2011 will feature more televised snooker than we’ve seen in a decade with an increased number of tournaments and a greater global reach for the sport.

Territories long since discarded will be revisited with a ranking event in Germany and the World Cup in Thailand.

There will be the first professional event ever staged in Brazil, a revamped Welsh Open, a One-Frame Shootout and much, much more.

2010 was in many ways a year of transition as Barry Hearn took over the reins of power at World Snooker Ltd. In 2011 we will see his influence come to the fore.

He says he is about to sign new broadcast deals with the BBC and Eurosport to screen the major events in the years to come.

There is a feeling of a new start after years in which the game went backwards but it’s a tribute to snooker, and in particular the top players, that the game has survived in relatively good health.

I’ve no doubt I won’t agree with every decision Hearn makes but he deserves support. He has the contacts, the influence and, above all, the skill to take the game forward.

He respects the traditional aspects of snooker – which is why the majors remain unchanged – but has the imagination to come up with different formats and try and stir up interest where it was previously lacking.

Snooker can’t rely on the ‘if we build it they will come’ principle. It’s a sport that is no longer fashionable to many but fashions come and go and it can have its time again.

The UK will always be the game’s traditional home but its future lies in markets far way, in Asia, continental Europe and elsewhere.

The recent IBSF World Amateur Championship featured players from over 40 countries. That tells you the interest that exists across the globe and this must now be harnessed.

I feel enthusiastic about the year ahead. On table I have no doubt it will be as exciting as ever. Off table it is, for once, secure.

Snooker in 2011? Bring it on!



Away from the TV cameras, the newspapers and the general limelight, the snooker circuit is full of unsung heroes performing important tasks that help tournaments to run properly.

Jimmy Furlong, who has died at the age of 62, was such a man.

His was a name not known to most snooker fans but for 20 years Jimmy was a familiar backstage presence, working as a WPBSA security officer and in other all purpose roles.

He was well liked by players, his fellow officials and was a particularly good friend to the snooker the press. He was cheerful, helpful and kind.

Like his good friend Frank Baker, who is still the WPBSA’s head of security, he would do anything for anyone.

In 2002, he was saddened to be dismissed by the WPBSA because of cost-cutting. What grated was that he had received a letter suggesting he would continue to be employed despite the fact the decision had already been made to get rid of him.

He took the governing body to a tribunal and received a payout but it wasn’t about money, he just missed being part of the snooker scene.

It was the mark of Jimmy that, despite a heart condition, he rescued his 16 year-old neighbour from a fire at her home at Christmas 2002, battling through smoke and putting his own life in danger.

I send my condolences to his family.



They (whoever 'they' are) say that if you fail to prepare then you should prepare to fail.

Ronnie O'Sullivan would seem to agree with this assessment after his disappointing first round exit at the 12bet.com UK Championship earlier this month.

O'Sullivan puts his 9-6 defeat to Stuart Bingham down to a lack of preparation, in particular his snubbing of all but two of the Players Tour Championship events.

“I was disappointed with my performance in Telford, which was due to lack of match practice," he said.

"I always practice really hard but I need to play in more of the smaller tournaments to improve my sharpness. I go into every tournament wanting to win, but on the day it's down to the hard work you've done in advance”

This is true, even for a player as talented as Ronnie. Part of his preparation for next month's Ladbrokes Mobile Masters will thus be two days play in the Championship League against some of the very best players in the game, including world champion Neil Robertson.

The standard this season has been extremely high due to the fact that so many players are match sharp.

Hours in the club are important but what really toughens a player up is playing in a match that actually means something: that has money and/or ranking points attached.

The PTCs and Championship League may pass below the radar for many but they have a vital part to play, which is why so many top players have embraced them.


A new sponsor will be unveiled for the Masters today. I understand it will be a major bookmaker [now confirmed as Ladbrokes Mobile].

I dare say some will be critical that snooker is leaning so heavily on the betting industry for financial support, just as it once depended on the tobacco firms, but I won’t be one of them.

Bearing in mind the John Higgins affair and other high profile negative stories of recent times the fact that betting companies want to put money into the sport is a vote of confidence in snooker, its integrity and the integrity of those running it.

Look around. We are not in the position we were in 25 years ago where obtaining sponsorship for snooker was easy.

In fact, it was so easy that the WPBSA could afford to behave in a manner so unprofessional it made you wonder how they got any sponsors at all.

The following is a true story, passed on by someone who would know: there was a tournament in the 1980s sponsored by a particular firm who wished to renew the deal.

The person charged with negotiating this invited the chief executive of said company to his hotel room to sign. For reasons best known to himself he decided to have his wife wait naked in a wardrobe. Shortly after the chief exec arrived she jumped out to surprise him.

It was supposed to be a moment of great hilarity but the chief exec was appalled and immediately scrapped any plan to continue in snooker.

But it didn’t matter. Someone else gladly stepped in and the good times continued to roll.

Except the sun eventually set on the boom years and then snooker sponsorship became tough.

Barry Hearn will always get sponsors because of his contacts and the professional way he does business.

But what snooker needs is to snare these companies for the long haul. A sponsor adds value to a tournament, and not just financial. Over time, it becomes synonymous with the event (for years people would talk of ‘the Bensons’ in relation to the Masters and, indeed, some still do).

The Masters deserves a sponsor who will help maintain its prestige, just as Betfred have for the World Championship. And if major companies are seen to be supporting the game, others may follow.

Reasons, then, to be cheerful as we head into 2011.



With any luck I will soon be off to sunnier climes (although Siberia would probably be sunnier than the UK right now).

So I’d like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very Merry Christmas.

2010 has been full of incident and intrigue, drama and controversy, great matches and performances.

From John Higgins to Alex Higgins, Barry Hearn to Neil Robertson, there have been big stories and talking points, memorable moments and a few things I’m sure everyone would rather forget.

Thanks for your comments and support throughout the year. It is much appreciated.

For those of you in Britain who still want a fix of snooker over the festive period, Sky Sports4 is showing highlights of the Word Seniors Championship each day at 6pm and 12am.

It'll all kick off again with a busy few months from the New Year into the World Championship as more chapters in the game's rich and compelling history are written. I look forward to following it all here on snookersceneblog.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone – be safe, be happy and, most of all, be warm!



Amid all the drama on the table this year, it should also be remembered that snooker lost one of its key figures during 2010.

Alex Higgins died in July at the age of 61. His final years were sad but his reputation as the most remarkable player of the boom years remains undimmed.

There has never been anyone quite like Alex. This is probably a good thing.

When he died there were the usual tributes but even they were tinged with raw honesty: Higgins was often a nightmare to be around and at times could be deeply unpleasant.

But Snooker Scene also received letters from those who had witnessed his kindness: ranging from visits to hospitals to spend time with sick children that had never been publicised to a few drinks in the pub with fans.

The Hurricane was a mass of contradictions but, to the end, he was uncompromisingly his own man. He died from malnutrition due to not eating properly. Jimmy White and others had tried to tell him...but they knew you couldn’t tell Alex anything. He always did things his own way.

What he brought to snooker, more than anything, was the people. His electrifying style of play, his addiction to controversy and trouble and the sense of the unexpected saw the public come to snooker in droves.

The BBC only began covering the World Championship in the mid 1970s because he was in it. A few years later they began covering it live and still do so to this day.

I know many people in the snooker world who loathed Higgins but none of them would argue with his importance to the sport and its development.

White and Ronnie O’Sullivan are, to an extent, cut from the same cloth as Higgins in terms of their natural talent and vivid private lives but neither trod the path of self destruction like he did.

White is gracious, friendly and always puts on a show for his fans.

O’Sullivan, though prone to extreme mood swings, lives quietly and has won far more than Higgins, who seemed to relish snooker most when it became a high wire act where the line between death or glory was as fine as it could be.

Even in death Higgins is said to be causing trouble: the woman who moved into his flat has claimed to newspapers that he is haunting her.

But he should be remembered not for all the aggro, though that was an intrinsic part of his character, but for his achievements on the table.

Nobody knew what had hit them when he won the 1972 World Championship at his first attempt at a time in which professional snooker was bouncing along the bottom of the sporting ocean.

When he won it for a second time ten years later it was a major television attraction, largely due to him.

Alex Higgins may never have set out to change snooker forever but he did and for that the game should be eternally grateful.



There surely can’t be a commentator or referee in the land who doesn’t hope to be doing the match featuring Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon at the German Masters next February.

The Thai teenager is one of three first season professionals who have qualified for the final stages in Berlin.

Hearty congratulations to him, Jack Lisowski and Anthony McGill.

