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.


RichP said...

I wonder whether snooker misses out a bit now because it doesn't have a dominate figure like it did in the Davis/Hendry era's. Snooker was obviously very popular in the Davis era and I don't believe it waned too much during the Hendry era. But after these dominant periods the game doesn't have someone at it's pinnacle that everyone wants to lose.

Likewise, darts, which has gained a monumental following in its PDC version, has Phil Taylor who pretty much dominates the game. The BDO version, which barely has a recognisable name involved, is on the fall.

Golf continues to blossom and Tiger Woods, when fit, rules the roost. While tennis had Federer for years although his hold on the top spot is coming to an end.

I think snooker needs some sort of machine at the top of the world rankings that everyone wants to see lose. I'm sure there's a pattern there in those examples I've provided, perhaps this is all the game needs?

Matt@PSB said...

It will be interesting to see what impact the Snooker Player's Association will have in practice. Do you expect the players to push for change via that union?

Dave H said...

Matt - it entirely depends on who ends up running it as to whether it will be a success.

Rich - you're probably right there.

Anonymous said...

If the players do not push for change via the SPA, then they might as well order their sports tombstone.

The SPA can only do good. I liken it to the PDC in darts (I also see WSA as the BDO of snooker.......

It certainly seems to me that the game is in "The Last Chance Saloon" as a credible world sport.
The clowns in Bristol (Clowns putting it mildly) are on a suicide mission to wreck the game.

With the SPA gathering pace, its just a matter of time before Rodders and his clan are given the boot, and then maybe the game can go forward.

But don't expect miracles. There is a mountain to climb for these people, and its not going to be easy in this economic climate.

One thing is for sure though. I NEVER expected darts to overtake snooker, but it certainly has as both a spectator and TV sport.
Maybe we should look at how they conduct events, and take some positives out of it.

Anonymous said...

I think great rivalries are more important than having one dominant figure. Hendry/Davis/White held our attention in the early 90's while Spencer/Reardon/Higgins/Charlton did the same in the 70's and Higgins/Davis/Thorburn/Griffiths in the early 80's

These classic match ups make a difference. I think in years to come Maguire/Murphy could develop into a great rivalry but we are lacking the national support we used to have as it is seen as Maguire/Murphy rather than Scotland/England- bring back the nations cup in some form!

jamie said...

I kind of agree with the dominant thing but Ronnie back at the top as given the game a boost. The viewing figures were great for a one sided final this year. Any other player winning that easily would not have got such a good audience. I fear when he retires the game will take a nosedive. The man at the top does not have to be disliked Federe and Woods are generally popular because people are amazed by their brilliance just like with Ronnie. Comparing the popularity of the sport era to era is futile, tv ratings are dropping across the genres. Taylor Davis would not have got 18.5 million today no where near. On tv the game is still popular as ever if you look at it in the write context. The lack of written press coverage is concerning though.

Anonymous said...

To quote jamie:

"On tv the game is still popular as ever if you look at it in the write context."

The game popular, but not AS POPULAR.

The format and presentation of TV snooker is: Old Hat - Past its best - Seen better days.
If the BBC (The most valuable part of the deal) get fed up with the rating fall, we can look forward to another drop in the contract value. Add that to the economic climate we are in with sponsors dropping like flies, and soon players outside the top 16 will need to find other work to supplement their income........ assuming some of them are not doing that already.

Anonymous said...

As people keen on the game it'll survive. They don't have to play - love to snooker will be enough.

Anonymous said...

Tony Miaow...HaHa!

Dave H said...

To take up Jamie's point about TV figures, yes, 4.2m is a huge number to watch the end of a final that is a runaway and it is safe to assume O'Sullivan's presence had something to do with that

However, far more people watched Peter Ebdon win the 2002 title than O'Sullivan's triumph the year before so I'm not sure such assumptions should always be drawn from ratings

I recall the Small v McManus LG Cup final of 2002 getting a big audience and most observers would not have expected that - it often probably just comes down to what else is, or isn't, on at the time

Anonymous said...

when you think about tv coverage of snooker dont forget to mention not only bbc but also eurosport, sky-sports and on-line streams

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but -- do we have any idea when in this new year the results of the Burnett inquiry are likely to be revealed? I fear this is going to become the kind of "inquiry" you get in the civil service when things go wrong -- ie, one which exonerates everyone.

kimball said...

The Burnett inquiry will be published after a new sponsor (if any) is found for Sheffield.
Regarding TV coverage - don´t forget Eurosport Player, excellent web quality, covering live snooker et.cet.
3,8 £ a month.

Sparky said...

I think Snooker was at its best around 2000 when we had the 'big four' rivalry (Hendry, Higgins, Williams, Higgins) and alongside there was Ebdon, Doherty, Stevens and Hunter. That's about tre right number of profiles that you need to make the game interesting - and also I think that these players brought out the best of each each other - they REALLY didn't want to lose to one of the others! Today we don't see that kind of concistency with the players.

Sparky said...

Oooops - of cours I meant "Hendry, Higgins, Williams, O'Sullivan"

Anonymous said...

Good comment Sparky- if you added Stephen Lee to the 8 you listed you could for 2 or 3 years guarantee that one of those 9 names wuould win every significant tournament- but you could not say which of them it would be- the standard they all reached in those few years was exceptional although Hendry 5 years earlier would generally have beaten all of them most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Good comment Sparky- if you added Stephen Lee to the 8 you listed you could for 2 or 3 years guarantee that one of those 9 names wuould win every significant tournament- but you could not say which of them it would be- the standard they all reached in those few years was exceptional although Hendry 5 years earlier would generally have beaten all of them most of the time.

jamie said...

Ebdon was not a runaway though. In general ratings are down from 2002. I stand by what I said though without Ronnie the game will be a little less popular. I know people who only really watch when he's on.

Anonymous said...


I appreciate there are other channels covering Snooker, but the BBC (Well, they used too) pay the biggest brunt of TV money into WSA's coffers, and without that money, they would probably be insolvent.