I hope you've enjoyed this look back at the greats of Welsh snooker.

Here are numbers 1 and 2. I'm off to run away and hide...

Years on tour: 1992-present
Highest ranking: 1

Were this countdown repeated in ten years time, Williams may well come out top but, as it is, he is at a disadvantage because his career is continuing and therefore harder to put into context.

A junior boxer, he has brought his fearless style of snooker to the fore to land many a knock-out blow on the table and win two world titles, two UK Championships and two Wembley Masters. With 16 ranking titles to his name, he lies fifth in the all time list.

Williams is considered by many to be the best single ball potter who ever picked up a cue. His other great strength was his will to win and ability to secure victory in any sort of frame, either with a big break or through a tactical struggle.

He has also been a master at handling the pressure, never more so than in the 1998 Masters final when he recovered from 9-6 down to edge Stephen Hendry 10-9 on a re-spotted black. He also came from 13-7 down to beat Matthew Stevens in the 2000 world final and fought off a Ken Doherty recovery to win at the Crucible in 2003.

Williams was an authentic a world no.1 as Hendry and Steve Davis. At one stage he held all four BBC titles and won his opening match in a record 48 consecutive ranking events. He is the only player, other than Davis and Hendry, to have won the game’s ‘big three’ titles - the world, UK and Masters – in the same season.

He has also proved to be a good traveller, winning three tournaments in Thailand and two in China. His 147 at the Crucible in 2005 was a demonstration of his break building prowess.

Years on tour: 1968-1991
Highest ranking: 1

Reardon was one of the first snooker stars of the television age and played a leading role in the sport becoming the much loved staple of the TV schedules in the years that followed. He was a tough match player but possessed of a warm personality and a great audience favourite.

At 14, he started work as a miner. He was once buried alive for three hours and later joined the police force. He won his first major amateur title at the age of 17, captured the Welsh amateur crown on six successive occasions and in 1964 won the English amateur trophy.

There were fewer professional players in the 1970s than today but Reardon won six world titles in an era that included his great rival John Spencer, the mercurial, unpredictable Alex Higgins and the hard edged Eddie Charlton as well as players such as Dennis Taylor and Cliff Thorburn.

People forget now that Higgins only just beat him – 18-15 – to win the world title in 1982 and Reardon was a Crucible semi-finalist at the age of 52 in 1985.

When he was at his peak, there were fewer tournaments to play in and the ranking system was in an embryonic form but he was the undisputed no.1 for a decade when snooker was typically tactical. I believe he could have adapted his game to compete at the top today had he been born later.

He won the Masters in 1976 and was in three other finals in this tournament and is the oldest man to win a ranking event, scooping the 1982 Professional Players Tournament at the age of 50.

His career declined when he began to wear glasses but he still played to a high standard and beat the then imperious Steve Davis 5-0 in the first round of the 1988 British Open. Reardon did not take to playing in the qualifiers and retired in 1991. He later mentored Ronnie O’Sullivan during his run to a second world title in 2004. Just recently, BBC Wales gave him a lifetime achivement award in recognition of his great career.


So, we're down to numbers 4 to 3 of the countdown of Welsh greats and this could be where the arguments start...

Years on tour: 1976-1997
Highest ranking: 5

Mountjoy was a miner who played snooker in the evenings and became twice Welsh amateur champion before, in 1976, he won the World amateur crown and was accepted into the pro ranks.

He made an immediate impact, winning the Masters at his first attempt. In 1978 he won the UK title. Three years later he reached the world final at the Crucible where Steve Davis beat him 18-12. He spent 11 successive years in the elite top 16 and was one of snooker’s best known figures of the 1980s boom.

But Mountjoy earns his place so highly in this list for his extraordinary resurgence when it looked as if he had entered terminal decline. He won the 1988 UK Championship – ten years after first winning it – at the age of 46. He made three successive centuries in the final, where he beat the boy king of snooker, Stephen Hendry, 16-12.

Even more remarkably, he also won the next ranking event, the Mercantile Classic, rose to fifth in the world and was runner-up in the 1991 Dubai Classic at the age of 49.

Sadly, Mountjoy suffered from cancer and had a lung removed. He was also the victim of serious mismanagement but he still plays snooker from time to time for his working men’s club in Abertysswg.

Years on tour: 1978-1997
Highest ranking: 3

Griffiths was an unassuming newcomer to the ranks when, in 1979, he won the world title at his first attempt and ushered in a new era for snooker.

He had worked as a bus conductor, insurance salesman and postman who was 25 before he started playing snooker at a serious competitive level. Twice English amateur champion, he took the plunge into the professional ranks. He won an exhausting semi-final at the Crucible against Eddie Charlton and proclaimed, live on TV, “I’m in the final now, you know.”

This was typical of Griffiths’s humility but he was a fierce competitor, although not just a tactician as is often now believed, and is one of only seven players to have won the game’s big three titles. In addition to his Crucible success, Griffiths won the 1980 Masters and the UK Championship in 1982 as well as 13 other professional titles.

Griffiths lost all seven of his Crucible meetings with Steve Davis, who beat him 18-11 in the 1988 world final. Perhaps he should have won more titles but the 1980s was more competitive than many remember and Davis was invariably his downfall.

When Griffiths dropped out of the elite top 16 in 1996 after 17 years he decided to retire but entered the World Championship one last time where he lost 10-9 in the first round to Mark Williams. The result symbolised the passing of the baton from a great Welsh player of the past to one of the future.

Griffiths, who runs a snooker club in Llanelli, went on to become the game’s most respected coach and also commentates for the BBC.



My idea to revitalise the rankings has received support from Mark Selby.

The 'Jester from Leicester' agrees that awarding points to the many pro-ams, particularly those staged in Europe, would shake things up for the better.

Lamenting the loss of the Malta Cup, he wrote on his Eurosport blog:

"One option is to award ranking points for some of the tournaments that we already play which are not on television: this might be a good idea.

"I know that they do it in darts - they have ranking events throughout the season - and if you look at some of the tournaments we play in mainland Europe, for example, the standard is still very high and you get lots of the top players competing.

"I think such an idea could work."

As Mark says, this does already happen in darts.

Speaking of which, further proof of the way the game has overtaken snooker comes with the Players Championship, which is receiving something like 30 hours live coverage on ITV4 over the next three days, starting tomorrow.

And although the global economic position will doubtless be blamed by some for the fact that snooker is struggling for sponsorship, PDC boss Barry Hearn has signed a deal with Coral to back the tournament.

So darts has a bigger total prize fund this year than in snooker, new TV deals and new sponsors.

They must be doing something right and, rather than dismiss Hearn and his ideas, snooker would do well to take note.


The countdown of the greatest names in Welsh snooker continues with numbers 7 to 5...

Years on tour: 1999-present
Highest ranking: 8

Day is yet to win a ranking title but he certainly has the game to do so and has emerged as one of snooker’s leading lights in the last couple of years.

In his first season, he staged a dramatic comeback from 4-0 down to beat Steve Davis 5-4 in the Welsh Open. Yet it took five more years for him to reach his first ranking event quarter-final at the same tournament.

In the meantime, he won the qualifying event for the Masters and built a reputation as a dangerous opponent. Day reached his first ranking final at the 2007 Malta Cup, losing 9-4 to Shaun Murphy. He was beaten 10-6 from 6-2 up by Dominic Dale in the 2007 Shanghai Masters final. John Higgins beat him 9-7 in the final of the 2008 Grand Prix.