It’s about time a few new, young faces started appearing on the TV. This is one of the by-products of the new pro circuit, with its extra playing opportunities giving younger players more chances to bed in to life on the main tour and more confidence if they get a few results.

Lisowski has already qualified for the PTC grand finals and so is on a roll while McGill has also started his rookie season in useful fashion.

Tirapongpaiboon looks like one to watch. Earlier this season he became the youngest professional to compile a maximum break in competition and as Barry Hearn takes top level snooker back to Thailand he could prove to be a very important part of its rebirth there.

Several established names also made it through – Marco Fu, Stephen Lee, Ryan Day, Matthew Stevens and Anthony Hamilton – but Ken Doherty was beaten 5-4 by Liu Song, who was sensibly given a place on the circuit by the WPBSA after Patrick Einsle’s resignation.

One mystery remains, though: why wasn’t the draw made for the final stages when it was made for the qualifiers?



John Higgins will play Mark Williams in the first match of the 2011 Championship League, which begins on January 3.

Higgins recovered from 9-5 down to beat Williams 10-9 in the final of the 12bet.com UK Championship last Sunday.

Their match at Crondon Park Golf Club in Essex will be over a shorter distance - five frames.

Higgins and Williams are part of a high quality line-up for group one, which also includes Ali Carter, Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott, Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy.

The top four in the group will contest the play-offs with the winner through to the final winners' group in March.

The bottom two players will be relegated while the remaining four players go into group two on January 5 and 6, where they will be joined by Neil Robertson, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Jamie Cope.

Stephen Hendry, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen, Peter Ebdon and Marco Fu are among the well known names who will play in later groups.

The seven group winners contest the final group, the winner of which receives an invite into the Premier League.

The Championship League, now in its fourth year, is shown live on the internet on various betting websites.

Players receive £100 for every frame won, plus bonuses in the play-offs and a £10,000 eventual first prize.



The German Masters qualifiers kick off tomorrow but last night’s thrilling UK Championship final was the last live TV snooker of the year.

So what were your favourite memories of 2010? What were the best matches? What were the most memorable moments?

For me, the best commentary experience was doing the final session of Steve Davis’s dramatic defeat of John Higgins in the second round of the World Championship.

This was a match that resonated on many levels. It was a little like a Hollywood film in which an apparently washed up old stager gives it one last go and somehow triumphs against the best in the world.

2010 began with the Masters, which once again featured a close final and confirmed Mark Selby’s status as a master of brinkmanship.

In the end he held his nerve better than Ronnie O’Sullivan and his 10-9 win proved he can produce the goods on the big stage, even though he did not go on to win a ranking title.

The Masters final had been preceded by a match which still stands out nearly a year on – O’Sullivan’s 6-5 semi-final defeat of Mark Williams.

I was heartened by Williams’s general return to form, which he underlined by winning the China Open.

In terms of poise under pressure, one of the matches that comes to mind was an untelevised clash. Level at 8-8 with Ricky Walden in the final qualifying round of the World Championship, played in something of a bear-pit atmosphere at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, Zhang Anda finished off coolly with two successive centuries.

At the Crucible itself he was beaten 10-9 by Stephen Hendry, who found inspiration at just the right time.

One of the best matches of the Crucible jamboree was the quarter-final between Graeme Dott and Mark Allen, which Dotty won 13-12 after a high quality duel.

And of course the eventual champion Neil Robertson rallied from 11-5 down to beat Martin Gould 13-12 in the second round. The scenes that followed his victory over Dott in the final were wonderful to observe given the sacrifices he had made to pursue a professional career.

Robertson also won the World Open over a sprint format that made a refreshing change from the norm.

Two matches at the end of the year proved that top level snooker’s capacity to produce sporting theatre over a longer distance endures.

The drama of Williams’s 9-8 defeat of Shaun Murphy in the semi-finals of the UK Championship was superseded by Higgins’s recovery from 9-5 down to beat him 10-9 in the final.

One of my other highlights was the World Seniors Championship where I got to commentate with some cold stone snooker legends such as Jimmy White and Dennis Taylor (highlights start on Sky Sports4 from December 20).

I’m sure many of you have happy memories of various other matches and moments. Please feel free to share them.


What a night, what a match and what a great player John Higgins has once again proved himself to be.

His recovery from 9-5 down to beat Mark Williams 10-9 in the final of the 12bet.com UK Championship completes his own miracle of Christmas.

The worst year of his life has ended with one of his greatest ever victories.

I thought early on today he looked nervous, almost as if he was trying too hard. His father, gravely ill with cancer, could not be with him in Telford and Higgins knew what eventual victory would mean to the man who first got him into snooker at the age of nine.

This looked unlikely when Williams held a four frame advantage, needing just one for victory, but Higgins dug deeper than perhaps anyone has ever dug in a major final and somehow got over the winning line.

You could see at the end what it meant to him and his family. An unbelievable return from the wilderness and proof that, despite the constant conjecture about events earlier this year, his status as one of the all time greats is not in doubt.

Credit as well to Williams, too, for the way he battled all through the tournament and in particular for his deadpan response to defeat. He was as gracious as Higgins was dignified.

These two can stand in the pantheon of legends alongside Hendry and Davis, O'Sullivan and Reardon, the other Higgins too.

The climax proved that big time snooker can still deliver great drama: without the gimmickry of shot clocks, music and all the other peripheral stuff.

It was two greats going toe-to-toe and it was brilliant viewing.



An incredible finish to last night’s semi-final has set up a 12bet.com UK Championship semi-final between two of snooker’s all time greats.

Mark Williams must be wondering how he has made it this far. When Shaun Murphy upped his game to move from 6-3 down to lead 8-6 the Welshman looked set for defeat.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Williams suddenly started knocking in the long balls and drew level.

The last red of the decider, potted from distance, was a worthy ball to win any match and for Williams to keep his cool in such a situation proves just what a great player he is.

So it’s Higgins v Williams for the UK title, just as it was ten years ago when Higgins prevailed 10-4.

What does it say about snooker that the same two players could make the final a decade on?

Well, the real question should be what does it say about these two? And the answer is that they are still, on their day, ahead of the pack, as that other member of the class of 1992, Ronnie O’Sullivan can also be.

What these three have is not just the skill and experience but also the class to kill matches off.

Like any major final, today’s Telford burn-up will be a test of skill, heart and nerve. Higgins and Williams have all three in spades.

They are each gunning for a third UK title. Higgins won the tournament in 1998 and 2000, Williams in 1999 and 2002.

For Williams it would be his first ranking title in the UK since the 2003 LG Cup.

For Higgins it would bring the curtain down on the most tumultuous year of his life in upbeat fashion and restore him to top spot in the rankings.

For snooker fans it should be a real treat.



One of Mark Williams's great skills is finding a way to win when he's not at the top of his game.

He has an old fashioned, stubborn, never-say-die attitude and it's served him well in many tournaments where he's only hit form at the business end.

And we're now at the business end of the 12bet.com UK Championship, where today the Welshman faces Shaun Murphy in the semi-finals.

Murphy has played the better snooker of the two in the tournament but that does not guarantee a thumping win for the 2008 champion today.

It's worth remembering that, for all his obvious class, he still has only three ranking titles to his name.

His form worryingly collapsed between his superb Premier League semi-final victory over Marco Fu and his defeat to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final.

Nevertheless, Murphy's fine quarter-final victory over Neil Robertson certainly means he enters today's match as favourite.

John Higgins awaits in the final after his masterclass in big match snooker against Mark Allen last night.



Mark Allen displayed poise and purpose in beating John Higgins in the opening round of last season's Wembley Masters but will have to play even better to beat him in Telford today.

Higgins is a man on a mission: back on TV and playing every bit as well as he was prior to his suspension.

He has come through two tough games against fellow Scots Graeme Dott and Stephen Maguire, raising his game at the end of each.

It's ten years since Higgins won the UK Championship title but he is clearly focused on ending that drought.

A word on Neil Robertson. Although it probably had no bearing on his defeat, he was still in bed 15 minutes before the match was due to start because he believed it began an hour later, at 1.30pm.

Nobody in the sport needs a proper manager more than Neil right now. Even if it had been a 1.30 start, this was hardly the ideal preparation.

There's no disputing his talents on the table but somebody needs to ensure he is where he's supposed to be at the appropriate time because this has happened too often.

He's less John Spencer, more Frank Spencer.

Speaking of farce, there was a delay last night when the arena scoreboard failed when Murphy was on a break leading 8-7.

When they finally resumed he immediately missed but still went on to win 9-7.

Mark Joyce gave a very good account of himself but Mark Williams, as he so often has in the past when he's not playing his best, found a way to win.



What a day for Mark Joyce, who after slogging through four qualifying rounds and winning two matches in Telford will be appearing in the quarter-finals of the 12bet.com UK Championship against Mark Williams.

