The WPBSA has today announced a new Pro Challenge Series of seven tournaments - open to anyone on the main tour - designed to give the players more playing opportunities.

This is good news. Players have justifiably complained that they are left twiddling their thumbs for long periods between tournaments.

If they don’t play in these new events then these complaints become less valid.

I would have preferred the new series to carry ranking status at a lower points tariff than the major events – as I suggested last January – because this would encourage participation from the better known players and thus increase their credibility and the publicity around them.

Now for the controversy: four of these tournaments are played under the standard rules. The other three are using only six reds.

I can’t help thinking it would be better to be one or the other: either the whole thing done properly or the whole thing done as ‘Super Sixes’ if this experiment really must be continued.

However, it was apparently players – Dave Harold and Michael Holt included – who helped come up with the format.

The bottom line is this: more tournaments is A Good Thing. OK, so they presumably won’t be televised but there is scope for internet streaming and anything that creates the impression there is something happening in the game should be applauded.

One of snooker’s problems is that it has ‘fallen under the radar’ of late because of the gaps between tournaments.

Those gaps are gradually being plugged: by the Championship League, the World Series and now this new Pro Challenge Series.

There is also reasonable money available - £5,000 for the winners of the 15 red tournaments and £3,000 for the winners of the 6 reds events.

If that doesn’t sound much to you then it’s more than you’d get for being in the club practising.

There isn’t sufficient money in snooker’s coffers at the moment to put on another three or four major ranking events.

But the new Pro Challenge Series at least means players will be able to do what they are supposed to do: play snooker.

Pro Challenge 1
28-30 July
Northern Snooker Centre, Leeds

Pro Challenge 2 - Super Sixes
31 August - 1 September
Pontin’s, Prestatyn

Pro Challenge 3
9-11 November
Venue tbc

Pro Challenge 4
4-6 January
Venue tbc

Pro Challenge 5
16-18 February
Venue tbc

Pro Challenge 6 - Super Sixes
16-17 March
Venue tbc

Pro Challenge 7 - Super Sixes
8-9 April
Venue tbc


The latest Snooker Scene podcast is a review of the season.

This was recorded last month. You can listen to it here.

The next podcast will be Clive Everton answering your questions.



Stephen Maguire has undergone laser surgery on his eyes.

The world no.2, who had been struggling with his eyesight, didn't fancy trying the glasses made famous by 1985 world champion Dennis Taylor.

Maguire said: “It is what everyone who has had the surgery says, but I really wish I had got my eyesight corrected earlier.

"I used to need glasses for driving and watching TV. Playing snooker I could never get used to the special glasses you needed to wear, so I got by without anything, which was not ideal.

“Last season I felt my eyes strain under the tournament lights. I was aware that my eyesight was not as clear as it could be and I had to concentrate harder to see the pockets.

"I visited Optical Express in Glasgow who recommended laser eye surgery and within two weeks, I had gone through the consultation and had my treatment done.

“It was such a simple process and I’m delighted with my results. I have already changed the lenses in my old glasses to make sunglasses as I have no need for driving glasses anymore.”

The first test for Maguire will be an exhibition event in Beijing on July 7, which includes Stephen Hendry, Mark Allen and Liang Wenbo.


The first snooker player I ever interviewed was a teenage Paul Hunter.

He was very shy, which was fortunate, really, because so was I.

Interviews and press conferences with snooker players are varied experiences. They are often mundane. Sometimes they are emotional. Occasionally they can be explosive.

The usual drill is to have the winner of the match in, unless the loser is a big name, in which case they have to spend an unpleasant ten minutes fielding questions from the finest flowers of snooker journalism when they’d rather be kicking a cat somewhere.

Some take losing better than others. Stephen Hendry has a few times been rendered completely speechless. Some others resort to swearing or even stomp out.

I have sympathy for this in retrospect. At the time I’m more concerned with how I’m going to pad out 25 paragraphs of purple prose without a single quote.

It’s not always the players who are the problem. When Hendry won his seventh world title in 1999, the post match press conference began with one hack, who had availed himself well but not wisely of the free bar several times during the course of the day, asking him how he’d been feeling on Christmas Day.

Nobody knew why.

Then there’s always the guy from the local paper who wants to ask what the player thinks of the venue just as they are opening up about something interesting.

Most journalists are of course just looking for a story. I’ve always tried to be respectful, although I did once get into a semi-heated discussion with Quinten Hann about his penchant for smashing into the pack.

That’s about as Paxman-like as I get.

In truth, the relationship between players and media is a little cosy. Too cosy, some may argue.

It’s certainly true that, at times, off colour behaviour by players has not been reported.

This is why it was such an irony that one of the only press conferences to take place without a single British journalist present – Ronnie O’Sullivan in China last year – ended up being such a big story.

God bless the internet.

Still, cosy it may be but this is much better than having to jump through hoops just to get a few quotes off someone, as happens in a few other sports.

The players are generally a credit to the sport in terms of how they give their time up for interviews.

I’ve been to press conferences that have threatened to last longer than some matches.

One such featured O’Sullivan after he was knocked out of the 2004 Irish Masters. It was like Jackanory. He couldn’t stop himself. And we lapped it all up: strange and yet profound as it all was.

The funniest part came about 20 minutes in when a German journalist arrived, explained he hadn’t caught the first part of the press conference and asked Ronnie if he could repeat it all.

Thankfully Ronnie declined, otherwise we’d all still be there now.

(This press conference went on so long and was so bizarre that I left before the end, fearing I might have a nervous breakdown at the absurdity of it all).

O’Sullivan can be great value like that, he can also be difficult. I’m sure this doesn’t surprise anyone.

I’ve seen Ronnie laughing and I’ve seen him almost crying, notably in Newcastle in 2001 when he talked darkly of hanging himself from the city centre bridge.

There have been other emotional moments over the years.

I recall a tearful Chris Small dedicating his LG Cup win to his late grandmother.

I well remember John Higgins bristling with anger when he announced he was withdrawing from the 2000 Grand Prix – having just reached the quarter-finals – because of a mix up over dates.