Day is now the Welsh no.1 and, though he developed at a slower rate than contemporaries such as Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy, is widely regarded as a likely tournament winner.

Sport runs in his family. His brother, Rhys, is captain of Aldershot Town F.C.

Years on tour: 1987-2006
Highest ranking: 8

Morgan was the leading Welsh player of the 1990s after the decline of the ‘holy trinity’ of Ray Reardon, Doug Mountjoy and Terry Griffiths.

He won the 1987 World Amateur Championship and five years later joined the top 16. He spent two seasons in the top eight and appeared in 18 ranking event quarter-finals, five semi-finals and two finals, losing 9-3 to Stephen Hendry in the 1992 Welsh Open and 9-3 to Dave Harold in the 1993 Asian Open.

Morgan’s biggest title was the 1996 Irish Masters, when he beat Steve Davis 9-8 in the final. He lost 9-8 to Stephen Hendry in the final the following year. Strangely, he won a series of tournaments that were discontinued: the 1991 Welsh Championship (which became a ranking event the following year), the 1991 One-Frame Knockout (the final of which was, bizarrely, best of three) and the 2000 Pontin’s Professional.

Morgan was outspoken and passionate. He once claimed the boxer Prince Naseem Hamed had put him off at the Crucible when he sat in the front row. Hamed wasn’t there in 1994 when Morgan featured in the semi-finals.

He still plays and indeed won the seniors title at the 2007 World Amateur Championship. He also runs a snooker club and will be commentating for BBC Wales at the Welsh Open.

Years on tour: 1994-present
Highest ranking: 4

Stevens was, perhaps still is, good enough to be world champion but has narrowly lost two world finals and been beaten in three Crucible semi-finals. It’s hard to believe these haven’t eroded his confidence.

He led Mark Williams 13-7 in the 2000 final and was ahead against Shaun Murphy in 2005 but could not apply the finishing touches. He has lost six times in seven ranking tournament final appearances.

He did win the 1999 Scottish Masters, 2000 Wembley Masters and 2003 UK Championship which remains, almost unbelievably for such a great talent, his only ranking title.

But Stevens’s career must have been affected by two hammer blows off the table. In 2001, his proud father, Morrell, who travelled the circuit with him, died of a heart attack. In 2006, his best friend, Paul Hunter, died of cancer at just 27.

His 13-12 defeat from 12-7 to Shaun Murphy at the Crucible in 2007 cost him his elite top 16 place. He has failed to return although his hopes were boosted by a run to the Bahrain Championship final this season.



With the Welsh Open shortly upon us, here’s my countdown of the ten best players ever to come out of Wales.

Comparing eras is a complicated business and such countdowns often result in a flood of abuse from those who believe one player’s achievements have been unfairly maligned. Please regard it as a bit of fun and hopefully instructive.

Well, I’ve given the matter plenty of thought and here goes in reverse order, starting with numbers 10 to 8...

Years on tour: 1984-2001
Highest ranking: 22

Jones, like so many Welsh players, was grounded in the game from boyhood, hailing from the mining village of Abertysswg.

He was Welsh amateur champion in 1983 and turned professional the following year. It took a while to make a breakthrough but he beat Dennis Taylor on his way to the 1986 UK Championship quarter-finals.

Jones’s best moment came in 1989 when he reached the Mercantile Classic final, beating Jimmy White, John Parrott and Willie Thorne before losing 13-11 to his great friend and compatriot Doug Mountjoy.

He played at the Crucible four times, beating Neal Foulds 10-9 in the first round in 1989.

Years on tour: 1979-1994
Highest ranking: 16

Wilson was an extraordinary long potter in the Mark Williams/Ronnie O’Sullivan/Neil Robertson mould. He was a very talented amateur but stopped playing competitively in 1957 as the game went into abeyance.

However, 15 years later he returned after a friend asked him to play in a league match. In 1978, he beat Joe Johnson in the World Amateur Championship final in Malta and a year later joined the professional ranks, where he would beat, among others Doug Mountjoy, Mike Hallett, Jimmy White, Willie Thorne and Ronnie O’Sullivan in the future world champion’s first season.

Wilson spent one season in the top 16 in 1988/89. This meant an automatic entry to the Wembley Masters and it was typical of this gregarious character that he spent the mid session interval of his first round match not in his dressing room but chatting to a group of Chelsea pensioners in the audience.

He was a natural extrovert and at times outspoken against those he disapproved of. He played at the Crucible eight times but failed to win a single match, an unwanted record he shares with Rex Williams. In 1991, Wilson recovered from 4-2 down to beat Eddie Charlton 5-4 in the final of the World Seniors Championship.

This great character sadly died in 1994.

Years on tour: 1992-present
Highest ranking: 19

Dale was actually born in Coventry but represents Wales through parentage and has won more ranking titles than all but three of the players above him on this list.

So why isn’t he higher? For whatever reason, Dale has found consistency hard to discover. After winning the 1997 Grand Prix as a huge outsider it rather went to his head. He was not himself prepared for such a big moment and, rather than take his career forward, it knocked him back.

Something of an eccentric, Dale was nicknamed ‘the Spaceman’ because it was felt that, at times, he was on another planet. He was 1991 Welsh amateur champion and runner-up to Noppadon Noppachorn in the World Amateur Championship later that year.

Dale was a World Championship quarter-finalist in 2000, he appeared in the semi-finals of six ranking events and won a second title at the 2007 Shanghai Masters, but again suffered a collapse in form after doing so.

A free spirit, he now lives in Vienna and can be heard commentating for BBC Wales and, sometimes, for Eurosport.



I’ll answer my own question: I’ve no idea.

Gone are the days that you could even think about offering a view before seeing the first round draw, and we won’t know that until March 11 at the earliest as the qualifiers end the day before.

Time was when the player of the season ended it by winning the World Championship.

This by and large happened in the Steve Davis era, that of Stephen Hendry, and when John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan each won it for the first time.

But in recent years, things have changed.

Shaun Murphy didn’t do much to suggest he would win in 2005. Ditto Graeme Dott in 2006. Even Higgins had a poor run-in to Sheffield before his 2007 triumph.

O’Sullivan did produce good form last season, winning two titles and appearing in four finals ahead of the World Championship, but Stephen Maguire won two from three and Mark Selby also scooped two trophies before the Big One came round.

We know where the top 16 seeds will be placed so, for instance, O’Sullivan may have Mark Allen in the second round, Ryan Day in the quarter-finals and Selby or Higgins in the semis.

But he could just as easily draw Mark Williams or Ricky Walden in the first round and thus be under it from day one.

Why mention all this now?

Well, the qualifying draw is out and Crucible tickets are on sale.

I make it 81 days until it all kicks off.

Believe me, it’ll soon come round.



By beating Ken Doherty 5-0 in the China Open, Judd Trump ensured his qualification for the final stages of the sixth ranking tournament in as many events this season.

Judd was a semi-finalist in this season’s Grand Prix and won the qualifying event for the Masters.

I’m pleased to see him finding his feet on the professional tour. I was one who always believed he was the genuine article ever since seeing him win the English under 15 title at the age of ten (him, not me) in 2000.