Joyce has enjoyed the best week of his career, proof again that many of the so-called ‘journeymen’ are capable of producing the goods.

Ali Carter did not play well against him but Joyce was strong in dispatching Judd Trump and is now guaranteed £16,450 – by far his biggest ever single cheque. Not bad for someone who earned around £21,000 during the whole of last season.

Part of Joyce’s success comes from his ability to think clearly. He has been consulting a sports psychologist to talk through some of the feelings and anxieties he has while playing.

Snooker is a game played over long periods and while it’s relatively easy to go into a match feeling positive, things can very quickly go wrong and players often beat themselves when dejection sets in.

Joyce always was a clever chap. He went to a grammar school in his native Walsall. I attended a comprehensive just down the road from it, which is probably why I’m writing a snooker blog at 8.30 in the morning.

We used to hate their school but I wish Mark all the best today. I hope he enjoys the experience and, if Williams plays anything like he did against Stephen Hendry, he has every chance of progressing even further.

The other quarter-final has the potential to be a great match, pitting as it does world champion Neil Robertson against Shaun Murphy, the 2008 UK champion.

Murphy came through 9-8 on the pink against Ryan Day after a typically poised clearance in the deciding frame.

Robertson has played superbly so far but hasn’t been pushed yet. That should change today.



Stephen Hendry doesn't need me or anyone else to tell him that he has serious problems with his game.

Whether the problems are of technique, confidence, concentration or a mixture of all three, he clearly needs to address them urgently to prevent his relegation from the top 16.

His defeat to Mark Williams in Telford last night was painful to watch. Neither played well but while Williams, laidback sort as he is, was able to make a joke of it, Hendry was obviously dejected.

This, after all, is a player who once recorded seven centuries in a UK Championship final and whose remarkable list of achievements could conceivably never be bettered.

One thing that surprises me is that Hendry practises on his own. There are some very good Scottish professionals against whom he would be able to test himself and gauge where his game is.

I would much prefer to think of Hendry as the great player he was rather than witnessing too many more performances like the one we saw yesterday.

On to the quarter-finals, and today pits John Higgins against Stephen Maguire, who has quietly been knocking the breaks in - five centuries so far - on the non-TV tables against Ken Doherty and Mark Selby.

For whatever reason, this is one event Maguire always seems to come good in and indeed beat Higgins 9-7 at the same stage two years ago.

Higgins produced a typically steely finish to see off Graeme Dott 9-8 and is playing as well post-suspension as he was prior to it. It could be very close.

Stuart Bingham will join the top 16 for the first time in his career if he beats Mark Allen.

A good point made by Ronnie O'Sullivan after losing to Bingham is that Stuart has played in all the PTCs and is match sharp.

This is only his fifth ranking event quarter-final appearance and he has a great chance to reach his first semi-final.

But Allen has rediscovered a bit of form and held off defending champion Ding Junhui 9-8 to reach the last eight.

Allen is an all-out attacking player and a very good one when his game is firing. He's capable of reeling frames off in no time at all.

What he will also need, though, is discipline, particularly over such a lengthy distance.



Neil Robertson's sensational display of break building last night was a joy to behold - unless, of course, you were Andrew Higginson.

Completely in the zone, Robertson continued to play in the fashion that has seen him ascend to the twin peaks of snooker achievement: world champion and world no.1.

Yes, Higginson let him in several times but he didn't make the breaks for him. They were all Robertson, who is expending minimum mental energy in coasting to the quarter-finals.

In cricket parlance he is winning by an innings. (These are strange times we live in when Australia is rubbish at cricket but brilliant at snooker.)

A few people got rather excited by Ronnie O'Sullivan's capture of the Premier League ten days ago but, as he himself said afterwards, the UK Championship is a different ball game completely.

While they may have been fillips off the table, neither the League nor the release of his father had any beneficial effect on O'Sullivan in the arena as he lost to Stuart Bingham.

Why? Because, love him or loathe him, Ronnie is not going to change. He will remain what he has always been: a complex mix of instinctive brilliance, inspiration and talent but also prone to maddening bouts of frustration and petulance.

That's the man and that's also why he's the biggest draw in the game.

Credit should go to Bingham who took the game to O'Sullivan in the opening session and put him under pressure in the second.

Ballrun is a player who actively seeks out snooker competitions and has a terrific record in pro-ams. He hasn't really done himself justice much on TV but maybe this will be his week to shine.

His defeat of O'Sullivan is his best win since he beat Stephen Hendry in the first round of the World Championship a decade ago.

Stephen Hendry was embarrassed by his performance against Jimmy White. He knows a vast improvement is required if he is to stay with Mark Williams.

Shaun Murphy played as well as he had to in defeating Patrick Wallace and is now up against Ryan Day, who came through 9-8 on the black against Mark King, a result which could revive his flagging fortunes.

John Higgins and Graeme Dott played a high quality first session to be poised at 4-4 coming back this afternoon.

Mark Allen leads defending champion Ding Junhui 6-2 in a match not favoured by the cameras.

Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby were also unlucky not to get a TV table. Maguire, who has a solid record in this event, leads there 5-3 as another no doubt dramatic day gets underway.



Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White both have free passes to snooker's hall of fame but after an electrifying start to their first round match in Telford yesterday, the standard plummeted.

Hendry looked embarrassed at the end to have lost the eighth frame, which he seemed certain to win.

At least at 4-4 the match is close, which should provide some excitement this afternoon. Indeed there are several matches poised nicely at the 12bet.com UK Championship.

Ronnie O'Sullivan had to win the last two frames last night to achieve parity with Stuart Bingham, who played very nicely and with great confidence but needs to do similar today to stand a chance of causing an upset.

Ali Carter did not produce the goods against Mark Joyce yesterday. I wondered if he felt the pressure of being such a big favourite or maybe he was unwell.

He will still be favourite to come through today but it could depend on whether Joyce can hold himself together if he gets close to the winning line.

Patrick Wallace also had chances against Shaun Murphy before ending the day trailing him 5-3 but, again, it's close.

The format means that only half of the last 16 matches can be played on the TV tables and, with so many top players through, this means a number of big names will be relegated to the outside tables.

This is a far from ideal situation and of course leads to fans of particular players complaining that they can't watch their matches.

The second round matches favoured tonight are Neil Robertson v Andrew Higginson and John Higgins v Graeme Dott.

Therefore, Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui v Mark Allen will not be televised.

I wonder if it might be time to start a day earlier and play the last 32 matches that are not particularly attractive on the Friday so as to free up space to put more of the last 16 on TV.



It’s easy to see the Stephen Hendry-Jimmy White rivalry defined by their meetings at the Crucible but these matches only comprise seven of the 56 they have played as professionals.

Their first contest came at the 1986 Scottish Masters, when Hendry was just 17. White won 5-1 but it wasn’t long before his young opponent improved to such a level that he became the man to beat.

Surprisingly, they’ve only met in two finals outside of the World Championship, and White won them both.

The first of these was over the best of 35 distance used at the Crucible. Barry Hearn promoted a World Matchplay Championship screened on ITV shortly before Christmas and White beat Hendry 18-9 to win the title in 1990.

A few weeks later he stormed 9-0 ahead of Hendry in the final of the Mercantile Classic, eventually beating him 10-4.

They’ve played seven times at the Wembley Masters with Hendry enjoying the clear edge, winning six of them.

He also has a handsome lead in ranking events, winning 12 meetings to White’s six.

Hendry leads 33-18 overall with five draws in the Premier League, but to have beaten the game’s greatest ever player 18 times is no mean feat and White comes into their latest meeting at the 12bet.com UK Championship today full of confidence after three good qualifying wins and victory in the World Seniors Championship.

If White wins there’s a chance Hendry will drop out of the elite top 16, although this is unlikely.

Neither player is as good as they once were and they will have to play very well indeed to match the remarkable standard seen yesterday in which there were 17 century breaks recorded.

There was a brilliant session of snooker between John Higgins and Stephen Lee, which ended 4-4. It was the best I’ve seen Lee play on TV for years.

Ding Junhui was very solid in pulling away from Matthew Stevens, even if he did stutter a little before getting over the winning line.

Mark Selby, Stephen Maguire and Mark Allen all performed strongly in coming through their respective matches.

Neil Robertson made two centuries during a lengthy first session against the methodical Rory Mcleod, opening a 7-1 advantage overnight.

So already after just one day the cream is rising to the top in Telford.

And what all this proves is that if the players play regularly they remain sharp and standards thus rise, a point missed by those who have derided the PTC series, which has proved to be a positive for the game as a whole.