And then there was Hunter after he won what proved to be his last ever match, late one night in York.

Up close he was clearly very ill. That first interview with him felt like a lifetime ago.

Of course, the great shame is that such is the media’s growing ambivalence towards snooker that many of the great quotes and stories simply never made the papers, but maybe I’ll put them all together one day.

I think a lot of it would answer the constant sniping about the lack of ‘characters’ in the game.


The World Under 21 Championship, due to be held in Kish Island, Iran in August, must surely be under threat following the recent unrest in the country.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office are advising British people not to travel to Iran.

The withdrawal of English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and Republic of Ireland teams would decimate the field.

Various EU countries are threatening to recall their embassy staff, which would surely rule out a whole heap of other players.

The International Billiards and Snooker Federation, whose website is updated only sporadically, should make a statement about the event.

Remember, it did not take place last year and a decision now needs to be made whether to move it, albeit at very short notice.



Mark Selby had been due to take part in last week's State of Snooker discussion but was dropped through lack of time.

However, he has now had his say on his website, where he claims none of the things Sir Rodney Walker has promised have happened, that the governing body should put on tournaments in Europe and that he can't understand why there aren't more sponsors.

What's interesting about this is that Selby is not a player with an agenda or someone who is looking to rock the boat.

He is merely articulating the frustrations of a top player who feels he should have more playing opportunities.

You can read his blog at his website here.



OK, so I gave in and joined Twitter.

If you want to follow my pithy bon mots you can do so here.

EDIT: Sorry, I should have made it clear what all this means. You can 'follow' people if you have a Twitter account. I will use mine to post updates from here and there and everywhere.


A few questions for the world champion...

Q: How old were you when you first played snooker?
A: 9

Q: How old were you when you made your first century?
A: 11

Q: How many cues have you used during your career?
A: 6

Q: What’s your proudest moment in snooker?
A: Winning my first world title in 1998

Q: And what’s your worst moment?
A: Losing in the 2000 World Championship semi-finals to Mark Williams

Q: What’s the best match you’ve been involved in?
A: The 1998 world final against Ken Doherty

Q: Who was your boyhood snooker hero?
A: Steve Davis

Q: And who is your sporting hero now?
A: Andy Murray

Q: How do you relax away from snooker?
A: Go to the cinema

Q: What’s your favourite film?
A: Grease

Q: What’s your favourite TV show?
A: The Wire

Q: What’s your favourite band?
A: Oasis

Q: What’s your favourite song?
A: The Masterplan by Oasis

Q: What’s your favourite book?
A: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Q: What’s your favourite type of food?
A: Seafood

Q: What’s your favourite drink?
A: Water

Q: What’s your favourite holiday destination?
A: Mauritius

Q: Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?
A: Alex Higgins

Q: What are your remaining ambitions in snooker?
A: Just to win my next tournament


The draw has been made for next month's Sangsom 6 reds event in Bangkok, Thailand.

Won last year by Ricky Walden, the 2009 tournament includes Crucible finalists John Higgins and Shaun Murphy as well as the likes of Matthew Stevens, Ryan Day, Ken Doherty, Mark Williams and Jimmy White.

I understand it is likely highlights will be shown on British TV later in the year.

You can view the draw here.


If you wrote out a million names of people likely to attend the PIOS at Prestatyn, Heather Mills would be unlikely to be on it.

Yet, she's been there for the last two days.

Mills, the former wife of Paul McCartney, is dating a snooker player.

It must be love if she's prepared to travel to North Wales for a taste of the green baize action.



Jack Lisowski, this season's WPBSA Paul Hunter scholar, has reached the semi-finals of the first Pontin's International Open Series event of the new campaign.

Lisowski defeated John Astley 5-3 this morning and faces German Patrick Einsle later today for a place in the final.

You can read more about Jack here.

The other semi-final is between former world under 21 champion Gary Wilson and Liam Highfield.

What's encouraging is that all four semi-finalists are young. Indeed, today is Lisowski's 18th birthday.

UPDATE: Lisowski has beaten Einsle 5-0 and so is in the final.



I'm told that Ronnie O'Sullivan will publish a new volume of autobiography next year.

Ronnie was published in 2003 and was a bestseller.

Presumably the new book will cover such on table achievements as two world titles, two UK titles and three Masters titles.

Off the table, it is likely to cover O'Sullivan's walkout against Stephen Hendry at the 2006 UK Championship, his behaviour at the China Open press conference last year, the death of Paul Hunter and the upcoming release of his father, Ronnie senior.

For what it's worth, I enjoyed Ronnie. All autobiographies are self serving but there was plenty of interesting stuff in the book, not so much the snooker bits but off the table, particularly about O'Sullivan's experiences in the Priory Clinic.

I have no doubt the new book will sell very well.



I thought it was a decent programme, although it needed to be longer to properly explore the issues.

Fair play to Lee Doyle for having the guts to front up and put the WPBSA's side in the absence of its chairman. Even he had to admit that the game has been mismanaged over the years.

But Steve Davis's contribution was the most interesting. He was right that the WPBSA's various competiting roles and effective monopoly position in running ranking events is holding the sport back, not individual personalities.

He spoke of the new players' union as being a possible springboard for change and wrestling away some of the power the governing body has.

So what happens next?

One of two things. Remember, it is the players and nobody else who have the voting power.

Firstly, they will listen to Davis, understand that a governing body that has to be a members' club can't also be the game's prime promoter and the WPBSA as we know it now will be broken up.

Or, they will decide that they are happy with how snooker is right now, trust the WPBSA board to deliver any change that is needed and stick with how the sport has historically been run.

All my experience in snooker tells me that they will do the latter.

But sometimes desperate times lead people to defy expectations.

I think the coming months may deliver a few surprises.


The BBC Radio 5 Live State of Snooker discussion takes place tonight at 9pm.

You can listen here.

If you have any comments to make about the programme, feel free to leave them below.


Next in our series on former professionals, a likeable Yorkshireman who stood on top of the snooker world.

When Joe Johnson was scraping a living working for the gas board, he may have allowed himself to dream of making it at professional snooker.

