We are recording another podcast next week and will be answering your questions.

Therefore, please send any you have to snookersceneblog@aol.com.

They can be about players, tournaments, current issues, the game in general or whatever you like.

Please leave your first name and where in the world you are.



Jimmy White today made his highest break in the World Championship for 11 years but still trails Vincent Muldoon 5-4 going into the final session.

White's 134 total clearance in the last frame of the opening session helped him recover from 5-2 down.

But the match is still in the balance ahead of the 7pm resumption.


I don't know whether Tony Knowles is still regarded as the housewives' favourite but there will doubtless be many nostalgics pleased to see him come through the first stage of the World Championship qualifiers.

Knowles beat Stefan Mazrocis 10-9 to advance to the main tour section, where he will face Rodney Goggins.

But today is all about another star of yesteryear who has done as much as anyone - including those who actually have won it - to popularise the World Championship.

I refer, of course, to Jimmy White, who faces Vincent Muldoon.

Vinnie is just 18 and so won't remember any of White's six world final defeats, which is a sobering thought, and not just for Jimmy.

No doubt he will put his army of fans watching the live scoring through the usual agonies today.



A strange incident in last week's Welsh Open has been brought to my attention.

In the third frame of his match against Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui appears to pot two reds in succession - that is without potting a colour in between.

You can view the footage here.

There has been speculation on the internet that the video has been faked. However, I have watched the original and unedited BBC footage of the frame and it is genuine. Indeed, it was logged at the time by a member of the production team.

Ultimately, no harm was done. Although Ding won the frame he lost the match.

Maguire had no reason to spot it. The non-striker is waiting to come back to the table, not intently following every shot.

The referee, Colin Humphries, can be forgiven for making a mistake. Who amongst us does not?

What I find odd is that Ding himself lost concentration to the extent that he forgot he was on the black.

A weird business, then, and proof that, in the internet age, there's always someone out there who will spot these things.



The third Snooker Scene podcast features myself and my colleague Phil Yates answering your questions - albeit ones sent in a long time ago.

Click here to hear Phil's views on Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan, whether the game should go open, Michael Holt's career prospects and hiding from Alex Higgins among many other subjects.

For reasons that will become clear, I should point out it was recorded before Ali Carter won the Welsh Open.

You will have to have registered to listen.

We will be answering more questions very soon, so if you have any please send them to snookersceneblog@aol.com.


The first ever match in the World Championship was held in November 1926. Melbourne Inman beat Tom Newman 8-5.

They were contesting a silver trophy bought and ultimately won by Joe Davis using half of the entry fees for the tournament.

This trophy is still presented today and represents the Holy Grail for professional snooker players.

There are only 23 names engraved upon it.

Today, in the Badminton Hall of the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, a few short miles from the city’s Crucible Theatre, the 2009 championship gets underway.

These are uncertain economic times. There is no sponsor. The last time the championship failed to attract a backer was 34 years ago when it was held in Australia. The last time it was unsponsored in the UK was 1972.

There are still two months until the televised phase. Let’s hope a replacement for 888.com is found in the interim.

Yet for all the worries about the lack of sponsorship and the message it will send about the state of snooker to the wider world, the players taking part in the qualifiers will be thinking of one thing and one thing only: how to get to the Crucible.

This provincial theatre-in-the-round is, in many ways, an unlikely sporting Mecca. It is small, cramped and seems to belong to another age. No promoter would take snooker’s biggest event there today.

And yet the Crucible is frozen in time for all those who remember the iconic moments it has produced: Alex Higgins in tears after his 1982 triumph; Cliff Thorburn’s painstaking 147 in 1983; Dennis Taylor sinking the black to beat Steve Davis in 1985; Stephen Hendry’s victory as the youngest ever winner in 1990; Hendry’s duels with Jimmy White; Ronnie O’Sullivan’s magical exhibition of perfection in his five minute, 20 second maximum in 1997...

These are highlights from a much, much longer list. For all the grumbles about the Crucible’s suitability, come April 18 everybody wants to be there.

Indeed, a number of those who have helped make the Crucible – and by extension snooker – such a vivid centrepiece of British sporting life will be among those trying to get through to the televised phase this year.

Tony Knowles plays today, White starts out on Friday and John Parrott, Davis, Mark Williams and Ken Doherty are all to come.

The championship would benefit from the qualification of younger starlets such as Ricky Walden, Jamie Cope, Liang Wenbo and Judd Trump.

To be thought of as international it needs non-UK players like Liu Chuang – a qualifier at 17 last year – to get through.

Yet there will be many who fall by the wayside in the hard fought qualifying jungle.

For all but 16 of the 95 players taking part in the qualifiers, the dream of reaching the Crucible will be dashed over the coming fortnight.

But dream they will until the point in which the last ball is potted and their challenge is snuffed out for another year.

For snooker players, there is nothing like the World Championship and nothing like the Crucible.



By far the most recognisable name in action on day one of the World Championship qualifiers tomorrow is that of Tony Knowles, a three-times semi-finalist at the Crucible in the 1980s.

