There were many reasons why snooker found itself as one of the most popular attractions on British television in the 1980s.

There were only three channels until 1982 when Channel 4 launched and despite what people would have you believe it wasn’t all wall-to-wall Fawlty Towers and Boys from the Black Stuff: there was as much rubbish then as there is now.

There was no internet or DVDs. Videos were becoming popular but television had a power that it has perhaps lost in the digital age.

Snooker was cheap to produce and offered up late night drama in the days when you could easily avoid the scores before the highlights came on.

But it was the varied cast of characters that really made snooker such a success. Like a soap opera there were heroes and villains, people you could root for and those who you wished would fall under a bus.

Snooker is still like this but the game is now a profession, largely due to the way the circuit was built in the 1980s.

Prior to this, players made their money on the exhibition circuit, where they slogged around the country trying to earn a living.

For this, they had to develop their personalities. They had to tell jokes and do trick-shots and everything they could to get asked back.

Many of them never lost that knack for entertaining off the table: Dennis Taylor and Willie Thorne for instance are both great value doing after dinner speeches and on corporate occasions.

When they started playing, there was no issue of there being “too many” tournaments. There was the World Championship and the odd event here or there, mostly for paltry prize money.

Alex Higgins earned less than £500 for winning the 1972 world title but he more than anyone had the sort of charisma that helped lead to snooker’s rise and rise.

With Higgins, you not only got exciting snooker but also an atmosphere of threat, the feeling that anything could kick-off at any moment.

I heard a story that Alex did an exhibition at which a famous racehorse was brought in so they could pose for pictures, the Hurricane being a very keen follower of racing.

Except, he decided to leap on the horse’s back, which startled it to the extent that it defecated all over the floor. Higgins wasn’t asked back.

Exhibitions were often fraught affairs. Fred Davis turned up at one once and asked where the table was. The promoter replied: “we thought you’d bring it with you.”

The laconic John Pulman had a bad experience at an exhibition which resulted in some name calling.

“Who called the organiser a c***?” someone angrily demanded.

Pulman responded: “Who called the c*** an organiser?”

Many exhibitions were held in holiday camps where there was a captive audience of holidaymakers looking to be entertained.

From this, Ted Lowe helped to found the Pontin’s festival of snooker in Prestatyn, which at its height attracted all of snooker’s biggest names as well as many plucky amateurs and juniors.

When Steve Davis started to become successful he ventured out on the exhibition circuit and it proved to be very lucrative for him. He’s still great value now, playing up his deadpan ‘interesting’ image.

Today’s top players don’t need to do exhibitions to top up their tournament earnings but they still happen.

Jimmy White does plenty and always seems to play great in them, and last weekend Judd Trump did some in Ireland.

Jason Francis has made a success of the Snooker Legends tour, featuring some of those names who began on the exhibition road in the 1970s and are still entertaining audiences 40 years on.

Exhibitions are fun and show audiences a different side to a player’s personality but they should only ever serve as an sideshow to professional snooker.

When Joe Davis retired in 1946 he still played regularly and this diminished the World Championship because everyone knew the best player in the game wasn’t playing in it.

Trump and Ding Junhui have elected not to play in the new Brazilian Masters but instead take part in a televised exhibition in China.

I find it hard to believe World Snooker will sanction this because it is a very dangerous precedent at a time where the governing body is trying to build a global calendar.

Snooker is a less innocent sport since money came into it and began to influence virtually every decision.

But that’s life and there’s no point complaining about it. Snooker has attracted millions over the years because, as a product, it has proven itself to be popular.

It has grown to a level the guys of the 1970s, driving up another motorway to undertake an exhibition engagement, could scarcely have believed was possible.

They deserve credit and thanks for helping to make that happen.

EDIT: Since posting this yesterday, Trump's management have got in touch and asked to make the following two points:

1. The Chinese event is a promotional event to promote the game in one of the poorer underserved regions of China. Judd is keen to help promote the game's profile and was delighted to have been asked.

2. When Judd agreed to do this, we were aware of the Brazilian event but Judd was outside the top 16 and did not expect to have such a big leap so quickly. Crucially if Judd had not reached the final of the WSC he may not have received an invite to Brazil at all.


Anonymous said...

Off the top off your head Dave, how many players from the 70s do you recall turning down work because they were too "tired" to go on to the next engagement?

Ray said...

Excellent piece Dave.
It seems to me that a lot of today's players are too lazy to get out of their own way and don't know their arse from a hole in the ground.They presumably want big money tournaments but won't go out of their way to help achieve this.
These people need a big wake up call - say a couple of months scaffolding on the building sites in the winter.
What is the matter with them all? I'm very disappointed in Trump and Ding and quite a few of the other top ranking players seem to have a ME, ME, ME mentality.
There's none so blind ........ and they will never learn.
Very grateful to you at least Dave for trying your best to protect and further the interests of snooker.

RichP said...

Good piece, like the John Pulman line!

Anonymous said...

I guess China is the place for lucrative exhibitions these days. So money is competing with ranking points and silverware. Regarding the Brazilian Masters I would be apprehensive about walking around in Brazil due to the unbelievable crime statistics but I suppose it is safer than the fire pit formerly known as London.