All the smaller events have also done the majors a favour because their prestige is even more apparent, hence the huge anticipation within the sport that there has been for this year’s UK Championship.

The only disappointing note was the low crowds, although this is in large part due to the adverse weather conditions afflicting the UK.

I’d expect them to pick up today for Ronnie O’Sullivan’s entrance against Stuart Bingham and, of course, Hendry v White.



Ken Doherty has appeared in three UK Championship finals without winning the title, although it was his misfortune to run into three of the greatest players of all time all at the top of their games.

Doherty’s first final came in 1994 against Stephen Hendry, who was still very much in his pomp.

Hendry made seven centuries in that final, a record for any match and one of the most remarkable performances ever seen on a snooker table.

Almost as remarkable was the fact he only led 6-5 at one point, which says a lot about Doherty’s resilience.

Hendry went on to win 10-5. The Dubliner’s next final came in 2001 when he was overwhelmed by an in form Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Again, the snooker produced here was simply sublime and Doherty seemed genuinely relived just to have won a frame.

His third UK final, a year later, was much closer and would serve as a portent for that season’s Crucible finale.

Doherty slugged it out with Mark Williams, who eventually prevailed 10-9.

In recent seasons Doherty’s ranking his slipped, although it’s to his great credit that he got himself back into the top 32 this season following a nightmare 2008/09 campaign in which his career looked to be seriously under threat.

These days he’s carving his way as a genial TV pundit and commentator for the BBC but Doherty still wants to be known primarily as a player and could cause Stephen Maguire a few problems in Telford today.

Maguire has a good record in the UK Championship. In the last six years he’s been champion, runner-up and a semi-finalist twice. He was also consistent in the PTC series and will be in the grand finals in Dublin next March.

But today he knows he is playing someone with vast experience and at home in the TV arena, although their match will actually be played away from the cameras.

Of the other matches, Neil Robertson needs to be careful he isn’t drawn into a grind against the methodical Rory McLeod.

Robertson has himself slowed down in recent years, finding a nice tempo, but must try and dictate the style of match. If he does he will surely win comfortably.

Defending champion Ding Junhui may find things a little trickier against Matthew Stevens, who has the carrot of a top 16 place up for grabs if he does well this week.

Stephen Lee hasn’t beaten John Higgins for nine years but, of course, the Scot is playing on TV for the first time since the World Championship and may be a little nervous, though his strength of character is such that this shouldn’t make much difference.

Ricky Walden needs to start beating the top players regularly if he is to climb the rankings and become a consistent force.

He lost to Mark Selby on his Crucible debut in 2009 but beat him on the way to winning the 2008 Shanghai Masters title.

Graeme Dott v Martin Gould has the potential to be a very entertaining match, but it isn't on TV.

The BBC will show both tables on the red button (one on Freeview) and on their website.

Eurosport will have coverage of both tables most days on its two channels and will also show the tournament on the Eurosport Player.

TV matches:
12.30pm and 7pm: Ding Junhui v Matthew Stevens; Mark Selby v Ricky Walden
After 2pm: Neil Robertson v Rory McLeod; John Higgins v Stephen Lee

TV times (UK time)
BBC1: 1-4.30pm
BBC2: 4.30-5.55pm, 00.55-3.45am

Eurosport2: 1.30-6.30pm, 7-10pm



The 12bet.com UK Championship is one of snooker’s great events, a glittering jewel in the crown that comprises the sport’s major events.

What’s interesting about it is that, unlike the World Championship, there have been very few shock winners.

Patsy Fagan won the inaugural staging ahead of the likes of John Spencer, Alex Higgins and Ray Reardon. John Virgo was not expected to triumph in 1979. Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 1993 capture of the title was remarkable given that he was still 17, although most already knew what a talent he was.

The biggest surprise came in 1988 when Doug Mountjoy, 46 years old, sliding down the rankings and ten years on from his initial UK victory, stunned Stephen Hendry in the final.

But the trophy usually goes to one of the very top players.

Jimmy White and Matthew Stevens may have failed to find success at the Crucible but are both UK champions.

Steve Davis has six titles to his name, Hendry five and O’Sullivan four.

I welcome innovation. Snooker has stood still for too long. We need different formats and a mix of tournaments.

But the UK Championship’s two session matches are a proper test, hence the cream always rises to the top.

There are no gimmicks, rule changes or assorted messing about: it’s a pure event and long may that continue.

Over best of 17, there is time for things to turn round, time for the momentum to shift and the drama to intensify.

And what great memories over the years: Alex Higgins’s comeback from 7-0 down to Davis in the 1983 final...Willie Thorne’s missed blue in 1985...the Hendry v Davis final in 1990...White’s triumph in 1992...Hendry’s extraordinary seven centuries in the 1994 final...Davis’s run to the final in 2005...

This year the standard is likely to be extremely high because the players are so sharp having played in the PTCs and qualifiers.

Hopefully the players can conjure some snooker magic that befits the tournament’s status.

The weather is terrible in Britain, with snow causing chaos.

What better way to shelter from the cold than to put your feet up, turn on the telly and enjoy another staging of one of snooker’s best events?



The board of the WPBSA has been given a vote of confidence by players at the AGM in Sheffield today.

The chairman, Jason Ferguson, received 31 votes for with just three against.

He was officially confirmed as a WPBSA board member alongside the other co-opted directors, Alan Chamberlain, Steve Davis, David Douglas and Zhang Xiaoning.

Former directors Lee Doyle and Jim McMahon received just six and four 'yes' votes respectively.

Fewer than half of the WPBSA membership voted in the AGM.


Jason Ferguson. Votes for: 31 Votes against: 3
Alan Chamberlain. Votes for: 21 Votes against: 11
Steve Davis. Votes for: 26 Votes against: 7
David Douglas. Votes for: 28 Votes against: 5
Zhang Xiaoning. Votes for: 31 Votes against: 3
Les Barton. Votes for: 6 Votes against: 25
Lee Doyle. Votes for: 6 Votes against: 28
Patrick Fagan. Votes for: 4 Votes against: 27
Tony Knowles. Votes for: 7 Votes against: 24
Jim McMahon. Votes for: 4 Votes against: 29
Neil Tomkins. Votes for: 3 Votes against: 28



So it's to be Stephen Hendry v Jimmy White in the first round of the 12bet.com UK Championship.

This is a rivalry that kept a generation of snooker fans enthralled for a decade. The latest twist is that if Hendry fails to win he could lose his place in the elite top 16 when the latest seedings list is compiled after the tournament.

Here's what I wrote about the Hendry v White rivalry earlier this year. I'm glad that the last line wasn't quite correct...


Perhaps the most improved player on the circuit these last couple of seasons is Martin Gould, a deceptively talented cueist who is now heading towards the top 16.

Gould is placed 22nd in the latest ranking list and has qualified for the final stages of the 12bet.com UK Championship.

He beat James Wattana 9-8 last night after a match in which there was never more than a frame in it.

It’s been a memorable year for Gould. Earlier this season he reached his first ranking event quarter-final at the World Open, where his attacking style paid dividends.

He was, of course, very close to a last eight berth at the Crucible but saw his 11-5 lead over Neil Robertson turn into a dispiriting 13-12 defeat.

For this to happen at the World Championship, as high profile as snooker gets, was embarrassing more than anything. By his own admission, Martin panicked: he knew Steve Davis had beaten John Higgins and that he thus had a very good chance to reach the semi-finals.

It was a lack of experience that caused this anxiety but he’s learned the hard way and pressed on this season. He will be in the PTC grand finals next March.

Gone are the days when he worked as a croupier in a casino. Snooker is becoming a full time job and the more players play, the sharper they are.

The standard at Telford is likely to be extremely high because the field will have had so much recent competitive snooker under their belts.

Gould faces Graeme Dott, a touch match but I’m sure the former world champion would agree that the Pinner potter isn’t someone you’d want to play in the first round.

There is one mystery that remains, though: how exactly does he play in those glasses?



Let’s go back to this day in 1980: a defeated Jimmy Carter is in the White House working out the final weeks of his presidency. Aston Villa sit at the top of the first division. ABBA’s ‘Super Trouper’ is no.1 in the UK singles chart.

And Steve Davis is being driven home from Preston having just won his first major title, the UK Championship. It is the dawn of a golden career. He is 23 and about to transform the world of snooker.

Fast forward to the present day and Davis is today appearing in his 32nd successive UK Championship at the qualifiers in Sheffield. If he beats Mark Joyce he will play Ali Carter in Telford.

Davis won every UK title from 1980 to 1987 bar two. Terry Griffiths beat him in the 1982 quarter-finals and Alex Higgins recovered from 7-0 down to edge him 16-15 in the 1983 final.