Knowles was one of snooker’s pin-up boys in the boom time. No doubt to women of a certain age he still occupies that category.

He was also a very good player but never quite landed one of the game’s really big titles.

A couple of ranking event victories did not lead to a triumph at, say, Sheffield or Wembley.

This certainly looked a possibility when Knowles sensationally beat Steve Davis, the then defending champion, 10-1 in the first round of the 1982 World Championship, which is still considered to be one of the biggest shocks of all time.

His first Crucible semi-final came in 1983 and he was very unlucky not to go through after Cliff Thorburn fluked what was effectively match ball to beat him 16-15.

In 1985, he came a cropper to Dennis Taylor and went down to Joe Johnson the following year.

Part of the reason why he didn’t achieve as much as he may have done was undoubtedly the attention he received for what Snooker Scene called a “three-part part farrago of sexual boasting” in a tabloid newspaper.

Indeed, Knowles was fined over this for “bringing the game into disrepute” – perhaps the most bogus offence in sport bearing in mind the disreputable elements that often end up in positions of power in various governing bodies.

Knowles is not renowned for brevity when it comes to giving his point of view. I once asked him, in all innocence, if he thought he could get back to the top of the game and he replied, “well, they ruined the game when they changed the tables in 1986.”

Decades passed, or so it felt, as Tony detailed every single development he believed had taken the game backwards.

He turned up at the qualifiers one year with bandages on his back after somehow tipping a jug of boiling water over himself.

His cult status was assured when Peter Kay named one of Brian Potter’s suites after him in the Channel 4 sitcom Phoenix Nights.

Knowles, now 53, faces Ali Bassiri in the first qualifying round tomorrow.

He won’t reach the Crucible but it speaks volumes for his love of snooker that he has entered the game’s biggest event once again.



The way he has played this last year, it was obvious Ali Carter was good enough to win a ranking title but before he actually managed this feat the doubts, perhaps his own self doubts, remained.

Well, not any more. Ali was sensational in recovering from 5-2 down to beat Joe Swail 9-5 and win the Welsh Open in Newport last night.

You wonder now if the floodgates will open and he will become a regular tournament winner, or as regular as the skeleton calendar allows.

He will certainly be among the favourites to lift the World Championship trophy in May although to do so he may have to pass one final test: beat Ronnie O’Sullivan, which he has failed to do in 11 meetings.

I was very impressed with his performance last night. Who wouldn’t be?

I think Terry Griffiths, his coach, deserves credit for helping to restore his positive attitude because late on in the first session Carter was clearly feeling fed up.

But his comeback included some terrific snooker and his victory was much deserved.

And it brought to an end a week that did snooker the power of good.

The atmosphere for the final was electric as Carter and Swail fought it out in front of a packed and enthusiastic crowd.

Indeed, crowds were good all week and it goes to prove two things:

1) People will come if you play tournaments in places where snooker is popular – and Wales is an established stronghold.

2) People will come if you tell them a tournament is on – and World Snooker did work with the local press to build up interest before it began.

Unfortunately, though, anyone who enjoyed the event and is looking forward to the next televised tournament will have to wait five weeks for the China Open.

The Championship League is on the internet in the interim but the world qualifiers aren’t.

Snooker needs to bolster its profile to attract sponsors but this is difficult when there are such big gaps between tournaments.

Anyway, that’s not something that will be sorted out overnight. For today, let’s pay tribute to Ali Carter for his first ranking title.

On the form he displayed last night it won’t be his last.



The Welsh Open has been one of the strangest - and the best - tournaments I can remember.

The level of entertainment on offer has been extremely high and it's proven that you don't need century breaks flying in every frame to make snooker interesting.

You can't beat scraps on the colours, unexpected misses and players winning frames after getting snookers.

The final pits Ali Carter against Joe Swail.

Carter has lost a number of matches he should have won; Swail has won a number he should have lost.

The Belfast man becomes the first Northern Irishman to take part in a ranking tournament final since Dennis Taylor lost to Stephen Hendry in the 1990 Asian Open.

He would be the first Northern Irish ranking event winner since Taylor won the 1985 world title.

If he does come through expect tears, and not just from him.

Carter is in his second ranking final and, whatever happens, we'll have the sixth different winner from as many tournaments this season.

Snooker at the moment is unpredictable and this week has reminded us of its ability to serve up great slices of drama.


Congratulations and good luck to Colin Humphries who will referee today's Welsh Open final, his first.

It's a good omen. Colin often ends up officiating at exciting, high quality contests.

His first ever match at the Crucible saw Nigel Bond edge Stephen Hendry 10-9 on a re-spotted black in 2006.

He also donned the white gloves for Ronnie O'Sullivan's 5-2 defeat of Ali Carter in the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy, in which Ronnie made five centuries including a 147.

It's good to see a new face being given a chance out in the middle.



Our second Snooker Scene podcast features John Higgins talking about his career, how he got into snooker, his world titles, his greatest disappointment, the new Snooker Players Association and why his children are having tennis lessons.