Then again, in the 1970s the game had little money and few professionals. Players made most of their cash in exhibitions or money matches.

Johnson built a reputation as one of the leading amateurs from the Yorkshire region but even after reaching the 1978 world amateur final did not want to turn pro.

He didn’t think there was a living in it.

What changed his mind was Terry Griffiths’s 1979 Crucible triumph at his first attempt, which seemed to suggest the old order had been blown away and new players could make their mark.

And so, at the age of 27, Johnson joined the professional circuit, which consisted of only two tournaments open to all.

In 1983, Johnson reached the final of the Professional Players Tournament, a ranking event, where he was edged 9-8 by Tony Knowles.

He was a semi-finalist in the 1985 Mercantile Classic and had quietly made his way into the top 16 by the time of the 1985/86 season.

A comfortable 10-3 defeat of Dave Martin at the Crucible was followed by a 13-6 victory over Mike Hallett, who had beaten the defending champion, Dennis Taylor, in the opening round.

He had a poor record against Griffiths, his quarter-final opponent. When he trailed him 12-9, Johnson’s fairytale run looked set to end but he put together a brilliant four frame spell, including two centuries, to come through a 13-12 winner.

In the semi-finals, he beat Knowles 16-8, earning him a meeting with Steve Davis, who was aiming to make amends for his dramatic black ball defeat to Taylor the previous year.

As an amateur and in money matches, Johnson had the beating of Davis. He also knew that all the pressure was on the former champion whereas he, as the underdog, could go out and enjoy it. He had a career best £42,000 coming his way even if he lost.

Johnson was easy to support: a likeable family man, he was genuinely unassuming and clearly loving his moment in the spotlight.

He wore a distinctive pair of pink and white shoes and enjoyed huge support in his native Yorkshire as he kept pace with Davis, ending the first day of the final level at 8-8.

He led 13-11 going into the final session and then turned it on to complete an 18-12 victory and become champion of the world.

This was at a time when snooker was the no.1 sport on British television and Johnson was thrown headlong from a life of anonymity into the world of celebrity.

He was in demand for exhibitions and personal appearances, was the subject of This Is Your Life and had photographers follow him around the world.

A singer in a local band, he released a record, 'Bradford's Bouncing Back' for the appeal following the Valley Parade fire that claimed the lives of 56 football fans.

There’s something like 20 players who have only won one ranking title but, because Johnson never won another, some people attempt to do down his Crucible victory. But they ignore a number of key points.

Firstly, he reached the final again the next year. Indeed, he came the closest of any first time, Crucible champion to defending the trophy.

He entered the final session of the 1987 final 14-10 down to Steve Davis and pulled back to 14-13 before losing 18-14.

Also, Johnson suffered major health problems, including a number of heart attacks, which seriously affected his career.

But it should also be remembered that he was coming towards the end of his career when he won the world title. He was 33. Most players start declining in their mid 30s.

However, the most important point to make is this: nobody flukes the world title. It has always been difficult to win but Johnson beat two of the best players in the game at that time – Griffiths and Knowles – and then the best player of the entire decade in the final.

His triumph was witnessed by many millions of TV viewers and he still gets recognised to this day. He could not have chosen a better time in snooker history to become world champion.

His other major title victory came at the 1987 Scottish Masters. He also won the 1990 European Grand Prix and reached the semi-finals of the 1987 UK Championship where he missed the pink on 134 with a maximum waiting.

Johnson coached the young Paul Hunter and Shaun Murphy and carried on playing as he slipped down the rankings but his professional career was effectively ended when he broke bones in his foot in 2003.

He won Seniors Pot Black in 1997 and currently commentates for Eurosport where his insight comes from being one of only 22 players to have had their name inscribed on the famous silver trophy since the World Championship began in 1927.



Today sees the start of the first of eight Pontin's International Open Series events at Prestatyn.

This is effectively the game's secondary tour and eight players will earn promotion to the professional circuit for the 2010/11 season after the last PIOS tournament next May.

Among the starters in event 1 is Brian Morgan, who spent six seasons in the top 32 and was runner-up to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the 1996 Asian Classic.

The last I heard of Brian after he was relegated from the main tour two years ago was that he had followed his fellow Tiptree pro Ali Carter in taking to the skies to train as a pilot.

He obviously fancies chartering a course back onto the pro circuit as well.

You can follow all the action on Global Snooker.



It has been announced that the UK Championship is returning to Telford next season.

I would draw your attention to the paragraph towards the bottom of worldsnooker.com's story, which reads 'Tickets bought from unauthorised sources may not be valid and admission to the event may not be permitted.'

There are a number of online ticket agencies offering tickets for snooker tournaments.

Do not, do not, do not buy tickets from them. Only purchase tickets from the official ticket supplier as stated on the World Snooker website.

There is an online agency currently selling tickets for the Northern Ireland Trophy. This tournament is not taking place.

These people do not deserve your money and buying tickets from them will only end in disappointment.


Full information at the Matchroom website here.

POST 1,000

I want to use this pointless landmark to stick up for snooker.

Is there any mainstream television sport that regularly takes such a battering?

Yet it continues to weather the storm and defy the merchants of doom.

Snooker the game is a bit like the blackbox recorder on an aeroplane: even when the rest of the aircraft is destroyed it’s still intact.

So what is the current state of snooker?

The answer is in two parts. Most people in the UK think only of snooker in the UK, where it has undeniably declined in popularity over the last 20 years.

But this is starting from an unbelievably high watermark. Snooker in the 1980s regularly drew television audiences of more than 10m, a very difficult figure to maintain.

These days it’s generally 2-3m. TV has changed and so all audiences have come down. Also, no honeymoon period will last forever. Snooker’s viewing figures in Britain are satisfactory but not extraordinary.

However, snooker clubs have shut down at an alarming rate, to a large extent because of the smoking ban. Snooker is no longer seen as being fashionable and fewer young people play it compared to the boom years.

But there’s a whole world out there. In China, there is a boom and it’s resulted in two fully funded world ranking events. In Europe, the TV coverage from Eurosport has created a huge market of new snooker fans, which for reasons unknown is not being exploited by the governing body.