This period encompassed an era of dominance so complete that it was hard to see how it could ever end.

Davis was a shy, awkward teenager who found an outlet in snooker. His talent and potential became apparent to Barry Hearn, who ran a chain of snooker clubs and would manage him through a golden decade, indeed who still manages him to this day.

Griffiths opened the door for the new breed by winning the world title at his first attempt in 1979 and Davis was part of the mob of young players who dived through it in his wake.

He became a magnet for trophies, and money too: the old guard who played snooker when there was hardly any financial reward in the game, scratching around the exhibition circuit for a living, must have looked at Davis in awe and disbelief: how could anyone possibly become a millionaire out of the sport?

The answer, of course, was through his on table dominance and the off table savvy of Hearn, pushing lucrative sponsorship contracts his way and, in helping to create the soap opera that was the 1980s boom, ensuring new tournaments, more prize money and a bucketful of personal appearances.

The Davis years would have to end some time but he found it hard to accept that Stephen Hendry was even better.

The 1990 UK Championship saw them go toe-to-toe in the final for a second successive year. They were introduced into the Preston Guild Hall to Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’, an apposite choice for these formidable champions. It was a great match which Hendry eventually won 16-15 and marked the moment the crown was passed.

Davis soldiered on but his ranking position slipped and, with it, so did his aura.

There were more trophies, including a memorable capture of the Wembley Masters in 1997, but in 2000 he dropped out of the top 16.

Precedence told us that when former champions are relegated from the elite bracket they usually keep sliding until their career ends. Davis was constantly asked if he would retire. His answer was always the same: why should I?

And then in 2005 he was in the UK final again after an extraordinary week in York in which he beat Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire, Ken Doherty and Hendry before falling short against Ding Junhui. It was, remarkably, his 100th final after an inspirational run of performances.

Inspiration was the key again at the Crucible last season with his shock 13-11 defeat of John Higgins, a player, like so many, who grew up admiring the ‘Nugget.’

The old aura is restored, not of invincibility but as a cold stone legend. Davis now enjoys universal respect and while once he was booed because his success had become so monotonous, now he is revered as one of the most popular players in the sport.

His love of snooker remains as strong as it was 30 years ago. He is still endlessly fascinated by it. When he reached the Crucible for a 30th time last season he was more excited than any of the other qualifiers.

The world has changed in all sorts of ways in the last 30 years. An African American president now sits in the White House. An American owned football team is top of the league. A group of people unheard of months ago but brought together through a reality TV show are no.1.

Technological advancements have been rapid and spectacular: the fact you can read this now is testament to that.

But through it all, like old man river, Steve Davis has just kept rolling along.



He looks markedly older than when I last saw him; paler, greyer and tired around the eyes.

We meet at the Telford International Centre where he will return for his first televised event since the end of his six month suspension. His media ‘handler’ wastes no time in laying down the ground rules: there are to be no questions about the specifics of what happened in the Ukraine for legal reasons.

John Higgins must be sick of talking about it, sick of trying to persuade people of his innocence. He says those he has met in the street have been supportive – indeed at Telford this is much in evidence – but he knows that there will always be some who will point the finger.

The events that brought about his fall from grace are like a permanent stain on his career: the surprise defeat to Steve Davis at the Crucible enlivened the World Championship but the newspaper account of Higgins’s subsequent visit to Kiev overshadowed the final and delivered a universal kick to the shins of everyone involved in the sport.

The record will show that Higgins was fined £75,000 and served out a six month ban. In Germany earlier this month he faced his fellow players for the first time at an event in the European Players Tour Championship. All were friendly but the three times world champion, mentally bruised by the whole affair, now finds it difficult to take even his friends at face value.

“I was nervous about how players would treat me but they were all fine – to my face anyway,” Higgins said.

“Nobody has said anything to my face. If they do then I can answer them. If they come up to me and say, ‘great to see you back’ what am I supposed to say? That they are lying? That they should tell me what they really think?”

So are some players being two-faced?

“Of course they are,” Higgins said. “I’d be naive if I didn’t think that. There’s jealous people in every walk of life. All I can say is that when I was growing up and practising with the likes of Stephen Hendry I was never jealous of them for the success they’d had. I wanted to try and replicate what they’d done. It was admiration, not jealousy. Sometimes in our sport maybe people are jealous when they should be getting their cues out and practising more.”

I cut to the chase. How does he feel about Pat Mooney, his former manager who has since been banned from ever playing any further part in snooker after the tribunal found him guilty of “an egregious betrayal of trust?”

At this, his media ‘handler’ bristles. Higgins shakes his head. “What’s done is done but if it didn’t make me more wary I’d be stupid,” is all he will say on the broken relationship.

Alas, this amiable man and legend of the game was pretty stupid to have said the things he did in that hotel room, even if you accept his explanation as to why he behaved in that way.

Even when he was cleared to return to the circuit he could not celebrate: his father, a popular figure in the game and hugely supportive of his son, had just been told his cancer was terminal.

Inside, Higgins must be wondering how it all came to this. From the age of nine, snooker was his life. Suddenly without it, he rattled around the house, waiting for the verdict. “I filled my days by helping out with the kids and normal things like that,” he said.

“People were asking me why I didn’t go to the club to practise but I didn’t want to do that when I didn’t know if there’d be an end goal to it. When the judgement came through it got me fired up again.

“I didn’t know what to think about what the judgement would be. I knew I’d have to take whatever it was on the chin. I did contemplate not playing again but I don’t have to think those thoughts now.”

The strength of his game has never been questioned but Higgins will also need mental toughness to shut out the whispering and suspicions of others and begin the process of rehabilitating his image. The forthcoming 12bet.com UK Championship in Telford, which he won in 1998 and 2000, marks the start of that journey.

He heads into it placed second in the rankings behind Neil Robertson, determined but anxious too.

“It’s my first time back playing in Britain so I’m nervous,” Higgins said. “People who’ve seen me grow up playing snooker on TV will have their own views. That’s just something I will have to accept. All I can do is my best.

“I’d like to get back to world no.1. It’s something to aim for. Neil Robertson is a great player. He’s grown in recent years and I've watched how he's changed his game. Now he’s world champion and he’s the man to beat.”

That status once belonged to John Higgins. Perhaps it will again but, right now, his main task will be to restore his battered reputation.



Ronnie O’Sullivan proved once again this weekend that he is the king of the shot clock as he won the partycasino.com Premier League title for the ninth time with a 7-1 defeat of Shaun Murphy.

This is O’Sullivan’s sixth title victory from the seven stagings of the Premier League under the 25 second per shot limit.

He was superb in beating Neil Robertson 5-1 in the semi-finals and played well in the final, but Murphy, the defending Premier League champion, was well below par.

So it’s O’Sullivan’s title once again, but can he take this form to the UK Championship?

Only once (in 2007) has he followed his capture of the shot clock Premier League with victory in snooker’s second biggest tournament.

There’s no shot clock in Telford. It is two session, nine day snooker and so therefore a completely different mental approach is required.

As the man himself put it: "The UK, the Masters and the Worlds are a completely different ball game."

Encouragingly for O’Sullivan fans, Ronnie was in a good mood in Hopton-on-Sea, even declaring himself to be happy with how he played.

We all know this contented spell is not bound to last but therein lies the fascination.

It’s 17 years to the day since he won his first ranking title, the 1993 UK Championship, just days before he turned 18.

Much has happened on table and off since then but O’Sullivan remains a rare talent, and the Premier League trophy seems to be his to keep.


The first round draw for the new Sky Shootout has been made.

The stand-out tie is Mark Williams v John Higgins, two players with five world titles between them.

Ronnie O'Sullivan tackles Marco Fu while Ali Carter meets Jimmy White and Steve Davis faces Peter Ebdon.

The tournament takes place from January 28-30 in Blackpool. Each match consists of a single frame, which will be stopped after ten minutes.

First round draw:
Andrew Higginson v Jamie Burnett
Tom Ford v Stephen Maguire
Robert Milkins v Martin Gould
Fergal O'Brien v Stephen Hendry
Jimmy Michie v Marcus Campbell
Mark King v Jimmy Robertson
Alfie Burden v Matthew Selt
Peter Lines v Barry Hawkins
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Marco Fu
Stephen Lee v Michael Holt
Michael Judge v Alan McManus
Mark Williams v John Higgins
Graeme Dott v Matthew Couch
Adrian Gunnell v David Morris
Jamie Cope v Ken Doherty
Judd Trump v Dave Harold
Barry Pinches v Neil Robertson
Shaun Murphy v Rory McLeod
Gerard Greene v Rod Lawler
Matthew Stevens v Mike Dunn
Stuart Pettman v Bjorn Haneveer
Andy Hicks v Mark Selby
Ding Junhui v Dominic Dale
Jimmy White v Ali Carter
Nigel Bond v Joe Jogia
Tony Drago v Liang Wenbo
Joe Perry v Ricky Walden
Joe Swail v Mark Davis
Anthony Hamilton v Anthony McGill
Stuart Bingham v Ian McCulloch
Mark Allen v Ryan Day
Peter Ebdon v Steve Davis


Two snooker related things worth marking your cards for if you have access to Sky Sports.