You can download it here.

I'd appreciate any feedback - good or bad - as I'd obviously like to make these podcasts as good as possible.


I first went to the Crucible as a kid to watch and, like everyone else who has ever been there, was amazed at how small it was compared to what it looks like on TV.

Tickets are on general sale for this year's World Championship today and, if you can get one, I would very much recommend the experience.

The Crucible is the only snooker venue people outside the sport know. It has a mythology and aura all of its own.

The audience is so close to the players that it creates an intimate, even oppressive, atmosphere that adds to the drama.

It would never be chosen as the venue for our sport's premier event today but it would be a brave and controversial decision to take the World Championship somewhere else.

Further details here.

Incidentally, if you can't make it to the Crucible, the qualifiers at Sheffield's English Institute of Sport are well worth your consideration.

Look at the names in action: Steve Davis, Jimmy White, John Parrott, Mark Williams, Ken Doherty, Matthew Stevens, Judd Trump and Liang Wenbo to name but a few.

The final round - played from March 8-10 - is always full of drama as the players battle to get to the Crucible.

As it's not being streamed on the internet - which I find incredible - the only place to follow the twists and turns is at the venue itself.


There's been much talk of late that snooker is dying but Neil Robertson's engrossing, entertaining and dramatic 5-4 victory over John Higgins in the last 16 of the Welsh Open last night proved that there is nothing wrong with the game on the table.

Robertson could have gone 3-0 down but employed a relentlessly positive attitude throughout and was, at times, awesome.

He took his eye off a pot that would have ensured 4-2 and had to survive several anxious moments before going two up with three to play.

Higgins, as he often has, showed his class to draw level before a tense decider.

It went the way of the Australian and rounded off the match of the tournament so far. Credit must go to both players for the high quality action they served up.

Crowds have been good, indeed up on last year. Part of the reason for this may be because it's half term.

Indeed, it's good to see so many kids present and equally good to see the players signing autographs for them after their matches.

Such scenes can only show snooker in a positive light, and that is much needed right now.



Marco Fu’s 5-3 victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Welsh Open today means he now leads the world champion 8-7 in career meetings. They have played 17 times in total with two Premier League draws.

This is a record to be proud of for the Hong Kong potter. It’s interesting how some top players end up with bogey opponents they struggle against.

Stephen Hendry lost all three of his meetings with Mark Johnston-Allen, who was a good player but never a member of the top 16.

On the other hand Terry Griffiths, a former world champion and leading player for the best part of two decades, failed to beat Hendry once in 17 meetings.

Of course, Fu’s self belief was all the stronger having got the better of O’Sullivan so many times before, including in a major final (2007 Grand Prix).

O’Sullivan’s missed pink in the sixth frame was the clear turning point. Fu, who had struggled with the positional side of his game early on, grew stronger and credit to him for completing the victory with a century.


I've enjoyed the Welsh Open so far. The snooker's been good, the crowds have been good and we've had the right mix of shock results and top players getting through.

Marco Fu could well give Ronnie O'Sullivan problems today. He is 7-7 on career meetings with the world champion - an excellent record and better than most can boast.

Fu beat O'Sullivan 9-6 in last season's Royal London Watches Grand Prix final. He also won 5-4 at the China Open, although on that occasion O'Sullivan resorted to bashing the balls around in the decider.

O'Sullivan doesn't particularly like playing the Hong Kong potter because Fu is methodical and keeps his emotions inside, so that he remains an inscrutable presence at the table.

The latest chapter of O'Sullivan v Fu is live at 1pm UK time.

The other main TV match tonight pits John Higgins against Neil Robertson.

Higgins's form comes and goes. He didn't put much practice in for the event as he took his wife and three children to Center Parcs for a holiday over the weekend.

Nevetherless, the twice world champion is always a danger and Robertson will have to play better than he did against Jamie Burnett to stay on course for a second Welsh title, having won in Newport two years ago.


Alex Higgins has reportedly been dropped from a charity event in Ireland after some unpleasant behaviour was alleged at a recent exhibition featuring Jimmy White.

Full story in the Irish Independent.



It’s 11 years since Steve Davis has beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan and he’s never beaten him in a ranking event.

There’s no reason to suggest those stats will change today.

It’s master v pupil but O’Sullivan has won their last 14 meetings.

One of the reasons for this is the respect he has for Davis. When his friends were cheering against him in the 1980s, Ronnie was solidly behind the then snooker king.

Therefore, he doesn’t take him lightly and, though he probably doesn’t derive much pleasure from beating him, would not insult him by giving him an easy ride.

There have been many shocks already at the Welsh Open this week.

I don’t expect another one here.


No true snooker fan would take any pleasure from the current plight of Stephen Hendry.

He is the game's greatest ever player but the glory days seem a lifetime ago. His 5-3 defeat to Martin Gould in the Welsh Open tonight means his top 16 place is now under threat with two tournaments to go this season.

