Let’s go back to this day in 1980: a defeated Jimmy Carter is in the White House working out the final weeks of his presidency. Aston Villa sit at the top of the first division. ABBA’s ‘Super Trouper’ is no.1 in the UK singles chart.

And Steve Davis is being driven home from Preston having just won his first major title, the UK Championship. It is the dawn of a golden career. He is 23 and about to transform the world of snooker.

Fast forward to the present day and Davis is today appearing in his 32nd successive UK Championship at the qualifiers in Sheffield. If he beats Mark Joyce he will play Ali Carter in Telford.

Davis won every UK title from 1980 to 1987 bar two. Terry Griffiths beat him in the 1982 quarter-finals and Alex Higgins recovered from 7-0 down to edge him 16-15 in the 1983 final.

This period encompassed an era of dominance so complete that it was hard to see how it could ever end.

Davis was a shy, awkward teenager who found an outlet in snooker. His talent and potential became apparent to Barry Hearn, who ran a chain of snooker clubs and would manage him through a golden decade, indeed who still manages him to this day.

Griffiths opened the door for the new breed by winning the world title at his first attempt in 1979 and Davis was part of the mob of young players who dived through it in his wake.

He became a magnet for trophies, and money too: the old guard who played snooker when there was hardly any financial reward in the game, scratching around the exhibition circuit for a living, must have looked at Davis in awe and disbelief: how could anyone possibly become a millionaire out of the sport?

The answer, of course, was through his on table dominance and the off table savvy of Hearn, pushing lucrative sponsorship contracts his way and, in helping to create the soap opera that was the 1980s boom, ensuring new tournaments, more prize money and a bucketful of personal appearances.

The Davis years would have to end some time but he found it hard to accept that Stephen Hendry was even better.

The 1990 UK Championship saw them go toe-to-toe in the final for a second successive year. They were introduced into the Preston Guild Hall to Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’, an apposite choice for these formidable champions. It was a great match which Hendry eventually won 16-15 and marked the moment the crown was passed.

Davis soldiered on but his ranking position slipped and, with it, so did his aura.

There were more trophies, including a memorable capture of the Wembley Masters in 1997, but in 2000 he dropped out of the top 16.

Precedence told us that when former champions are relegated from the elite bracket they usually keep sliding until their career ends. Davis was constantly asked if he would retire. His answer was always the same: why should I?

And then in 2005 he was in the UK final again after an extraordinary week in York in which he beat Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire, Ken Doherty and Hendry before falling short against Ding Junhui. It was, remarkably, his 100th final after an inspirational run of performances.

Inspiration was the key again at the Crucible last season with his shock 13-11 defeat of John Higgins, a player, like so many, who grew up admiring the ‘Nugget.’

The old aura is restored, not of invincibility but as a cold stone legend. Davis now enjoys universal respect and while once he was booed because his success had become so monotonous, now he is revered as one of the most popular players in the sport.

His love of snooker remains as strong as it was 30 years ago. He is still endlessly fascinated by it. When he reached the Crucible for a 30th time last season he was more excited than any of the other qualifiers.

The world has changed in all sorts of ways in the last 30 years. An African American president now sits in the White House. An American owned football team is top of the league. A group of people unheard of months ago but brought together through a reality TV show are no.1.

Technological advancements have been rapid and spectacular: the fact you can read this now is testament to that.

But through it all, like old man river, Steve Davis has just kept rolling along.



He looks markedly older than when I last saw him; paler, greyer and tired around the eyes.

We meet at the Telford International Centre where he will return for his first televised event since the end of his six month suspension. His media ‘handler’ wastes no time in laying down the ground rules: there are to be no questions about the specifics of what happened in the Ukraine for legal reasons.

John Higgins must be sick of talking about it, sick of trying to persuade people of his innocence. He says those he has met in the street have been supportive – indeed at Telford this is much in evidence – but he knows that there will always be some who will point the finger.

The events that brought about his fall from grace are like a permanent stain on his career: the surprise defeat to Steve Davis at the Crucible enlivened the World Championship but the newspaper account of Higgins’s subsequent visit to Kiev overshadowed the final and delivered a universal kick to the shins of everyone involved in the sport.

The record will show that Higgins was fined £75,000 and served out a six month ban. In Germany earlier this month he faced his fellow players for the first time at an event in the European Players Tour Championship. All were friendly but the three times world champion, mentally bruised by the whole affair, now finds it difficult to take even his friends at face value.

“I was nervous about how players would treat me but they were all fine – to my face anyway,” Higgins said.

“Nobody has said anything to my face. If they do then I can answer them. If they come up to me and say, ‘great to see you back’ what am I supposed to say? That they are lying? That they should tell me what they really think?”

So are some players being two-faced?

“Of course they are,” Higgins said. “I’d be naive if I didn’t think that. There’s jealous people in every walk of life. All I can say is that when I was growing up and practising with the likes of Stephen Hendry I was never jealous of them for the success they’d had. I wanted to try and replicate what they’d done. It was admiration, not jealousy. Sometimes in our sport maybe people are jealous when they should be getting their cues out and practising more.”

I cut to the chase. How does he feel about Pat Mooney, his former manager who has since been banned from ever playing any further part in snooker after the tribunal found him guilty of “an egregious betrayal of trust?”

At this, his media ‘handler’ bristles. Higgins shakes his head. “What’s done is done but if it didn’t make me more wary I’d be stupid,” is all he will say on the broken relationship.

Alas, this amiable man and legend of the game was pretty stupid to have said the things he did in that hotel room, even if you accept his explanation as to why he behaved in that way.

Even when he was cleared to return to the circuit he could not celebrate: his father, a popular figure in the game and hugely supportive of his son, had just been told his cancer was terminal.

Inside, Higgins must be wondering how it all came to this. From the age of nine, snooker was his life. Suddenly without it, he rattled around the house, waiting for the verdict. “I filled my days by helping out with the kids and normal things like that,” he said.

“People were asking me why I didn’t go to the club to practise but I didn’t want to do that when I didn’t know if there’d be an end goal to it. When the judgement came through it got me fired up again.

“I didn’t know what to think about what the judgement would be. I knew I’d have to take whatever it was on the chin. I did contemplate not playing again but I don’t have to think those thoughts now.”

The strength of his game has never been questioned but Higgins will also need mental toughness to shut out the whispering and suspicions of others and begin the process of rehabilitating his image. The forthcoming 12bet.com UK Championship in Telford, which he won in 1998 and 2000, marks the start of that journey.

He heads into it placed second in the rankings behind Neil Robertson, determined but anxious too.

“It’s my first time back playing in Britain so I’m nervous,” Higgins said. “People who’ve seen me grow up playing snooker on TV will have their own views. That’s just something I will have to accept. All I can do is my best.

“I’d like to get back to world no.1. It’s something to aim for. Neil Robertson is a great player. He’s grown in recent years and I've watched how he's changed his game. Now he’s world champion and he’s the man to beat.”

That status once belonged to John Higgins. Perhaps it will again but, right now, his main task will be to restore his battered reputation.



Ronnie O’Sullivan proved once again this weekend that he is the king of the shot clock as he won the partycasino.com Premier League title for the ninth time with a 7-1 defeat of Shaun Murphy.

This is O’Sullivan’s sixth title victory from the seven stagings of the Premier League under the 25 second per shot limit.

He was superb in beating Neil Robertson 5-1 in the semi-finals and played well in the final, but Murphy, the defending Premier League champion, was well below par.

So it’s O’Sullivan’s title once again, but can he take this form to the UK Championship?

Only once (in 2007) has he followed his capture of the shot clock Premier League with victory in snooker’s second biggest tournament.

There’s no shot clock in Telford. It is two session, nine day snooker and so therefore a completely different mental approach is required.

As the man himself put it: "The UK, the Masters and the Worlds are a completely different ball game."

Encouragingly for O’Sullivan fans, Ronnie was in a good mood in Hopton-on-Sea, even declaring himself to be happy with how he played.

We all know this contented spell is not bound to last but therein lies the fascination.

It’s 17 years to the day since he won his first ranking title, the 1993 UK Championship, just days before he turned 18.

Much has happened on table and off since then but O’Sullivan remains a rare talent, and the Premier League trophy seems to be his to keep.


The first round draw for the new Sky Shootout has been made.

The stand-out tie is Mark Williams v John Higgins, two players with five world titles between them.

Ronnie O'Sullivan tackles Marco Fu while Ali Carter meets Jimmy White and Steve Davis faces Peter Ebdon.

The tournament takes place from January 28-30 in Blackpool. Each match consists of a single frame, which will be stopped after ten minutes.