The last 64 draw for the new Sky Shootout will precede the Premier League final tonight on Sky Sports4 from 7pm.

And then on Thursday at 10pm on Sky Sports1 the programme Times of Our Lives will feature a chat between Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor and Joe Johnson about the snooker boom of the 1980s.

They will be talking about their world finals and life at the top of a sport that, for a time, was bigger than any other on British TV.



Here are the answers to this week's quiz...

1) Steady Eddie's highest ranking was third

2) Warren King appeared in the 1990 Mercantile Classic final

3) Five Australians have played at the Crucible - Eddie Charlton, John Campbell, Warren King, Quinten Hann and Neil Robertson

4) Hann lost to Peter Ebdon in the 2004 Irish Masters semi-finals

5) Neil Robertson's Crucible debut ended at the hands of Stephen Hendry in 2005



I would never bet against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the partycasino.net Premier League.

It’s not just the shot-clock – although that is a factor – but more the nature of the event: turning up for a night, playing and going home that suits Ronnie’s personality more than hanging around for nine days at a time.

He has two nights to play this weekend if he is to win the League for a ninth time. O’Sullivan made a slowish start to this year’s competition but stepped it up towards the end of the round robin phase and, by the end, was playing some superb stuff.

Among his victims was Neil Robertson who he plays again in the semi-finals tomorrow night.

Robertson very nearly missed out on a last four place by virtue of arriving at Llandudno for his final match last week with only minutes to spare.

But he beat Shaun Murphy to get through and the world champion and world no.1 is of course a massive threat to O’Sullivan.

Except, Robertson is less settled in the format than Ronnie. His League performances have been inconsistent and while I would favour him if these two met in a ranking event, O’Sullivan is always fired up for the League and has to start favourite.

People who knock the League seem to think it’s just an extended series of exhibitions without pressure. They should speak to the players, every one of whom regards it as a prestigious event. In fact, they clamour to get in it.

The Premier League has run since 1987 and seen off countless ranking events in the last 23 years.

Live on TV in front of big crowds, it’s a test of temperament, tactics (because of the shot clock) and the ability to think quickly. There’s also big money on offer and this affects a player’s thinking too.

O’Sullivan’s dominance in recent years proves his innate snooker intelligence. It’s not just that he plays quickly: he sees the right shot immediately.

Unlike in a long match his focus is less likely to go, but this doesn’t make the League easier to win. It’s just a different mindset, a different set of skills required.

Last year O’Sullivan chose to run the Norwich half marathon on the morning of the final and lost 7-3 to Murphy.

That’s not to say Shaun wouldn’t have won anyway but it was hardly the best preparation.

Murphy has kept himself ticking over this season by playing in all the PTCs, winning one, finishing runner-up in another and topping the order of merit.

In the other semi-final he faces Marco Fu, who returns to action fresh from winning the gold medal for Hong Kong at the Asian Games last week.

Marco is capable of brilliant performances but at other times, for whatever reason, just can’t get going.

He beat Murphy 4-2 in the League section and is a former champion himself so Murphy has his work cut out to reach the final again.

But they all know that O'Sullivan is the man to beat.

The action is all live on Sky Sports4 from 7.30pm UK time tomorrow.



In tribute to the Ashes, it's an Australian theme...

1) What was Eddie Charlton's highest ever ranking?

2) Prior to Neil Robertson winning the 2006 Grand Prix, who was the last Australian to reach a ranking tournament final?

3) How many Australians have played at the Crucible?

4) Who beat Quinten Hann in his only ranking event semi-final appearance?

5) Who beat Neil Robertson on his Crucible debut?


There’s been a mixed start for snooker’s newest professionals at the 12bet.com UK Championship qualifiers in Sheffield.

There were wins in the first qualifying round for Jack Lisowski, Liam Highfield, Kyren Wilson and Adam Wicheard but defeats for Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon, Kuldesh Johal, Igor Figueiredo, Reanne Evans and Jak Jones.

Wicheard’s reward for his 9-3 defeat of Joe Delaney is a meeting with 1992 UK champion Jimmy White.

Highfield held off Johal 9-7 and will now face the super-fast Maltese Tony Drago.

Wilson beat experienced Yorkshireman Paul Davison 9-6 and now tackles Lancashire potter Ian McCulloch.

Lisowski, already confirmed for the PTC grand finals next March, takes on Matt Selt, a practise partner from The Grove in Romford, as was his first victim, Zhang Anda.

Young Jack contributes a monthly column for Snooker Scene about life on the tour. He says he is still learning all the time but is loving every minute of his time as a snooker professional.

The other side of the coin, though, is the disappointment of an early defeat in the game’s second biggest event.

Figueiredo qualified for the World Open but won only four frames against Liu Chuang while 16 year-old Thai Tirapongpaiboon went down 9-2 to Ben Woollaston.

Evans is still yet to win a match all season. She appears to be stuck in some sort of snooker limbo: too good for the other women but not yet good enough to challenge the men.

Another first season pro is Anthony McGill who, thanks to the new ranking system, has already made it into the top 64.

The Scot meets Northern Ireland’s Patrick Wallace, a World Championship quarter-finalist in 2001, in the second qualifying round.

The two session matches require a shift in focus for all players after the endless best of sevens in the PTCs.

The experienced players are thus at an advantage because they understand the mental approach necessary in the longer form tournaments.

But it would be good to see a few new faces in Telford.



World Snooker and the BBC will have to decide whether to alter the schedule for the Betfred.com World Championship following the news that the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will be on April 29.

This falls on the afternoon of the second day of the Crucible semi-finals. The government have designated the day a public holiday.

As the wedding of the future monarch is a huge national event, it is unlikely the BBC will be broadcasting live coverage of anything else at the same time.

The easiest solution would be to play three sessions on the Thursday and have the semi-final rest session on the Friday afternoon.

Of course, a great many people couldn't care less about the royal wedding and won't understand why there needs to be any change at all.

It's better to decide one way or the other now, though, particularly as people have already started buying tickets.



Barry Hearn has warned snooker’s top stars to smarten up their acts as he plans the next phase of a revolution he hopes will globalise the sport.

Hearn admits he is far from impressed from the recent behaviour of some of snooker’s leading lights and says he will not stand for anyone neglecting their professional responsibilities.

The World Snooker Ltd chairman today stated that the governing body was close to signing new broadcast deals with the BBC and Eurosport and were looking at staging an extra half dozen events outside the UK.

But I suggested to him that he needs player support to transform the game’s fortunes and that some of them need a wake-up call.

“It’s true and I’ll deal with the players in a balanced way with education on one side and penalties on the other,” Hearn said.

“Punishments will be draconian because I don’t want to take prisoners. If I’m going to give as much time and commitment as I have been to the ongoing increase in tournaments and prize money, I have to expect a similar return from my top players, and some of them are not delivering.

“So we’ll be looking at our player contracts in more detail. There will be bigger penalties for entering tournaments and not turning up. There will be penalties for arriving late.

“I’ve never had all of this in darts. I’ve got 380 players in the PDC and have never had a problem. The real secret is that they’ve been educated properly. I’m afraid some of the snooker players have a bit of an, ‘oh well, it doesn’t really matter’ attitude.

“They’ve been allowed to get away with things for the last few years that I would never allow. I’ve been quite shocked that a couple of them are following that route but they have to be dealt with and I don’t care if their name is Sid Smith or Ronnie O’Sullivan. You know with me that they will be dealt with. There won’t be any tolerance whatsoever.

“For Ronnie entering tournaments and then not turning up, it’s referred to the disciplinary process and there will be harsh financial penalties written into the contracts next year. Neil Robertson turned up with ten minutes to spare at the Premier League last week. It’s a harsh note from me. It’s lack of professionalism on his part and he’s very embarrassed about it. He’ll be told in future he’ll be expected to turn up six hours before the match, not one, if he wants to play in my events in the future. Ding smashed the pack in an EPTC. That’s gone to a disciplinary.

“Dave Douglas has a range of issues to sort out, including players who didn’t turn up to the opening press conference in Shanghai, because they didn’t think it really mattered – well let’s see what Mr. Douglas has to say about that. There’s a price to pay. John Higgins has paid a price for being unprofessional in some aspects. Other players will have to as well. Going forward, you either play under my rules or you don’t play at all. It doesn’t matter who you are.