Players only get fined if they have entered the event, right? I mean Trump and Ding can skip Brazil if they want. I just don't see why Ronnie keeps entering and then get in trouble for changing his mind. He should plan his season ahead of time and be realistic about the travelling he is willing to put in.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic 'breaking news': I read that World Snooker put a stop to tweeting during matches (see www.prosnookerblog.com).

Can you comment on this Dave? This unique fringe coverage is doing snooker a world of good so why would they decide to do this?

kildare cueman said...

WS needs to stop incentivising players to miss overseas events by awarding less ranking points than UK events.

Next season's Brazil tourn is hoped to obtain ranking status. It should, along with the German and Australian Opens, award 7000 points for the winner, as is the case with the Chinese events and the world open.

Trump's excuse doesn't wash either. His management should immediately have rearranged the exhibition when he was offered the place in Brazil. He needs to play in as many tournaments as possible at his stage of his career. Perhaps his management are prioritising their percentage of Trumps earnings over an opportunity for him to get some badly needed match practise.

Anonymous said...

If Trump has made a commitment to play another organiser's event he should honour it. It's up to World Snooker to give players enough notice of the calender so they can plan around it. Barry Hearn had plenty to say when a WSA event clashed with the Premer League one year, so he can't really criticise if players choose to honour their contractual obligations.

Dave H said...

They'll actually be in breach of their World Snooker contract if they play in an exhibition during a tournament

With regards to the tweeting, World Snooker need a more sensible policy rather than just banning it

Anonymous said...

It's one thing banning players from committing to exhibitions where the date for WSA event is pre-set, but banning players from participating in exhibitions which they have committed to in good faith would open the players up to legal action from the event organisers. Since the calender is played all year round now then you're effectively banning players from doing exhibitions without WSA permission; I'm pretty sure the Monopolies Commission would come in on World Snooker if they tried to enforce those kinds of contracts. In fact didn't Hendry and Williams sue World Snooker over this type of contract a few years ago? I thought they won and exclusive contracts were outlawed?

TazMania said...

Didn't Barry Hearn say when he revealed the Premier League, players are only allowed to play in WS Sanctioned Televised events, if they play any non sanctioned they will be punished in some sort, so does this mean the Chinese Event is a WS Sanctioned?

Anonymous said...

re 2.05

To be fair, Hearn has no choice but to stop Ding and Trump from doing this exhibition. Firstly, there is plenty of time after PTC 8 in Oct and before the UK in Dec to organize this exhibition.
Secondly, if Hearn allows it to go ahead it sets a dangerous precedent-who's to stop another player doing it in say, the new Indian event?

urindragon said...

if reaching the world final was crucial for Trump's invite, then how the hell did Mark Davis get his?

Anonymous said...

Presumably they worked down the ranking list.

I doubt Hearn will stop the exhibition from going ahead. It would put him on collision course with the Chinese Snooker Association who organise and finance three events, and possibly four now if the World Open goes ahead. No way they will tolerate their top player being sanctioned for playing Chinese events.

Anonymous said...

Crucially if Judd had not reached the final of the WSC he may not have received an invite to Brazil at all.


True but its also highly likely that had Judd not reached the final of the WSC he wouldnt have been Dings opponents for this invitational in China either......

Anonymous said...

It's probably more due to the fact that the Ding/Trump match received snooker's highest ever rated television audience. In China alone it drew over 50 million viewers, the only snooker match ever to do so. Ding is an obvious box office draw in his home country, but Trump's profile in China probably exceeds even Ronnie O'Sullivan now than thanks to his semi-final tie against Ding and his China Open win. Trump is probably guaranteed 20k per exhibition in China, and his exhibition earnings could easily dwarf his competition earnings, so obviously he has to prioritise his earning potential.

Anonymous said...

If Trump didn't think he would be ranked high enough to get an invite, what was Ding's excuse? I can understand Trump's reasoning, but it looks like Ding (who is a solid top 8 player now) knew of the Brazilian Masters, presumably knew of the rules forbidding him from playing exhibitions during tournaments, and went ahead and agreed to do it anyway. The alternative is that Ding wasn't given a choice, this being China and all. As we saw with Bahrain, sometimes last minute scheduling by the WSA can cause clashes with other events and that can't be helped, and I don't think Barry would come in on a player if that were the case, but it looks like Ding has knowingly violated his WSA contract in this instance. I don't expect to see him sanctioned since if the Chinese Snooker Association back Ding there isn't much Barry can do, but what sort of precedent does that set? If you don't fine Ding, then you can't fine any other player who sets up an exhibition during an event.

wild said...

in respective of judd being in the top 16 when he accepted this invitation (which personally is a load of bull)the chances of Ding not being a top 16 player would have been minimal.

also trying to promote snooker in the poorest underserved regions of China will not bring in the punters because they are poor.

and playing TV Exhibition in china to promote snooker is a bit stupid because theres plenty of snooker in china.

go to countries that don't see much professional snooker is the way to promote snooker ie Brazil.