First round draw:
Andrew Higginson v Jamie Burnett
Tom Ford v Stephen Maguire
Robert Milkins v Martin Gould
Fergal O'Brien v Stephen Hendry
Jimmy Michie v Marcus Campbell
Mark King v Jimmy Robertson
Alfie Burden v Matthew Selt
Peter Lines v Barry Hawkins
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Marco Fu
Stephen Lee v Michael Holt
Michael Judge v Alan McManus
Mark Williams v John Higgins
Graeme Dott v Matthew Couch
Adrian Gunnell v David Morris
Jamie Cope v Ken Doherty
Judd Trump v Dave Harold
Barry Pinches v Neil Robertson
Shaun Murphy v Rory McLeod
Gerard Greene v Rod Lawler
Matthew Stevens v Mike Dunn
Stuart Pettman v Bjorn Haneveer
Andy Hicks v Mark Selby
Ding Junhui v Dominic Dale
Jimmy White v Ali Carter
Nigel Bond v Joe Jogia
Tony Drago v Liang Wenbo
Joe Perry v Ricky Walden
Joe Swail v Mark Davis
Anthony Hamilton v Anthony McGill
Stuart Bingham v Ian McCulloch
Mark Allen v Ryan Day
Peter Ebdon v Steve Davis


Two snooker related things worth marking your cards for if you have access to Sky Sports.

The last 64 draw for the new Sky Shootout will precede the Premier League final tonight on Sky Sports4 from 7pm.

And then on Thursday at 10pm on Sky Sports1 the programme Times of Our Lives will feature a chat between Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor and Joe Johnson about the snooker boom of the 1980s.

They will be talking about their world finals and life at the top of a sport that, for a time, was bigger than any other on British TV.



Here are the answers to this week's quiz...

1) Steady Eddie's highest ranking was third

2) Warren King appeared in the 1990 Mercantile Classic final

3) Five Australians have played at the Crucible - Eddie Charlton, John Campbell, Warren King, Quinten Hann and Neil Robertson

4) Hann lost to Peter Ebdon in the 2004 Irish Masters semi-finals

5) Neil Robertson's Crucible debut ended at the hands of Stephen Hendry in 2005



I would never bet against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the partycasino.net Premier League.

It’s not just the shot-clock – although that is a factor – but more the nature of the event: turning up for a night, playing and going home that suits Ronnie’s personality more than hanging around for nine days at a time.

He has two nights to play this weekend if he is to win the League for a ninth time. O’Sullivan made a slowish start to this year’s competition but stepped it up towards the end of the round robin phase and, by the end, was playing some superb stuff.

Among his victims was Neil Robertson who he plays again in the semi-finals tomorrow night.

Robertson very nearly missed out on a last four place by virtue of arriving at Llandudno for his final match last week with only minutes to spare.

But he beat Shaun Murphy to get through and the world champion and world no.1 is of course a massive threat to O’Sullivan.

Except, Robertson is less settled in the format than Ronnie. His League performances have been inconsistent and while I would favour him if these two met in a ranking event, O’Sullivan is always fired up for the League and has to start favourite.

People who knock the League seem to think it’s just an extended series of exhibitions without pressure. They should speak to the players, every one of whom regards it as a prestigious event. In fact, they clamour to get in it.

The Premier League has run since 1987 and seen off countless ranking events in the last 23 years.

Live on TV in front of big crowds, it’s a test of temperament, tactics (because of the shot clock) and the ability to think quickly. There’s also big money on offer and this affects a player’s thinking too.

O’Sullivan’s dominance in recent years proves his innate snooker intelligence. It’s not just that he plays quickly: he sees the right shot immediately.

Unlike in a long match his focus is less likely to go, but this doesn’t make the League easier to win. It’s just a different mindset, a different set of skills required.

Last year O’Sullivan chose to run the Norwich half marathon on the morning of the final and lost 7-3 to Murphy.

That’s not to say Shaun wouldn’t have won anyway but it was hardly the best preparation.

Murphy has kept himself ticking over this season by playing in all the PTCs, winning one, finishing runner-up in another and topping the order of merit.

In the other semi-final he faces Marco Fu, who returns to action fresh from winning the gold medal for Hong Kong at the Asian Games last week.

Marco is capable of brilliant performances but at other times, for whatever reason, just can’t get going.

He beat Murphy 4-2 in the League section and is a former champion himself so Murphy has his work cut out to reach the final again.

But they all know that O'Sullivan is the man to beat.

The action is all live on Sky Sports4 from 7.30pm UK time tomorrow.



In tribute to the Ashes, it's an Australian theme...

1) What was Eddie Charlton's highest ever ranking?

2) Prior to Neil Robertson winning the 2006 Grand Prix, who was the last Australian to reach a ranking tournament final?

3) How many Australians have played at the Crucible?

4) Who beat Quinten Hann in his only ranking event semi-final appearance?

5) Who beat Neil Robertson on his Crucible debut?


There’s been a mixed start for snooker’s newest professionals at the 12bet.com UK Championship qualifiers in Sheffield.

There were wins in the first qualifying round for Jack Lisowski, Liam Highfield, Kyren Wilson and Adam Wicheard but defeats for Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon, Kuldesh Johal, Igor Figueiredo, Reanne Evans and Jak Jones.

Wicheard’s reward for his 9-3 defeat of Joe Delaney is a meeting with 1992 UK champion Jimmy White.

Highfield held off Johal 9-7 and will now face the super-fast Maltese Tony Drago.

Wilson beat experienced Yorkshireman Paul Davison 9-6 and now tackles Lancashire potter Ian McCulloch.

Lisowski, already confirmed for the PTC grand finals next March, takes on Matt Selt, a practise partner from The Grove in Romford, as was his first victim, Zhang Anda.

Young Jack contributes a monthly column for Snooker Scene about life on the tour. He says he is still learning all the time but is loving every minute of his time as a snooker professional.

The other side of the coin, though, is the disappointment of an early defeat in the game’s second biggest event.

Figueiredo qualified for the World Open but won only four frames against Liu Chuang while 16 year-old Thai Tirapongpaiboon went down 9-2 to Ben Woollaston.

Evans is still yet to win a match all season. She appears to be stuck in some sort of snooker limbo: too good for the other women but not yet good enough to challenge the men.

Another first season pro is Anthony McGill who, thanks to the new ranking system, has already made it into the top 64.

The Scot meets Northern Ireland’s Patrick Wallace, a World Championship quarter-finalist in 2001, in the second qualifying round.

The two session matches require a shift in focus for all players after the endless best of sevens in the PTCs.

The experienced players are thus at an advantage because they understand the mental approach necessary in the longer form tournaments.

But it would be good to see a few new faces in Telford.



World Snooker and the BBC will have to decide whether to alter the schedule for the Betfred.com World Championship following the news that the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will be on April 29.

This falls on the afternoon of the second day of the Crucible semi-finals. The government have designated the day a public holiday.

As the wedding of the future monarch is a huge national event, it is unlikely the BBC will be broadcasting live coverage of anything else at the same time.

The easiest solution would be to play three sessions on the Thursday and have the semi-final rest session on the Friday afternoon.

Of course, a great many people couldn't care less about the royal wedding and won't understand why there needs to be any change at all.

It's better to decide one way or the other now, though, particularly as people have already started buying tickets.



Barry Hearn has warned snooker’s top stars to smarten up their acts as he plans the next phase of a revolution he hopes will globalise the sport.

Hearn admits he is far from impressed from the recent behaviour of some of snooker’s leading lights and says he will not stand for anyone neglecting their professional responsibilities.

The World Snooker Ltd chairman today stated that the governing body was close to signing new broadcast deals with the BBC and Eurosport and were looking at staging an extra half dozen events outside the UK.

But I suggested to him that he needs player support to transform the game’s fortunes and that some of them need a wake-up call.

“It’s true and I’ll deal with the players in a balanced way with education on one side and penalties on the other,” Hearn said.

“Punishments will be draconian because I don’t want to take prisoners. If I’m going to give as much time and commitment as I have been to the ongoing increase in tournaments and prize money, I have to expect a similar return from my top players, and some of them are not delivering.

“So we’ll be looking at our player contracts in more detail. There will be bigger penalties for entering tournaments and not turning up. There will be penalties for arriving late.

“I’ve never had all of this in darts. I’ve got 380 players in the PDC and have never had a problem. The real secret is that they’ve been educated properly. I’m afraid some of the snooker players have a bit of an, ‘oh well, it doesn’t really matter’ attitude.

“They’ve been allowed to get away with things for the last few years that I would never allow. I’ve been quite shocked that a couple of them are following that route but they have to be dealt with and I don’t care if their name is Sid Smith or Ronnie O’Sullivan. You know with me that they will be dealt with. There won’t be any tolerance whatsoever.

“For Ronnie entering tournaments and then not turning up, it’s referred to the disciplinary process and there will be harsh financial penalties written into the contracts next year. Neil Robertson turned up with ten minutes to spare at the Premier League last week. It’s a harsh note from me. It’s lack of professionalism on his part and he’s very embarrassed about it. He’ll be told in future he’ll be expected to turn up six hours before the match, not one, if he wants to play in my events in the future. Ding smashed the pack in an EPTC. That’s gone to a disciplinary.

