, Reece made a break of 499,135 over the course of five weeks.

His opponent, Joe Chapman, would arrive each day, take off his coat, sit in the non-striker’s chair and watch as Reece went further and further ahead.

Talk about soul destroying.

The first World Billiards Championship in 1825 consisted of a challenge between Edwin Kentfield and Jack Carr.

Kentfield took the title after only one game. Carr could not continue as he died shortly before they were scheduled to play the second.

Billiards is particularly strong in India, where Geet Sethi and Pankaj Advani are regarded as among the country’s top sportsman.

Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton this year won his 15th Midland amateur title a mere 46 years after he won his first.

Clive also won a billiards event in Canada in the early 1980s that had a field of variable quality. He beat Long John Baldrey’s pianist in the first round and Steve Davis in the final.

Mike Russell is the best player of the last 20 years and will be aiming for a ninth world title at the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds from tomorrow until Sunday.

Professional billiards has declined to such an extent that this is now the only tournament on what can hardly be called a circuit.

The ‘B’ in WPBSA refers to billiards, which is possibly the only reason the World Championship is on at all.

There is a thriving amateur scene in England but the three-ball precursor to snooker has, sadly, been allowed to wither and almost die.

Even so, it is good to see billiards just about surviving.

The game is a link to the past. If you needed any further convincing: the quote in the headline is taken from Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra.

21.7.08

TIME FOR A CHANGE

Despite the acres and acres of coverage afforded it in the media, the Open Golf Championship drew a peak viewing audience of 4.7m on the BBC, just 500,000 more than the peak for this year’s world snooker final.

Actually, they are not like-for-like figures because the golf was shown on BBC1 and the snooker on BBC2, which is still considered a minority channel.

Also, while events at Birkdale were closely fought until Padraig Harrington turned it on over the last few holes, the Crucible final between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ali Carter very quickly turned into a procession, so the final session was decidedly low on drama, which would have meant a lower audience than for a close finish.

So why does a sport like golf attract 20 times the media coverage that snooker does?

Some of this is snooker’s own fault, in terms of how it’s marketed and promoted, but most of it is a form of cultural snobbery.

Golf is a middle class game. It is the sport presidents and high-powered businessmen play. It costs fortunes to join many clubs and the game revels in its own elitism.

Snooker is traditionally working class, but in reality is open to all. Many, many people look down on it for this reason and because it does not require physical fitness, as if this negates the considerable skill required to play it at the top level.

The media get very excited about the World Championship but little else. Sometimes you can’t blame them as very little happens between tournaments, especially as players are threatened with disciplinary action for even the mildest of statements.

However, look at the BBC snooker homepage. It hasn’t changed since June 8, even though there have been three tournaments played since (the Jiangsu Classic and two in the World Series).

For a period in the 1980s, snooker was the most popular sport on British television. Figures have declined but are still satisfactory and often more than satisfactory. On Eurosport, they are on the up-and-up.

Yet this doesn’t translate into finding top class sponsors for new events.

It’s easy to blame World Snooker for this – and they are to blame for some of it – but they are fighting against the same cultural stigma the game carries.

Chief executives would rather stand on the first tee alongside Tiger Woods in a pre-tournament pro-am than go anywhere near snooker.

Golf carries more prestige and, because it is popular in America, affords opportunities for brand penetration and all the other horrible marketing buzzwords major corporations use.

What’s the solution? Snooker should not apologise for appealing to every sort of person, regardless of class or background.

But the time has come to look at ways of changing the game’s appeal and think globally. This does not just mean China but also continental Europe and beyond.

Going to venues such as the Newport Centre is not going to persuade anyone with money to invest to get involved.

The promoters of the new World Series have the right idea in terms of merchandising and bringing fans closer to the players, as witnessed recently in Berlin.

The sport may even have to embrace shorter formats such as the shot-clock used in the Premier League or the 6-red version of the game, which proved popular recently with players who competed in an event in Thailand, in the same way cricket had to turn to one-day internationals and 20/20.

There is nothing wrong with snooker as a game. It is still played and watched by millions around the world. Its top players are household names from Birmingham to Beijing to Berlin.

But it has been allowed to stagnate, as witnessed by the skeletal calendar for the new season.