In short: snooker in the UK is struggling a little; snooker around the world has never been so popular.

That won’t stop newspaper columnists sneering at the sport from afar. Some hate it because of its working class image. Some hate it because they don’t consider it a sport. None of them ever come to tournaments to see what it is like up close.

Many sportsmen have gone to the Crucible over the years to watch the World Championship and they are always in awe of the skill on show. Snooker gets the respect from other sports it lacks from the media in general.

I like Andy Murray and shall support him at Wimbledon. He is on the front cover of this week’s Radio Times. Indeed, he’s everywhere at the moment.

Yet his victory at Queens Club last week attracted a peak viewing audience of 2.6m. Last season’s Wembley Masters final peaked at 3.1m, but try telling newspaper sports editors that.

The space they give to snooker in British newspapers has declined to such a shockingly low level that it has disappeared beneath the radar.

You often hear that there are ‘no characters any more.’

What does this actually mean and why does it matter?

Sachin Tendulkar is a great batsman. How is he a ‘character’ and why does he need to be one?

Let’s take a name from the 80s – how was Tony Meo any more of a character than, say, Ali Carter, who has been successful despite suffering from Crohn’s Disease and is a qualified airline pilot?

When people talk about ‘characters’ what they actually mean are people they recognise and can relate to.

It is true that if you are a casual viewer you may be confused between today’s top players. This is because they all pretty much play the same way. They have all modelled their games on the way Stephen Hendry played in the early 1990s. There are differences between individual technique but almost all of today’s top players are ultra attacking and can be hard to tell apart.

This is why their individual personalities must be encouraged to come through. Threatening players with disciplinary action for speaking their mind works against the interests of the sport.

I’d like to think snooker has a golden future but it’s impossible to make such a prediction.

It remains a fascinating game. It has touched the heights of popularity with the viewing public that many other sports can only dream of. When have golf, tennis or cricket ever got 18m viewers?

It’s has been big before and it can be big again, maybe not in the UK but as a global sport.

That’s what everyone who reads this blog wants and that’s why we should all continue to stick up for snooker.



Sir Rodney Walker will not now be taking part in the BBC Radio 5 Live 'State of Snooker' discussion programme next Tuesday.

Apparently he has to attend a dinner instead.

I think this probably says more about the state of snooker than anything he would have said on the programme.


What is the point in the WPBSA having discretionary wildcards for the main tour if they are not going to show any imagination in doling them out?

Today the governing body has announced that David Gray, Ian Preece, Andrew Norman and Joe Jogia will receive the four remaining places on the circuit.

Jogia finished top of the PIOS but he wasn't a member of his national association - a condition of entry. However, he did the business on the table and I think it's right he - and Chris Norbury, who finished ninth on the PIOS - are on the tour.

But Gray, Preece and Norman have been chosen purely because they were the next three players on the one year list. This is not what the concept of wildcards is supposed to be about.

This was a golden opportunity to promote much needed young talent. I have nothing against the three players and wish them all well but the fact is they did not do enough last season to stay on the circuit.

Surely three newcomers should have been given the chance to show the snooker world what they could do or at the very least three younger players who came off the main tour after only one season.

Take Vincent Muldoon. He had a few decent results last season but, starting out with minimum points, it was always going to be hard to stay on.

Now he's back on the PIOS while three experienced players - who had two full season's points - are given yet another go.

Remember the 'Hotshots' PR campaign?

That was supposed to be focused on getting youngsters involved in snooker.

What a shame the WPBSA doesn't seem interested in getting young players onto the main tour - even when it had the perfect chance to do so.



I think everyone in the snooker world will wish Jack Lisowski well in his year as the WPBSA's Paul Hunter scholar.

Jack is a great talent who had to go through the ordeal of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphona last year.

In his first column for worldsnooker.com, he writes about how this has left him feeling weak but he's hoping regular gym sessions with Daniel Wells - the inaugural scholar two years ago with whom he is living while he is in Sheffield - will help build his strength up.

(One idea World Snooker should consider is having Jack take photos so we can see him going about his various duties during his year as scholar, not just read about them).

I interviewed Jack at the Crucible this year. Even though he is only 17 I can honestly say that he is already more articulate than several members of the top 16.

What snooker needs more than ever is for new talent to emerge. The rankings have stagnated in recent years. The new season sees only one new face join the top 16 - Mark Williams - and he's not a new face at all.

In the late 1980s, Stephen Hendry emerged as a potent threat to the game's elite.

In the early-mid 1990s, John Higgins, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Williams started turning over the established stars, followed by Matthew Stevens and Hunter.

All of these players started to make inroads while they were still teens (Hendry, Higgins, O'Sullivan and Hunter all won ranking titles before they were 20).

More recently, Ding Junhui has followed suit but for whatever reason teenage talent is finding it harder to break through.

Lisowski will spend next season on the PIOS tour and thus has a chance to become a professional in 2010.

Snooker is, of course, a hard game full of moments of great disappointment and frustration.

But after everything he's been through I'd expect Jack to make the most of his chance should it come along.



The BBC will be investigating the state of snooker in a special programme on Radio 5 Live a week today.

It airs on June 23 from 9-9.45 pm.

Confirmed guests include WPBSA chairman Sir Rodney Walker and six times world champion Steve Davis.


More from our series on ex-professionals with the focus on a player who is perhaps better known for his chairmanship of the game's governing body...

Without Rex Williams, professional snooker may never have enjoyed the revival that led to the birth of the circuit as we know it today.

The game had withered in the 1950s and the World Championship was not staged from 1957 until 1964 when Williams, ambitious and enthusiastic, marshalled various forces to get it back on as a series of challenge matches.

The defending champion, John Pulman, first played – and beat – Fred Davis and then Williams himself over six weeks in South Africa. One night, the crowd was pretty much non existent so they flipped a coin rather than play the match.

The following year, Williams compiled a 147 in an exhibition, believed to be only the second constructed following Joe Davis’s maximum in 1955.

The challenge format ended in 1968 and the following year the modern era began as the World Championship reverted to the knockout system still used today.