“Dave Douglas has a range of issues to sort out, including players who didn’t turn up to the opening press conference in Shanghai, because they didn’t think it really mattered – well let’s see what Mr. Douglas has to say about that. There’s a price to pay. John Higgins has paid a price for being unprofessional in some aspects. Other players will have to as well. Going forward, you either play under my rules or you don’t play at all. It doesn’t matter who you are.

“Over the next few weeks you’ll read certain things and say, ‘blimey, he was actually telling us the truth.’ We are a professional sport and 99% of players act like professionals all the time. But snooker has been stuck in the mire, going nowhere, and there’s a certain attitude among certain players that it doesn’t really matter. They’re being educated now. Some of them are quite surprised I’m delivering the things I said I would and they need a wake-up call to be more professional.

“In other sports I’m involved in I don’t have any of this. In snooker, the contracts haven’t been tight enough and people abuse it, but they don’t abuse it with me twice. I bumped into one them who said, ‘you won’t discipline me.’ Trust me, I’d do it to my mum, and she’s dead.

“I need the top players to illustrate to the younger players the rules that exist, on etiquette. They all come from the top players. If your kid at home watches a footballer take a dive, when he’s out playing for the under 11’s, he’ll take a dive because he’s seen it on TV. That’s not good. We have to set the standards. In the 1980s, it was all built on the bowtie image and that’s one that carries a huge financial premium.

“When I was in Shanghai I couldn’t believe the red carpet treatment I got. I mean, I know I’m important but I was astonished how well I got treated. Then I’m in my hotel room in Bangkok and the phone goes. It’s the prime minister’s office asking if I’d go and see him. It shows you how big this sport is. It all comes about through the image you create And this is where the top players have a responsibility to the game.”



The first staging of the Players Tour Championship is now at an end.

Going purely on player participation and the opportunities at has afforded them it has to be judged a success.

Without the players, the PTC would have been an expensive folly but the vast majority of the circuit has embraced them for what they are: the chance to keep match sharp and earn money and ranking points.

Mindset is crucial going to any tournament and the PTC is no different. Those players who turned up feeling negative about it did not do well; many of those who went into the tournaments relishing the extra opportunities to play and earn money have got the rewards.

It’s amazing how complacent people can become very quickly. Let’s go back to a year ago. There were six ranking events and a series of downmarket, poorly subscribed Pro Challenge Series events played in clubs, one with only six reds, which fizzled out due to player apathy, which was largely due to the fact there were no ranking points available.

Next season World Snooker will stage at least 29 events. The PTC accounts for 13 of these. It represents a huge increase in playing opportunity for professionals and amateurs.

The set up and conditions have not been perfect but this was the first year and mistakes were inevitable. To have got the concept off the ground so quickly was actually a very creditable effort.

Would any player – hand on heart – want snooker to go back to how it was 12 months ago?

The bottom line is this: if you don’t want to play in the PTCs, don’t play in them. Sit at home. Do something else instead.

Barry Hearn has made good on his stated objective which was not to spoon feed players ‘guarantees’ and leave them nicely cosseted in a set ranking position. No, he said he would give them all opportunities and what they did with them was up to them.

For a very small number of players – Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Steve Davis would fit the bill – the PTCs are a come down. I can well understand why Hendry, for instance, doesn’t like them after the majesty of his career.

But try telling Marcus Campbell they’re a bad idea. Try telling Barry Pinches or Tom Ford or Michael Holt.

Players have previously had months – literally – between matches but now they have the option to play pretty much every week. And, again, if they are successful they are rewarded.

Among the smears and lies spread by Hearn’s coterie of enemies was that he would cut the circuit to 32 players. In fact, far from being an elitist he has set up a series that has mainly benefitted players lower down the rankings.

It’s true that expenses take their toll, particularly when travelling abroad. The other side of that coin, though, is that it’s £10,000 to the winner, so, again, those who do well reap the rewards.

I commend Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby in particular for their attitudes toward these events, including playing in them when it was obvious they had already qualified.

Big names competing will in itself grow the sport because it acts as a spur to amateurs and those junior players in the various European locations. They will have been inspired by the chance to play some of the leading lights of the sport and will be hungry for more in the future.

Hearn and his team can learn from this inaugural staging of the PTC. I think he would accept in hindsight that it was a mistake to stipulate players had to enter at least three PTCs and EPTCs in order to qualify for the grand finals. In the cold light of day it’s crazy that Ding Junhui and John Higgins, who won titles, cannot now go to Dublin next March. I expect next season’s qualification to be based either on, say, the best eight results or purely on the money list.

The set up in Sheffield is not perfect, not least because there is no room for spectators. Hearn has been saddled with this facility by the previous board but it seems unlikely all six British PTCs will be played there next season. The excellent South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester must be a leading contender to host a couple in 2011/12.

The EPTCs were open to spectators and it is these that have the capacity to grow into bigger events in years to come. There may well be some in Asia in the very near future too.

Snooker does not just exist at the very highest level. It doesn’t revolve exclusively around the Crucible and Wembley. Any sport needs a proper structure that runs from the very top right down to the grass roots. The PTC can play its part in this.

Ultimately playing snooker for the 96 main tour players is a profession. There’s a clue there in the job title: professional snooker player.

There is not a market or the finances for dozens more major ranking tournaments but the PTCs have provided much needed matches, money and points.

Fine tuning is required but this innovation is a welcome addition to the calendar.



After a pretty calamitous start to the season, Michael Holt produced a superb performance in Prague to win the final European Players Tour Championship title of the campaign.

Holt led John Higgins 2-0 and 66-0 but lost that third frame and fell 3-2 adrift.

For his followers this looked like a familiar story and a Higgins victory was surely the only result.

But Holt dug in, won the sixth frame and easily secured the decider to win 4-3 and play his way into the PTC grand finals in Dublin next March.

Holt has recently endured a difficult time off the table due to illness in his family. His father suffered a stroke two months ago.

Who knows why players suddenly find form? Perhaps his personal situation is unrelated to his success but maybe getting back to playing snooker was a release from what is happening off table.

He said he would try and win the title for his dad and that’s what he’s done.

And he certainly did it the hard way, beating top 16 players Stephen Maguire, Jamie Cope, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy and Higgins.

Holt has always been a great talent but has lacked inner belief and there have been well documented times when pressure has caused him to let himself down.

But he has done himself proud tonight. This is a massive confidence boost that could turn his entire season around.

I’m delighted for him. You couldn’t meet a friendlier snooker player and, after all the knocks and disappointments, he deserves to enjoy this victory.

And his family will be very proud of him too.



Yes, it’s the return of the weekly feature – apart from all the weeks I don’t do it – taking you behind the scenes of life on the snooker circuit.

I was reading about Jason Manford, who has quit as presenter of the One Show after a tabloid expose in which he admitted to ‘saucy chats’ with women on the internet while staying in hotels on his stand-up tour.

His excuse is that he was bored and lonely moving from one hotel to another, which sounds weaselish but anyone who has spent any time on the road will understand what he means.

When Ronnie O’Sullivan described the World Championship as a ‘bore’ at the launch of Power Snooker he wasn’t referring to the actual tournament but the endless hanging around that it entails.

The life of a professional snooker player may sound glamorous – and it can be – but most of the time it’s a merry-go-round of motorways, airports and hotels. It’s late nights, bad meals, one drink too many in the bar and fitful sleep.

As players get older and have families they become less keen on spending long periods away from home.

But at least when they get knocked out they can go home, unlike the other members of snooker’s travelling circus: officials, table fitters, the TV crew and the media included.

The press, or at least needy freelancers looking to save a few quid, have stayed in various establishments that made Wormwood Scrubs look like the Ritz.

I once returned one night from a tournament to find my room had been given to someone else. My suitcase was in the lobby. “We thought you’d left” was the somewhat puzzling explanation.

More than once I’ve had drunks banging on the door, demanding to be let into what they erroneously believe to be their room.

Speaking of alcohol, many years ago the WPBSA appointed a chief executive who availed himself of the free bar in Dubai as if the drink were going out of fashion.

A couple of hours later a board member and his wife were walking down a corridor when they came across him face down, incapacitated through drink.

“Who’s that?” the wife asked.

“That’s our new chief executive” came the immortal response.

The British bed and breakfast is one of those institutions held in high esteem, usually by people who never have to stay in them.

In my experience they are eccentric places. I once stayed in one that would not accept cheques or credit cards (in all likelihood some sort of tax dodge) and was physically driven to an ATM by the landlord so that I could pay in cash.

At least in a B&B you are, in theory anyway, guaranteed a bed. The breakfast often leads much to be desired.

Fergal O’Brien was staying in a B&B in, I think, Plymouth and when his cooked breakfast was put in front of him there were no eggs on the plate.

When he asked for one he was cheerily told, “oh, sorry, we need all the eggs to bake a cake.”