The sport needs to send out a message to sponsors that it is worth getting involved with, and this will only happen when it first acknowledges that a change of approach is required.

Just stumbling on the same old way isn’t going to work.

19.7.08

MAGUIRE SET FOR O'BRIEN REMATCH

Stephen Maguire faces a rematch with Fergal O’Brien, who he beat in the final of last year’s Northern Ireland Trophy, in his opening match of this year’s Belfast event.

Maguire, whose preparation for the tournament has been affected by a suspected cracked rib, won the title at the Waterfront Hall in 2007 with a 9-5 defeat of O’Brien and will face him again if the Dubliner comes through his first round match.

Other interesting clashes in the last 32 could include Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ken Doherty and Shaun Murphy v Mark Williams.

Doherty and Williams each dropped out of the elite top 16 last season and so have to play in the round of the last 48.

Jimmy White starts out in the very first qualifying round on August 15 against Thailand’s Atthasit Mahitthi.

You can view the full draw here.

18.7.08

TEN GREATEST MOMENTS IN SNOOKER HISTORY: 5

1982 - STEVE DAVIS MAKES FIRST TELEVISED 147

Steve Davis in 2008 seems happy with his status as a snooker legend. Unlike Stephen Hendry, he does not enter tournaments believing he is among the likely winners. His love of competition is enough.

The Steve Davis of 1982 was a different animal entirely. He was yet to be the official no.1 in the world rankings – still worked out through an arcane countback of World Championships – but everyone knew he was the best player. He was world champion after all.

The first tournament of the year was the Lada Classic, a tournament broadcast by ITV who three years earlier had missed a moment of snooker history when their cameramen took a lunch break as John Spencer compiled what would have been the first televised 147.

As it transpired, Spencer’s break would not have counted as the pockets were not ratified but ITV learned their lesson. They recorded every ball thereafter.

Fast forward to January 11, 1982 and the Oldham Civic Centre, about as unlikely a venue for sporting history as you are ever likely to find. It was the quarter-finals and Spencer was in action against Davis.

Jet-lagged having only just arrived back from a round-the-world tour with manager Barry Hearn, Davis entered the interval level at 2-2.

Frame five and Spencer played a dreadful break-off shot, leaving Davis a red to the right middle. He potted it and coolly set about stamping his authority on the match.

No better way than taking blacks with every red.

The 15th red was missable from distance in any scenario, let alone the chance for a 147 but he slotted it home and had the colours on their spots.

In went the yellow, in went the green, in went the brown but he was high on the blue and watched anxiously as the cue ball came to rest just a few inches below the pink.

Using the rest, he knocked it in and finished on the black, potting it with tremendous poise to a rapturous reception.

This was a genuine moment to savour. It was history in the making and, given this, David Taylor’s excitable commentary at the end, shouting over the always languid John Pulman, was just about excusable.

There’s a fashion among arriviste snooker followers to believe that the game only reached a decent standard four or five years ago and that the top players of the 1980s or even the 1990s were somehow inferior.

It’s nonsense. Davis’s break is a perfect illustration of the talent and temperament of a player who could have lived with any other of any era.

Here's the break.

17.7.08

MAGUIRE'S BIG BREAK

Stephen Maguire’s preparation for the defence of his Northern Ireland Trophy title has been severely affected after he suffered a suspected cracked rib playing badminton.

Maguire, the world no.2, sustained the injury before last weekend’s World Series event in Berlin where he was in pain on certain shots.

He is awaiting the results of an x-ray and hoping to make a full recovery for the Belfast tournament, which takes place from August 24-31.

“I fell and my hand went into my rib,” Maguire said. “It might be cracked. There are shots I can’t bend for.”

Maguire, 27, defeated Fergal O’Brien 9-5 to win the Northern Ireland title at the Waterfront Hall last year and followed it up by beating Shaun Murphy 10-9 to win the China Open in Beijing in March.

16.7.08

MURPHY'S LAW

According to this newspaper story, Shaun Murphy is to become a school governor.

Let's hope the teachers don't forget their chalk!

SELT DENIES BRIBE CLAIMS

Matt Selt has told the Guardian that claims he offered a bribe to an opponent were the result of 'Chinese whispers.'

Story here.

