Over the next five days I will be building up to the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters by looking back at some of the tournament’s greatest moments. This is not necessarily a top five, just a personal recollection of some Wembley highlights. First up, the greatest ever comeback from 20 years ago...

The year was 1991 and the player was Stephen Hendry. 20 years on he is struggling badly for form and seriously contemplating his future. Back then, he was simply sensational: the best player the game had ever seen.

It wasn’t just Hendry’s obvious talent but also his attitude and will to win. He had an inner belief in himself, something you are born with or not. Most aren’t but Hendry, an introvert, was capable of producing his best snooker when the pressure was well and truly on.

A week or so before the 1991 Masters he partnered Mike Hallett to the doubles title at Barry Hearn’s World Masters in Birmingham.

Hallett was one of the world’s best at the time. He had reached the 1988 Masters final after getting four snookers in the deciding frame of his semi-final against John Parrott and won the 1989 Hong Kong Open, a ranking title.

In 1991 Hallett was playing the best snooker of his career. Even so, that he should win all seven frames of the opening session of his Wembley final against Hendry was a bolt from the blue.

Hendry, after all, had never lost in the Masters since his debut in 1989. He was world champion, UK champion and world no. l. Defeat was possible but surely not humiliation.

Yet that was the stark reality the Scot faced as he traipsed out of the arena following a debilitating first session.

Hallett arrived back at his hotel obviously fully confident that he was on the verge of his greatest moment as a professional. What could possibly go wrong?

His mistake turned out to be switching on the TV. The BBC coverage was still on and presenter Tony Gubba asked studio guest John Spencer, the first Masters champion in 1974, for his thoughts.

Spencer said that, of course, Hallett was a big favourite but that if Hendry could win the first two frames then the final was not necessarily over.

It might not seem much but that one small observation planted a slight seed of doubt in Hallett’s mind, which grew when Hendry indeed closed to 7-2.

Even so, at 8-2 the final was there for the taking. Hallett was clearing up. He potted the blue but, inexplicably, missed the pink. Hendry made it 8-3.

Then he made it 8-4. Then 8-5. Suddenly the early night everyone expected had vanished.

Hallett’s thinking was by now all over the place. Having been composing his victory speech in his head, he was now contemplating a defeat he could never forgive himself for.

I think he would have beaten anyone else, but he had practised often with Hendry and knew that if anyone could come back it would be him.

And he did. He won 9-8, an incredible reversal and proof not just of Hendry’s poise under pressure but also of his iron will to win. Even at 7-0 down he believed he could do it and he did.

It got worse for Hallett: when he returned home he found his house had been burgled, symbolic of a thoroughly miserable night.

It’s a myth that his career nose-dived immediately. In fact he won two major invitational titles the following season but he dropped out of the top 16 in 1992 and never returned.

Hendry would win the next two Masters titles and six in all, more than any other player.

Yes, he’s having a bad time of it and his career looks to be in serious trouble but, my word, when he was good he was very, very good.


Anonymous said...

he was good, very good?

he was and still is the best player of the modern era!

this was a fantastic comeback and from a relatively young guy at that time still.

and in that, JP was playing great around that time too, which shows how well MH was playing.

i think that defeat was the start of MH using his 'my apologies' catchphrase.

good blogging dave. would have been great, but for the substituted 'good'.

Anonymous said...

Hallett still had a golden simple chance in the 16th frame when all the colours on their spot, but his shot on the final yellow went wrong for a mile.

kildare cueman said...

He was some player all right. I first saw him in Navan, in Ireland, playing an exhibition against locals, in which he went on to make 4 or 5 centuries.

One type of shot sticks in my mind from that night. When a ball was near the cushion between the center and black pocket, instead of playing position into the black, or top pocket, he deliberately left himself a shot all the way up the rail into the baulk pocket. He done this several ties and never missed once.

He played well that night. I had heard he was good but his long pottng was scary. It didn't seem to matter that he occasionally ran out of position,- he just stroked in the next ball.

Afterwards, his manager, father and venue staff were having drinks at the bar, with Stephen hanging around them like a lost sheep clutching a bag of sweets.

I realised then that this great player was still a kid and probably still had bucketfuls of improvement to come.

I'll have to admit, while I saw him as a future champion, I didn't expect him to dominate the game. It was just assumed that all out attacking players nicked the occasional one, but you had to be a Davis or a Reardon with a top safety game and tactical nous to be a consistent winner.

In that respect Hendry's achievements are all the more remarkable. The man who won the hard way.

Greg P said...

Mike Hallett was an incredible talent. It's such a shame he couldn't get over the line here. He also lost the 1988 final mentioned in the article 9-0 to Steve Davis.

Anonymous said...

I remember playing Mike at Pontins many years ago and he was always brilliant to watch. Really easy cue action which I actually copied for a bit and it really seemed to work when playing 'touchy' shots in the balls, not so well on the power shots though. I remember his famous phrase in this match 'has anybody got a rope?'. That was even before he found out about the burglary!


jamie brannon said...

Strangely, my mom brought me a video at Christmas entitled: Stephen Hendry:Maestro - don't know if anyone remembers it?

I doubt many would, it was released in 1997. It contains footage of his pomp, undercut by an interview with Clive Everton.

Amongst the action was this 1991 final, the pink was as you say inexplicable. We didn't see the whole game, but according to the great Scot, the frames were all tight up and to the match's denouement.

Anonymous said...

ive got 3 copies of that video jamie.

great days for snooker.

jamie brannon said...

Up till the 1997/1998 season, when this video was released he had compiled 398 centuries, since he has made another 351 in a year and a half longer time period.

This reflects to a little degree that in the balls he is not far off his pomp, but his long game, self-belief and concentration are shot.

The most surprising stat was he had won 64 career titles by the start of the 1997/98 season. I think, he has won just eleven or twelve since.

For me, this relects the increase in standard - that he was hugely influential in pioneering - as I would have thought he should have still won more than twelve titles in 13 and half years.

It would be it fascinating to see how the winning machine of the early and mid-nineties would have fared in the noughties, the strongest snooker decade for quality.

A little disappointed with the BBC for dropping 45 minutes of their Masters coverage from Monday to Wednesday to accomodate repeats of Pointless. Can't see why they didn't insist on a 12.30pm start like at the UK Championship and World Open.

Anonymous said...

I know the video you're talking about jamie, it was on youtube a couple of years ago before it got taken down. Bad pink to miss, but Hallett's not the Wembley cauldron's only victim.

jamie brannon said...

It took me back to my embryonic days as a snooker fan. Really surreal seeing him close out the 1996 UK final and against a baby-faced John Higgins and them talking about the Scotland 'dream team' that triumphed in the 1996 World Cup.

Happy birthday to Snooker Scene, I hope the anniversary is marked in some way through the edition, which I guess is out tomorrow.

urindragon said...

Hendry should do what you Dave said on Eurosport - practice with someone to see where he is at the moment and not knock some balls around in his garage for a couple of hours. I still believe he can rise back to the top but if he does not put the work in he won't do it. I don't believe he thinks otherwise. He should do a camp in Glasgow and play mega-money matches with Maguire or Dott or Higgins.

Anonymous said...


Mike Hallett will love you next time you commentate together ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the first Masters tournament staged in 1975?