I stayed in a B&B in Bournemouth one time where the manager told me breakfast would be served from 8-8.20am: not a minute before and certainly not a minute later.

As it transpired he used this 20 minutes to conduct what was basically a stand-up routine in the dining room. Hunger felt like the better option after a few days of this.

B&Bs are cheap and can sometimes be friendlier than big chain hotels but too much time in them would surely drive you insane.

One of my colleagues hit on an idea to save even more money in Aberdeen a few years ago: he stayed in a tent.

Alas, one night he returned to the site to find his tent washed away due to flooding and exceptionally strong winds.

One year in Sheffield I stayed in a flat with two other journalists. It proved to be a predictably bizarre experience. One hack believed his room was haunted while one day the other forgot to turn the grill off in the kitchen after making early morning toast.

When we returned from the Crucible some 13 hours later we opened the door and were hit by a blast of heat that nearly knocked us over backwards.

Suddenly life in B&Bs didn’t seem so bad.

A colleague once stayed in one in the era before email and needed to dictate a story to a copytaker late one night. He asked the establishment’s owner if there was a phone he could use – it would be an 0800 number and so therefore free but the owner pointed out of the window and said there was a callbox across a field. This was in the depths of winter.

For those who spent many months at the Norbreck in Blackpool during the 1990s, it wasn’t so much boredom that set in but madness.

Day after day after day of snooker tends to do that to you. All they could do was try and amuse themselves with various wind-ups.

One official returned to his room to find it completely empty, stripped of everything. He later had one of his eyebrows shaved off in an unrelated incident.

The king of the practical joke was John Carroll of 110sport. He once changed all the numbers of various floors of a hotel so that when people got out of the lift they had no idea where they were.

John Higgins naively strayed into this area when he filled Ian Doyle’s bed with sugar in Dubai, which is a little like walking up to a lion and punching it in the face.

Another time, two of my journalistic pals were sharing a room to save money. One joker decided to tell hotel staff that they weren’t just sharing but were, in fact, a couple.

One of the hacks had to leave one night to cover football and so his bed was unslept in. The next morning the other journalist set off for the snooker but turned back, headed to the room and ruffled up the sheets in the unused bed in case the cleaning staff got the wrong impression.

I realise all of this sounds childishly pathetic but with so many hours, days and weeks spent on the circuit you have to amuse yourself somehow.

Of course, hotels can be deadly too. Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton fell in his bathroom at the Crucible three years ago and broke his hip, thus missing the last day of the championship and indeed his first ever day at Sheffield since the tournament moved there in 1977.

A fellow journalist was once in the shower at the Norbreck when someone broke into his room and stole his wallet. The hack heard the door close, realised what had happened and gave chase down the corridor, rugby tackling the thief naked.

This scene must have looked a trifle odd to anyone passing by but, on the snooker circuit, it was just another day.


And the answers were...

1) Stephen Hendry made a remarkable seven centuries in the 1994 UK Championship final.

2) Hendry made his two Crucible 147s against Jimmy White in 1995 and Shaun Murphy in 2009.

3) Hendry won six ranking titles from his eight successive finals.

4) His unbeaten run at Wembley comprised 23 matches.

5) Graeme Dott was the beaten opponent when Hendry won the 2005 Malta Cup.



The Republic of Ireland will once again play host to a televised snooker tournament when the grand finals of the Players Tour Championship come to the Helix Theatre in Dublin next March.

It will feature the top 24 eligible players from the PTC order of merit following EPTC6 in Prague this weekend.

The Irish Masters was a hugely popular tournament with fans and players but has not been staged since 2005.

It will be interesting to see whether Ireland, traditionally a snooker hotbed, will embrace this new event.

The field will include some well known faces – including Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Mark Williams and Stephen Maguire – but also a great deal of more unfamiliar names.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Ding Junhui are among those not eligible to play and world champion Neil Robertson will need a strong performance in Prague to make the line-up.

There are no home players currently in the top 24 – Ken Doherty is 40th – and the tournament is being staged in the week of the St. Patrick’s celebrations, which are obviously a big deal in Dublin.

But for the many snooker fans who live in Ireland, this can only be good news.

TV and ticket details will be announced in due course.


This week's quiz is all about one man...Stephen Hendry

1) How many centuries did Hendry make in the 1994 UK Championship final?

2) Who were Hendry's opponents for his two Crucible 147s?

3) Hendry appeared in eight successive ranking tournament finals from the 1990 European Open to the 1991 British Open. How many did he win?

4) How many matches comprised Hendry's unbeaten run on the Wembley Masters from 1989 until Alan McManus beat him in the 1994 final?

5) Who did Hendry beat in the final to win the last of his 36 ranking titles?



Before politics claimed him, Jason Ferguson was doing pretty well as a snooker player. A three times Crucible qualifier and member of the top 32, he beat Stephen Hendry in the 2000 Welsh Open and had ambitions to rise higher up the ranks.

He joined the WPBSA board with the best of intentions and became chairman but the toxic atmosphere and lack of progress in his areas of interest caused him to resign in 2002.

Now he has been invited back as part of the new era, chairman of the WPBSA again but in markedly different circumstances.

Nobody doubts that snooker is under the control of Barry Hearn, the charismatic chairman of World Snooker Ltd in whose hands the commercial future of the sport lies but the WPBSA exists as a sober, guiding presence.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

“The split of the WPBSA away from the sport’s commercial arm is something I was involved in starting a decade ago but it never really happened properly,” Ferguson told snookersceneblog.

“It’s always made sense to me to take away the governing side of the sport and that part involved in politics from the commercial arm because that gives comfort to sponsors and broadcasters. They know that they can enter into proper commercial agreements with a commercial company. Politics shouldn’t detract from that. We have to maximise our commercial rights.

“The WPBSA now governs the rules and regulations of the sport and can advise as to the playing side. The new arrangement is working better than I could ever have imagined.

“As part of the agreement, if the structure of the tour is to change in any way then the WPBSA has to be consulted on it. Whilst there is a contractual responsibility for World Snooker Ltd to put the tour on, it has to do it in consultation with the WPBSA.

“It’s our job to represent the members and ensure the overall structure doesn’t change too much from what’s fair and responsible as a professional sport.

“We have to be open-minded. Earlier this year we were down to six tournaments and struggling for sponsorship. We’ve got more events now, more sponsors coming on board and new broadcasters interested in our game. Barry’s brought a huge amount of experience to the table but in some changes he wants to make it’s our place to say, hold on, that’s going a little too far, let’s go back a little without detracting too much from what you’re trying to achieve.

“It’s a balance, the governance of the sport against a commercial arm. We have to ensure we can allow changes without damaging snooker’s integrity.”

Ferguson is earnest and has thrown himself into the role but some have dismissed him as Hearn’s ‘yes man,’ merely doing the promoter’s bidding. It’s even been written (anonymously) in the comments section on here. Ferguson rejects this claim.

“I’ve read some of the comments on your blog that I’m Barry’s puppet and all the rest of it,” he said.

“In fact, I’ve been out of the sport completely for six or seven years. I haven’t even hit a snooker ball in six years. When I came back to the boardroom I could not possibly have been more independent.”

So what has he opposed Hearn on?

“The original agreement involved the shares going to the players individually. I was against that. I fought hard for the shares to remain inside the WPBSA. Barry has respected that. We own at least 25% of the shares so have a direct input into the decision making process.

“We’ve got a very good working relationship but we also have a relationship where we’re not frightened to say no to each other. There haven’t been any major disagreements but we’ve had plenty of hard negotiation over what we think is the right structure.

“We’re like-minded in the vision we have for the future of the sport. The WPBSA is right to take a stand on certain issues but doesn’t want to be destructive when it comes to redeveloping the sport.”

Ferguson has to have his position on the WPBSA board ratified at a forthcoming AGM at which a number of other candidates are standing, including some of those who were part of an EGM a few weeks ago to remove him and his colleagues.

It fizzled out before it had got off the ground and Ferguson claims it was not representative of the general feedback he has received from players.

“The EGM came from a certain part of the membership, a small one,” he said.

“In general, the players seem very happy with the way things are going. There’s more money in the sport and more activity. I’m not saying we’ve got everything right. We certainly need to look at some of the facilities and structures and need to continue to grow in terms of prize money. We have to continue growing full stop.”

Before all that they need to be re-elected. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of snooker politics knows this is by no means a certainty.

“I’m keen to get the board re-elected,” he said. “I’ve been careful in putting it together and they are all playing key roles. Dave Douglas, our head of disciplinary, is a great guy. You could not have anybody fairer in dealing with these issues, plus he has the experience we need.

“We’ve got Alan Chamberlain in to look at the rules of the game and how new formats are catered for within the rules. Steve Davis has also played a key role. You couldn’t have a player with more experience in that position and he’s taken a strong interest in coaching and development. To have his name linked to something like that is fantastic because if you mention Steve’s name in any country around the world that likes snooker they know who he is and respect him.

