As we say goodbye to 2006 it’s worth pausing to look back at the snooker year.

When it began, you’d have done well to find anyone tipping Graeme Dott to win the 888.com World Championship. His 18-14 victory over Peter Ebdon at the Crucible was a long, grinding affair that finally finished at 12.52am but was no less of an achievement because of this.

Dott is a remarkable player. He has something many others lack: self belief.

He always believed he had it in him and proved it on the biggest stage of all. Let’s not forget he beat Neil Robertson and Ronnie O’Sullivan just to reach the final.

I salute Dotty and disdain those who wish to detract from his great personal victory in Sheffield.

The match of the year as far as I’m concerned was the Saga Insurance Masters final between John Higgins and O’Sullivan at Wembley.

This was a contest of the very highest quality. In front of more than 2,500 spectators and millions more watching on television, played for one of snooker’s great trophies, these two all time greats put on a memorable show.

O’Sullivan was just a ball from victory: a red which hung in the jaws of a middle pocket but refused to drop. Higgins’s 64 clearance to the black was one of the best pressure clearances ever seen. His 10-9 victory was probably the best win of his career given the circumstances.

Higgins almost won in Malta and China but lost out first to Ken Doherty then to Mark Williams in deciders.

Beijing again provided evidence of where snooker is heading in the next few years. The sheer enthusiasm of fans and media in China is amazing. If it is properly harnessed it will secure the sport’s global future.

Its best player, Ding Jun Hui, became only the third teenager, after Higgins, to win three ranking titles.

Another non-British rising star, Neil Robertson, became the first Australian to win a ranking title at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix.

Stephen Lee, in Wales, and a brilliant Peter Ebdon, at York, were also ranking event winners.

Stephen Hendry returned to no.1 in the world rankings after an eight-year gap while his great rival from the 1990s, Jimmy White, fell to 34th.

And what of O’Sullivan? He began 2006 by holding a press conference – and having a T-shirt manufactured – to stress that he loved snooker. He ended the year by walking out of the UK Championship mid-match after coming under sustained pressure from Hendry.

Bit by bit, O’Sullivan is using up any remaining goodwill that exists within the sport for him.

The WPBSA, who run the professional game, had a largely good year. They secured sponsors for the four BBC televised events and appear to be steadying the ship, with various rumours abounding of new tournaments to come next year.

Their officials at tournaments continue to work hard and diligently and deserve praise, not least because they invariably get it in the neck from all sides about decisions they themselves have had nothing to do with.

However, the WPBSA board’s pursuit of Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton for expressing opinions they don’t like suggests that this isn’t quite the brave new era many of us had hoped for.

For all the various notable performances on table, 2006 has in many ways been a sad year.

In July, John Spencer, the three times former world champion, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 70.

Spencer was the first Crucible world champion. He was part of the group of players who helped make snooker such a popular sport with television audiences that the international circuit we know today was able to grow.

He was chairman of the game’s governing body for six years, an excellent BBC commentator and a popular figure on the circuit, who suffered greatly first from myasthenia gravis and then stomach cancer.

Ian Black, a former Scottish Professional champion, died in October at the age of 51.

Pat Houlihan, a huge influence on White and, like Black, a player to have competed at the Crucible, died at 77 in November.

Peter Dyke, a key figure in snooker’s development through his various roles with Imperial Tobacco, died in September.

Just last week, Alex Lambie, Dott’s long time manager, died of cancer. There was no-one prouder when Dott triumphed in Sheffield last May.

And, of course, saddest of all was the death of Paul Hunter just five days before his 28th birthday. We all still miss him. His funeral is the snooker occasion I will remember most from 2006.

Paul and Lindsey’s daughter, Evie Rose, celebrates her first birthday on Boxing Day. I’m sure everyone in the snooker world sends the family their best wishes at this time.

Merry Christmas and see you in 2007.



You have to take your hat off to Peter Ebdon. Does anyone in the game try harder?

Ebdon puts in so much effort that he could never be a prolific title winner like Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan or John Higgins because he has to use up so much mental energy.

But the sheer determination and guts he shows when his game is sharp makes him one of snooker’s all time great competitors.

By winning the Maplin UK Championship last weekend, he became only the ninth player to have won both the world and UK titles.

He joins an illustrious list: Steve Davis, Terry Griffiths, Alex Higgins, Hendry, John Parrott, John Higgins, O’Sullivan and Mark Williams.

Ebdon’s 9-7 defeat of Higgins in the semi-finals was the match of the tournament and one of the best of the year.

Well done to him, though it was a shame the final didn’t match the high standards shown during the event.



The chairman of snooker’s governing body has said he believes Ronnie O’Sullivan should not be heavily punished for walking out of his Maplin UK Championship quarter-final against Stephen Hendry at York last Thursday.

O’Sullivan was trailing 4-1 in the best of 17 frames clash but leading 24-0 in the sixth frame when he conceded the match.