It's not nice to witness but this has happened to all of snooker's great names and it will happen again, to John Higgins, even to Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The question now is whether Hendry can stave off relegation from the elite group this season.

If he can't, will he carry on in the qualifiers?

My view is that he would, at least for a season.

But as Ken Doherty will testify, the Pontin's set up is alien territory to players who have spent most of their careers playing on television and a place where reputations don't count for anything.

Make no mistake: this is a career crossroads for the seven times world champion.

Most snooker watchers will hope he turns it round but that is certainly not guaranteed to happen.



Dave Gilbert proved last night that a long time member of the game's supporting cast can assume leading man status if he believes in himself.

It was the best performance of Dave's seven-year professional career. He made two centuries - he had made only three all season prior to the match - and looked confident and composed throughout.

To beat Mark Williams 5-1 on home ground takes some doing, even if Williams himself made a few mistakes.

Dave has never been in the last 16 of a ranking event. Things don't get any easier at the Welsh Open: he has Joe Perry next.

Nevertheless, if he produces a similar performance he will prove a handful.



Among the first set of matches in the Welsh Open today is an all Northern Irish battle between Mark Allen and Joe Swail.

Allen is the rising star and certainly capable of winning the title.

But what of Swail?

Joe’s had a career that has swung between great inspirational moments and a fair degree of disappointment.

His exit at last season’s World Championship most definitely fell into the latter category. He fought back from 12-8 against Liang Wenbo but was beaten 13-12.

Two points about this defeat:

1) It was the first time he had ever lost a decider in the World Championship, having won something like eight or nine
2) Had he won he would have become the first player ever to drop out of the top 16 and top 32 and return to the top 16 on more than one occasion. Joe did this first a few years ago. Rex Williams also did it in the 1980s.

Swail has appeared in nine ranking event semi-finals but never a final.

In 2000, he was 9-6 down to Stephen Maguire in the final qualifying round of the World Championship but came back to win 10-9.

This was the start of a fairytale run through to the semi-finals at the Crucible, which included a 13-12 second round defeat of John Parrott from 12-8 down.

It was an emotional run, too. Swail’s mother, Josephine, had died of cancer and the public warmed to this sincere, dogged competitor attempting to land the greatest prize in snooker.

They saw him as human, not some inscrutable face on the TV. Joe is partially deaf and, though this does not necessarily affect his game, it added to the picture of a player battling the odds.

Matthew Stevens beat him in the semi-finals but a year later Swail was back in the last four again. This time, he had come from 10-6 down to beat Mark Williams 13-11 in the second round.
All this got him up to his highest ever ranking, tenth, but then he endured a nightmare run of results and was soon down to 40th.

Things turned back the other way. He won the Irish Championship, put some solid results together and last season, he came from 9-7 down to Judd Trump to reach the Crucible again and come close to a top 16 return.

If you watch him play you’d wonder how this was possible. His cue action is unorthodox to say the least.

But it works for him and that’s all that matters.

He has enjoyed a far better career than most, having turned professional after winning the 1990 English amateur title.

Joe also has one of snooker’s best, if most tenuous, nicknames: ‘The Outlaw.’ This was thanks to Alan Hughes, snooker’s best ever MC, who was a fan of the film ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales.’

His last major semi-final was at the 2001 LG Cup. Time isn’t on his side but don’t rule out another great run in a tournament soon.

He’s that sort of player and has had that sort of career.



In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – a long and mainly dull new film starring Brad Pitt – the titular character lives his life backwards, starting as an old man and ending up as a baby.

In snooker, very few players improve as they get older but maybe there’s something of the Jenson, sorry, Benjamin Button about Dave Harold, who, at the age of 42, is poised to return to the top 16.

Make no mistake, this would be some achievement.

Dave looked to be in serious trouble when he slipped to 45th in the world rankings after missing five tournaments during the 2004/05 season after breaking his wrist.

But he’s a hard worker of the old school and grafted his way back into the top 32.

After reaching the Northern Ireland Trophy final this season, he shot into the top 16 on the provisional list.

He’s now 17th but has qualified for the Welsh and China Opens and looks set for a return to the elite if he makes it to the Crucible.

Good luck to him. He’s one of snooker’s hard men and his dedication to the game is absolute.

The Stoke potter has a strange cue action in that he barely ‘feathers’ the cue ball. This means he is naturally slower than many of his fellow professionals but you don’t get extra points for speed and, with over 100 career centuries to his name, he can’t just be dismissed as a grinder.

You can listen to Dave talking to BBC Stoke here.



Look out for our next podcast in the coming week, which will be an exclusive interview with John Higgins.

Full details to follow.



If you ever wondered how tough it is down at the lower end of the rankings, read this story in the Paisley Express about Scott MacKenzie.

Players have to win two matches in ranking tournaments to earn any money and making a living is a hard slog.

And with dwindling sponsorship, it's surely going to get worse before it gets better.


If you read the February issue of Snooker Scene you may have seen a story in which we reported Michael Holt had been fined £1,000 for swearing at the qualifiers.