“There’s a lot of work to do, particularly with the grass roots and amateur side of the sport. We need more coaching and more development, which means more players, more tournaments and more growth as a sport. We have to feed the sport from the bottom, working with the amateur bodies.”

All of which will require a great deal of patience, as the alphabet soup of amateur organisations, each with their own proprietorial turf wars and internecine struggles, are not always willing to embrace change.

Ferguson seems a suitably patient sort, but why come back at all? After all, his last dalliance with snooker politics left him battered and bruised and effectively ended his playing career.

During the last few years he has pursued a successful career in local government, rising to the role of mayor of his town, Ollerton.

“It was a hard decision to return,” he said. “Since I resigned the first time I’ve built a life outside snooker. I was very busy when I was first approached about coming back on the board. I had to think twice and think back to the reason I left in 2002. I have a young family and responsibilities in my town but the passion for snooker is still there and I’ve missed the game.

“I’ve had regrets about ever getting involved in snooker politics. I was a top 32 player when I became a director and there’s no doubt that it took its toll on my playing career. I was 33 years old and chairman of a large company. It was a big responsibility and my time spent practising dwindled to next to nothing, as did the results.

“I don’t regret it now, though. I look at what’s happened in my life since and I’ve enjoyed my new roles, and spent time with my family.

“I’ve had a public role the last few years. As mayor I’ve held public meetings in front of hundreds of people. If you can defend council tax levels it’s a good start. It’s toughened me up and definitely helped in terms of coming back to the WPBSA.

“So I don’t regret coming back. I love this sport with a passion and this role suits me as a person. I’m enjoying being back and seeing the players I grew up with once again.

“I hope I can make a real difference and that the players can see that the changes being made are for the greater good.”



A quick heads up, as our American cousins would say, for this week's big interview which is an exclusive chat with WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson.

In it, he explains why he returned to snooker politics, his relationship with Barry Hearn, his thoughts on the recently aborted EGM and what needs to happen to ensure snooker's growth in the future.

Read all about it tomorrow...


The Welsh Open will be played under a new format this season.

The tournament, staged in Newport, will use best of seven frame matches for all rounds up to and including the last 16.

This means the Newport Centre can go from three tables to two, both of which will be televised.

Last season's second table looked awful on the TV, as if there was barely room to cram it in.

The Welsh Open, as I wrote earlier this month, has become the poor relation of the ranking event circuit. These changes are by no means guaranteed to alter that but at least World Snooker are trying something new.

The World Open format was similarly bold but seemed to go down well and the shorter format did not produce a high number of shocks - on the contrary, it proved that the top players are the best under pressure.

The point about snooker formats is that they have all been devised for TV, but most of them for TV as it was a quarter of a century ago.

The Welsh final will still be best of 17, the semi-finals best of 11 and the quarters best of nine.



For John Higgins to win the first tournament after his suspension is a remarkable feat.

He was nervous, he was rusty, he was unsure of the reception he would receive. However, tonight he beat Shaun Murphy 4-2 to win the fifth event of the European Players Tour Championship in Hamm and provide the PTC series with its eleventh different winner from the twelve tournaments contested so far.

Higgins didn’t pick up his cue from losing to Steve Davis in the second round of the World Championship last season to shortly after learning that he would be returning to the circuit despite the News of the World scandal that cast doubt on his entire professional career.

The 35 year-old three times world champion went to Germany with his wife, Denise, and found players to be largely welcoming.

I’m sure John felt he had a point to prove and to win the title says a lot about his own mental strength. The strength of his game was never in dispute.

The whole experience seems to have made him even tougher than before. There was no better way to answer the doubters and he knew that. As so often before, he rose to the occasion.

In normal circumstances winning an EPTC title would not register high on the list of achievements for a player as steeped in silverware as Higgins.

But the manner in which this trophy was won much surely make it one of the most satisfying of his career.



A year ago, the prospect of John Higgins becoming the black sheep of the snooker family seemed ludicrous.

He was the best player in the world with a well earned reputation as an amiable guy, unaffected by fame and fortune.

All that changed in the Ukraine earlier this year and the subsequent News of the World sting that left Higgins fighting for his professional survival.

Today he returns at the European Players Tour Championship in Hamm, Germany, his first match since losing 13-11 to Steve Davis in the second round of the World Championship.

In an interview with the Scotland on Sunday, Higgins likened this to a trip to the dentist. He is unsure about how his fellow players and the wider game will welcome him back.

Some have sent messages of support. Some have not. I know one well known player – a good friend of Higgins – who was simply too embarrassed by the whole affair to say anything to him at all.

Higgins has been the recipient of many - mainly anonymous - insults from some fans on the internet and admitted he read many of these comments through natural curiosity.

But public opinion is only that: opinion. The tribunal was headed by an independent lawyer who came to his judgement based on the available facts, not his own prejudice.

I wouldn’t write anything about John that I wouldn’t say to his face.

I believe he was very naive, well, stupid, to put himself in that situation but the idea that, were this a genuine plot, he would have trousered the £260,000 ‘bribe’ is not one I could picture. I’ve known him a while and that isn’t him.

But it is true that top sportspeople can develop a kind of arrogance without even knowing it. They become accustomed to a lifestyle and a sort of untouchability that means they don’t fully think through their actions.

Regardless of whether he was led into a possibly career ending scenario by his manager, Higgins should surely have behaved in a more professional manner.

And he knows that. He will have thought of little else since he was suspended.

Some will forever look at him and see someone they believe was prepared to cheat. Some will be happy to see a successful, contented person brought down a peg or two. Some will support him to the end.

Higgins will never convince everyone of his innocence and as the years go by the myths surrounding the case will grow.

But he’s back and he has every right to continue what was, until last May, a glorious career.



Last season’s World Championship final ceased to be a snooker match around the time it became clear that the two players slaving in the heat of the Crucible cauldron were physically and emotionally spent.

The wisdom of an 8pm start for the final session, following a 3pm start in the afternoon, was soon questioned when it became apparent that Neil Robertson and Graeme Dott could barely stand up, never mind pot balls.

But Robertson was the fresher of the two. Perhaps the extra grit came from the fact that he was chasing a maiden world title. Whatever, he was determined to win by any means possible.

“It wasn’t just 8pm. The problem was that the afternoon session started at 3pm and it was too late. I couldn’t understand that. Had they brought it forward it would have been a better match on the eye,” Robertson told this blog.

“I was very attacking against Ali Carter in the semi-finals, thought I played really well, and I was prepared to be like that again against Graeme in the final.

“But I could sense Graeme was getting tired and I thought, well, I can scrap this out if I have to. I realised he would get more tired than me.

“So I kind of let it get scrappy rather than forcing an open game. I knew I had more in the tank than him and that the longer it went on, the more he would struggle.

“The schedule lent the final to one of us winning by draining the other guy, which wasn’t my intention at the start of the match.

“My dad said he was proudest of me for outlasting Graeme, one of the strongest players there is mentally, in the fight.”

With barely time to celebrate, he was off to Norway where his girlfriend, Mille, was due to give birth to their first child at any moment. Baby Alexander is now ensconced with the happy couple in Cambridge. Just as Robertson was getting used to life as world champion he was having to adjust to an even bigger change in lifestyle.

“My little boy has distracted me from any worries I might have had about being world champion and how I would be viewed. Being a dad is demanding enough,” he said.

“But it’s been really tough to properly structure my life around snooker and my family. Mille and I don’t have our parents with us to help out. We’re still both settling in and doing the apartment up to be as good as it can be for our son.

“I’ve probably been too lazy with practice and haven’t become accustomed to the PTCs in terms of how many to play in. I won’t be going to Germany for the event there this week. I feel it’s too much travel after the Premier League and trying to look after my son as well. I want to ensure everything is right at home while at the same time preparing properly for the UK Championship.”

This is a tricky balancing act that not all players get right. In his first season as world champion, Steve Davis endured a punishing schedule that lasted right up to a few hours before his first round match against Tony Knowles at the 1982 World Championship, where he was signing books in a local newsagent. Knowles beat him 10-1.

Robertson does not have to chase success. Any pressure of expectation placed upon him by himself or others has been lifted by his early season capture of the World Open but there are other titles to win. The Australian left-hander has never had a really good run in the UK Championship or the Wembley Masters, the two majors approaching before the circuit touches down once more at the Crucible.

“I’ve got a good lead in the rankings at the moment but there’s that addiction to accumulating ranking points and it’s hard to know how to approach the season, whether to play in everything or work on preparation for the bigger events,” Robertson said.

“There’s a lot of great players who have never been introduced as world champion. It’s a great buzz and I’ll enjoy it right until the Crucible.

“I need to structure my season around making a good defence. Before that I want to do well in the UK Championship. The last two seasons I’ve lost in deciders to Stephen Maguire and John Higgins, which is no disgrace, but I want to excel in that one because it’s so prestigious.