It’s true he did not make the rapid progress some predicted but players mature at different rates.

He has suffered through comparisons to Ronnie O’Sullivan. I’ve got news for you: everyone suffers through comparison to O’Sullivan.

Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy – currently second and third respectively in the world rankings – were each 22 when they won their first ranking titles. Judd is 19.

He has already played at the Crucible and has the potential to be one of snooker’s top players for many years to come.

The game certainly needs young blood, just like any sport. And Judd’s boyband looks can help widen snooker’s appeal with younger fans.

It’s up to him whether he makes the personal sacrifices necessary to reach the very top.

Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry had to. While their pals were out on the town, they were preserving their energies for another day’s hard practice.

The next step for Judd is to win a major title. It’s easy to say but, of course, very hard to do.

I believe he will but, like all players, he will need his fair share of luck mixed in with what is a very obvious talent.

Perhaps he should also rein in some of his attacking instincts and play the percentages more.

He’s still maturing as a player. The fact that he can be even better must be a worry for some of the game’s more established players.



Maybe the answer to snooker’s problems lies in the recording studio.

In the 1980s, several top players released singles. They were termed ‘novelty records’ with novelty, of course, meaning ‘awful.’

Most famous was Snooker Loopy featuring cockney duo Chas ‘n’ Dave and Matchroom’s then stable of Steve Davis, Tony Meo, Terry Griffiths, Willie Thorne and Dennis Taylor.

Sample lyric:

“Now old Willie Thorne his hair's all gone
And his mates all take the rise
His opponent said cover up his head
Cos it's shining in my eyes
When the light shines down on his bare crown
It's a cert he's gonna walk it
It's just not fair giving off that glare
Perhaps I ought to chalk it.”

This last line was sung by Willie himself. In fact, each player had a line to sing and it took me at least a decade to find out what Terry had sung (“hair brushes for me Barnet”, for the record.)

The lyrics everyone remembers from this song also serve as an instructional aid: “Pot the reds then screw back for the yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black.”

It is not believed Stephen Sondheim suffered any sleepless nights on hearing this.

However, Snooker Loopy had an infectious charm that made it impossible to resist and it duly reached no.6 in the singles chart.

The inevitable follow-up was called the Romford Rap and was a kind of call for multi cultural harmony around the snooker table. You can listen to it here and anyone who makes it through to the end deserves a medal.

Alex Higgins followed up his 1982 Crucible success with the song ‘One-Four-Seven’ which you can listen to here.

Joe Johnson, who sang in a band before winning the 1986 world title, released a single called ‘Bradford’s Bouncing Back’, with all the money going to the victims of the 1985 Valley Parade fire.

And, of course, Peter Ebdon has done his best to trouble the top 40 with his 1996 release ‘I Am a Clown’ and the later ‘Fall of Paradise.’

Neither charted.

Jimmy White also sang on a record in recent years but, following extensive therapy, I’ve forgotten all the details.

I’ve heard Mark Selby do karaoke and he’s not bad. There must be other players who can hold a tune.

Michael Holt’s brother is in a band, The Kull, so maybe they could help out.

So, what should the players sing?

Suggestions please (and keep them tasteful if you will).

Here’s a couple to get started...

Ronnie O’Sullivan – Rocket Man (Elton John)
Mark Selby – Jokerman (Bob Dylan)
Ali Carter – Come Fly With Me (Frank Sinatra)
Neil Robertson – Down Under (Men At Work)
Stephen Maguire – Fire (Arthur Brown)



Peter Ebdon, the 2002 world champion, has today issued a statement revealing that he has separated from Deborah, his wife of 16 years.

He said: “Deborah and I have separated. It is an amicable parting of the ways and is by mutual consent.”

“I ask now that my own privacy and that of the rest of my family is respected by everyone. I will not be making any further comments.”



Lee Spick was beaten 5-4 by Stephen Craigie in the first qualifying round of the China Open today but this was some effort by the Mansfield man bearing in mind he was on crutches.

Spick broke his ankle just before Christmas but was obviously determined to give his best at Pontin's, Prestatyn.

I once saw Darren Morgan do exactly this after he suffered a car accident.

And, most famously, Alex Higgins hopped around the table at the 1989 European and British Opens after breaking his ankle.



The best way to expand snooker’s reach and appeal and reinvigorate the professional game would be a complete overhaul of the ranking system.

There are currently just 15 events that count towards a player’s ranking – the seven counting tournaments last season and the eight taking place during this campaign.

This is far more than there used to be. Indeed, when the rankings were first introduced in 1976 the criteria used to decide the placings was the performance of each player in the previous three World Championships. This system remained in place until 1982.

It seems to me, and I’m certainly not alone in this, that there needs to be more counting events but these do not necessarily have to be on the big, costly scale of the current recognisable tournaments.

These are expensive. It’s the reason the WPBSA – braced for a major financial hit if they have to cover a sponsorless World Championship – will not step in to provide prize money for the Malta Cup, even though they were offered a three-year deal by the local promoters.

It’s also the reason the WPBSA are admitting privately that the Bahrain Championship and Northern Ireland Trophy are unlikely to take place next season.

But all it takes is a bit of imagination and the number of tournaments could dramatically increase.

What is needed is a series of different ranking points tariffs for various tournaments.

For example:

Tariff A is the World Championship – 10,000 points to the winner as now.

Tariff B is the UK Championship – 7,500 points to the winner.

Tariff C is all the remaining current events – 5,000 points to the winner.

Then, points are awarded to other tournaments, independently staged.

There have been a number of big pro-ams in Europe, notably in Germany, in recent years.

Why not give the Paul Hunter Classic ranking status and award, say, 750 points to the winner?

It doesn’t sound much but could make the difference between a player being in the top 16 or not and – and here’s the other positive – encourage more top players to go and compete, which in turn might attract greater TV and media coverage, thus increasing the appeal of snooker in key markets.

So, Tariff D could include this event, the Belgian, Dutch and Austrian Opens.

Similar pro-ams could be staged in other areas of the world. They would carry prestige as ranking tournaments but not completely skew the ranking list because the points available would be low compared to the established events.

Players would not have to play in every event but, then again, they don’t have to now. If Ronnie O’Sullivan only wanted to play in the World Championship there is nothing in the rules to stop him (although if he entered the other tournaments he would have to provide a reason for his non-appearances).

So what’s the problem with this plan?

Basically, the WPBSA has a monopoly on the ranking system and is unlikely to want to give it up, even if it would help the development of the game.

However, the distribution of ranking points could still be in their gift. Someone, after all, has to administer the list.

I concede all this is not quite as simple as I’ve made out. For instance, there would need to be guarantees about tables meeting official standard and other considerations such as supplying referees and so on.

But there could be 20 ranking tournaments a year and players not on the 96-man main tour, particularly from outside the UK, would have their chance to get some points and get on the list.

Snooker should be opened up, not closed down. The circuit has shrunk in recent years while the global interest has grown.

This can’t be right and the rankings would be a good starting point for turning things round.



Some 2.7m BBC2 viewers were still watching at 00.12am when Ronnie O'Sullivan clinched a 10-8 victory last night over Mark Selby to win the Masters at Wembley.

The peak viewing audience was 3.1m at 10.30pm.

O'Sullivan was of the view afterwards that the final should be best of 13 frames to ensure an earlier finish but, actually, what needs to happen is an earlier start.

