With a trademark minimum of fuss, Andy Hicks today compiled snooker’s 93rd officially ratified maximum break at the UK Championship qualifiers.

147s are coming thick and fast these days. We’ll probably have the 100th this season.

But it remains a holy grail, a fine achievement. And when you consider the many, many thousands of frames that have been played in the history of the professional game it is still a rare feat.

If you disagree then ask yourself this: how many have you made?

Andy, 39, is a stalwart of the circuit, a professional for 21 years. Like many players of the same age he has had his ups and his downs. In the public mind, the ups tend to be remembered. Players, though, don’t so easily forget the downs.

Andy was certainly good enough to have been a top 16 player at his peak in the mid 1990s but in fact stalled at 17th.

This was indicative of a ‘nearly man’ tag he perhaps unfairly earned, chiefly as a result of losing in the semi-finals of all three of snooker’s big events: the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters.

There are of course many players who have never got this far in any of these tournaments.

The left-handed Devonian’s run to the Crucible semi-finals in 1995 included a controversial second round victory over Willie Thorne, in which one of the frames was re-racked with WT the best part of 50 points in front.

Thorne had been fighting back from 6-2 down at the time but the incident certainly didn’t help his mindset and Hicks beat him. Thorne complained about the call – by respected referee John Williams – but Hicks suggested “he would have been better off if he hadn’t been huffin’ and puffin’ around the table.”

Hicks’s run to the semis had started with victory over Steve Davis and he beat Peter Ebdon in the quarter-finals before losing to Nigel Bond.

The following season he reached the semi-finals of the UK Championship – beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarters – and the Masters. Hicks has lost in three other ranking tournament semi-finals.

He was managed for years by Bill Oliver who once drove home all the way from Tavistock to Aberdeen, a journey of some ten hours, for a match in the Scottish Open which Hicks lost. The drive home must have felt even longer.

Players are notorious for putting their trust in managers when it comes to snooker politics and Hicks was unwise to accompany Oliver to a WPBSA EGM in 1998 which was supposed to be opened and then closed purely for legal reasons.

It had been called as an attempt to extend voting rights from the top 32 to top 64 as a way of neutralising the power of CueMasters, run by Ian Doyle, who was attempting to remove the board.

Doyle called off his EGM with the agreement that the WPBSA would call off theirs. In fact, it went ahead and the vote passed 4-0.

But all this is a long time ago and much water has run under snooker’s bridge since.

Hicks won the 1997 Masters qualifier and appeared several more times at the Crucible. In 2004 he came close to beating O’Sullivan in the second round, holding him to 8-8 going into the final session but losing 13-11.

This seemed uneventful given the nature of Andy’s first round win over Quinten Hann, the maverick Australian who had a particular knack of riling his fellow players.

The odd word, the odd comment, here and there as the match progressed had rubbed Hicks up the wrong way, to such an extent that when he won 10-4 he couldn’t help but say to Hann, “that’s you out of the top 16,” which was certainly accurate.

Hann, though, did not like this. “You’re short and bald and always will be and I’ll fight you out in the street for £50,000 whenever you like,” was his riposte as the match referee, Lawrie Annandale, had to separate the two players.

Hicks, who did not deny being short or bald, passed up the chance to lock pugilistic horns with Hann, which is why Mark King stepped in for the three-round ‘Pot Whack’ extravaganza at York Hall, which Hann won on points.

Such frippery is never forgotten but in sport, achievements are what counts.

For Hicks to still be going when so many others have fallen by the wayside is in itself an achievement. His 147 proves he can still play to a high standard but his enemies are time, inconsistency and the standard of play now on the circuit.

But today he enjoyed a high point. It may have been made in a bare room but a competitive 147 is always worth celebrating.

It is said all sporting careers end in disappointment. This may be so, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride because some days are better than others.

Some days you never forget.


Mark Halliwell said...

I am delighted for Andy.
I covered his 'purple patch' in the mid-late 90s for the local paper in Plymouth, travelling to the Crucible, Wembley and Malta for his runs to various semi-finals (earning a reputation as a jinx at the time from Stuart Weir and Phil Yates...).
Andy also benefitted from the British Open coming to Plymouth and had some great games in the Pavilions in front of excellent, partisan crowds.
As you say, he is a stalwart of the circuit and deserves his rewards from this 147 and no one deserves it more than Andy.

Graeme said...

An insightful, accurate and, at times, amusing piece Dave.
I remember the Hicks / Hann 'spat'. Slightly less sinister than the Higgins / Taylor feud of yesteryear and thankfully minus the sectarian overtones.
Proof though that snooker rivalry can be passionate and explosive.
Great to see Andy hit a rich vein of form. Hope it continues well in to the tournament.

jamie brannon said...

The only player to give O'Sullivan a serious test in 2004 at the Crucible.

That year, O'Sullivan played as well as anything I've seen through a whole World Championship.

I think he has underachieved, and if he had broken that top 16 when it was more of a closed shop, who is to say he wouldn't have progressed further.

Anonymous said...

trust u to pikup on the ron mention