“I’ve never been in the semis of the Masters either, although again I’ve come up against players playing at the top of their game the last couple of years.

“You can’t pick and choose which tournaments you’re going to do well in. You take what comes and even winning one title a season is an achievement.”

Some say Robertson is lazy, that he has not always practised enough. He agrees.

“My laziness does come to the fore every now and again. That’s the biggest battle I have really. You can go for days doing nothing. I need to get a structure in my life so that that doesn’t happen," he said.

“I don’t feel I’ve looked after myself properly this season. I need to hit the gym and start eating a lot better. I’m not in the right frame of mind for all the travel and need to refocus.

“I want to get the best out of my ability and improve as a player. I definitely believe I can win more titles.”

Like many Australians, sport courses through Robertson’s veins. Patriotic, he’s also a shrewd judge of what it takes to win.

So will his country’s cricketers regain the Ashes over the next couple of months or can England win them in Australia for the first time in 24 years?

In assessing the likely result, nationalism gives way to sober analysis.

“England have a great chance,” Robertson said. “The Australian side is still going through a rebuilding phase and Ricky Ponting is probably the last great player of that golden era. He’ll have to be at his best. He has some unfinished business, although even if Australia win he’ll still be unsatisfied having lost the last two series in England.

“I’m not that familiar with the Australian side. It seems to change quite a bit. We don’t have the world class bowlers we used to have. We’d score 200 in the first innings and then have Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath come in and bowl out the other side for 150. We’ve lost that firepower, which puts pressure on our batsmen, and we don’t have the world class batsmen we used to have either.

“Five or six years ago I could tell you every batting average in the team but I’ve not had that exposure to them since moving to the UK.

“I think Australia can lift their game but the first couple of tests will be crucial. With England holding the Ashes they only have to draw the series, whereas we have to win it.”

In the background I hear his baby calling for attention from his father and let him go. I wish him well and mean it. He's worked hard for his success and what's come his way in life.

He should enjoy it and snooker should enjoy him.



There will be at least five new events next season according to the official schedule for the 2011/12 campaign.

It includes a new ranking tournament in Asia, another ranking event in an as yet unspecified location, an additional invitation event in China, the Brazilian Masters and a World Cup in Thailand.

There will, once again, be 12 Professional Tour Championship events and the World Open remains on the calendar, even though the BBC will not be broadcasting it.

All this adds up to a very busy year, something players have been demanding for a long time.

I worked out that, for example, the world champion will have 29 events to play in if he wants to – nine ranking tournaments, the Masters, the 12 PTCs, the PTC grand finals (if he qualifies), the Premier League, Championship League, World Cup, two Chinese invitation events and the Brazilian Masters.

The top players are moving to a position where they will start picking and choosing which tournaments to play in, a position unimaginable just a year ago.

Provisional schedule for 2011/12 season:

June 2011
10-12 PTC1
24-26 PTC2

July 2011
29 June - 3 July China Invitational - China
5-10 July - Wuxi Classic - China
11-17 - World Cup - Thailand
22-24 - PTC3

August 2011
1-4 August - Shanghai Masters Qualifiers - Academy Sheffield
7-10 August - World Open Qualifiers - Academy Sheffield
13-15 August - PTC4
18 August - Premier League
19-21 August - PTC5
25 August - Premier League
25-28 August - PTC6 (Paul Hunter Classic) - Germany
30 August - 2 September - Qualifiers (spare slot)

September 2011
1 September - Premier League
8 September - Premier League
9-11 September - PTC7
15-18 September - Brazilian Masters - Transamerica Expo Centre, Sao Paulo, Brazil
22 September - Premier League
26 September - 2 October - Shanghai Masters - Shanghai, China

October 2011
4-9 October - World Open
13 October - Premier League
14-16 October - PTC8
20 October - Premier League
24-30 October - Ranking Event

November 2011
3 November - Premier League
4-6 November - Seniors
10 November - Premier League
11-13 November - PTC9
17 November - Premier League
18-20 November - PTC10
22-30 November - UK Championship Qualifiers
26-27 November - Premier League Finals

December 2011
3-11 December - UK Championship
14-16 December - PTC11

January 2012
3-6 January - German Masters Qualifiers - Academy Sheffield
8-15 January - The Masters
16-19 January - Spare qualifiers slot for March
16-19 January - Championship League
20-22 January - PTC12
23-26 January - Championship League
27-29 January - Sky shoot Out

February 2012
1-5 February - German Masters
7-10 February - Welsh Open qualifiers - Academy Sheffield
13-19 February - Welsh Open
21-24 February - China Open qualifiers - Academy, Sheffield
27 February - 1 March - Championship League

March 2012
2-13 March - World Championship Qualifiers - Academy Sheffield
5-8 March - Championship League
15-18 March - PTC Finals
19-22 March - Championship League
26 March - 1 April - Ranking Event

April 2012
2-8 April - China Open, Beijing China
9-12 April - Championship League
21 April - 7 May - World Championship - Crucible, Sheffield


It’s not just what you see at the Crucible that’s important, not just the endless frames, the drama, the close finishes, the key balls potted. It’s also what you don’t see: the long hours in the hotel or dressing room, staring into the mirror, racked with self doubt, telling yourself not to blow it, not to squander this chance that comes by but once a year. The chance to be the best in the world.

Snooker’s biggest event lasts 17 days so there’s plenty of time for a mental implosion or two. The matches are split into sessions and can span several days. Sleep is in short supply. Worry hangs heavy in the air.

But Neil Robertson is made of stern stuff, Aussie steel, an inbuilt belief in his own abilities. Competitive he may be in the arena, possessed of that trademark Australian grit, but off table he is as laidback as they come, so much so that to chat to him is like chewing the fat with a mate, not talking to a world champion, a world no.1.

He isn’t starry and he isn’t conceited. He’s just Neil, the guy from Melbourne who came to try his luck at snooker and ended up the best in the world.

He doesn't do anxiety and this relaxed persona means that nerves do not affect him as badly as some. It showed last season at the venue that really counts.

He trailed Martin Gould 11-5 heading into the final session of their second round match. It looked as if his World Championship title bid was over, a defeat as heavy as it was unexpected.

But Robertson’s glass is half full. Scrap that: he refuses to believe it isn’t overflowing. He felt he still had a chance and did it, won 13-12 and nine days later beat Graeme Dott 18-13 to become world champion.

It’s an attitude you can’t teach. You’re either made that way or you’re not.

“My dad’s very laidback and I guess I take after him,” Robertson told me.

“In fact my girlfriend thinks I’m too laidback and hates it sometimes. She can’t understand how I can stay relaxed all the time and it almost annoys her that I don’t get annoyed by certain things.

“Someone could be really rude to me, where other people would want to say something back, but I’m, like, ‘who cares?’ I’ve always been like that. I’m not one for fights and even admit I’m wrong when I’m not just to avoid confrontation. I think all that’s a waste of time.

“I think it helps with dealing with pressure in the game. Some players mutter things under their breath, particularly in the PTCs where there’s no TV. They’ll go into the pack off the blue and not land on a red and you’ll hear them say, ‘that’s typical of my luck.’ I’ll just get on with it. Just play the balls where they are. You can’t complain about being unlucky or getting a kick. It’s part of the game, just as in football you’ll get decisions going your way sometimes and at other times they won’t. You just have to accept it.”

Easier said than done to most, but Robertson’s career has been underscored by his innate positivity.

To come to the UK with £500 in his back pocket, convinced he could make a go of professional snooker. To live in Cambridge thousands of miles from his family. To mix it with the best in the world and not feel overawed. To win his first six ranking tournament finals. To become world champion and world no.1.

All these require talent, of course, but also the right attitude. The 28 year-old is the model of mental clarity.

And he recognises his achievement. He knows more than me, more than you and more than anyone other than those who have done it or come heartbreakingly close to doing it just how hard it is to win the World Championship.

For all the talk of new formats and quickfire snooker, the Crucible’s unique testing ground is what really matters. To win in Sheffield marks you out as something special.

“It’s good to have different formats and refresh your mind and your game but the tournaments the players really want to win are the BBC ones and the World Championship is the one we all target. That’s such a great test,” Robertson said.

“There are so many things that run through your head at the Crucible. I was in my first final and wanted to win it so badly that there was a big battle going on in my own mind as well as with my opponent.

“It’s such a long match. You know you’ll be there for two days. It’s not like it’s all over in a couple of hours. You have to be so strong mentally. It’s not just a different format to what we’re used to, it’s almost like a different game.

“You can’t compare it to playing best of nines. You’re there for the long haul.

“It’s the true test of snooker on the table and psychology as well, which is what sport is all about. It has to be a test of mental strength and the ability to play under pressure. You have to do that consistently well. There’ll be times when you’re behind and have to make big clearances under pressure. You can either do it or you can’t.

“There’s no other tournament like it. Between sessions is what the public don’t see, where you’re sat thinking you should be further ahead or that you’re lucky you’re not further behind.

