There was a discussion on Twitter yesterday – which I am now shamelessly hijacking – as to who is the best player never to be world champion.
My responses were split between different snooker eras. In the 1970s it was Eddie Charlton, who reached the final three times. In the 1980s and 90s it was Jimmy White, a six times finalist. In the 2000s it was Matthew Stevens, runner-up twice. Of those playing at the moment it’s slightly different but I would say Mark Selby based on how well he has played there each year and yet not won the title, or at least not yet.
I’m surprised how many people seem to think White shouldn’t be top of this list.
Of course, many people reading this won’t remember or will have had no means to watch Jimmy in his prime.
Well I can assure them that the standard of snooker he produced at his best would be good enough to compete with the top players of today.
It was White who helped change snooker into the all-out attacking game it is today. Stephen Hendry wanted to play like him and, of course, would dish out disappointment upon disappointment at the Crucible.
Much is made of his six finals but perhaps White’s best ever chance to be world champion was in 1982 when a miraculous Alex Higgins clearance denied him a place in the final.
We’ll never know if he’d have beaten Ray Reardon – Higgins only did so 18-15 – but it is one of snooker’s most intriguing what it? moments: the whole course of the game’s history could have been altered had Higgins missed just once during that frame.
But he didn’t, and White didn’t win the title. He wasn’t unlucky but the problem was never his game, rather his preparation – and some of the people he surrounded himself with – and, at times, his temperament.
He freely admits he snatched at the black off its spot just a few balls from winning the decider against Hendry in 1994.
White won all the other big titles but they are overshadowed in the collective consciousness by his failure to become world champion. That is a shame but also the way of the world.
As for the debate which began this post, whoever your choice, “the best player never to win the world title” is almost the definition of a Pyrrhic victory.
Nobody wants to be remembered as a nearly man.