“Over the next few weeks you’ll read certain things and say, ‘blimey, he was actually telling us the truth.’ We are a professional sport and 99% of players act like professionals all the time. But snooker has been stuck in the mire, going nowhere, and there’s a certain attitude among certain players that it doesn’t really matter. They’re being educated now. Some of them are quite surprised I’m delivering the things I said I would and they need a wake-up call to be more professional.

“In other sports I’m involved in I don’t have any of this. In snooker, the contracts haven’t been tight enough and people abuse it, but they don’t abuse it with me twice. I bumped into one them who said, ‘you won’t discipline me.’ Trust me, I’d do it to my mum, and she’s dead.

“I need the top players to illustrate to the younger players the rules that exist, on etiquette. They all come from the top players. If your kid at home watches a footballer take a dive, when he’s out playing for the under 11’s, he’ll take a dive because he’s seen it on TV. That’s not good. We have to set the standards. In the 1980s, it was all built on the bowtie image and that’s one that carries a huge financial premium.

“When I was in Shanghai I couldn’t believe the red carpet treatment I got. I mean, I know I’m important but I was astonished how well I got treated. Then I’m in my hotel room in Bangkok and the phone goes. It’s the prime minister’s office asking if I’d go and see him. It shows you how big this sport is. It all comes about through the image you create And this is where the top players have a responsibility to the game.”



The first staging of the Players Tour Championship is now at an end.

Going purely on player participation and the opportunities at has afforded them it has to be judged a success.

Without the players, the PTC would have been an expensive folly but the vast majority of the circuit has embraced them for what they are: the chance to keep match sharp and earn money and ranking points.

Mindset is crucial going to any tournament and the PTC is no different. Those players who turned up feeling negative about it did not do well; many of those who went into the tournaments relishing the extra opportunities to play and earn money have got the rewards.

It’s amazing how complacent people can become very quickly. Let’s go back to a year ago. There were six ranking events and a series of downmarket, poorly subscribed Pro Challenge Series events played in clubs, one with only six reds, which fizzled out due to player apathy, which was largely due to the fact there were no ranking points available.

Next season World Snooker will stage at least 29 events. The PTC accounts for 13 of these. It represents a huge increase in playing opportunity for professionals and amateurs.

The set up and conditions have not been perfect but this was the first year and mistakes were inevitable. To have got the concept off the ground so quickly was actually a very creditable effort.

Would any player – hand on heart – want snooker to go back to how it was 12 months ago?

The bottom line is this: if you don’t want to play in the PTCs, don’t play in them. Sit at home. Do something else instead.

Barry Hearn has made good on his stated objective which was not to spoon feed players ‘guarantees’ and leave them nicely cosseted in a set ranking position. No, he said he would give them all opportunities and what they did with them was up to them.

For a very small number of players – Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Steve Davis would fit the bill – the PTCs are a come down. I can well understand why Hendry, for instance, doesn’t like them after the majesty of his career.

But try telling Marcus Campbell they’re a bad idea. Try telling Barry Pinches or Tom Ford or Michael Holt.

Players have previously had months – literally – between matches but now they have the option to play pretty much every week. And, again, if they are successful they are rewarded.

Among the smears and lies spread by Hearn’s coterie of enemies was that he would cut the circuit to 32 players. In fact, far from being an elitist he has set up a series that has mainly benefitted players lower down the rankings.

It’s true that expenses take their toll, particularly when travelling abroad. The other side of that coin, though, is that it’s £10,000 to the winner, so, again, those who do well reap the rewards.

I commend Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby in particular for their attitudes toward these events, including playing in them when it was obvious they had already qualified.

Big names competing will in itself grow the sport because it acts as a spur to amateurs and those junior players in the various European locations. They will have been inspired by the chance to play some of the leading lights of the sport and will be hungry for more in the future.

Hearn and his team can learn from this inaugural staging of the PTC. I think he would accept in hindsight that it was a mistake to stipulate players had to enter at least three PTCs and EPTCs in order to qualify for the grand finals. In the cold light of day it’s crazy that Ding Junhui and John Higgins, who won titles, cannot now go to Dublin next March. I expect next season’s qualification to be based either on, say, the best eight results or purely on the money list.

The set up in Sheffield is not perfect, not least because there is no room for spectators. Hearn has been saddled with this facility by the previous board but it seems unlikely all six British PTCs will be played there next season. The excellent South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester must be a leading contender to host a couple in 2011/12.

The EPTCs were open to spectators and it is these that have the capacity to grow into bigger events in years to come. There may well be some in Asia in the very near future too.

Snooker does not just exist at the very highest level. It doesn’t revolve exclusively around the Crucible and Wembley. Any sport needs a proper structure that runs from the very top right down to the grass roots. The PTC can play its part in this.

Ultimately playing snooker for the 96 main tour players is a profession. There’s a clue there in the job title: professional snooker player.

There is not a market or the finances for dozens more major ranking tournaments but the PTCs have provided much needed matches, money and points.

Fine tuning is required but this innovation is a welcome addition to the calendar.



After a pretty calamitous start to the season, Michael Holt produced a superb performance in Prague to win the final European Players Tour Championship title of the campaign.

Holt led John Higgins 2-0 and 66-0 but lost that third frame and fell 3-2 adrift.

For his followers this looked like a familiar story and a Higgins victory was surely the only result.

But Holt dug in, won the sixth frame and easily secured the decider to win 4-3 and play his way into the PTC grand finals in Dublin next March.

Holt has recently endured a difficult time off the table due to illness in his family. His father suffered a stroke two months ago.

Who knows why players suddenly find form? Perhaps his personal situation is unrelated to his success but maybe getting back to playing snooker was a release from what is happening off table.

He said he would try and win the title for his dad and that’s what he’s done.

And he certainly did it the hard way, beating top 16 players Stephen Maguire, Jamie Cope, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy and Higgins.

Holt has always been a great talent but has lacked inner belief and there have been well documented times when pressure has caused him to let himself down.

But he has done himself proud tonight. This is a massive confidence boost that could turn his entire season around.

I’m delighted for him. You couldn’t meet a friendlier snooker player and, after all the knocks and disappointments, he deserves to enjoy this victory.

And his family will be very proud of him too.



Yes, it’s the return of the weekly feature – apart from all the weeks I don’t do it – taking you behind the scenes of life on the snooker circuit.

I was reading about Jason Manford, who has quit as presenter of the One Show after a tabloid expose in which he admitted to ‘saucy chats’ with women on the internet while staying in hotels on his stand-up tour.

His excuse is that he was bored and lonely moving from one hotel to another, which sounds weaselish but anyone who has spent any time on the road will understand what he means.

When Ronnie O’Sullivan described the World Championship as a ‘bore’ at the launch of Power Snooker he wasn’t referring to the actual tournament but the endless hanging around that it entails.

The life of a professional snooker player may sound glamorous – and it can be – but most of the time it’s a merry-go-round of motorways, airports and hotels. It’s late nights, bad meals, one drink too many in the bar and fitful sleep.

As players get older and have families they become less keen on spending long periods away from home.

But at least when they get knocked out they can go home, unlike the other members of snooker’s travelling circus: officials, table fitters, the TV crew and the media included.

The press, or at least needy freelancers looking to save a few quid, have stayed in various establishments that made Wormwood Scrubs look like the Ritz.

I once returned one night from a tournament to find my room had been given to someone else. My suitcase was in the lobby. “We thought you’d left” was the somewhat puzzling explanation.

More than once I’ve had drunks banging on the door, demanding to be let into what they erroneously believe to be their room.

Speaking of alcohol, many years ago the WPBSA appointed a chief executive who availed himself of the free bar in Dubai as if the drink were going out of fashion.

A couple of hours later a board member and his wife were walking down a corridor when they came across him face down, incapacitated through drink.

“Who’s that?” the wife asked.

“That’s our new chief executive” came the immortal response.

The British bed and breakfast is one of those institutions held in high esteem, usually by people who never have to stay in them.

In my experience they are eccentric places. I once stayed in one that would not accept cheques or credit cards (in all likelihood some sort of tax dodge) and was physically driven to an ATM by the landlord so that I could pay in cash.

At least in a B&B you are, in theory anyway, guaranteed a bed. The breakfast often leads much to be desired.

Fergal O’Brien was staying in a B&B in, I think, Plymouth and when his cooked breakfast was put in front of him there were no eggs on the plate.

When he asked for one he was cheerily told, “oh, sorry, we need all the eggs to bake a cake.”

I stayed in a B&B in Bournemouth one time where the manager told me breakfast would be served from 8-8.20am: not a minute before and certainly not a minute later.

