LEN GANLEY: 1943-2011
Len (pictured with Alex Higgins and Terry Griffiths) was a familiar face on television for two decades, taking charge of many of snooker’s best known occasions in the 1980s and 90s.
He refereed four World Championship finals. The first was in 1983 when Steve Davis beat Cliff Thorburn. He also officiated the Crucible final in 1987, when Davis beat Joe Johnson, Stephen Hendry’s historic first capture of the title in 1990 and Hendry’s session-to-spare defeat of Jimmy White in 1993.
Len also refereed the famous 1983 UK Championship final between Alex Higgins and Steve Davis, in which Higgins recovered from 7-0 down to win 16-15.
If ever anyone fitted the description ‘larger than life’ it was Len. He was someone who enjoyed his time on the circuit to the full and was a distinctive, popular figure with TV audiences.
Born in Northern Ireland, where he was a chimney sweep in his youth, he settled in Burton-on-Trent in the early 1970s and, a keen snooker player, got into refereeing while working variously as a bus conductor and milkman.
He first donned the white gloves after he played Ray Reardon in a league match. When the multi-world champion got to a century, with the colours still on, the 600-strong crowd got over-excited but Ganley, with his imposing frame, hushed them and Reardon suggested that officialdom would come easily to him.
When snooker took off on TV in the late 1970s, refereeing became a full time job.
I know that when people who knew him remember Len they will do so with a smile.
Warm, ebullient and eccentric, his cult status was confirmed when the band Half Man Half Biscuit wrote a song about him: ‘The Len Ganley Stance.’
Len also appeared in an advert for Carling Black Label in which he was shown crushing a cue ball.
He was invariably involved in many of the laughs the circuit regulars enjoyed during long weeks on the road.
There was one hilarious misunderstanding in Aberdeen. A young lad clutching a programme approached him for an autograph and Len, ever obliging, asked him where he wanted it.
‘On the back’ came the reply meaning, of course, the back of the programme but a confused Len took the black marker pen and signed the back of his white sports coat instead.
Never one to take himself too seriously, he once had a personalised number plate which began ‘FLG.’
With great pride he explained it stood for ‘Fat Len Ganley.’
Less well known is the enormous amount of work Len did for charity.
Every year at the Crucible he collected money to provide motorised wheelchairs for handicapped children and raised many thousands of pounds over the years, which became millions through the golf days he also ran.
His fundraising method at the Crucible was direct: anyone he saw backstage, of whatever status or stature, would be obliged to hand over a ten pound note.
And this gentle giant certainly wasn’t shy of asking the great and the good to contribute to the cause.
Len was awarded the MBE in recognition of these efforts
He retired from the circuit in 1999 and returned to Northern Ireland to coach youngsters but still popped up from time to time to see his many friends.
In later life he suffered from diabetes and his health has been in decline since he suffered a heart attack in 2002.
His son, Mike, is the WPBSA’s tournament director. I send my sympathies to him and the whole Ganley family.
Another of the gang from the era that lifted snooker to the heights has departed the stage.