15.7.08

THREE WORLD CHAMPIONS

The summer is traditionally a downtime for snooker's great and good, but that doesn't stop them making the news.

The Sun reports that Alex Higgins, no exactly a strabger to aggravation over the years, was throttled so badly in a row outside a pub that he couldn't speak for a week.

Steve Davis, not short of a few quid following a glittering snooker career, pocketed more than $28,000 at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

Ronnie O'Sullivan is living on his own in a rented apartment after the breakdown of his relationship, reports the Sunday Times.

In their own ways, all three stories are revealing about the personalities of these world champions.

They also prove that snooker is still thought to be worth writing about, even when there are few tournaments to report.

14.7.08

GOLDEN GRAEME

Graeme Dott is a wee Glaswegian but has a big heart and once again demonstrated his considerable fighting qualities by winning the World Series event in Berlin last night.

Three months ago, Dott was sat at home barely able to move.

Diagnosed with depression, the last thing he wanted to do was play snooker.

He was moments away from withdrawing from the 888.com World Championship in April before his manager, Pat Mooney, asked him to give it another week.

Graeme went to the Crucible in the end and, though he lost 10-7 to Joe Perry, put up a good account of himself.

Even so, it was a season to forget. He lost 15 and drew one of his last 16 matches, fell from second to 13th in the world rankings and is languishing in 39th place in the provisional standings.

But what does any of that matter compared to his health?

Dott is still on medication for his condition but no longer seeing a psychologist. He seemed in a positive frame of mind in Berlin and played well against a below par Shaun Murphy to record a 6-1 win and secure the title.

Good for him. I dislike how Dott has attracted so much uncalled for criticism for the manner in which he won the 2006 world title.

That final was not the greatest spectacle but he was up against Peter Ebdon, an arch grinder, and the stakes could not have been higher.

And it had 2.8m BBC2 viewers gripped at just before 1am.

You may have read that 14m watched this year’s final but this is misleading to say the least. This figure has been arrived at by adding together the cumulative audience for all four sessions of the final but as this is reasonably likely to include people who watched more than one session, it involves double, triple and even quadruple counting.

The actual number of people watching BBC2 when Ronnie O’Sullivan potted the final balls was 4.2m.

I don’t clarify this to play down the interest in this year’s final – it was a runaway with little in the way of drama in any case – but to point out that Dott’s triumph was not much less of a draw than that of O’Sullivan.

All that history will record is that this diminutive Scot was world champion. There are currently only 22 names engraved on that famous silver trophy so he has every justification in being proud to be one of them.

Dott has been through a dark period but ended the weekend full of smiles.

Anyone not cheered by such a sight must have a heart of stone.

The end of the final is here.

13.7.08

BERLIN TAKES MY BREATH AWAY

The World Series event in Berlin has attracted huge audiences of as many as 1,500 at a time, proving that reports of the snooker boom in Germany were not over-hyped.

The annual Paul Hunter Classic pro-am in Furth attracts many top players but the Berlin tournament is the first professional event staged in Germany since the 1998 German Masters.

This leads to one pertinent question: why has it taken ten years to get an event on in Germany?

In fact, it’s so pertinent I’ll ask it again: why has it taken ten years to get an event on in Germany?

Were it not for the World Series, it could easily have been another ten years, despite the huge growth in interest in recent times. Germany does not seem to feature in World Snooker’s plans at all.

Ten years ago, 5,000 people played snooker regularly in Germany. Today, that figure has quadrupled to 20,000.

Television audiences on German Eurosport have risen for each World Championship since 2003.

In one week of this year’s Crucible event the top ten rated programmes were all snooker.

What impressed me about the packed house yesterday was how fair the spectators were.

Of course many if not most of them were hoping the local wildcards would spring an upset but they warmly applauded John Higgins, Graeme Dott, Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy.

Put simply, they just wanted to see top class snooker close-up. The World Series has given them this chance.

Lasse Munstermann was the only local player who came close to causing a shock but failed to take his chance to beat Higgins and lost 4-3.

This raises an interesting quandary for the World Series organisers. Some felt the local aspect of this new innovation was one of its plus points but in fact most first round contests so far have been a series of mismatches.