“It’s all about convincing yourself that you’ve got a good result at the end of the session. Even when I was 11-5 down to Martin Gould I thought, well, I could be out of the match. I was doing everything possible to convince myself that I still had a chance to win.

“When Steve Davis beat John Higgins the morning before we played our final session I knew Martin would be thinking – no disrespect to Steve – that he had a great chance to get to the semi-finals of the World Championship. Yeah, I knew he’d be thinking that so I came out full of confidence that if I could nick the first two or three frames I’d put him right under pressure.

“These are the things that go on between sessions. You have to try and relax, calm yourself down, get some sleep. It’s all about your mind. TV viewers don’t see all that but it’s what makes the tournament what it is.”

The world title was Robertson’s fifth ranking success. The World Open swiftly followed as his sixth this season.

He knows there are always those on the fringes ready to carp and criticise. For some, a tournament victory is not enough, it’s how you do it that matters – as if players can handpick their opponents. Surely winning should suffice.

“In my first couple of finals I beat players outside the top 16 and people pointed the finger as if I’d had it easy,” Robertson said.

“I beat Ronnie in the quarter-finals in the first two tournaments I won, but people don’t remember that.

“If you beat the world no.1 you take over that seeding. You can’t beat the top eight in the world to win a tournament. It’s not possible.

“And just because you get a good draw, that doesn’t mean anything. You still have to win and people who have got so-called good draws have let it slip.

“In the Welsh Open I beat Andrew Higginson, who had knocked out a number of top players, including John Higgins, Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire. He was playing brilliantly. There wouldn’t have been too many top players who could have come back from 6-2 down to lead 8-6 playing like that.

“In my last three finals I’ve beaten Ding Junhui, Graeme Dott and Ronnie O’Sullivan. Nobody can say I didn’t deserve those.”

And no one will surely argue with the notion that more silverware beckons for this talented left-hander. His game is better than ever, his mind is clear, he relishes his moment.

“I guess a lot of questions were asked of me since I became world champion as to how I would react," Robertson said.

"If you win a tournament you feel that you have to back it up and I couldn’t have responded any quicker. Winning the World Open showed any doubters that were out there that I could handle the pressures of being world champion."

In part two tomorrow: an insight into how Neil Robertson approached the world final, juggling life as a father and family man and why he thinks England may win the Ashes down under.



I don't care to add up the time I've wasted over the years trying to get newspapers interested in features on snooker.

Sadly our sport is not one that grabs most sports editors - unless there's a scandal, of course, then they can't get enough of it.

I've tried to get stories about various players into papers only to be met with a familiar refrain: 'I've never heard of him. Can't you give us something on Ronnie? Actually, there's a lot of football this week so we probably won't have any space.'

For me and my colleagues in the pressroom it's a common problem. The regular core of snooker writers are committed to the sport but are not miracle workers.

But I have this blog and may as well use it. I hope it plays a small part in promoting snooker.

To this end I will shortly be embarking on a series of exclusive interviews with well known - and not so well known - faces in the sport.

I figured if the papers don't care then I may as well post them on here. Different versions will appear in the magazine itself.

First up is Neil Robertson whose interview proved to be so wide raging that it will be split into two parts, the first of which will appear tomorrow.

Any media outlets looking on and wanting to steal the quotes can do so as long as they properly attribute them. My lawyer is watching, or at least he will be when he returns from his holiday in Tahiti. He's only been away for six months.

Forthcoming interviews will be with top players, lower rankers and those behind the scenes.

If you have any suggestions on who to interview, pass them on.

Similarly, if you are a player reading this who feels you don't get the media coverage you deserve, feel free to contact me on snookersceneblog@aol.com.



It seems to me that the Welsh Open has, through no real fault of its own, become the poor relation of the ranking event circuit.

It’s a long established tournament, first staged in 1992, and has seen some terrific snooker and very tense finals down the years.

But the Welsh Open does not stand out from the pack and now carries a lower ranking points tariff than the two Chinese ranking events.

Why is this? Well, it doesn't receive BBC network coverage so is a little below the radar. Newport, fine place though it may be, does not excite players like some venues.

But the main reason is that the tournament basically feels like all the others, just not as big. It is played under the tried and tested best of nine format so there is nothing ‘special’ about it.

The answer, then, is to change it in some way. A new look, a new format, a new approach is needed.

One idea is a shot clock, as a novelty. The Premier League uses one but it is yet to be introduced in a ranking tournament.

I’m wary of the shot clock because I’m not sure it would improve the standard of snooker. Two players who can’t pot a ball between them will still be involved in a rubbish match regardless of how long they are given to play each shot.

My other worry is that it would be used to artificially speed up the pace of play. Some of the most compelling snooker matches have been when the pace has slowed and the tension increases.

Steve Davis took an age over the final few balls of his victory over John Higgins at the Crucible last season and it made for fascinating, nerve-shredding viewing. Running round the table would have detracted from this.

A shot clock should be used to police play rather than forcing players to play at tempos outside their natural speed.

If one is introduced for the Welsh Open it should be 35, maybe 40 seconds, not 25 or, God forbid, 20.

Another change could be to the dress code. Some see the waistcoats and bowties as an anachronism. Others like the smart dress, although you can look smart without wearing a waistcoat.

The danger here, though, is that it would make the event look even less important because players wouldn’t be wearing the clobber associated with the top tournaments.

The format could change. How about best of sevens with no intervals? Just play the matches straight through so that they don’t outstay their welcome. Play the final over 13 frames in one session.

Again, though, would this make the event any more appealing?

We’re constantly told that ‘people today want everything shorter and faster’ but where is the actual evidence for this?

The Welsh Open’s best days were when it was staged at the Cardiff International Arena from 1999 to 2003. It is a top class venue but too expensive in these belt-tightening times.

It’s a tricky one for World Snooker: there’s the feeling that something has to change but any alteration to the format or look of the Welsh Open would be a risk and they do not want to alienate the traditional fans.

Wales is a snooker hotbed. It has produced many top players and has a loyal fanbase.

The Welsh Open has a proud history but it will surely need to embrace innovation to survive.

But what to do?



So we can finally say it: Jimmy White is a world champion.

OK, so winning the Wyldecrest Park Homes World Seniors Championship will not soften the blow of losing in six Crucible finals.

But Jimmy was rightly proud of his victory in Bradford and at the manner in which it was achieved.

He was a ball from losing 3-0 to John Parrott in the semi-finals but after Parrott missed a tricky blue in the third frame, White dished up and ran through the last two frames.

He looked sharp and composed from the off against Steve Davis in the final and, with just the colours left in the fourth frame, looked a certainty to win 4-0.

But needing the extended rest, White feathered the cue ball, immediately owned up to the foul, and Davis dished to make it 3-1. Long time fans of the Whirlwind were already picturing the scene an hour later when Davis was stood holding the trophy a 4-3 winner.

Not a bit of it. Jimmy comfortably won the fifth frame to secure the £20,000 first prize.

It was my great pleasure to commentate with him on Saturday and it was clear to me just how pure a love he has for snooker.

You need one to have taken as many knocks as he has and still come out smiling. He’s practising hard and enjoying the new set up this season with more tournaments, more snooker.

Davis and White are the two oldest players on the professional circuit so it was fitting that they should reach the final from a strong field.

The first staging of this event was a huge success in terms of crowd numbers. Spectators were able to mingle with the players, all of whom were a credit to the game in the way they patiently signed autographs, posed for pictures and stopped to chat to fans.

These people will have gone away with a positive image of snooker and that can only be good.

The tournament had just the right mix of fun and serious action. This was no exhibition. There was the odd bit of laughing and joking but in the main the play was hard fought.

The Sportsmans’ Dinner on Friday and an evening of entertainment – including John Virgo’s impressions – on Saturday was a fun way for all involved to wind down.

The World Seniors Championship was promoted in partnership between World Snooker and Joe Johnson and his business partner, Dave Shipley.

I’d imagine all parties will be delighted with how it went. Now they have run the first one they can look at any tweaks required for next year.

I would suggest longer matches – certainly in the first round – and possibly an increased field.

But before you try an event out you can’t be sure what works and what doesn’t,

This was a superb first effort, much enjoyed by all the players and those who came to watch.

Much enjoyed by me as well. Snooker is often slated in parts of the media but we have some very classy people involved in our sport and the veteran brigade did themselves proud this weekend.



The World Seniors Championship was launched last night with a Sportsmans’ Dinner at which a good time was had by all.

It ended with a rousing version of the U2 song ‘With Or Without You’ by Peter Ebdon (pictured), who remained in good spirits despite having exited the tournament earlier in the evening.

Ebdon was beaten 2-0 by Nigel Bond, who potted an excellent black using the rest to win the opener before dominating the second.

Willie Thorne conducted a charity auction and interviewed each of the seniors, all of whom are looking forward to a weekend of renewing old friendships and on-table rivalries.