Unfortunately, the information we were given has turned out to be wrong.

One of the problems of reporting disciplinary matters is that the WPBSA do not comment on them (although they used to in years gone by) so we are left to piece together information from other sources.

Nevertheless, we regret this inaccuracy and will be publishing a correction in the March issue.


Andy Hicks is confident of doing well at the Welsh Open. His opponent on Monday, Matthew Stevens, will be on home ground but this is not always a plus.

Indeed, Hicks knows all about that. When the British Open was played in Plymouth, just down the road from his home town, Tavistock, he was the local favourite and at times found the weight of expectation difficult to deal with.

It’s easy to see why. Although the local boy will enjoy plenty of support, he also knows how disappointing defeat would be for those supporters, which very often include family and friends.

Stephen Maguire had his grandfather, Paddy, sat in the audience for his match against Jamie Cope at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Glasgow last October.

Paddy had knocked down a wall between rooms at his house to install a snooker table on which a young Stephen could practise after school.

Obviously, Maguire wanted to do well for him but lost 5-1 to Cope, perhaps because he was trying too hard.

Jimmy White has had to deal with being the man everyone – or almost everyone – wants to win for the last 25 years or so.

When he was playing well this was an advantage. With the crowd behind him, Jimmy rode the tidal wave of support to victory but, when he was struggling, it exacerbated his difficulties because the disappointment around the arena when he made a mistake was palpable.

I think Ding Junhui may be struggling for this reason. After all, he has the expectations of the biggest country in the world on his young shoulders.

He’s a big name in China and, having made such an impressive start to his career by winning three ranking titles while still a teenager (John Higgins is the only other player to have accomplished this feat), millions of people back home expect him to carry on in the same vein.

Of course, all players want the crowd on their side. The support of fans can help lift their performances.

But the knowledge that you might leave loved ones disappointed can also create an anxiety that results in a below par performance.

Maybe this is why there has only been a Welsh winner (Mark Williams) on two occasions in the 17 times it has previously been staged.


I'm going for a home victory at the Welsh Open in my column for Betfair.



Ronnie O'Sullivan's father, Ronnie senior, has been released from prison for three days.

He has been serving a life sentence for murder since 1992 but has been out on day release and is spending time with his son and wife, Maria.

There are more details in today's London Evening Standard.

This is, of course, a private matter but it will be interesting to see what, if any, effect it has on Ronnie's performance at next week's Welsh Open.


Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, has hit back at Ronnie O’Sullivan’s claims that snooker is ‘dying.’

Walker does not mention O’Sullivan by name in the latest issue of One Four Seven, the WPBSA’s in house newsletter for the players, but it is obvious he is responding to the world champion’s Wembley outburst when he writes of “recent unhelpful statements” and “inaccuracies which are being discussed in the media.”

As chairman of the governing body, it is entirely correct that Walker should stand up for the sport.

However, while some of the ‘facts’ he presents are true, others are either slightly dubious or, to put it kindly, more than slightly dubious.

For example: “We have increased prize money by nearly £1m over the past two years,” he says.

This may be true, but what he doesn’t mention is that it went down prior to this and is still lower than it was a decade ago.

Mark Williams pocketed £60,000 for winning the Welsh Open ten years ago. This year’s champion will receive £35,000.

Walker goes on to say that all sports are struggling and that Manchester United and Tiger Woods are looking for new sponsors.

Obviously, the current economic climate makes sponsorship hard to come by but is there anyone reading this who seriously believes that Man UTD and Woods will not pick up replacements?

One sport Walker doesn’t mention is darts, in particular the PDC circuit which is worth over a £1m more in prize money than the WPBSA circuit this year and which is adding new tournaments, all sponsored, because of interest from broadcasters, particularly ITV.

Walker then, with some predictability, blames the media as well.

Referring to the ‘facts’ he has outlined, he writes: “These positive statistics are relayed to the media on the various occasions that World Snooker is contacted for comment, but they are seldom used and the focus remains on the controversial and the negative.”

None of these ‘positive statistics’ have ever been relayed to me. My colleagues tell me they’ve never been relayed to them either.

What normally happens when we contact the WPBSA for comment on something controversial is, at best, “no comment”.

The relationship between the media and WPBSA is lower than I’ve ever known it. There is less snooker in UK newspapers than there has been for 30 years.

Could the two just possibly be related?

Walker continues: “Controversy and disharmony are not appealing to potential sponsors. It is essential, now more than ever, that we portray snooker in a positive light.”

Actually, Peter Dyke of Embassy and Jim Elkins of Benson and Hedges – the two biggest sponsors snooker has ever had – both loved controversial stories because it ensured their brands would be mentioned in newspaper coverage.

Walker is quite correct when he points out the various ways players have a say in the running of the game. I would not disagree that they should use these channels to make complaints.

Also, they elect the board and have consistently voted Walker and his colleagues back into office.

But his suggestion that they should not voice criticisms in the media goes against the principle of free speech.

