Give or take a couple of weeks it is 25 years since Rex Williams became the oldest player to appear in a ranking final.
Williams was 53 when he faced Jimmy White for the Grand Prix title at the Hexagon in Reading. White beat him 10-6 but it was a fine achievement by one of the sport’s elder statesmen.
The old guard who helped make snooker such a successful TV sport in the 1980s were gradually forced off the stage by younger players who in turn raised standards.
One such player was Ronnie O’Sullivan, the youngest player, at 17, to win a ranking title.
Ronnie told today’s Independent that he wants to become the first 40-something since Ray Reardon to win the World Championship. This would mean him winning the title in 2016, only five years away.
Is this possible? Could a player win the world title in their 40s?
It depends on the player. John Higgins is 36, as is Mark Williams. O’Sullivan will be in two months.
These three have proved to be every bit as good in their 30s as they were in their 20s.
Reardon was 45 when he won his sixth world title in 1978 and people forget how close he ran Alex Higgins in the final four years later when he was 49.
The Welshman is the oldest winner of a ranking title. He was 50 when he captured the 1982 Professional Players Championship.
It’s also worth mentioning that he beat Steve Davis – at the time the undisputed king of snooker – 5-0 in the first round of the 1988 British Open at the age of 55.
The game has changed since Fred Davis reached the World Championship semi-finals at 64 in 1978 but this is still a remarkable feat given the stamina required, particularly in the days of hard as nails snooker.
Fred last qualified for the Crucible in 1984 when he was 70. At 77 he won two qualifying matches for the Mercantile Classic.
He played his last match as a professional at the age of 79 to bring a pro career of some 57 years to a conclusion.
That is a series of accomplishments that it is very hard to see being emulated.
Steve Davis has, of course, continued to defy conventional wisdom by producing highly creditable performances into his 50s.
Davis, 54, is not just hanging on. He is still playing well, as he proved when he reached the semi-finals of PTC6 in Poland a few weeks ago.
He said before that event that he was taking things seriously again, which suggests he has been practising.
I remember interviewing him at the 2005 Malta Cup, where he said he would be practising hard for the upcoming World Championship as it was the last to be sponsored by Embassy and he wanted to produce a good performance.
I have no doubt my reaction would have been along the lines of, ‘yeah, whatever’ but not so long afterwards there was Steve in the quarter-finals.
He reached the same stage of the World Championship last year. Such is his great knowledge of matchplay snooker that I wouldn’t rule out another appearance at the Crucible for the circuit’s oldest player.
Age is not the key factor here. Davis has looked after himself. He is fitter than a number of players younger than him.
And he has the pure love of the game, the endless fascination with it, to carry on. His latest challenge appears to be proving all those wrong – myself included – who thought he would be on a slippery slope after he dropped out of the top 32
Snooker is not a physical sport but does require high degrees of concentration. There are other factors, most notably changing eyesight, which are age related and older players sometimes find that their nerve is not as strong as when they were young and fearless.
Outside life intrudes, too. Players have families and other interests and pressures whereas when they’re young it tends to be snooker, snooker, snooker.
Sometimes they burn out. I remember interviewing Stephen Hendry after he had won his seventh world title at the age of 30 and part of his intensity, which he had put into breaking the modern day record, seemed to have gone. He still won tournaments of course but was never quite the same again.
But age should not be regarded as an impediment to success in snooker. If players still have the desire then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t extend their careers into middle age.
Look at Phil Taylor in darts – 51 and still brilliant, still the man to beat.
So can O’Sullivan be world champion at 40? It’s impossible to say but there’s no immediate reason why not, although he will have to keep playing in all the other tournaments to ensure a Crucible seeding. He will have to retain a desire for week in, week out snooker, otherwise his world ranking will go down.
The slog of the circuit, particularly with so many new events, generally becomes less appetising for older players.
Higgins and Williams, both of whom are proficient at mixing it in the safety/scrappy stakes, will surely still be going strong in five years time.
In some ways it’s easier for them now than it was for the players of their age 20 years ago.
Back then the top stars had the likes of Ronnie, Mark and John coming through, kicking over the old order and taking their places among the elite.
There are many talented young players out there now but few seem to be making the sort of strides these three did.
So these ‘veterans’ are not looking over their shoulders at what’s coming in behind them in the same way players 20 years ago were when the game went open.
For O’Sullivan to be world champion at 40 would be a fine achievement, not least because it would come more than two decades after his first ranking title.
But snooker is one of those games where players can enjoy the sort of longevity physical sports simply do not allow.
It comes down to how much they want it, how hard they are prepared to work and what they make of their opportunities.
All of which applies however old you are.