I shall, in the coming weeks on this blog, be looking back at the last ten years in snooker as the decade comes to an end.
It was a decade that began with snooker still in fine fettle. There was an undisputed ‘big four’ of John Higgins, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan and the circuit was awash with tournaments, both ranking and invitational, both in the UK and beyond.
But the warning signs were there too. The election of the Labour government in 1997 meant the end of tobacco sponsorship in 2003, with the World Championship exempt until 2005.
As it transpired, there were 77 ranking events staged during the decade compared with 90 in the 1990s.
Here’s who won the most:
Ronnie O’Sullivan – 15
Mark Williams – 9
John Higgins – 8
Peter Ebdon – 6
Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty, Stephen Maguire, Neil Robertson – 4
Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui, Stephen Lee – 3
And here’s who appeared in most ranking tournament finals:
Ronnie O’Sullivan – 22
Mark Williams, John Higgins – 14
Stephen Hendry – 12
Ken Doherty – 9
Peter Ebdon – 8
Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire – 6
Stephen Lee, Graeme Dott – 5
All of the above figures of course exclude next month’s UK Championship.
They provide a snapshot of who has performed best in the biggest events, although don’t include the premier invitation tournaments.
Of these, O’Sullivan and Paul Hunter each won the Masters three times, O’Sullivan and Higgins won two Scottish Masters titles apiece, Higgins captured two Irish Masters crowns and O’Sullivan was victorious in a remarkable seven stagings of the Premier League.
There were 35 maximums recorded in competitive play, nine more than in the 1990s. O’Sullivan was responsible for six of them and Higgins five.
In 2004, Jamie Burnett compiled the first break of more than 147 with his 148 in the UK Championship qualifiers.
In 2003, Mark Williams picked up the biggest ever first prize when he landed a cheque for £270,000 for winning the World Championship but overall prize money is lower than it was at the turn of the decade.
Only six players who were in the elite top 16 when the 2000s began are still there.
Higgins was first and is now fourth, Stephen Hendry was second and is now tenth, Williams was third and is now 15th and O’Sullivan was fourth and is now first.
Peter Ebdon was 13th and is now 14th; Mark King was 14th and is now 16th.
In the case of Williams and King, they each dropped out of the top 16 before returning.
O’Sullivan was world no.1 for a total of five years, Williams for three, Higgins for two and Hendry for one.
The biggest single viewing audience in the UK was the 7.8m who tuned in for the climax of Ebdon’s 2002 Crucible victory over Hendry but this is dwarfed by viewing figures recorded in China.
We lost many well known faces. Hunter succumbed to cancer at just 27 while stars of an earlier era – John Spencer, Eddie Charlton and Bill Werbeniuk – also died.
David Vine, a face synonymous with TV snooker for a generation of fans, passed away as did other members of snooker’s supporting cast, including referees John Smyth, John Street and Colin Brinded, Imperial Tobacco supremo Peter Dyke and TV commentator Jack Karnehm.
Snooker became big in China following Ding Junhui’s extraordinary capture of the 2005 China Open title in Beijing.
In its traditional base in the UK there was a downturn in interest as snooker clubs – including many that had been home to young kids who went on to become big stars – closed down in large numbers.
Snooker’s media profile decreased in Britain but grew elsewhere, particularly in Europe following a landmark broadcast deal with Eurosport.
There was the usual political wrangling as the players rejected first a breakaway circuit and then a serious investment offer.
Snooker started to embrace the internet as a tool for growth and provided many memorable television moments.
New faces appeared, old faces disappeared, the snooker world continued to turn and, through it all, the game remains intact.
Over the next few weeks I will be examining the players, the matches and the controversies that have marked out the last ten years on the green baize.