It was widely assumed the game’s most controversial star would face the full weight of disciplinary action for his behaviour but Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, told BBC Radio 5 Live that he prefers a lenient approach.

“I was at least pleased and relieved that within a very short period of time a statement was issued on Ronnie's behalf apologising to the spectators, the viewers and Stephen Hendry for his behaviour but it ought not to have happened in the first place,” walker said.

“Ronnie from time to time does suffer from depression and things of that nature. We owe it to the fellow to at least give him the chance to explain to us what state of mind he was in when he walked out.

“We will do whatever is appropriate. We’re not frightened of him but if there is a way to help to refocus I’d rather do that than hit him with a stick.

“At some stage I suppose you begin to run out of patience. I doubt whether we've reached that stage yet.”

Actually, it isn’t up to Walker to decide on the punishment but the WPBSA disciplinary committee.

The identities of those who sit on this committee are shrouded in unnecessary secrecy but the chairman is believed to be WPBSA board member Jim McMahon.

One question, though, for Walker: what does O’Sullivan have to do to make snooker bosses run out of patience?



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s sudden departure from the Maplin UK Championship was either the result of petulance or the onset of depression, depending on who you ask.

One thing is for certain: the crowd, who paid £24 a head to watch his quarter-final against Stephen Hendry, were short changed.

O’Sullivan was trailing 4-1 but leading 24-0 in the sixth frame when he missed a red and conceded the match.

I don’t know what was wrong with him. I suspect the pressure Hendry was applying, mixed with a seriously bad mood, saw him throw in the towel.

It was unprofessional and disciplinary action may well be taken.

I just think it’s a shame that Ronnie can’t beat his personal demons with the effortless ease in which he dismisses his opponents.



Paul Hunter was a worthy winner of the BBC's Helen Rollason Award, which recognises bravery against the odds in sport.

Paul sadly died of cancer in October. He had played on despite being in constant pain.

The award was collected by his widow, Lindsey, last night.

Many are still hoping the Saga Insurance Masters trophy is renamed in his honour before the Wembley event gets underway next month.



Ronnie O’Sullivan had a dodgy cushion to thank for avoiding a third successive opening round defeat at York in the Maplin UK Championship today.

The Rocket looked set to lose 9-7 to Ricky Walden but the world no.36 got a bad bounce off a side cushion leading 56-0 in the next frame.

O’Sullivan won the frame on the black and finished off with a 108 to win 9-8 – but admitted he had been lucky.

He said: “Ricky played a good brown, hit it right, but I looked at the cue ball and it came off the cushion at three times the speed it should have done,

“I knew he was out of position. I’m disappointed for him. I told him it was only a cushion that had cost him and that he deserved to win.

“It’s one of the worst tables I’ve played on. A bad table got me through to the next round, which isn’t the way you want to win.”

O'Sullivan was beaten 9-6 by Stephen Maguire in 2004 and 9-8 by Mark King at the same stage last year.



Irregular betting patterns were reported by two Irish bookmakers in the Joe Perry v Michael Judge match at the Maplin UK Championship.

According to the Racing Post, Celtic Bookmakers and Paddy Power contacted the WPBSA after what they regarded as suspiciously high amounts were placed on Perry to win 9-0 or 9-1.

A 9-0 win was 80/1 and a 9-1 victory a 40/1 shot with both firms.

“We took around EURO 2,250 on the 9-0 and 9-1 outcomes in doubles with the correct scores in the James Wattana-Mike Dunn match,” said Ivan Yates, the Celtic managing director.

“These bets were foiled in the end because after Perry won, Wattana lost. However, we would not have paid out even if Wattana had won and we will be making further investigations into the circumstances surrounding this gamble on Perry.

“We are registered with IBAS [Irish Bookmakers Association] and would have referred all bets on this match to them. If they had decided we had to pay out we would have, but serious questions need to be asked about this game regardless of the Wattana result.”

Paddy Power said they had punters betting on 9-0 or 9-1 with Perry doubled with Black Jack Ketchum to win the 2007 World Hurdle and Teofilo to win the 2,000 Guineas.

“We saw some unusual activity on the Perry-Judge match and it has left us with liabilities of around EURO40,000 going on to Cheltenham and Newmarket,” said Paddy Power’s John Hartnett.

“As we have seen unusual betting patterns in previous games involving one of these players, we have made the decision to no longer offer betting on matches involving this player for the foreseeable future. However, we intend honouring all bets taken on this match.”

In fact, Judge missed his scheduled flight the night before the match, which began at 2.30pm on the opening day, because high winds in Dublin caused the cancellation of his plane.

There were worries the first flight of the morning would also be cancelled, which could have caused judge to arrive late and be docked frames.

It is not unreasonable to assume word got round in Ireland about Judge’s travel problems, although as it transpired he arrived in York in good time.

Placed 39th in the provisional rankings, with the UK Championship carrying a higher points tariff than all ranking events with the exception of the 888.com World Championship, he would have been expected to give the match his all.

Perry played superbly, making a century and five half century breaks.