Sometimes, players can go overboard but I know of one who, without any agenda, recently gave an opinion that the table he played on had cushions that produced over-springy bounces and he received not one but two letters from the WPBSA threatening him with disciplinary action.

Walker continues: “I would ask all players to bear in mind the importance of portraying your sport in a positive light when dealing with all aspects of the media.”

I don’t agree with everything O’Sullivan says and have at times disapproved of the way he has behaved.

But all that is a sideshow. Here’s what O’Sullivan does for snooker: he plays it, to an extraordinarily high standard. And in doing so he has created millions of snooker fans who love watching him play.

I’d have thought that would count as a ‘positive.’

And O’Sullivan’s contribution to snooker will be remembered long after Walker’s chairmanship of the WPBSA is forgotten.



Jamie Cope has just narrowly missed out on a third competitive maximum at the Championship League here at Crondon Park Golf Club, Essex.

Cope potted a difficult green down the side cushion in the first frame of his match against Barry Hawkins but then missed a straight brown as the break stalled on 125.

Cope made a 147 at the 2006 Grand Prix and again in this season's Shanghai Masters.



A wrong turning on the A12 this morning ended up costing Neil Robertson £200.

Neil is not one for early mornings, or even moderately early mornings.

He left his nearby hotel for the Championship League today at around 10.30am - half an hour before the start but still plenty of time to make it.

His opponent in his first match, Joe Perry, waited for him and drove on ahead. However, Neil came off at the wrong exit and had to take a seven-mile detour.

He arrived at the venue at 11.22am and had been docked two frames.

Matchroom's organisers took no pleasure in this but rules are rules and it would do the credibility of the event no good if they ignored them.

Wisely, Neil did not leave the venue for the rest of the day but, having lost that first match 3-1, lost 3-1 again to Perry to be denied a place in the final.

We were thinking of having a minute's silence following the departure of Ali Carter, who finished sixth and was thus relegated.

Ali played in all seven groups last year - although not the winners' group - and the first three this season.

But, for him, the Championship League is over.

You can't help thinking he will turn up anyway through force of habit.



The Championship League returns today with a top quality field that includes John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson.

Uniquely, one thing missing at Crondon Park is a crowd. This is deliberate because the event is conceived to be watched on the internet.

The betting aspect means that anyone at the venue may be at a slight advantage because there is always a delay of a few seconds between real time and the pictures you see on TV or the web.

The lowest record attendance for a televised ranking event match is zero (it’s hard to get any lower, in fairness).

This was for Graeme Dott’s match against Dominic Dale at the 2004 Grand Prix. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t actually played before the cameras, or anyone other than the referee for that matter.

It must be odd for players of the quality of, say, Robertson to play in front of virtually nobody. That said, he did win the Bahrain Championship so is probably used to it.

I well recall attending the World Championship qualifiers in Newport around ten years ago. There was a late night match going on and just one person in the audience other than me.

This guy had a plastic bag and every time he touched it the sound was magnified because there was no noise other than the match.

In the end the referee asked him to keep still. The spectator took grave offence and upped and left, thus halving the crowd in one fell swoop.

There was another match there later in the week that also attracted a crowd of two, one of whom was a tramp who had come to shelter from the cold.

On the other side of the coin, you can’t beat a full house. The audience is a vital part of top level snooker.

Anyone who went to Goffs when it staged the Irish Masters or has been at the Crucible when it’s down to one table will know what I mean.

Crowds at Wembley Conference Centre, and now Wembley Arena, have played a big part in the drama of the Masters, sometimes too much of one as we saw two years ago in the Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui final.

In China, disruption is now expected. Cameras and mobile phones are a constant feature, although more so in Shanghai and Beijing and it should be remembered that this is a cultural thing that will take some time to change.

Stephen Maguire described the crowd of 1,600 at the World Series event in Berlin as “the best I’ve ever played in front of.” Why? Because they were both enthusiastic and respectful.

Stephen Hendry was right when he said that one way snooker should not follow darts is in the behaviour of the crowd.

Shouting out is OK but not while players are down on the shot. Heavy alcohol intake is likely to increase the noise level.

That said, snooker needs to do all it can to encourage people to come to tournaments. As I’ve written before, the experience of attending a sporting event is not confined to what happens in the arena.

Everything outside is important too and I don’t think most snooker tournaments cater for the fans particularly well in the time between matches.

In days gone by there was a betting stand and Dave Johnston Allen of Cheddar Classics ran a very popular merchandise stall.

How else to get people in? Do deals with local snooker clubs (why this doesn’t happen is completely beyond me) as well as schools and, crucially, the local newspaper and radio stations.

Players respond to big crowds and thrive on a good atmosphere.

All this also helps to persuade the public and a sceptical media that snooker is not 'dying,' as has been endlessly debated of late.



I don't care if this comes across as overly sentimental or nostalgic: well done Jimmy White.

His run to the final stages of the Welsh Open proves that, while his form has declined, his pure love of snooker remains undiminshed.