The snooker drew a 13% share to BBC2, which was the most watched channel after 10.30pm.

The final also beat Match of the Day 2 on BBC1, which drew an audience of 2.2m, and Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother, which pulled in 2.3m.


Dennis Taylor, who turns 60 today, will forever be associated with that extraordinary night in 1985 when the UK snooker boom reached its zenith as he potted the final black to beat Steve Davis 18-17 and become world champion.

It seemed unlikely when he trailed 8-0. Indeed, it seemed unlikely full stop: Davis was the unstoppable machine and undisputed no.1; Taylor was the funny Irish guy with the big glasses and surely no threat to snooker’s top dog.

It was a victory for one of snooker’s most dogged competitors and the career Dennis has made for himself since is almost the template for any player wishing to exploit every last drop of their success.

He is a BBC commentator, a very entertaining after dinner speaker and much in demand as a snooker celebrity.

Dennis was never one to rest on his laurels. He realised early on that there was far more to being a snooker professional than merely turning up and playing.

He was born on January 19, 1949 in Coalisland, Northern Ireland and moved to Lancashire in England in the 1960s to pursue his snooker career, working in a paper mill to support himself.

The early years on the professional circuit were tough to say the least. There was little money in the game so players took on whatever exhibition work they could get.

In this, Taylor was a natural: his engaging wit and ability to entertain made him a great favourite in holiday camps and snooker clubs around the UK and beyond.

He reached the 1979 world final but lost to Terry Griffiths. There was an edge missing from his game and he came to realise it was related to his eyesight.

It was Jack Karnehm, the BBC commentator, who fashioned the ‘upside down’ glasses that at first made Taylor a figure of fun but which ultimately helped him to become world champion.

The 1984/85 season began in devastating fashion when Taylor’s mother died. He immediately withdrew from the International in Newcastle and was not going to play in the next event, the Grand Prix at Reading, but was talked round by his family.

He ended up beating Cliff Thorburn 10-2 to win his first ranking title and thus received a huge injection of confidence.

This came to the fore at the Crucible several months later and his inner steel helped Dennis pull off the most famous victory in snooker history.

Of course, much is talked about the black ball finish but his preceding pots on brown, blue and pink were all, in the circumstances, remarkable.

A peak viewing audience of 18.5m were watching when he sank the black. Some years later I interviewed him and he told me that not a day went by without somebody mentioning it.

It took me a while to realise that that somebody was Dennis himself.

But you can hardly blame him. It would all have been so different had Davis potted the black.

As it was, Dennis was catapulted into the limelight and became a great favourite on chat shows, game shows, for endorsements, exhibitions, personal appearances and anything else going.

And he has never been anything less than professional in undertaking all these engagements.

A well known player asked me recently how to get into TV commentary. The advice I gave him was not to wait until his playing career was on the decline before getting involved.

Dennis was commentating for ITV before he became world champion. Indeed, he was lead commentator for them on the conclusion of the 1985 British Open a few weeks before his own greatest moment.

And his playing career went far beyond the 1985 World Championship. In 1987, he won six titles, including the Wembley Masters with a 9-8 defeat of Alex Higgins from 8-5 down.

He spent 18 successive years in the top 16 and was part of the Ireland team that won three World Cups.

It was in this tournament in 1990 that he and Higgins fell out in a big way after the fiery twice world champion questioned Taylor’s captaincy tactics. It ended in a row in which Higgins threatened to have Taylor shot.

By chance, they were drawn to play each other a few weeks later at the Irish Masters at Goffs. It was a bear-pit atmosphere for what Davis dubbed ‘the biggest grudge match of all time.’ Taylor won 5-2. He would never have forgiven himself had he lost.

Dennis was known for banter and having a laugh in the arena but the truth is he was one of snooker’s hardest competitors who hated losing.

He hated it every bit as much when he played his last match as a professional in the qualifiers for the 2000 World Championship. Dennis came from 8-4 down to level at 8-8 with Sean Lanigan but was beaten 10-8. He was absolutely gutted afterwards that his career had come to an end at the Newport Centre and not, as he had hoped, at the Crucible Theatre.

It’s a shame there’s not some sort of seniors circuit where Taylor and his old rivals could lock cues once again.

But even though he no longer plays, Dennis remains one of snooker’s biggest stars.

Why? Because he has worked hard to make a living not just from the game but through being a personality recognisable to those who do not necessarily follow the game.

He’s been good for snooker and, in turn, snooker has been good to him.


Ronnie O'Sullivan's capture of his fourth Masters title at Wembley tonight was in many ways his greatest ever achievement.

Ronnie was using a new cue and held his composure against one of snooker's hardest match players in Mark Selby.

His 10-8 victory was completed by winning four frames on the black and proved that, deep down, winning really matters to him, regardless of what he says.

I take my hat off to him. He is snooker's biggest draw and, currently, comfortably its best player.

Whatever else anyone thinks of Ronnie, nobody can deny his extraordinary talent.



Mark Selby will become only the fourth player - after Cliff Thorburn, Stephen Hendry and Paul Hunter - to retain the Masters title if he beats Ronnie O'Sullivan at Wembley tonight.

Here's how I see it for Betfair.



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s two centuries at Wembley tonight means he has now made 42 in the Masters and broken Stephen Hendry’s record of 41.

Hendry has played in five more stagings of the tournament than O’Sullivan.

It also took the total number of centuries seen at the Masters this year to 27 – one more than the 2007 record of 26.

However, I’m not sure this should necessarily be seen as proof of rising standards.

In 1996, there were 21 centuries made at the Masters. Three years ago there were just 11.


Mark Selby is proving himself to be a master of brinkmanship.

I consider the reasons why for Betfair.



The semi-final line-up at the Wembley Masters couldn't be any better.

The semi-finalists couldn't be playing much better.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't wait...


Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson set a new record at Wembley today by between them making five successive centuries in their quarter-final match at the Masters.

This has never previously been done in a best of 11 frame match. Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan made five in a row between them in their best of 17 frames final at the 2003 British Open.

It’s been some standard at the quarter-final stage, with O’Sullivan v Ali Carter to come and what seems sure to be a great weekend.

There have now been 21 centuries so far this week compared to 23 in total last year and 26 in 2007.

For the first four years of the tournament, there weren’t any tons at all.


Ali Carter has played Ronnie O'Sullivan ten times and never beaten him.

Therefore, although he is playing his best ever snooker, Carter still has his work cut out at the Wembley Masters this evening.

The longer a run like this goes on, the harder it gets to put it to an end.

You might think it has to be ended at some point but not necessarily. Terry Griffiths played Stephen Hendry 17 times and lost all 17. In an ironic twist, Griffiths later became Hendry's coach.

Carter will believe he can win. The fact that O'Sullivan is using a new cue must be a plus for The Captain.

But out in the arena he must try to keep memories of his near misses against O'Sullivan at bay.

And that is easier said than done.


The John Higgins v Ding Junhui quarter-final at the Wembley Masters last night was about as good as snooker gets. It was a pleasure to commentate on.

Higgins proved what a great champion he is by shrugging off the loss of the eighth frame after missing the black.

He is playing his best snooker since winning the 2007 World Championship. That makes him very difficult to bet against as the Masters enters its final phase.



