The enduring appeal of the Masters comes from the fact it isn’t just another ranking event. This is just for the elite, the top 16 in the world.

This is a snooker jungle where the big beasts roam. The roll of honour, which dates back to 1975, reads like a pantheon of the greats.

The Masters came about because Clive Everton was at the time managing a squash player, Jonah Barrington, and went to see Peter West and Patrick Nally, who ran a consultancy specialising in the then newish world of sports sponsorship.

They were pitching for the Gallaher tobacco sponsorship account, which included Benson and Hedges. Clive suggested a snooker tournament as an idea which may appeal to B&H, West and Nally won the account and the Masters was born.

That first final, in which John Spencer beat Ray Reardon, went to a deciding frame re-spotted black.

So too did the 1998 final, in which Mark Williams defeated Stephen Hendry. This is the most exciting conclusion to any final I’ve ever seen. It is slightly alarming to think it is 15 years ago because it feels like a couple of years since Mark potted the black after Hendry had missed a tricky pot across the table.
Wembley Conference Centre went mad. Alan Chamberlain, the referee, must have gone hoarse trying to shut the crowd up during the closing stages.

Because that’s the other unique aspect of the Masters: it’s in London. At Wembley they were vociferous with small sections just bang out of order.

I remember Hendry once losing to Ken Doherty and telling Jim Elkins, who ran the tournament for sponsors B&H, that he would never play there again (he did, incidentally).

These were the days when snooker was endlessly puffing on a cigarette, ingesting the vast fortunes tobacco companies were giving the game to showcase their dubious products.

Snooker was spoilt rotten. B&H used to employ someone solely to keep the pressroom fridge stocked up and to ferry drinks and chocolate bars to hacks who were unable to stand up and walk the few metres to help themselves.

I once left this gilded cage to venture into something called ‘the arena’ and watch Jimmy White play Ronnie O’Sullivan amid a thunderous atmosphere in which White reasserted his claim to be the Wembley darling.

He only won the Masters once, in 1984, a tournament remembered for Kirk Stevens’s stylish 147 in their semi-final.

In the 1980s, it wasn’t, for once, Steve Davis who dominated but Cliff Thorburn, who won three Masters titles.

Hendry arrived in 1989 and promptly won five successive titles, losing finally 9-8 to Alan McManus in the 1994 final.

Like Hendry, O’Sullivan has appeared in nine Masters finals, including a 10-3 demolition of Ding Junhui in 2007.

He also lost an incredible final in 2006, on the final black to a superhuman John Higgins clearance, one of the undoubted highlights among the many the Masters has produced over four decades.

But the person most associated with the tournament in the last decade is Paul Hunter. At a time in which the sport began to struggle, with tobacco cash about to be stubbed out, Hunter lit up the Wembley stage with three deciding frame wins after comebacks.

I was there in the press conference when he suggested ‘putting plan B into operation’ with girlfriend Lyndsey had been a key factor in his recovery from 6-2 down to Fergal O’Brien in 2001.

It was a throwaway remark but seemed to cement him as a man of the people, for whom snooker was not the everything.

The game still misses Paul, as it misses Alex Higgins. The Masters will miss White, Hendry and O’Sullivan but ticket sales for this year’s Alexandra Palace extravaganza are already up on last season and snooker, as it always has, will find new stars to fashion future memories.

Back when he beat Hendry on the re-spot, Williams was a cheeky 22 year-old. He’s now a cheeky 37 year-old and the second oldest player in this year’s tournament.

This year’s first prize, £175,000, is the highest since he won the title for a second time ten years ago.

This befits the stature of the Masters: a tournament steeped in history, blessed by great champions and ready for more magical snooker.


The Fish said...

Hi Dave great post.Im going to the masters next sun for then final,could anyone recommend a hotel close to the Ally Pally? Many thanks

Anonymous said...

I remember
- a TV light exploding in the arena
- remember the occasional & shameful booing at the conference centre
- ronnie comforting a crying player
- the excitment of playing in front of a large crowd.

The Masters. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

The magic of the cup off Masters.


Hi David. Cant wait for this years event.

To go slightly off subject, I would like to pay tribute to two some people, who, over the years, have made a massive contribution, to this event.

on January 11, 1982, Steve Davis, made te first televised maxium 147, in the 1982 Lada Classic, against John Spencer.

This is the 31st anniversary, to the day, of that. Davis a 3-time Masters winner. Spencer, in 1975, the first winner, of this event.

Today, Also marks 4 years to the day, since, much loved and missed presenter, David Vine passed away.

He did so, on January 11, 2009.


Anonymous said...

This is one of your best pieces, Dave. Great stuff.

Johan said...

Reading this article and suddenly can't wait for the event to start.

Great piece Dave!

I'll always remember Kirk Stevens 147 and the pink and black Jimmy banana shots there.