However, natural delight at Jimmy's progress is tempered by the shocking decline of Ken Doherty, who lost 5-0 to the perennial crowd favourite at Pontin's today.

Two years ago, Ken was world no.2. He will now probably have to reach the World Championship quarter-finals at least to keep his top 32 place.

What went wrong? White could tell you because a couple of years ago he was unable to do much damage at Prestatyn.

These guys aren't too proud to go to the qualifiers but it takes some adjusting.

They've played for most of their careers on TV and are suddenly in front of the proverbial one man and his dog (although there was a big crowd for their match today).

All the time they are thinking: 'I shouldn't be here.'

The good news for Ken is that the world qualifiers are being played at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, where he won a match to qualify for the final stages of the UK Championship last December.

Again, I'm all for looking to the future but I sincerely hope we haven't seen the last of this genuine good guy at the Crucible.


I'm not in Prestatyn today for the Welsh Open qualifiers but am very interested in the matches, not least Jimmy White v Ken Doherty.

As I've said many times before, this should be on a webcam. The best way to promote snooker is to have people watch it, not pointless PR schemes that cost fortunes.

However, not only is the match not being streamed, we can't even follow worldsnooker.com's live scoring because, farcically, it doesn't work.

This is not the fault of the tournament staff, who work hard at Pontin's to run the qualifiers.

The governing body has been told countless times by them that the whole system needs to be overhauled and invested in to prevent this happening at every tournament.

Snooker's public image is low at the moment, indeed lower than it's been for some time. This is not the result of one big thing but a 100 small things, of which this is one.

I can honestly say that I get more emails from frustrated snooker fans about the failure of live scoring than anything else.

Thank goodness for Global Snooker Centre.



All through the 1990s, Alan McManus was rightly considered to be one of the toughest players on the circuit.

In the early part of the decade, he was widely seen as a potential world champion. None of his contemporaries would argue that he was a talented matchplayer.

Yet for all this, he only won three major titles and is now 38th in the provisional rankings and very much at a career crossroads.

History tells us that once an established player starts to slide down the rankings they invariably keep on going.

McManus plays Stuart Pettman in the penultimate qualifying round of the Welsh Open today.

If he loses (and Pettman beat him at the same stage of the China Open last month), the Scot has only the World Championship to look forward to this season.

So what went wrong? Well, obviously, nobody goes on forever. Snooker is not a physical sport but decline tends to begin when a player is in their mid 30s.

Some stave it off for a while. All succumb in the end.

At his best, McManus was a fine player and made an impressive start to his professional career. He joined the circuit in 1990 and beat Jimmy White en route to the semi-finals of the UK Championship in his first season.

He also won the qualifying event for the Masters (the first year this was staged), beating James Wattana in the final.

He beat Willie Thorne in the first round at the Crucible and ran Terry Griffiths to 13-12 in the second.

The following season, McManus reached the Asian Open final in Bangkok, losing to Steve Davis, was a semi-finalist in the World Championship and Grand Prix and a quarter-finalist in the Mercantile Classic.

All this elevated him to the elite top 16 after only two seasons, which is some feat, emulated two years later by Ronnie O’Sullivan but by nobody since.

He was clearly good enough to win major titles, including the World Championship, and reached four finals in his third season on the tour but did not win any of them.

He also reached a second successive Crucible semi-final where he and Stephen Hendry were brought into the arena by a bagpiper. Hendry won 16-8.

McManus lost in two more finals the following season until his greatest moment, ending Hendry’s 23-match unbeaten run at the Wembley Masters with a 9-8 defeat in the final.

After a few false starts, he had arrived in the winners’ enclosure. Later that year he beat Peter Ebdon to win the Dubai Classic. He 1996 he defeated Ken Doherty to win the Thailand Open.
He was sixth in the world rankings but never rose higher and he never won another major title.

And although Alan’s career has been better than most, I wonder if he sometimes looks back at some missed opportunities.

Consider this: he has appeared in 49 ranking event quarter-finals and 26 semi-finals but only ten finals, from which he’s won two titles.

This is not a great conversion rate, although it is fair to point out that matches get tougher the longer a tournament goes on.

McManus has always had a philosophical attitude towards victory and defeat. It’s not always easy to discern whether he’s won or lost.

He is a somewhat inscrutable character, which helps in sport to a degree because he doesn’t show his opponents what he’s thinking, but I’m sure his various close defeats have hurt, most particularly in recent years where he has struggled for the form of old.

I did some commentary with Alan for British Eurosport and he is very perceptive and has an interesting insight into shot selection. They don’t call him ‘Angles’ for nothing.

I think he’d make a good coach, although, of course, he wants to remain a player for as long as he can.

McManus is now 38. His best years are therefore behind him but I often think of great players that if they can get a bit of confidence from somewhere a resurgence in form would not be out of the question.

Chilly Prestatyn today would be as good a place to start as any.



Former world champions Ken Doherty, Steve Davis and Graeme Dott are among the players who have signed up for the Championship League.

Doherty will take part in group 5 next month with Matthew Stevens and Mark King.