Mark Selby and Mark Allen are two 20-somethings who play exciting snooker and today served up a thrilling, high quality contest at the Masters.

It’s a shame, then, that they attracted only 282 spectators to the Wembley Arena.

I’m not an expert in marketing but it seems to me that a lot more can be done to promote these tournaments and also make visiting the events a better experience.

When you walk through the doors at Wembley Arena, what is there other than the actual snooker? There’s a table to receive some coaching but no betting stand as in days gone by or proper merchandise stand as run previously by Dave Johnston-Allen.

In the past, these have been little hubs where communities of snooker fans have gathered.

A sporting event has to offer far more than just the sport.

When people go to darts, the actual matches are only a part of the experience.

I agree with Stephen Hendry that snooker should not follow darts by allowing the audience to get drunk and rowdy but we can learn a lot from the way Barry Hearn’s PDC make the audience feel like an important part of the occasion.

Indeed, the crowd at darts often make the occasion.

Snooker is more limited in what it can do because it demands silence while play is going on but Selby, on his Eurosport blog, suggests playing music as the players come in, which is a minor innovation but would at least help to create some sort of atmosphere.

All this has already been grasped by the people who run the Premier League and World Series. I realise flashing lights and pop music at the Crucible would appal many traditionalists but that's one venue where you wouldn't need it because it's usually full from day one.

In terms of getting people along to start with, the tournament organisers should target all snooker clubs within a 10-15 mile radius of the venue.

The people who play there are, after all, already interested in snooker and ticket offers may well bring along several dozen spectators at a time.

The Premier League organisers supply pull-out supplements to local newspapers where their matches are staged. which seems to me to make resolute common sense. The more media coverage the better, particularly in the town where the event is on.

The other problem, of course, is in making the players attractive and well known enough to draw people in.

World Snooker has taken a step towards this with their ‘Hotshots’ campaign but, as Selby and Allen are both part of the scheme, it doesn’t seem to have worked so far.

In fairness, these things take time but a PR campaign will not work if at the same time players are threatened with disciplinary action for making controversial – or often not even remotely controversial – statements.

Snooker actually needs more controversy. It needs rivalries and grudge matches and characters and all the stuff that the media looks for when covering a sport.

The players need more freedom to express themselves. I promise you, if they did the interest would increase but chiding them for even the merest deviation from the norm is preventing the public from getting to know them.

One well known player was even rung up because someone at the World Snooker office in Bristol didn’t approve of the colour of his shoes.

Let the players be themselves. That is the best way for their personalities to come across. Moulding them to some corporate model is a sure fire way to make people lose interest and proclaim that they are ‘all the same.’

The quality of snooker being produced at Wembley is very high, not least by Selby and Allen.

But a crowd of less than 300 is poor for a quarter-final and it’s time for action.


Ronnie O’Sullivan’s outburst about the current state of snooker has produced the most extraordinary amount of coverage in the media.

In many ways this disapproves the central point that nobody is interested in snooker: if this were true then these media outlets wouldn’t be covering the story at all.

But, for me, the most remarkable part of Ronnie’s press conference was his revelation that he had snapped his cue two days before the Masters and this has been largely overlooked.

What a strange thing to do. Ronnie, though, is impulsive. He does things and has to deal with the consequences later.

John Parris, the renowned cue-maker, came to the rescue. He is often asked to make cues like Ronnie’s so had a few in stock and did not have to start from scratch.

Even so, for O’Sullivan to make two centuries with the new cue against Joe Perry is some feat. It is only the third cue he has ever used (he gave away the first, you will recall, after losing to Graeme Dott at the Crucible in 2006, which was either a generous gesture or an attempt to hog the limelight depending on your viewpoint).

Players become attached to cues. They become used to them.

Stephen Hendry’s trusty cue, with which he won all seven of his world titles, was broken beyond repair by Heathrow baggage handlers in 2003. Although he won tournaments after this I am convinced that it played a part in his gradual decline.

Hendry has used at least three cues since but has not found the same success.

(The original model was stolen during the 1990 Grand Prix at Reading and Hendry offered a £10,000 reward for its safe return – that is how important it was to him and his career.)

Alain Robidoux is a prime example of how a player can lose all confidence once they lose their cue.

In 1997, Robidoux reached the Crucible semi-finals and rose to a career high of ninth in the world rankings.

He returned his cue to the man who had manufactured it for some minor repairs. However, the cue-maker was a stick-in-the-mud traditionalist who was aghast to find Robidoux had attached a sponsor’s logo to the cue.

So he promptly smashed it into several pieces.

Robidoux said it was ‘like losing an arm.’ He didn’t win a single match the following season, suffered from depression and eventually fell off the circuit.

Around 18 months after the cue was broken I asked Alain what he thought of the cue-maker in the cold light of day.

His reply was heartfelt. “I want to kill him,” he said.

O’Sullivan has such talent that he can win the Masters despite using a new cue. He has had five days to practise with it since beating Perry and will doubtless have adapted to it very quickly.

The cue with which he won the World Championship last year should have ended up in a museum, not in several pieces.

Perhaps he just wanted to give himself a new challenge but this was a drastic way to go about it.



Willie Thorne was wrong to criticise Jan Verhaas, the referee for the Mark Allen v Ryan Day match at the Masters last night, for calling a miss on Day in the last frame.

Day was snookered behind the green and got very close to hitting one of the six reds.

Because he was close, Thorne asserted in BBC commentary that Jan should not have called a miss.

Of course he should. Nowhere in the rules does it state that getting close is the key factor. Day played on that particular red because he was trying not to leave a red on for Allen.

It was relatively easy to hit one of the reds, therefore Jan was correct.

I know from talking to the refs that they get very frustrated when commentators question decisions that they make when all they are doing is applying the rules.

It leads viewers who don't know any better to conclude that they can't do their jobs.


For such a skilful sport, it’s amazing how often luck plays a part in snooker.

You have to feel sorry for Marco Fu after John Higgins fluked the black to beat him 6-4 in the Wembley Masters yesterday.

But Marco is level-headed enough to accept that the luck can go for you and against you. It’s often said that it ‘evens itself out in the end’ but this is by no means always the case.

Yet it is a part of the game, just like the weather is part of Test cricket: you feel that it shouldn’t play a part but it does and always will.

Some believe flukes should be outlawed. This is nonsensical. Players would have to start nominating pockets and the game would lose an important element.

It’s not just flukes. In most frames there are little rubs and nudges that can make a difference between snookering a player or not. A player can either go in-off or leave their opponent a tricky shot from the jaws of a pocket. A kick at a vital time can prevent a player from winning.

Frustrating, yes, but a constant factor in snooker.

In short: it’s part and parcel of the sport. The luck will go for Marco at some point in the future.

But yesterday it was against him at the cruellest possible time.



BBC2's Newsnight is doing a report on the state of snooker tonight. The programme starts at 10.30pm.


Stephen Hendry once said he would retire from professional snooker at the age of 30.

He was 19 at the time. Today he turns 40.

And he is, of course, still competing. Why? Because he loves it. He loves playing, he loves competing and, above all, he loves winning.

I often read people opining that he should put his cue away because he ‘isn’t as good as he used to be.’

What a depressing scenario this is: that if you can’t still produce some of the best snooker ever seen 24 years into your career you should retire.

He can still play very well on the practice table and believes he can bring this out into tournaments. He did so in Bahrain until the semi-finals when it all disappeared again.