It’s true that Gary Britton beat Ken Doherty in Jersey and Munstermann gave Higgins a scare but, unsurprisingly, most of the wildcards have been overawed and outclassed.

It is hard to see how the Moscow and Warsaw wildcards will not suffer similar fates.

However, this is not a criticism. The large crowds in Berlin were in part for the local players and I’m sure German snooker fans are grateful that the World Series has come to town.

Snooker tournaments should go to places where the game is popular.

There are few places in which it is as popular as Germany.

11.7.08

TEN GREATEST MOMENTS IN SNOOKER HISTORY: 6

1994 - HENDRY BEATS WHITE...AGAIN

Sport thrives on rivalries and rivalries thrive on contrasting personalities.

With Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White, these contrasts were plain for all to see. Hendry, the imperious master cueman – quiet, dedicated, professional and deadly under pressure – against White, the everyman – gregarious, naturally gifted, a jack-the-lad people’s champion.

It was a compelling pairing that lifted the World Championship in the early 90s to new heights.

White had endured Crucible disappointment long before Hendry came on the scene. In 1982, only Alex Higgins’s audacious 69 clearance denied him a place in the world final. Two years later he himself made a great comeback in the final but just fell short of beating Steve Davis.

Hendry beat White 18-12 in the 1990 world final and 18-5 in 1993. The previous year, the Scot came from 14-8 down to beat him 18-14, a final White looked certain to win early on the second day.

However, 1994 was his big chance. An excellent match came down to a pulsating last session.

White trailed 16-14 but won a black ball frame to level at 16-16 and Hendry failed to pot a ball in the frame White won for 17-17.

For only the second time, the Crucible finale was going to a decider.

After the early exchanges, the balls were at White’s mercy. Leading 37-24, on a break of 29 and just a few balls away from victory, he missed the black off its spot.

It was surely pressure that caused the mistake. Hendry, the best pressure player who ever lived, was a White fan as a boy but, rightly, pushed sympathy aside and clinically cleared up to win 18-17.

“He’s starting to annoy me,” joked White, always gracious regardless of the result, but the pain of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory would soon hit home and his career entered a decline.

He stemmed it here and there, most notably in 2004 when he won the Players Championship.

The Whirlwind also gave his vast army of supporters something to cheer at the Crucible in 1998 when, as a qualifier, he beat Hendry 10-4 in the first round.

And yet this and all the titles he won could not possibly make up for the fact that the one he really wanted slipped him by.

Next year, he will have to win four matches to qualify. Everyone hopes he will but it seems like a long shot.

White was certainly good enough to be world champion and, in terms of pure ability, better than many of those who did win the game’s greatest prize but, on that night in Sheffield in 1994, he fell painfully short.

It was a great occasion but, for millions, a great disappointment.

10.7.08

DAVIS RED HOT AT POKER


I’m delighted to read that Steve Davis has made it down to the last 1,308 in the main event of the World Series of Poker out in Las Vegas.

This may not sound all that impressive but it’s worth noting that this competition had a starting field of 6,844.

The winner will eventually pocket around £4.6m. This is only £1m less than Davis has earned during his 30-year professional snooker career.

The green baize legend is now taking his chances alongside such luminaries as Jeff ‘Jaffacake’ Kimber, who is described on the WSOP website as the World Heads-Up champion.

I have no idea what this means but it sounds like a title worth having.

Davis, like any great sportsman, loves winning but with him I always feel he enjoys the method more.

He has spent many an hour in snooker pressrooms quietly playing internet poker and has exactly the calculating intelligence required to succeed.

Steve’s a person of great patience, too. He used to play another man at chess and their matches were conducted entirely through the post.

Days would go by before either knew what the next move would be.

Not for Davis impulsiveness, although there are moments in poker, as in any game, where it is time to go for the kill. I have no doubt Steve knows exactly when this time is.

Good luck to him.

8.7.08

ON MANAGERS

Mark Williams has confirmed to the journalist Gary Baker that his split from the 110sport management camp was not amicable.

I have no wish to comment or speculate on this specific case but it raises the question of the relationship between players and managers.

To the best of my knowledge there is no licensing of managers in snooker. You or I could, in theory, sign up a player and represent them without any qualifications whatsoever.