Davis and Dott will join the action in group 6.

Group 7 promises to be a quickfire affair with Ricky Walden, Judd Trump and Liang Wenbo taking part.

The Championship League returns next Monday with group 3 featuring John Higgins, Neil Robertson and Barry Hawkins joining the returning Ding Junhui, Ali Carter, Joe Perry and Mark Williams.

Jamie Cope, Dave Harold and Stuart Bingham enter the fray in group 4.


To quote Don McLean, February made me shiver with every paper I'd deliver.

Never a truer word, Don. Apart from the bit about the papers.

(Thinking about it, did McLean foresee Mark Selby’s comeback against Ronnie O’Sullivan in last season’s Welsh final when he sang, ‘and while the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown?’ No, because that would be ridiculous.)

Anyway, snow has come to the UK and that means the country has ground to a standstill. It makes you wonder why devious international terrorists spend so much effort trying to get their hands on ghastly weaponry when all they need to do is drop a few inches of the white stuff on London to paralyse the transport links and generally stop anyone doing anything.

The farcical state of affairs is best summed up by Boris Johnson, the buffoonish mayor of London, who said yesterday: ‘We have the right kind of snow but the wrong quantity.’

All of which makes me wonder whether the full field will make it to Prestatyn over the next few days for the Welsh Open qualifiers.

Failure to do so could be very costly for a number of players as the season gathers pace in the run-in to the World Championship.

Never believe any player who tells you they don’t look at the ranking list. Yes they do. All the time.

They know exactly where they are, who is around them and what they likely have to do to escape relegation from one part of the rankings or earn promotion to another.

Well, I’ve been studying them as well. It was either that or watch another over-excited TV reporter outside banging on about how cold and snowy it was (well come inside into the nice, warm studio, then.)

So, sticking my neck out time, I predict the following players will be relegated from the top 16 at the end of the season:
- Graeme Dott
- Mark King
- Peter Ebdon

And that they’ll be replaced by the following:
- Mark Williams
- Dave Harold
- Ricky Walden

The World Championship will, of course, determine much of this, but the Welsh and China Opens will also have a major bearing.

The action from Prestatyn starts right about now and you can follow it here or here (assuming it’s not the day the scoring died. Again.)



It's up now!

Click here to listen (you will have had to have registered)


Tomorrow, Snooker Scene will be unveiling the world's first snooker-themed podcast.

This has all taken a little longer to organise than planned as a few tournaments have got in the way.

The first podcast is me interviewing Snooker Scene editor and TV commentator Clive Everton about his career and views on various players and snooker moments.

It's not exactly Frost/Nixon but hopefully will be of interest.

To access it, you first need to register here. Click on 'sign up' and the podcast will be available from tomorrow.

I hope it will be the first of many.

I would like to thank Kevin Smithers for his technical assistance. If this all works it's because of him, not me.

Please get in touch if you encounter any problems.


The recent death of Bill Frindall, the legendary cricket scorer for BBC radio’s Test Match Special, meant some brief publicity for the business of sports statistics.

This is of interest to me because I am statistician for the BBC’s snooker coverage.

I’m not in Frindall’s league. Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s cricket correspondent, said the ‘bearded wonder’ would wheel his books into the commentary box on a trolley because he had so many.

However, I am responsible for the factual information the commentators give out regarding centuries, prize money, rankings, titles won and various other interesting stats.

My Eurosport colleagues Rolf Kalb and Rudy Bauwens provide a similar and very comprehensive service for commentators to drop in at the appropriate time.

Not everyone is a fan of stats but they certainly have their place and can aid the viewers’ enjoyment of the action.

For instance, when Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Stephen Hendry’s record of Masters centuries, those listening to John Virgo’s BBC commentary on their arena earpieces gave Ronnie a huge cheer.

What is very interesting is the head-to-head records between players because this can sometimes have a huge bearing on the psychology of when they play. A good example is O’Sullivan against Ali Carter. He leads him 11-0 and this is surely on Carter’s mind whenever he plays him.

Terry Griffiths played Hendry 17 times. Hendry won all 17.

The perils of being a statistician is that you usually need only to close your eyes and throw a rock to hit someone who wants to tell you you’ve got something wrong.

Often this will be a player who complains that they have beaten a rival when I’ve said they haven’t. You then find it was in a pro-am or club tournament.

I should explain: on the head-to-heads you see on TV, we only count professional tournaments of a reasonable length.

Yes, I know the big European pro-ams are high quality but they’re not usually played to templated tables, are over a short distance and are not completely professional.

We don’t count Pot Black or the Championship League because these matches are very short. It’s crazy to lump them in with, say, the China Open final.

I realise all of this makes me an anorak but stats have always been part of the fun of sport, usually resulting in arcane pub discussions about who tops which list and who holds which record.

Put bluntly: I think most people would rather know all this than not know.



Alex Higgins, the 1972 and 1982 world champion, has reportedly been rescued from a fire in Belfast.

However, the Sunday Life claims the legendary snooker hellraiser was none too happy about it.