He refuses to believe it won’t reappear at some time for a sustained period and I think it would be dangerous to disagree (remember Steve Davis at the 2005 UK Championship?).

Anyway, what’s wrong with going down swinging?

Hendry is a much misunderstood figure. You often hear people complaining he ‘doesn’t smile’ during matches, as if the Crucible is a comedy club or exhibition venue.

He can be very prickly when he’s lost. In fact, he has a number of times refused to utter a single word to the media after a particularly disappointing defeat.

But away from the white heat of competition he is as personable as anyone. He lives a quiet life with his wife and two sons. Some columnists – eager for an easy story – may describe this as ‘boring’ but he is perfectly content.

It was a surprise Christmas present in 1981 that changed Hendry’s life for good. Had his parents bought him a set of golf clubs or a tennis racket, would he have gone on to be successful on those sports?

What is often ignored when discussing Hendry is his clear natural talent.

Four years after being given that 6ft table he was on the professional circuit. He remains the youngest person ever to play at the Crucible. He is still the youngest ever world champion.

Hendry helped changed snooker for good. Before him, there was only really Jimmy White who had found success playing with such attacking zeal to the virtual exclusion of any sort of safety game (Alex Higgins, by the way, was one of snooker’s best tacticians, although this is rarely noted).

The teenage Hendry went for everything and most of them went in. He couldn’t wait to get into the pack off the blue and build huge breaks. This is the style of snooker that has been adopted by all those who followed him and is prevalent today.

Coupled with his talent was a single-minded determination and extraordinary ability to play under pressure.

Most players get worse under such circumstances. Hendry, in his prime, got better.
I’d argue the exact moment he took over from Davis as snooker’s top dog was the 1989 UK Championship final, a brilliant match which he won 16-15.

Hendry remained the game’s best player until 1997 (although John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan were beginning to challenge that status) when a few cracks started to appear in his game. He lost that year’s world final to Ken Doherty and was a first round loser at the Crucible the following year to White.

When he lost 9-0 to Marcus Campbell in the first round of the following season’s UK Championship the vultures were circling, ready to write his professional obituary.

Hendry was adamant that he was not finished and rebuilt his game. It worked. He surpassed Davis and Ray Reardon’s modern day record of seven world title in 1999.

The 1990s was a much stronger era for snooker than many people realise or remember. To have won seven world titles in this decade is the ultimate achievement as far as I’m concerned.

His world final duels – 1992 and 1994 in particular – with White are among the great moments in snooker. The game is crying out for that sort of rivalry today.

Into the next decade, Hendry started to struggle with inconsistency. I watched him lose to Anthony Davies in the first round of the 2001 British Open and couldn’t believe this was the same man who had once made seven centuries in a UK final – possibly the best anyone has ever played.

Yet he found some form here and there, especially at the 2003 Welsh, European and British Opens, the latter of which he won with victory in a truly great final over O’Sullivan.

Since then, the bad days have been in greater abundance than the good days. That said, Hendry reached the World Championship semi-finals last season without really playing his best.

It would be sad to see him consigned to life at the Pontin’s qualifying school but, of course, all players decline in time.

The question for Hendry will be whether he really wants to put himself through all that or just bow out and join Davis and John Parrott on the BBC sofa.

Whatever he decides, there is no questioning his stature as snooker’s ultimate great.

If ever respect was due, it’s due to Stephen Hendry.



With the sad deaths of John Street and David Vine, demotion of Clive Everton from the BBC commentary team and Stephen Hendry’s 40th birthday this week, it is hard not to conclude that an era has very much come to an end.

Nostalgia for the 1980s has been one of snooker’s greatest millstones. The constant harking back to the Taylor-Davis final of ’85 and the 18.5m peak viewing audience it drew make modern snooker look like small beer by comparison.

It ignores the extraordinary set of circumstances of that final and the fact that, in the UK, there were only four TV channels.

I’ve never been one to lament the passing of the 80s. Snooker, as a spectacle, is better now than it was then.

But I do recognise that the golden age has passed.

The question now is this: will there ever be another one?

Barry Hearn took over the PDC darts at a time when it was struggling for credibility and finance.

This season, their prize fund exceeds £5m. The WPBSA circuit is worth just under £4m.

Hearn’s approach is straightforward. He wants control and a free hand. He wants to make a profit.

It’s amazing how many people think this is a bad thing. The point is this: if he is making money then the players will be too.

Darts players now cannot believe their luck or the way the sport has turned round.

But I think Hearn is unlikely to want to attempt the same with snooker. He doesn’t need the hassle and would not enjoy working with the WPBSA, with whom he’s enjoyed a fractious relationship for years.

In the 80s, professional snooker existed almost entirely in the UK.

The sport here now is still popular but clubs are closing and interest has declined.

Ronnie O'Sullivan said he believes it is 'dying.' Even if that is true, it is not too late to save it.

Snooker’s future lies outside the UK, in China and in Europe, where its popularity is extremely high.

And it needs its top players to do their bit too. O’Sullivan complained – rightly – about the low crowd turnout in Bahrain but part of the reason for this is that the world champion himself didn’t go.

Ronnie remains snooker’s top draw but it would be wrong to try and build the sport around him. He is a maverick: unpredictable, unreliable and a complete one-off.

We are lucky to have him but, frankly, must accept the good and the bad because that is the man. There’s no point trying to mould him into being something he’s not.

Hearn is right that there is a perception that snooker does not possess the characters it once did.

Pointless PR stunts like the ‘Hotshots’ won’t change that. Only allowing players to express themselves and letting their personalities come across is going to shift the idea that they are ‘all the same.’

Fining them for making mildly controversial statements prevents this happening. An unfriendly attitude to the media does similar.

Snooker as a game remains fascinating and has attracted many new fans in recent years.

The challenge now is to build on this interest and prevent the sport sliding slowly into obscurity, which will happen if sponsorship dwindles to such an extent that tournaments have to be scrapped.

The BBC snooker tribute to Vine showed a clip of him signing off with trademark professionalism after the Taylor-Davis final.

It was only 24 years ago but it looked like a scene from another world, another age.

That era has gone. Let’s hope a new one heralds better times ahead for our sport.


David Vine, for a generation the face of the BBC's snooker coverage, has died at the age of 73.

Vine was the main presenter of the World Championship from 1978 to 2000. He also presented many other sports programmes for the BBC, including Ski Sunday, Grandstand and Wimbledon.

He was the first presenter of A Question of Sport, the BBC's long running sports quiz.

I always found him to be a great professional who brought authority to the role. He presided over many of the great moments of the snooker boom and will forever be associated with them.


As a person, Ronnie O'Sullivan is a mass of contradictions and many of the things he said at his post match press conference at Wembley yesterday contradict what he has said before.

However, there is more than a kernel of truth in what he says about the way snooker is promoted.

As a game, it has a lot going for it: it is easy to televise, has enough variations to make each frame interesting and can produce great drama.

For a period in the 1980s it was the most popular sport on UK TV and awash with sponsorship, tournaments and money.

To borrow a phrase from David Cameron, the WPBSA administration of the time did not fix the roof while the sun was shining. They seemed to believe the honeymoon would last forever.

They were wrong.

I'm not sure Barry Hearn, never mind Simon Cowell, is really interested in taking over the circuit.