Williams’s best chance to be champion came in 1972 when he was 30-30 with Alex Higgins in the semi-finals. In the deciding frame, he missed a simple blue with the balls at his mercy. Had he not done so, the entire course of subsequent snooker history may have been very different but, as it was, Higgins won frame and match and then the title.

Williams entered the first ever ranking list in sixth place and is one of only two players, the other being Joe Swail, to have dropped out of the top 16 and top 32 and then rejoined the top 16.

He did so in 1986 and that season became, at 53, the oldest player ever to reach a ranking event final at the Grand Prix in Reading. Williams led Jimmy White 5-3 but was eventually beaten 10-6.

Four years later at the age of 57 he reached what proved to be his last ranking event quarter-final at the Dubai Classic.

Williams played at the Crucible eight times but never won a match, an unwanted record he shares with Cliff Wilson. In 1984, he made the highest break of the championship, 138.

He served as a BBC commentator – and was in the box for Cliff Thorburn’s historic Crucible 147 in 1983 – before switching to ITV.

Williams was also chairman of the WPBSA, the game’s governing body, and attracted criticism from those who saw his management style as autocratic.

He was a good front man, always well turned out and professional, but seemed to have a hard time believing anyone could form the opposite point of view to the one he held.

Williams was the WPBSA's first chairman before resigning in 1987 in the wake of the beta blockers controversy. The then sports minister, Colin Moynihan, had described taking them as “tantamount to cheating.” Williams himself admitted to using beta blockers.

He was elected chairman again in 1997. All was well until, in December of that year, he fired Jim McKenzie, the WPBSA chief executive, a decision which (whether justified or not) led to a long running civil war for control of the sport that almost left it bankrupt.

Williams survived a series of knife-edge votes in AGMs and EGMs but was finally ousted in September 1999.

Despite all this, Williams could be good company, with a wealth of stories about snooker in the days before it became a major television attraction.

He prided himself on his appearance. Once on a tour of China with Barry Hearn’s Matchroom stable of players he took part in a trip up the Great Wall.

Williams turned up wearing a very expensive cashmere coat. When Hearn said to him that the dress code was supposed to be casual, he replied, “Dear boy, this is casual.”

He was a fine billiards player and won the World Championship in the three ball game seven times between 1968 and 1983.

Williams is now retired from playing any role in billiards or snooker. He will be 76 next month.


Nothing says 'summertime' like a venal struggle for power at the heart of a snooker association and it has fallen to our friends in Scotland to oblige this year.

An EGM has been called for July 5th in which members of Scottish Snooker Ltd, the governing body of amateur snooker in Scotland, will vote on whether to remove the entire board of directors, which is currently chaired by Stevie Baillie.

If you ever visit the forums of the Scottish Snooker website, you will see that all sides, from players to board members, are not averse to having a good old ruck in public.

They would all doubtless argue they are doing the best for snooker north of the border and I have no reason to question any of their intentions.

However, the country that gave us Stephen Hendry and John Higgins doesn't seem to be producing much in the way of new talent.

Anthony McGill is a teenager who has plenty of potential but the wave of players who came through in Hendry's wake appears to have turned into a slow trickle.

You'd hope that, whatever happens at the EGM, all involved will be prepared to put aside personal squabbles and get on with the job of providing a fertile breeding ground for fresh talent.
If they don't, one of snooker's historic strongholds may become just that - a thing of history.



David Hogan is the new European amateur champion after beating his Irish compatriot Mario Fernandez 7-4 in the final in Duffel, Belgium.

It means Hogan, 21, will join the professional circuit for the first time next season.

"I thought I'd blown my chance of getting on the main tour when I didn't finish no.1 in Ireland," he said.

"I missed a couple of PIOS events so wasn't in the running on that and I was ready to put my entry in for next season."

Wendy Jans won the women's title and former world no.8 Darren Morgan secured the seniors crown.



Some self-regarding nonsense now. I started this blog three years ago today. Nobody read it for quite a long time and now a lot of people read it.

In the last year alone we have had visitors from 131 countries.

The original idea was to make the blog an extension of the magazine but something that could respond immediately to events from the snooker world and also to stir up some debate and pass on bits of news to snooker fans that they can’t read anywhere else.

It was never intended to be political but, at times, it has had to be, such is the nature of this weird and wonderful sport.

I have always tried to be fair to the players who are, after all, the guys out there on the frontline driving the interest in the game. This includes respecting their privacy rather than blurting out gossip. I know a number of them read it, hopefully without any cause for complaint.

Blogging has a bad name in some quarters. David Simon, the creator and head writer of The Wire, one of the best drama series ever to come out of the US (and they’ve had a few) recently criticised the whole industry because of his concerns, as a former journalist, that comment was replacing proper journalism.

His point was that too many bloggers were merely commenting on other people’s stories rather than writing their own.

Perhaps there is something in this, but blogging is a democratic medium. Anyone can do it. It allows for different viewpoints and healthy (and at times unhealthy) debate.

Unlike a newspaper, you are not at the behest of a proprietor. My views on here are my own. I don’t follow any set ‘party line.’

And whatever anyone thinks of blogs, they are here to stay.

As for comments, I have always welcomed them. Only rarely do any have to be deleted for reasons of gratuitous offence or possible libel.

I tend to agree with Guido Fawkes, the UK's leading blogger, who writes an insider's account of political affairs. He says of blog comments:

"The comments are not a general forum, the convention with blogs is that you discuss the subject in the post, perhaps going off occasionally in a tangent, perhaps referencing breaking news, but not posting off topic about your hobby horse again. Nor are they somewhere to repetively spam with links."

I plan to carry on in much the same way but am always open to suggestions, so if you have any feel free to leave them.

In the meantime, many thanks to all those who take time to read the Snooker Scene Blog.

For the record, this is post no.992.



Next season's PartyPoker.com Premier League will feature Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Marco Fu, Neil Robertson, Stephen Hendry and Judd Trump.

Matchroom Sport, the promoters, have released the following statement confirming the line up:

"Matchroom Sport can announce the seven players set to take part in this year’s PartyPoker.com Premier League which commences at Penrith Leisure Centre on Thursday 3rd of September and concludes with the play-offs at Potters Leisure Resort, Hopton-on-Sea on the weekend of the 28th and 29th November.