The WPBSA insisted they had followed proper procedure. A spokesman told the Racing Post: “We have an agreement with the Association of British Bookmakers whereby we are contacted confidentially if and when irregular betting patterns are detected.

“In such cases, the match in question is carefully monitored by out most senior officials and a thorough assessment of the players’ performance is made.

“In past incidents where players have been judged guilty of match fixing or intention to match fix, which are extremely rare, we have taken a particularly stringent line.”

In fact, no player has ever been found guilty of match fixing. Peter Francisco was banned for five years in 1995 for not giving of his best in losing 10-2 to Jimmy White at the Crucible.

Quinten Hann resigned his WPBSA membership shortly before being banned for eight years last February after being found guilty of intention to throw a match in the 2005 China Open following an investigation by The Sun.

As previously reported in Snooker Scene, the WPBSA did not break sweat to investigate whether there was anything untoward in a Billiards match between Peter Gilchrist and Mike Russell at the 1999 Lindrum Masters.

It is unclear who the “most senior officials” were watching the Perry-Judge match or indeed whether they watched it in its entirety.



John Parrott was disappointed but not bitterly by his 9-1 defeat to Mark Selby in the first round of the Maplin UK Championship in York today.

He started the press conference by pretending he was only going to give one word answers but this quickly gave way to a realistic assessment of what proved to be the 1991 UK champion's heaviest defeat since he was beaten 18-3 by Steve Davis in the 1989 World Championship final.

“Early on in the match I threw a couple of frames away. It gave Mark a boost and from 4-1 to 9-1 he was exemplary,” said Parrott, who came from 8-5 down to edge Dave Gilbert 9-8 in the final qualifying round last month.

“To be 4-1 down was very harsh but after that I had no complaints. I didn’t get a shot. I’ve been practising hard but you can’t pot any balls if you can’t see any.

“In a way, qualifying was a false dawn. You keep playing because you occasionally get a good result and a decent performance but I’ve come here and it was another level up again."



Maplin Electronics are to sponsor the UK Championship for the next three years in a deal announced today.

The agreement means that the big four BBC televised events - the World and UK Championships, Grand Prix and Masters - are all sponsored.

"We are very pleased to welcome Maplin Electronics on board. This emphasises our determination to attract diverse business sectors to our sport," said Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of World Snooker.

"We have now achieved our stated aim of attracting a headline sponsor for each of our four major BBC events."

The new deal, brokered by IMG, World Snooker's sponsorship agents, can only be good news for the sport.

The World Championship is sponsored by 888.com in a deal than runs out in 2010 while the Masters will be backed by Saga Insurance until 2009.

The Grand Prix is being sponsored by Royal London Watches until 2008.

“This is a unique opportunity to increase our brand profile to a wider audience using one of sport’s most successful and established competitions," said David O'Reilly, marketing director of Maplin.

The UK Championship gets underway at the Barbican Centre in York next Monday with Ding Jun Hui defending the title he won with a 10-6 defeat of six-times champion Steve Davis 12 months ago.

A total of 47 players will be competing for prize money of more than £552,000.


As we approach Christmas, there is much to report from the world of snooker. Here are the main stories of interest plus where you can read more about them:

- Ronnie O’Sullivan bids for a third successive Betfred Premier League title in Manchester this weekend. All the news and results can be found at http://www.premierleaguesnooker.com/

- The Asian Games is underway in Doha, Qatar. This is a huge sporting spectacle and includes cue sports. The snooker final will be shown on Eurosport a week today. Janie Watkins is out there for globalsnookercentre and will be providing results, stories and pictures of one of the biggest sporting events seen outside of the Olympics. Follow the action here www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk/files/Asian-Games/2006_doha_asian_games.htm

- I expect a sponsor for the UK Championship to be announced imminently. Watch this space.

- The tournament itself gets underway at the Barbican Centre in York on Monday. You can follow live scoring on http://www.worldsnooker.com/

- The Malta Cup has been officially launched by Snooker Promotions Malta, World Snooker and the Maltese Tourism Authority. It’s a popular stop-off on the circuit and everyone is always made to feel most welcome. Read the launch story here http://www.worldsnooker.com/tournament_news(id18312)-58.htm and book tickets here www.maltacup.org

- The China Open has been renamed the Beijing Open. With the popularity of snooker so high in China, this suggests the way is being paved for a further event in another Chinese city in the near future.

- A day has been taken off the Welsh Open. It now runs from February 12-18 at the Newport Centre.

- Shaun Murphy has spoken of the importance of snooker’s young brigade. Read all about it here http://www.sportinglife.com/snooker/news/

- The third event of the season in the Pontin’s International Open Series has begun at Prestatyn. Follow the scores here www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk/files/Pontins/06-7PIOS/06-7PIOS3.htm

- Jimmy Michie, the world no.60, is planning to run the Great North Run for the NET Patient Foundation, a charity which Paul Hunter helped to set up.

- Willie Thorne is buying a house in Bulgaria. They must be proud.