However, a few years ago a group of entrepreneurs were. They were called Altium and one of their most vocal opponents was Ronnie O'Sullivan.

He has since admitted he was wrong and credit to him for that.

But the inescapable truth is that snooker's downward spiral dates back to the rejection of their bid to take over the game's commercial rights and promote the sport properly.

There were 2,000 people watching O'Sullivan beat Joe Perry in the Masters yesterday so reports of snooker's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

However, many of us who have been on the circuit for a number of years will recognise his assertion that it has all fallen a little flat backstage and that the fun has gradually drained away.

The sport basically needs a benevolent dictator to come in - as Hearn has in darts - and call the shots without interference.

Would the players vote for them this time? I think so, but who wants to get involved with a sport that his historically been so hostile to entrepreneurship?



Ricky Walden has been running between six and ten miles a day of late in an attempt to be fit for his Wembley Masters debut tonight.

This is impressive, not least because it's been so cold in the UK that he's done well to get out of bed, never mind hit the streets.

Snooker is not a physical sport but it does require huge reserves of stamina and on the principle of healthy body, healthy mind Ricky's running regime may well give him an edge.

Ronnie O'Sullivan runs 50 miles a week and often turns out for his local running team. It's easy the forget that in his youth he was rather chubby. Not any more. He's as fit as any snooker player has ever been - or is ever likely to be.

Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis are both gym regulars and several other players try to stay as healthy as they can.

Here's a question: if you lined up the 18 players in this year's Masters for a 1 mile race, who would win?

O'Sullivan, almost certainly, although the likes of Walden, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Judd Trump would probably also do well.

Graeme Dott is whippet-like so may be a dark horse while Mark King and Peter Ebdon have always taken fitness seriously so would be worth watching.

Ryan Day regularly trains with a football team so a Welsh victory couldn't be ruled out.

(I'm warming to this idea. I might suggest it to the BBC.)

Ricky is one of three players making their Wembley debuts this week, the others being Mark Allen and Trump, who play each other tomorrow.

This brings the total number of players to have competed in the Masters since it began in 1975 to 79.


Here are the TV times for the first day of the Wembley Masters...

BBC2: 1.30-5pm, 12.20-3.10am

BBC red button: 11am-finish

British Eurosport: 11am-5pm (British Eurosport2), 7-10pm, 10pm-11.15pm (British Eurosport2)

Eurosport International (times CET): 5-6.30pm, 8.30-10pm, 11.45pm-12.15am



Mark Selby is my tip for the Wembley Masters.

Read why here.


It’s hard to think of the Wembley Masters without thinking of Paul Hunter, who did more than most in recent times to make it such a popular fixture on the snooker calendar.

Paul won three Masters titles in four years from 2001 to 2004, all in deciding frame finishes after terrific comebacks.

He was 7-3 down to Fergal O’Brien in the first of these finals and came through to win 10-9, after which he and Fergal went back to the hotel and joined all and sundry in an all-night sing-a-long, the sort of occasion the snooker circuit, for all its rivalries and divisions, can often produce.

At the press conference after this match, Paul was asked about being 6-2 down at the interval. He said he went back to the hotel with his girlfriend, Lyndsey, and ‘put Plan B into operation.’

This became front page news, much to Paul’s surprise. He had only said it as an aside but it came to help define him as a good time boy with a personality and life away from the snooker table.

A year later, he recovered from 5-0 down to beat Mark Williams 10-9. In 2004, he was 7-2 down to Ronnie O’Sullivan – who very rarely loses from a long way ahead – and again won 10-9.
Paul had become a kind of ‘people’s champion’ and I personally believe he would have been world champion had his terrible illness not struck.

His victory over O’Sullivan completed a hat-trick of Wembley titles. In 2005, he played in a bandana as part of a sponsorship deal and was beaten in the opening round. In 2006, suffering from cancer, he lost to Williams.

Paul died later that year. I was one of those who believed very strongly that the Masters trophy should be renamed in his honour, so that he could be remembered each year when it was presented to the new champion.

It didn’t happen and it’s a shame there is no permanent memorial to him but snooker fans – particularly those lucky enough to have been at Wembley for any or all of these finals – will remember Paul for his style, his character and his cheerfulness in victory or defeat.

Such qualities are worth commemorating every bit as much as the actual titles.




The ability to play high quality snooker only gets you so far in the game. The ability to perform under pressure is what all great champions have in spades.

Mark Williams was a junior boxer and his all round toughness extended to the mental strength that saw him prevail in one of snooker’s most exciting ever finishes.

He trailed Stephen Hendry 9-6 in their Masters final and Hendry thus looked likely to win his seventh Wembley title.

However, Williams did not lie down and came back to 9-9 and then from 0-56 to force a re-spotted black.

By now, the atmosphere inside Wembley Conference Centre was more akin to a heavyweight boxing clash.

Hendry played the black to a side cushion. Williams considered attempting the double but the cue ball was so close to the opposite side cushion that it made it a very difficult pot.

He went for it, missed, and left a half chance, which rattled the jaws of the green pocket before staying out.

After several more shots on both sides, Williams left a chance to a middle pocket but it was far from straightforward with the cueball so close to the side cushion. Hendry’s expression as his sized the pot up said it all.

And he missed it to leave Williams a much easier pot to the green bag, which he knocked in for victory.

Of all the many great Masters moments, this stands out as the most thrilling.

Watch the end here.



The two tons he made in tonight's Championship League group 2 final have taken Joe Perry to a total of 100 career centuries.

He becomes the 29th player to achieve this feat and the second this week after Mark Selby.

Joe ultimately lost 3-2 to Mark Allen but could give Ronnie O'Sullivan a few problems at the Wembley Masters on Sunday.



Stephen Hendry won the Wembley Masters at his first attempt in 1989 and again in 1990. In 1991, a hat-trick looked distinctly unlikely when he lost all seven frames of the first session to Mike Hallett.

It appeared as if Hallett, drubbed 9-0 in the 1988 final by Steve Davis, would land the biggest prize of his career.

All sorts of doubts creep into a player’s mind in such a scenario, the worst of them being the knowledge that they could never forgive themselves if they were to lose from such a long way ahead.

It was made worse by the fact there were three hours between sessions. Hallett, of course, at 7-0 would rather have just got on with it.

Hendry won two of the first three frames but, trailing 8-2, was still set for a heavy defeat.

This seemed a certainty when Hallett was clearing up to win the 11th frame but he got a slight kick on the blue which left match ball pink a little more awkward than he would have liked.

He missed it, Hendry won the frame and they headed for the interval with the scores standing at 8-3.

What a horrible 15 minutes that must have been for Hallett. Meanwhile, Hendry sensed blood and went on to complete the greatest comeback ever seen in a major final.

Hallett went on to win titles after this but the defeat irrevocably knocked his confidence and he dropped out of the top 16 a year later.


Peter Ebdon proved that a never-say-die attitude can produce results by winning a frame against Stephen Hendry from 0-79 behind at the Championship League last night.

Ebdon needed three snookers to tie the third frame and eventually won it on the black with the aid of a free ball after a very dramatic few minutes of snooker.

This is not quite a record: Willie Thorne once won a frame against Neal Foulds from 0-80 behind.

In the end, Hendry won the last frame to complete a 3-1 victory.