(Indeed, during one very drunken night at the Irish Masters a few years ago myself and a colleague did this very thing. I can only hope a few scrawled promises on the back of a napkin are not legally binding).

Without naming names, there have been some very dodgy characters calling themselves ‘managers’ over the years. Players usually get wise to them but only after being massively ripped off.

What should a manager do for his player?

Their main role should be to take away all the pressure of being a professional sportsman. Therefore, they should do all the admin: booking hotels and practice times, arranging travel, looking after finances, obtaining sponsors, promoting the player and raising their profile.

The player will be expected to give a cut of their prize money and off table earnings to their manager in return for these services.

It hasn’t always worked. Howard Kruger’s Framework and Geoff Faint’s Wheels in Motion each collapsed with various amounts of money being owed.

Other managers have come and gone – usually gone with a fair slice of the player’s money in their back pocket.

Barry Hearn’s Matchroom stable of the 1980s was hugely successful and included most of the game’s top players. They even made a record with Chas n Dave, ‘Snooker Loopy.’

110sport, or Cuemasters and then TSN as it was later known, was the leading stable of the 1990s.

They had (and still have) Stephen Hendry while various other top stars have come and gone over the years.

Ian Doyle ran the company with great enthusiasm until his retirement a couple of years ago, after which his son, Lee, took over.

Stephen Maguire, Ronnie O’Sullivan and now Williams have all left. This in itself does not mean anything amiss has happened but suggests that some players would rather manage their own affairs and thus hang on to all of their money, apart from that which the taxman takes.

Only time will tell whether this is a smart move or not.

7.7.08

WORLD SERIES BERLIN DRAW

Here is the draw for the second World Series event in Berlin this coming weekend:

First round:
Graeme Dott (Scotland) v Chris McBreen (New Zealand)
John Higgins (Scotland) v Lasse M√ľnstermann (Germany)
Stephen Maguire (Scotland) v Hans Blanckaert (Belgium)
Shaun Murphy (England) v Patrick Einsle (Germany)

Semi-finals:
Dott/McBreen v Higgins/Munstermann
Maguire/Blanckaert v Murphy/Einsle

If you're wondering why McBreen and Blanckaert are in the field, although they are from New Zealand and Belgium respectively they each live in Germany.

3.7.08

O'SULLIVAN QUITS 110SPORT

Ronnie O'Sullivan has today issued the following press statement (in italics):

Ronnie O'Sullivan has announced that he has ended his relationship with 110sport management.

Ronnie said, "Having completed my most successful season to date, I am looking forward to next season and managing my own affairs both in the UK and overseas markets including China.

"I would like to thank 110sport for the support they have given me over the years and look forward to working with them and other organisations in various capacities in the future".

Ronnie has announced that his accountants and business managers, Mr Django Fung and Mr Paul Golder of Grove Leisure, will continue to be responsible for his business affairs, and Mr Zihao Jin will represent his commercial interests in China.


O'Sullivan is the latest big name to leave the management group following Stephen Maguire and, more recently, Mark Williams.

Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty and Marco Fu are among the well known faces who remain as part of the camp.

2.7.08

SIX APPEAL

Next week, snooker returns to Thailand but only in the form of a shortened version of the game.

Six-red snooker is becoming popular in Asia. As the name suggests, it used six reds instead of 15 with 75 the highest break available.

The idea is to speed the game up and make it more attractive to those who prefer pool.

What do we all think of this?

I suppose I'm a traditionalist in these things. I much prefer Test cricket to 20/20, for instance.

However, there's nothing wrong with trying something new. Let's not forget that snooker itself was derived from various cue sports.

The six-red version may introduce new fans to the sport, who will then move on to the proper full length game.

Among the top players involved at the Sangsom Invitational in Bangkok next week are Mark Selby, Peter Ebdon, Ken Doherty, Joe Swail, James Wattana and Jimmy White. The winner will pocket £7,500.

1.7.08

WORLD SNOOKER NO LONGER SILENT OVER 'BRIBE' CLAIM

Well, well, well...

World Snooker have put a statement on their website to clarify that Matt Selt has NOT been found guilty of attempting to bribe a player in an event in the 2006/07 Pontin's International Open Series.

They say the statement has been issued to 'avoid any speculation' over the matter.

This is probably a reference to my post of last week.