Leading the way is defending champion and World No.1 Ronnie O’Sullivan who will be attempting to lift this title for an astonishing sixth consecutive season and ninth time overall.

The Essex-based ‘Rocket’ has made this Sky Sports-televised event his own in recent times, beating Mark Selby 7-2 in last year’s final, John Higgins 7-4 in 2007 and Jimmy White 7-0 in ’06.

World Champion Higgins will be returning to Premier League action in an attempt to halt O’Sullivan’s dominance and he will be joined by UK Champion and World Championship runner-up Shaun Murphy.

Higgins was a winner of the Premier League ten years ago when he beat Jimmy White in Maidenhead and will be looking to have a good run after failing to qualify for the play-offs last year.

Murphy makes his second appearance in the event, having played in 2005, following a massive return to form over the past 12 months.

World No.8 Marco Fu is also a previous Premier League Champion when in a memorable weekend in May 2003, he toppled O’Sullivan 6-4 in the semi-finals before beating then World Champion Mark Williams 9-5 to land his first professional title.

The second overseas player in the line-up is Australia’s improving Neil Robertson, who bagged his third career ranking title last year when he won the inaugural Bahrain Snooker Championship.

Robertson had a torrid time of it on his only other Premier League outing in 2007 and will be looking to improve on that year’s showing.

While ‘legend’ is a term freely used in sport, it is hard to think of any other word when describing seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry.

The 40 year-old Scot has achieved everything there is to achieve in the game, several times over, and is still a very dangerous competitor. Hendry last won the League in 2004 but that will mean nothing when the action gets underway.

Finally, the joker in the pack is Bristol teenager Judd Trump. The up-and-coming World No.30 qualified for the Premier League by winning the ultra-competitive Championship League Snooker. Hailed as one of snooker’s greatest ever prospects, Trump now gets his chance to see what he can do among the game’s elite.

Commented Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn, “I think this is very exciting line-up with a diverse selection of top players competing.

“Of course, Ronnie will always be the man to beat in this event, but I feel anyone of the others has a chance of winning this title come the end of November.

“Some of the players have struggled with the 25 second shot clock but coping with that has always been one of O’Sullivan’s many strengths.

“The standard is high and I am looking forward to 12 nights of top class snooker in September, October and November this year.”

Now entering its 24th season, the PartyPoker.com Premier League Snooker is the world’s only major snooker tournament played to a league format. The field consists of seven of the very best players in the world and each player plays the others once over the best of six frames, making a total of 21 matches.

There are two points available for a win and a point for a 3 – 3 draw and following the round robin section of play, the top four players moved forward to the big money play-offs in December.

The total prize fund is in excess of £200,000, and the money for the round-robin section will be dished out on a ‘frames won’ basis with £1,000 awarded for each frame. In addition, there is a ‘Double Your Money’ bonus for a break of 100 or over of another £1,000.

Successful players carry forward their bonuses to the play-offs where the serious money is up for grabs. The £1,000 for a century bonus stays and the champion receives £30,000, the runner-up takes home an additional £15,000 and the beaten semi-finalists make an extra £5,000 each.

The semi-finals are the best of 11 frames and the final is over 13 frames.

The event will be broadcast for over 48 hours LIVE coverage on Sky Sports in the UK and Matchroom Sport Television will produce 24 x 2 hour highlight programmes syndicated globally."

The one player who can count himself unlucky is Mark Selby, who finished runner-up to O'Sullivan in the Premier League last year.

I expect Robertson got the nod over him because of Australian TV sales, although the Melbourne man did win a ranking event (Selby didn't) and got further than the Leicester Jester at the Crucible.

The other surprise is the exclusion of Ding Junhui, but Fu is now the highest ranked Asian and was the UK Championship runner-up last season.


A post mortem into the death of the much respected snooker coach Steve Prest has found he died of peritonitis, a burst appendix.

Steve had gone to hospital complaining of a pain in his stomach but doctors apparently discharged him.

He died on Friday, May 30 at the age of 43.

Steve's funeral was held yesterday and was attended by a number of prominent snooker personalities, including Shaun Murphy, Peter Ebdon, Willie Thorne, Joe Johnson, Mike Hallett and members of the Yorkshire snooker community.

Prest had coached Murphy during the build up to his 2005 Crucible triumph and was also with Ronnie O'Sullivan and Neil Robertson during the World Championship this year.



A former producer of the popular 1990s snooker-based gameshow Big Break is reported to be launching a new TV quiz featuring Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Thewharf.co.uk reports that John McGee is developing a programme called 'Step Up to the Rocket.'

The website says: "A quartet of contestants are to be paired up with four professional snooker players, and will draw on skill and knowledge to make it to the final stage.

The format is also expected to be picked up elsewhere in the world, in countries such as China.

He said: "There's going to be a lot of skill involved, but it's all slapstick, silly stuff.

"Ronnie O'Sullivan is like the David Beckham of snooker. He's admired all over the world and is a huge star."

For the uninitiated, Big Break was a mainstay of the BBC Saturday night schedules for a number of years.

It paired three players with three contestants and was hosted by Jim Davidson and John Virgo.

Anything that allows the players to better project their personalities is fine by me, so good luck to McGee.

Ronnie is a big star, although whether 'slapstick' is really his thing remains to be seen.


Some of the game's leading Irish players will take part in a three day event at the end of July as a warm up for the new season.

The Lucan Racing Irish Classic, now in its fourth year, will be played at Celbridge Snooker Club, County Kildare from July 24-26.

The players are divided into two groups. Ken Doherty, the defending champion, has been drawn against Fergal O’Brien, Joe Swail and David Morris.

Joe Delaney, Patrick Wallace, Michael Judge and Brendan O’Donoghue have been drawn in the other group.

The top two in each will go through to the semi-finals. Mark Allen had been due to take part but misses the event because of other commitments.

Doherty said: "I'm really looking forward to it. It's great for Irish snooker that we've got a tournament like this.