Co-organiser Joe Johnson has drawn Steve Davis in the quarter-finals in a repeat of the 1986 and 1987 World Championship final.

Fans’ favourites Jimmy White tackles legendary Canadian ‘Grinder’ Cliff Thorburn.

Quarter-final draw:
Ken Doherty v Nigel Bond (11am)
Steve Davis v Joe Johnson (12pm)
Dennis Taylor v John Parrott (3pm)
Cliff Thorburn v Jimmy White (4pm)



1) Two - the 1992 Asian Open and 1993 European Open

2) 'The Fall of Paradise'

3) France (1989 European Open)

4) Sean Lanigan in the 2000 qualifiers

5) 'Playing For Keeps'



This week's quiz features players who will compete in this weekend's World Seniors Championship...

1) How many ranking titles has Steve Davis won outside the UK?

2) 'I Am a Clown' was Peter Ebdon's first single. What was the name of the second?

3) John Parrott's first ranking title was won in which country?

4) Who was the last player to beat Dennis Taylor in the World Championship?

5) What is the name of Cliff Thorburn's autobiography?



The World Seniors Championship has been revived after 19 years thanks largely to the efforts of Joe Johnson.

This unassuming Yorkshireman’s life changed forever on May Day bank holiday in 1986 when he completed a fairytale run in the World Championship by beating Steve Davis 18-12 to win the title.

He had turned professional after reaching the 1978 world amateur final and being inspired by Terry Griffiths, who won the 1979 world professional title at his first attempt.

It ushered in a new era, a new feeling that the younger players could sweep aside the old guard.

Davis was at the forefront of this and though Johnson ticked along nicely on the pro circuit, he had done nothing to suggest he could seriously challenge at the Crucible.

Indeed, trailing Griffiths 12-9 in the quarter-finals it looked like his championship was over but Johnson put together one of the best four frame spells seen in Sheffield, including two centuries, to win 13-12.

He swept past Tony Knowles and was through to a two-day final against Davis, the undisputed top dog of the 1980s.

The way Johnson saw it, he could just go out and enjoy himself. He was guaranteed £40,000 – more money than he had ever seen – and was on home turf. All the pressure was on Davis, whose aura of invincibility had cracked the previous year against Dennis Taylor.

Johnson’s relaxed demeanour carried him into a 13-11 lead going into the final session and he never wavered in crossing the winning line.

An audience of around 16m watched him do it. There was no better time to be world champion.

Winning the title transformed his life in many welcome ways: his earnings rocketed, he was invited to all manner of TV shows, parties and personal appearances and, most important to him, he had his name inscribed on the most important trophy in snooker.

But there were downsides too: newspapers rifling through his business, increased expectation and the sudden reality of living life in the spotlight.

Johnson did little of note in his season as champion until the 1987 World Championship, when he came close to completing a remarkable double triumph.

He lost 18-14 to Davis but this is still the closest any first time champion has come to defending the title.

Johnson won the 1987 Scottish Masters but he had won the world title at 33, an advanced age for a professional, and he began to slide down the rankings after suffering from ill health, eventually retiring from the circuit in 2004.

He won Seniors Pot Black in 1997 and enjoyed the experience so much that he was determined to stage a World Seniors Championship, the first since 1991.

The dream becomes a reality in Bradford this weekend when he is joined by his fellow former world champions Davis, Taylor, Cliff Thorburn, John Parrott, Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon, as well as Jimmy White and qualifier Nigel Bond.

The tournament, sponsored by Wyldecrest Park Homes, runs from Friday evening to Sunday at Cedar Court Hotel.

I know Joe well and I know how much he loves snooker. He coaches regularly in Bradford and loves watching the game, loves still being part of it.

He knew a life before snooker, when he worked for the gas board – long hours for little pay.

It meant he had a sense of perspective about the sport and his gratitude for the life it has given him remains to this day.

Snooker’s elder statesmen deserve respect for the parts they’ve played in shaping the game’s fortunes.

I’m sure the weekend will be a lot of fun but these guys haven’t lost all of their competitive steel and, with £20,000 to the winner, may well provide a few glimpses of former glories.



A busy few days has seen Stephen Lee win the fourth European Tour Players Championship of the season with a 4-2 defeat of Stephen Maguire at the South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester.

Lee was among the class of 1992: talented teenagers who had taken up snooker in the boom years and turned professional when the game was thrown open to anyone.

His career has not been as successful as the most famous of the ’92 alumni, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, but he has won four major ranking titles and now has a chance to get back into the top 16.

Lee was awarded a hamper full of pies by one of the sponsors, Peter’s Pies, for his victory (pictured).

In Leeds yesterday, Mike Russell defeated Dhruv Sitwala 1,738-1,204 to win a remarkable tenth world professional billiards title.

Billiards has fallen off the radar in recent years. The World Championship is the only remaining event of a calendar that used to feature five or six tournaments.

It means the leading players are less competitive but Russell, as he has been for the last two decades, is still the man to beat.

The woman to beat in the snooker world is undoubtedly Reanne Evans who has now surpassed Kelly Fisher’s record of winning 69 successive matches.

Evans extended her unbeaten run to 72 in winning the East Anglian Championship at Cambridge Snooker Centre.

Some good news today. 12bet.com, who sponsored the World Open, were so pleased with the exposure they got from that deal that they are also sponsoring the UK Championship.

“It is a testament to what snooker can deliver in terms of exceptional reach of the television and media coverage,” said World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn.

Finally, a last word on Power Snooker from Matthew Syed, the award winning sports columnist for The Times.

Syed went along on Saturday and it’s fair to say he wasn’t impressed.

“To enter the IndigoO2 Arena on Saturday was to enter a kind of sporting purgatory, a glimpse of what sport would look like if handed over to the producers of The Jerry Springer Show,” he wrote, before concluding: “This was shameless, tasteless and undigested drivel of a kind that makes Loose Women look classy. Expect it to catch on.”


For anyone over the age of 30 who grew up watching snooker on British TV, Ted Lowe was an ever present part of the soap opera, his voice associated with so many great moments from the sport’s rich history.

Ted turns 90 today, a grand age for one of snooker’s great figures.

He commentated for the BBC for 50 years, starting in the days of black and white TV, then inaugurating Pot Black and eventually voicing the memorable highs of the boom years during the 1980s.

As is so often the case, Ted got his commentary break through sheer luck. He was part of the scene as manager of Leicester Square Hall, at the time the home of billiards and snooker, and knew all the greats of the pre and post war years, including Joe Davis.

One day, he stepped into the breach when the BBC’s regular commentator, Raymond Glendenning, was unavailable and found himself remaining there for half a century.

In the early years of championship snooker, Ted would commentate from the audience and so had to keep the level of his voice as low as possible, hence his ‘whispering’ style and subsequent nickname.

Snooker was used as a regular filler on Grandstand to ensure something was on screen between horse races. Often Joe and Fred Davis would play a frame, timing it to last long enough before the 3.40 at Ascot was ready to go, something that would doubtless see them up before Sports Resolutions these days.

Lowe tried for many years to get snooker a proper showcase on the BBC but it was not until the introduction of colour television at the end of the 1960s that he got his chance.

The controller of BBC2, David Attenborough, wanted something to show off this new service and snooker, with its coloured balls and cheap production costs, was ideal.

And so Pot Black was born and TV’s love affair with snooker began.

Ted devised the event and commentated. He was the BBC’s no.1 when they started broadcasting the World Championship ball-by-ball in 1978 and was in the box for a host of famous finishes including...yes I’m going to mention it...the conclusion of the 1985 world final.

I don’t know if he ever actually did say ‘for those of you watching in black and white the yellow is behind the pink’ but it hardly matters. He was much loved by audiences for his friendly, understated style.

Ted retired in 1996. His style would not be suited to today’s broadcasting environment where commentators are expected to talk much more than they did 25 years ago.

There’s a well worn anecdote about Ted collapsing on air at Wembley, his co-commentator putting down his microphone to get help and not a word being uttered for 15 minutes. Nobody contacted the BBC to ask why.

Ted was not one for shot analysis, leaving that to the players. He was instead a warm, unobtrusive presence with a voice that nicely complimented the constant click of snooker ball on snooker ball.

Ironically, the commentators at Power Snooker were placed in the audience in an unlikely hat-tip to the old days. I’d say Ted would not be a fan of this new form of the game.

He always demanded the highest standards of etiquette having come from an age where they were expected.

He believes snooker is a gentlemen’s game and the players should be professional at all times.

And he is unflinching in believing Joe Davis is head and shoulders above both Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis in terms of all time greatness.

Ted is a thorough gentleman himself. I once wrote a piece on him for Snooker Scene and received a charming hand written letter from the great man saying it was nice to be remembered.

Well, he is remembered. He played his part in snooker’s rise to dizzying heights of popularity and I’m sure everyone in the sport wishes him a happy birthday.