However, at no point did I name Matt Selt in connection with this. Neither did I provide any clues about who it could be, except to stress it was "not a household name" - done to prevent speculation about top players.

Here's how the story unfolded: Snooker Scene received an anonymous tip-off detailing an alleged bribe in the PIOS. We were informed that the player involved had been found guilty and fined £2,000.

As is customary journalistic practice, I rang World Snooker and asked them whether it was true or not.

Had they said that he had in fact not been found guilty, I would not have suggested he was.

Instead, they chose to say nothing at all.

Even they now seem to have realised that this is simply not good enough for a sporting governing body, hence today's statement.

The only reason there was any speculation was because World Snooker chose to ignore a perfectly legitimate press inquiry about a very serious allegation.

As I asked in my original post: "If the claims are completely untrue, why not just say so?"

WHEN SNOOKER WENT ALL WIMBLEDON

While enjoying an emotional rollercoaster courtesy of Andy Murray last night, I found my mind drifting back to snooker’s only flirtation with a Wimbledon-style event.

The year was 1991. In America, a president named Bush was at war with Iraq. In Britain, a dour new prime minister was struggling to establish himself after taking over from a far more charismatic predecessor.

How times have changed.

In January of that year, Barry Hearn launched his ambitious World Masters at the NEC in Birmingham. Like Wimbledon, it included men’s and women’s singles and doubles, mixed doubles and a juniors event.

I attended the first day although was not yet writing about snooker. This was chiefly because I was still at school.

The tournament began in controversial circumstances when Hearn invited Alex Higgins to compete even though the WPBSA had banned him for a season.

World champion Stephen Hendry, aghast at Higgins’s inclusion, threatened to pull out. This story was the back page lead in the Daily Mail – simply unthinkable today.

Hearn, perhaps not unhappy with the publicity, backed down and Hendry took his place in Birmingham.

Much thought had gone into innovation, with players wearing colourful waistcoats and players invited from all corners of the globe.

The first match was something of a mismatch pitting as it did Steve Davis – still one of the very best players in the world – against Fred Davis, who at the time was 76 years of age.

Davis won 6-0. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you which one.

The tournament had begun with an Olympic-esque opening ceremony featuring pretty women parading round the arena with the names of the countries represented, which included such snooker outposts as Brazil (Rui Chapeu, who played wearing a white cap) and Panama (Juan Castenda, who had never played the game before but still managed to make a 50 break).

This was the first event to be broadcast with any real ambition outside of the standard TV coverage up to that point. Sky had cameras on two tables and a roving camera to get to anything exciting on the outside tables.

Unfortunately, they were late to James Wattana’s 147, did not record a ball and so simply didn’t mention it.

Wattana was somewhat disappointed there had been no jackpot prize. “I was thinking of a big money,” said the Thai.

The main distinguishing feature of the World Masters was its tennis-style tie break. Matches were first to six but players had to win by two clear frames. If they reached 6-6 then one red and the colours were placed on the table and the winner of this mini-frame declared the winner.

A nice idea but it didn’t work. The one dramatic point in any match is a deciding frame – a full frame.

Jimmy White beat Tony Drago 10-5 to win the men’s title and pocketed a cheque for £200,000.

To put this into context, Graeme Dott would receive the same amount for winning the World Championship 15 years later.

Hendry and Mike Hallett won the men’s doubles, Karen Corr the women’s singles, Allison Fisher and Stacey Hillyard the women’s doubles and Davis and Fisher the mixed doubles.

All the hype before the junior event had been centred on Ronnie O’Sullivan, but he was beaten by the eventual winner, John Higgins, who beat Mark Williams in the final.

Quinten Hann, at 13, became the youngest player to compile a televised century.

It was a great event but very costly, too, and was never staged again.

This was a shame. There need to be different types of tournament to keep interest up.

For instance doubles, though not my personal cup of tea because of its stop-start nature, is very popular with audiences.

Who would play with who today? I’d suggest Higgins and Maguire, Hendry and Williams, Murphy and Selby while right-handed Ronnie could partner left-handed Ronnie.

In all seriousness, in the digital TV age there is no reason – apart from finances – why a World Masters-style tournament could not be attempted again.

It could be frame, set and match to snooker.