"I always look forward to playing the other Irish boys, there's also good competition between us. A lot of us practice together, so we all know each other's games inside out, but we'll all want to win."

O'Brien is one of the organisers and it makes sense to bring together his fellow Irish players for such an event with the new season getting underway on August 3.


Next up in this weekly series on former professionals, one of the most resolutely determined players ever to pick up a cue...

There have been many grinders to have played professional snooker but few were tougher than Eddie Charlton, a hard, durable Australian who appeared in three World Championship finals and was the last 60-something to compete at the Crucible.

Charlton first played snooker at the age of nine at his grandfather’s club in New South Wales but enjoyed a range of other sporting interests during his formative years.

He was a keen cricketer and boxer, played senior grade football for ten years and was part of the Swansea Belmont Club crowned Australian National Surfing champions in 1950. Charlton was especially proud of being asked to carry the torch during its journey through Melbourne at the 1956 Olympic Games.

Working as a coal miner, Charlton turned professional in 1963 and won the Australian Championship 20 times in 21 years, his only defeat in this period coming in 1968, the same year he made the first of around 200 trips to the UK, where snooker was entering a boom period.

Charlton was a regular on the BBC series Pot Black, which first showcased the game for British audiences, and won the title three times.

He earned the nickname ‘Steady Eddie’ because of his methodical approach to the game, which included long bouts of safety and playing almost every shot plain ball rather than employing side.

Charlton entered the first ranking list in 1976 as world No 3 and remained there for five years and as part of the game’s elite top 16 for ten seasons, spending a further seven ranked inside the world’s top 32.

His first attempt at the world title ended in a 39-34 defeat to John Pulman in 1968.

In 1974, Ray Reardon defeated him 38-32 and beat him again in 1975 in what proved to be the most disappointing result of Charlton's long career.

He seemed certain to clinch the title when he opened a 29-25 lead over Reardon at the Nunawading Basketball Centre in Melbourne. However, a missed brown cost him the next frame and gave Reardon the second wind he needed to turn the match around. He beat Charlton 31-30 in a close finish to the dismay of the partisan crowd.

Charlton did win the 1976 World Matchplay, the biggest title of his career, and was in the World Championship semi-finals again in 1979 but lost 19-17 to Terry Griffiths.

Charlton remained a constant presence at leading tournaments for the next decade, appearing in a total of seven ranking event semi-finals and 13 quarter-finals.

Evidence of his unshakeable desire to win was clear at the 1989 World Championship, where he fought for 10 hours, 24 minutes to battle past the Canadian Cliff Thorburn 10-9, the match finally ending at 2.40am.

Asked in the post match press conference if he felt a responsibility to the crowd to entertain, he replied (and this is, to say the least, cleaning the quote up): “I don’t care about the crowd, I’m here to win.”

Despite his hard boiled on table persona, Charlton was every inch a character and a well liked member of snooker’s cast of players during the boom years.

He was a champion swearer and would have been docked hundreds of frames were the rule against expletives in operation during his career.

His hair having receded into middle age, he nevertheless managed to acquire some more.

A great all-rounder, Charlton twice unsuccessfully challenged Rex Williams for the World billiards title and finished runner-up to Mark Wildman in the 1984 final by the slender margin of 1,045-1,012.

He reached the final of the only staging of the World Seniors Championship, in 1991, but was beaten 5-4 by Cliff Wilson having led 4-2.

In 1992, he endured the ignominy of becoming the first player to fail to win a frame at the Crucible Theatre. His 10-0 defeat to John Parrott in the first round remains as the only Sheffield whitewash.

At the age of 62, it proved to be his last Crucible appearance.

As the circuit expanded to over 700 players in the 1990s, Charlton, who spent several years as a member of the BBC commentary team, began to slip down the rankings, eventually retiring in 1996 and returning to Australia where he still competed in pool events.

Charlton received the Australian Order of Merit in 1980 and the Australian Sports Medal in 2001. In 1993, he was given a special award by the WPBSA for his services to the game.

He died in November 2004 at the age of 75.



Congratulations to Mark Allen, who defeated local hero Ding Junhui to win the Jiangsu Classic in Wuxi City.

Allen’s rise has been rapid since he turned professional in 2005 but this is his first title.

It won’t be his last in my opinion. Far from it. He’s got the game, the self belief and time on his side and will be a top player for many years to come.

An advantage for him is that he was used to winning when he turned professional having won everything he conceivably could as an amateur: the Northern Ireland title at all age levels, the world amateur championship, European amateur championship and European under 19 championship.

What a shame the Northern Ireland Trophy has been axed from the schedule. Allen’s involvement would have created a great buzz after his run to the World Championship semi-finals.

Even so, we’ll be seeing plenty more of him in the future.

Congratulations should also go to Mark Selby, who joined snooker’s 147 club during the tournament.

Selby’s break-building has improved considerably over the last three years. Last season, he finished second on the list of century makers behind John Higgins.

He constructed a 141 break at the 2008 Masters and superseded that with a 145 last season.

His maximum was the 69th in snooker history. OK, so they’ve become far more common in recent years but making one is still a landmark worth celebrating.

Credit to the players who went out to play in the Jiangsu Classic, which further enhanced the game’s growing status in China.

One player who would have gone anywhere for snooker was Paul Hunter, who died in 2006.

Every year since a tournament has been organised in his name. The Paul Hunter English Open returns in July and, as the name suggests, it’s open to everyone.

It’s a good way to remember Paul and take part in event that attracts several professionals.

You can do so by downloading the entry form from the EASB website.



And Tony Drago has done it. He beat Roy Stolk 5-4 tonight to win the European play-off and secure his return to the professional circuit.

It was not without anxiety for this most anxious of players. He trailed 4-3 and needed a snooker in the eighth frame but duly got it and made a break of 53 in winning the decider.

Well done to Tony. I know this will mean an awful lot to him.

He said: "After 25 years as a professional, I can't tell you how much I missed it.

"I couldn't have done any of this without Jimmy White. He gave me the keys to his club so I could go and practice and he reignited my love for the game. We practiced together a lot and I fell in love with the game again. He was always my hero and I want to thank him publicly.

