Paul Hunter’s death in October 2006 was the saddest day of the decade for the snooker world.

He arrived at the Irish Masters 18 months earlier complaining of stomach pains. Everyone assumed this was some passing bug and that we’d hear no more about it, but by the time of the China Open the following month he had already been told he had cancer.

It was a rare form of the disease, at first kept at bay by treatment but which would become terminal.

Bravely, Hunter played on. To see him at tournaments ravaged by chemotherapy, unable to properly feel his hands and obviously not fit to perform at his best was heartbreaking.

Yet he never complained. He never asked ‘why me?’ He didn’t change despite his terrible ordeal.

At the turn of the decade, he was at something of a career crossroads, despite being in his early 20s.

His victory in the 1998 Welsh Open and the financial rewards that went with his early career success led him into spending more time partying than practising.

By his own admission he needed to concentrate more on snooker and, in 2000, he joined forces with Brandon Parker, his manager for the rest of his career.

In 2000, Hunter watched his friend, Matthew Stevens, win the Masters. The following year, he completed the first of three remarkable victories in the game’s leading invitation event.

He trailed Fergal O’Brien 6-2 at the mid session interval and went back to his hotel with Lyndsey, who would become his wife, where they did what couples do.

Two frames into the final session, O’Brien led 7-3 but Hunter then found his range and stormed back to win 10-9.

With his boyish charm in full evidence he later told the press he and Lyndsey had “put plan B into operation.” This was an entirely innocent, off the cuff remark but it would end up as a front page tabloid story and follow him round for the rest of his life. It seemed to mould Paul as ‘one of the boys,’ which indeed he was.

The following year, he fell 5-0 adrift to Mark Williams at Wembley but came back again to win 10-9.

In 2004, he completed the hat-trick, recovering from 7-2 down to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9.

Hunter’s popularity increased with each of these victories. Television viewers warmed to his natural charm just as they had to that of Jimmy White two decades earlier.

Like White, Hunter was easy to relate to and easy to support.

He could have been world champion but for his illness. He came close in 2003 but let slip a 15-9 lead over Ken Doherty in the semi-finals, the Irishman winning 17-16.

The three Masters victories will, rightly, be what he is remembered for on the table, but he also won two ranking titles during the decade: the 2002 Welsh and British Opens.

Hunter was always good value for the press, be it because of his haircut or his wife or something other than the slog of who beat who in whatever tournament was on that week.

Much of his appeal was that he was always himself: a lad from Leeds who loved snooker and loved life.

The media loved Paul, so too did his fellow players and the public.

He was the golden boy cruelly denied his golden future.


Anonymous said...

Snooker The Fine Art Method
A secret is wasted if not shared
Hi Dave
That is a good "right up" you've given Paul Hunter and amazingly true, not just nice things said about the departed.
Maybe Paul should also be called the "Come Back Kid" as he acquired the habit of coming from behind in his teens.
Paul could also be forgetful, like the Spring Solstice when he forgot to put his clock one hour forward and arrived at the venue ten minutes late and was dubbed two frames of a five frame game.

Needless to say Paul won the three frames left; I cant say for sure if he won that junior tournament. The lad had a lovely but very economical cue action and never had to find a balance; possible the games first "Snooker Entertainer" in a photo finish with Ronnie.
They both lit up Blackpool. God Bless
Mr Hey you

jamie brannon said...

Yes a much missed player. I want to say something that is off topic, but I will start by saying what a great sportmanship Hunter showed through his career. I think I'm right in saying that despite losing to Jimmy White in the Players Championship Final he looked almost as pleased for Jimmy as if he had won himself and I think you said about he drank with Ken and his friends after that semi loss in 2003. The off topic bit was I just watched that Roy Keane that I was alerted too by your Twitter feed, and it's really funny especially the bit with the phone going off. My point is though does anyone have a reason why in sports like snooker and golf there is no cheating really despite big money being up for grabs, but football and Rugby we see more of it? My reason would be that the pace of golf and snooker makes you think about your actions more than rugby and football.

John A said...

Sadly missed still.

Off topic apologies, but I understand that a Maltese ranking event will be announced next week, to take place in mid-March next year.

Can you confirm Dave? Thanks.

Dave H said...

I don't know but I certainly hope so. Lovely place, Malta, and the more events the better.

Anonymous said...

There is the old saying "Nobody had a bad word for him", this was never more true than with 'The Predator'.

I was involved in snooker from 1994 until 2004, and was privilaged to know him as both a world class player, and a friend. I still miss him, and have to say my appetite for the game died with him.

I have some wonderful memories of my association with Paul, and am fortunate to have - of all things - a set of golf clubs he got me, which I will keep to my dying day, and something I will always treasure.

If Evie has the same love of life, and infectious smile as her father, its something that will stand her in good shape for the future.

Anonymous said...

Paul was a great player and a good personality for the sport, a couple of years ago I bought Lynsey Hunter's book to read but in the end I read part of it and couldn't read any more it was just too sad.

shaun said...

it still brings a lump to the throat thinking of such a sad loss but even in those bleakest of times he still managed to always wear a smile.Thanks for some great memories mr hunter

Anonymous said...

every time i think of paul a part of me feels sad and after reflection i usually end up smiling cause he made happy memories of him for us to share.

rip paul

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