Even so, it just shows what can happen when you don't abandon all hope...



The Masters is snooker's leading non-ranking tournament and one of the most prestigious titles in the game.

Its prestige comes from the fact it is open only to the game's elite - the top 16 and, since 1990, two wildcards.

In the build-up to this year's event I will be posting my top three moments in the 34-year history of the tournament.

There were many to choose from and, therefore, many that did not make the cut.

So, in third place...

1984 – STEVENS MAKES 147

These days, maximum breaks are far more commonplace than in the 1980s, although this does not detract from the feat of making one.

It’s hard for those new to snooker to truly appreciate the sense of achievement in Steve Davis’s first TV 147 in 1982 or Cliff Thorburn’s first at the Crucible in 1983.

The same can be said for another Canadian, Kirk Stevens, and his maximum in his 1984 Masters semi-final against Jimmy White.

Kirk was the pin-up boy of the time and, in his all-white suit, resembled John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever.

Wembley Conference Centre was packed for a Saturday afternoon semi-final between two of the game’s biggest crowd pullers.

They did not disappoint. Kirk’s break came in the ninth frame. It was technically one of the more difficult 147s because colours were off their spots and although, for example, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s at the Crucible in 1997 was a greater demonstration of pure skill, Kirk’s effort remains one of the very best.

This is because of the inherent drama of the moment, the fact it was only the third ever made on TV and the atmosphere inside snooker’s biggest venue.

At one point, the BBC commentator, Jack Karnehm, rather huffily suggests the audience should calm down so as not to put Kirk off.

Here’s an interesting fact you may not know: the actor Donald Sutherland was in London and got a ticket for the match. He arrived late and came into the arena just before the 147 frame. He had never seen snooker before and could not understand why everyone was up cheering at the end, presumably believing that this was just a run-of-the-mill frame.

It was anything but and, although his career came to a premature end due to his drug addiction, Kirk will always be remembered for this moment of magic.

Watch the end of the 147 break here.


John Street, one of snooker's best known referees in the 1980s and 90s, has died of lung disease at the age of 77.

John refereed five world finals at the Crucible. He took charge of Cliff Thorburn's 1980 triumph, Joe Johnson's surprise win in 1986, Steve Davis's 18-3 drubbing of John Parrott in 1989, Stephen Hendry's great comeback against Jimmy White in 1992 and Hendry's fifth capture of the crown in 1995.

In addition, he was one of the leading officials at the Wembley Masters. His last match came at the 1997 final where Davis recovered from 8-4 down to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-8, a contest famously interrupted by a female streaker.

John reffed White's 1992 Crucible maximum and at one stage told an over-excited spectator to 'shut up' so as not to put Jimmy off.

Everyone respected him. He was one of snooker's top officials and a famous face himself in the game's boom years.

In recent times he wrote an authoritative guide to the rules with Peter Rook and a column in Pot Black and later Cuesport magazine.

In the last year he was able to walk only with the aid of sticks. He was admitted to hospital before Christmas.

He died three days after his 77th birthday.

John leaves a wife, Jean, and two children.



Mark Selby's two centuries in the Championship League yesterday mean he has become the 28th player to have compiled a hundred or more hundred breaks in professional competition.

What makes this remarkable in Selby's case is that just three years ago he hadn't even made 30.

It shows his rapid rate of improvement and helps to explain his rise to fourth in the world rankings.

There was some good snooker played on an interesting first day at Crondon Park. An exceptionally tough group sees Joe Perry, winner of CLS last year, bottom of the table but still able to qualify if he has a better day today.

Stephen Hendry took only two points from three matches so will need to win at least two of his remaining three later today.

Ding Junhui particularly impressesd, as did Selby and they seem certain to qualify for the semi-finals.

Well done to Barry Hawkins, whose partner has just given birth. Barry has withdrawn from group 2 on Wednesday and Thursday and will be replaced by Peter Ebdon.

It has been confirmed that John Higgins and Neil Robertson are among the players coming in later in the CLS season.

The players are in good spirits backstage. There's a nice atmosphere and it's all very relaxed, with nobody feeling they have to watch what they have to say as is sometimes the case at main tour events.

Barry Hearn, boss of Matchroom, paid a visit yesterday fresh from the most succcessful PDC World Darts Championship ticket-wise in history.

He had a few words of comfort for Hendry after he lost 3-1 to Ding: "Don't worry, Stephen. At least you came second!"



So the first day of snooker in 2009 and it's snowing at the Championship League at Crondon Park!

I always thought snooker should be in the Winter Olympics...



I'm off to Stock in Essex for the Championship League.

There are details on the order of play here.

And here's my guide to the event for Betfair.



Happy New Year.

When I wrote for Pot Black magazine, perhaps my greatest moment was inventing Mystic Mog, the office cat, who would make predictions before each tournament as to who would win.

This was ten years ago when sticking your neck out was a much easier business than it is today.

(For the record, Mystic Mog was, sadly, killed off, as I probably should have been for inserting the gag that her favourite player was Tony Miaow).

Right now, snooker does not have a dominant force like Ray Reardon in the 1970s, Steve Davis in the 1980s and Stephen Hendry in the 1990s.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is snooker’s leading figure at the moment but, as he explained recently on the BBC’s Inside Sport, is not driven to be a relentless winner in the Reardon/Davis/Hendry mould.

O’Sullivan is, of course, good enough to win a fourth world title at the Crucible in May but, equally, this doesn’t mean that he will.

In the 80s it was a major shock if Davis turned up in Sheffield and did not head home with the trophy. The same applied in the 90s with Hendry.

With the likes of Mark Selby, Stephen Maguire, Shaun Murphy, Ryan Day, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui yapping at his heels, not to mention his contemporaries John Higgins and Mark Williams, O’Sullivan cannot be regarded as such a certainty although he will, rightly, start as title favourite.

Anyway, the fun for us snooker fans comes in the finding out, and believe me the World Championship will come around sooner than you’d think. It’s just three months away in fact...

The first action of 2009 comes at Crondon Park Golf Club in Essex where the Championship League cues off for another year on Monday.

It kicks off with a bona fide ‘group of death’: Murphy, Selby, Day, Hendry, Ding, Joe Perry and Ali Carter.

Williams, Mark Allen and Barry Hawkins enter the fray for group two on Wednesday.

It’s all live on a number of betting websites and will be the perfect warm up for those players involved in the Wembley Masters (all except Williams and Hawkins).

I wish there was more top level snooker, as do we all. The global economic downturn makes this unlikely in the next year but it’s worth remembering that there is more to the game than the professional circuit.

All around the world, there are snooker tournaments being played in some form or another, from a club handicap on some rainy Saturday afternoon to the world final on the May Bank Holiday and everything in between.

People talk from time to time of snooker dying (indeed it appears to be a given fact in many newspapers).

But we should remember this: as long as people play the game it will always survive.

At what level remains to be seen and I have a hunch that 2009 will be a very important year for the sport one way or another.

I can’t predict exactly what will happen but I sense a groundswell on the circuit that things are not as good as they should be – especially after the recent match fixing claims, which have seriously damaged snooker’s reputation – and the time has come to properly sort it out.

What exactly will transpire I don’t know, and unfortunately Mystic Mog isn’t around any more to ask.

But we’ll see in due course during what I’ve no doubt will be another fascinating year for the sport.