"When you come to a tournament and you know you have to win it that is huge pressure. If anyone doubted before that I do have the bottle, then I have proved to them and myself that I have a big heart and the bottle to stand up under the pressure."


Tony Drago is on the verge of securing a return to the main tour after reaching the final of the European play-offs in Belgium.

Drago, Malta's best known sportsman, was relegated from the professional circuit last year.

He needs to beat Yvan Van Velthoven or Roy Stolk in the final to book his return.

There have been few players as entertaining as this one time world no.10 and it would be good to have him back on the circuit.

Like James Wattana's return through his Asian Championship victory, it proves these former leading lights still love playing and can still play to a high enough standard to earn their places on the pro tour.



The folks at worldsnooker.com are running an interesting poll asking who will win the most ranking titles in their career: Ronnie O’Sullivan or John Higgins.

Almost everyone who has voted as I write this has plumped for Ronnie. This is an interesting conclusion as after 17 years on the circuit it’s currently O’Sullivan 21, Higgins 20.

Certainly Ronnie is ahead on most meaningful stats: tournament wins, maximums and centuries, but these are the two finest players of the last decade and I don’t think there will be much in it when they finally hang up their respective cues.

Which begs the question, how much longer can they continue at the top level?

John is 34 and Ronnie will be in December. Most players start to decline in the mid 30s but many can continue to play to a high standard into their 40s.

O’Sullivan is the most naturally gifted player in snooker history (although as he himself is keen to stress, his success has come from hard work, not simply showing up).

Higgins is the best all round player since Steve Davis. His mix of attack and defence, as we saw at the Crucible this year, is deadly.

Which of these attributes will most likely guarantee longevity?

I suppose it depends on a number of factors. Natural talent endures. You can still see it in the likes of Jimmy White and Tony Drago. However, as players age unforced errors creep into their games and consistency goes out the window.

O’Sullivan gets frustrated now, even when he’s playing unbelievably well, so how is he going to cope when he starts to decline?

Higgins may be revered as a master tactician now but if this side of his game becomes less effective he may find results harder to come by.

But surely the most crucial factor is this: desire. How much longer do Ronnie and John really want to continue?

I suspect I’m in a minority here but I fancy Higgins to pack the game in before O’Sullivan.

If you listened to my podcast interview with him it’s clear it’s something he has thought about. As much as he loves snooker, he is a family man and has his sights set on various off table activities.

If he slips down the rankings, certainly out of the top 16, he may decide enough is enough, though this is a number of years away.

O’Sullivan may be tortured at times by snooker but it is the glue that holds his life together. He has many times threatened to retire or take a break, including after two world title wins. But he first talked of it at the age of 18 and he’s still going strong.

I think he would find it hard to walk away. There will come a time – as for every player – when it will happen but I don’t think it will be any time soon.

O’Sullivan can, I suspect, still win titles when he’s in his 40s. That sort of talent doesn’t just disappear.

For this reason, he will probably finish ahead of Higgins on the all time ranking titles table.

Whatever, both players belong high up on any list of the all time greats.

For all the talk of young up-and-comers, O’Sullivan and Higgins remain the men to beat not just at the moment but for the foreseeable future.


Our series on former professionals continues with a man who played a part - albeit briefly - in a piece of snooker history...

Mick Price is perhaps destined to live on for all eternity as the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question: who was Ronnie O’Sullivan’s opponent when he made his record five minute, 20 second maximum break at the Crucible in 1997?

The man was indeed Price, a very good player in his own right who reached 21st in the world rankings.

He turned professional in 1988 but his first major breakthrough came in 1992 when he reached his first ranking tournament quarter-final at the Strachan Open.

Price then reached the quarter-finals of two of the next three ranking events at the European Open and Dubai Classic.

In between, he appeared at the Crucible for the first time where he sprung a surprise by beating Dennis Taylor 10-6 in the opening round.

Price held Alan McManus to 10-10 in the second round before going down to a 13-10 defeat but the ranking points he accrued got him into the top 32, where he remained for five seasons.

His best performance came at the 1993 European Open in Antwerp, Belgium where he beat Dave Harold, Willie Thorne, Joe Johnson and Mark Johnston-Allen to reach the semi-finals.

Price gave Stephen Hendry a decent game before the then world champion beat him 6-3.

In 1995, Price appeared in his last two ranking tournament quarter-finals, losing to Steve Davis in the International Open and to James Wattana in the British Open.

He reached the Crucible on two further occasions, losing to McManus in 1996 and, of course, to O’Sullivan the following year.

That match was closer than many remember. Price led 4-3 and entered the final session only a frame behind before O’Sullivan stepped it up, the 147 the crowning glory of an excellent last afternoon.

It has seen Price’s name crop up on quiz shows, in pub conversations and between snooker anoraks.

A few years afterwards, he recalled: “I realised from very early on that he could get a maximum and the way he did it was amazing - he was just getting quicker and quicker and at one point I thought he was going to explode.

“I’ve been on the snooker circuit for a while now and the sheer speed at which he moved around the table was hard to take in.

“I only realised the guy was human when he took a breath before the green.

“The crazy thing was that before the frame he had whispered to me that he was tired – well, if that was him when he was tired I wouldn't like to play him on top of his game.”

Price was a solid, salt of the earth type of professional who loved snooker and he had an easy, self-deprecating sense of humour.

I recall him working in the press room at the Crucible one year for his manager’s website and telling the story of how he’d been approached by a fan at stage door who asked him, ‘didn’t you used to be Mick Price?’

After a moment’s thought he replied, ‘yes.’

He was affectionately given the nickname ‘The Postman’ because of his likeness to the children’s TV character Postman Pat.

Price retired from the circuit in 2004. He still plays in his local area and last month retained the Nuneaton Winter League individual title.

He turns 43 today.



Here's actor, writer and all round good egg Stephen Fry quoted in today's Manchester Evening News:

"I’d rather watch snooker than do almost anything, to be honest."

Quite right too. Maybe Fry should become a commentator. He has, after all, got some experience in this area.