As it transpired he used this 20 minutes to conduct what was basically a stand-up routine in the dining room. Hunger felt like the better option after a few days of this.

B&Bs are cheap and can sometimes be friendlier than big chain hotels but too much time in them would surely drive you insane.

One of my colleagues hit on an idea to save even more money in Aberdeen a few years ago: he stayed in a tent.

Alas, one night he returned to the site to find his tent washed away due to flooding and exceptionally strong winds.

One year in Sheffield I stayed in a flat with two other journalists. It proved to be a predictably bizarre experience. One hack believed his room was haunted while one day the other forgot to turn the grill off in the kitchen after making early morning toast.

When we returned from the Crucible some 13 hours later we opened the door and were hit by a blast of heat that nearly knocked us over backwards.

Suddenly life in B&Bs didn’t seem so bad.

A colleague once stayed in one in the era before email and needed to dictate a story to a copytaker late one night. He asked the establishment’s owner if there was a phone he could use – it would be an 0800 number and so therefore free but the owner pointed out of the window and said there was a callbox across a field. This was in the depths of winter.

For those who spent many months at the Norbreck in Blackpool during the 1990s, it wasn’t so much boredom that set in but madness.

Day after day after day of snooker tends to do that to you. All they could do was try and amuse themselves with various wind-ups.

One official returned to his room to find it completely empty, stripped of everything. He later had one of his eyebrows shaved off in an unrelated incident.

The king of the practical joke was John Carroll of 110sport. He once changed all the numbers of various floors of a hotel so that when people got out of the lift they had no idea where they were.

John Higgins naively strayed into this area when he filled Ian Doyle’s bed with sugar in Dubai, which is a little like walking up to a lion and punching it in the face.

Another time, two of my journalistic pals were sharing a room to save money. One joker decided to tell hotel staff that they weren’t just sharing but were, in fact, a couple.

One of the hacks had to leave one night to cover football and so his bed was unslept in. The next morning the other journalist set off for the snooker but turned back, headed to the room and ruffled up the sheets in the unused bed in case the cleaning staff got the wrong impression.

I realise all of this sounds childishly pathetic but with so many hours, days and weeks spent on the circuit you have to amuse yourself somehow.

Of course, hotels can be deadly too. Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton fell in his bathroom at the Crucible three years ago and broke his hip, thus missing the last day of the championship and indeed his first ever day at Sheffield since the tournament moved there in 1977.

A fellow journalist was once in the shower at the Norbreck when someone broke into his room and stole his wallet. The hack heard the door close, realised what had happened and gave chase down the corridor, rugby tackling the thief naked.

This scene must have looked a trifle odd to anyone passing by but, on the snooker circuit, it was just another day.


And the answers were...

1) Stephen Hendry made a remarkable seven centuries in the 1994 UK Championship final.

2) Hendry made his two Crucible 147s against Jimmy White in 1995 and Shaun Murphy in 2009.

3) Hendry won six ranking titles from his eight successive finals.

4) His unbeaten run at Wembley comprised 23 matches.

5) Graeme Dott was the beaten opponent when Hendry won the 2005 Malta Cup.



The Republic of Ireland will once again play host to a televised snooker tournament when the grand finals of the Players Tour Championship come to the Helix Theatre in Dublin next March.

It will feature the top 24 eligible players from the PTC order of merit following EPTC6 in Prague this weekend.

The Irish Masters was a hugely popular tournament with fans and players but has not been staged since 2005.

It will be interesting to see whether Ireland, traditionally a snooker hotbed, will embrace this new event.

The field will include some well known faces – including Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Mark Williams and Stephen Maguire – but also a great deal of more unfamiliar names.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Ding Junhui are among those not eligible to play and world champion Neil Robertson will need a strong performance in Prague to make the line-up.

There are no home players currently in the top 24 – Ken Doherty is 40th – and the tournament is being staged in the week of the St. Patrick’s celebrations, which are obviously a big deal in Dublin.

But for the many snooker fans who live in Ireland, this can only be good news.

TV and ticket details will be announced in due course.


This week's quiz is all about one man...Stephen Hendry

1) How many centuries did Hendry make in the 1994 UK Championship final?

2) Who were Hendry's opponents for his two Crucible 147s?

3) Hendry appeared in eight successive ranking tournament finals from the 1990 European Open to the 1991 British Open. How many did he win?

4) How many matches comprised Hendry's unbeaten run on the Wembley Masters from 1989 until Alan McManus beat him in the 1994 final?

5) Who did Hendry beat in the final to win the last of his 36 ranking titles?



Before politics claimed him, Jason Ferguson was doing pretty well as a snooker player. A three times Crucible qualifier and member of the top 32, he beat Stephen Hendry in the 2000 Welsh Open and had ambitions to rise higher up the ranks.

He joined the WPBSA board with the best of intentions and became chairman but the toxic atmosphere and lack of progress in his areas of interest caused him to resign in 2002.

Now he has been invited back as part of the new era, chairman of the WPBSA again but in markedly different circumstances.

Nobody doubts that snooker is under the control of Barry Hearn, the charismatic chairman of World Snooker Ltd in whose hands the commercial future of the sport lies but the WPBSA exists as a sober, guiding presence.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

“The split of the WPBSA away from the sport’s commercial arm is something I was involved in starting a decade ago but it never really happened properly,” Ferguson told snookersceneblog.

“It’s always made sense to me to take away the governing side of the sport and that part involved in politics from the commercial arm because that gives comfort to sponsors and broadcasters. They know that they can enter into proper commercial agreements with a commercial company. Politics shouldn’t detract from that. We have to maximise our commercial rights.

“The WPBSA now governs the rules and regulations of the sport and can advise as to the playing side. The new arrangement is working better than I could ever have imagined.

“As part of the agreement, if the structure of the tour is to change in any way then the WPBSA has to be consulted on it. Whilst there is a contractual responsibility for World Snooker Ltd to put the tour on, it has to do it in consultation with the WPBSA.

“It’s our job to represent the members and ensure the overall structure doesn’t change too much from what’s fair and responsible as a professional sport.

“We have to be open-minded. Earlier this year we were down to six tournaments and struggling for sponsorship. We’ve got more events now, more sponsors coming on board and new broadcasters interested in our game. Barry’s brought a huge amount of experience to the table but in some changes he wants to make it’s our place to say, hold on, that’s going a little too far, let’s go back a little without detracting too much from what you’re trying to achieve.

“It’s a balance, the governance of the sport against a commercial arm. We have to ensure we can allow changes without damaging snooker’s integrity.”

Ferguson is earnest and has thrown himself into the role but some have dismissed him as Hearn’s ‘yes man,’ merely doing the promoter’s bidding. It’s even been written (anonymously) in the comments section on here. Ferguson rejects this claim.

“I’ve read some of the comments on your blog that I’m Barry’s puppet and all the rest of it,” he said.

“In fact, I’ve been out of the sport completely for six or seven years. I haven’t even hit a snooker ball in six years. When I came back to the boardroom I could not possibly have been more independent.”

So what has he opposed Hearn on?

“The original agreement involved the shares going to the players individually. I was against that. I fought hard for the shares to remain inside the WPBSA. Barry has respected that. We own at least 25% of the shares so have a direct input into the decision making process.

“We’ve got a very good working relationship but we also have a relationship where we’re not frightened to say no to each other. There haven’t been any major disagreements but we’ve had plenty of hard negotiation over what we think is the right structure.

“We’re like-minded in the vision we have for the future of the sport. The WPBSA is right to take a stand on certain issues but doesn’t want to be destructive when it comes to redeveloping the sport.”

Ferguson has to have his position on the WPBSA board ratified at a forthcoming AGM at which a number of other candidates are standing, including some of those who were part of an EGM a few weeks ago to remove him and his colleagues.

It fizzled out before it had got off the ground and Ferguson claims it was not representative of the general feedback he has received from players.

“The EGM came from a certain part of the membership, a small one,” he said.

“In general, the players seem very happy with the way things are going. There’s more money in the sport and more activity. I’m not saying we’ve got everything right. We certainly need to look at some of the facilities and structures and need to continue to grow in terms of prize money. We have to continue growing full stop.”

Before all that they need to be re-elected. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of snooker politics knows this is by no means a certainty.

“I’m keen to get the board re-elected,” he said. “I’ve been careful in putting it together and they are all playing key roles. Dave Douglas, our head of disciplinary, is a great guy. You could not have anybody fairer in dealing with these issues, plus he has the experience we need.

“We’ve got Alan Chamberlain in to look at the rules of the game and how new formats are catered for within the rules. Steve Davis has also played a key role. You couldn’t have a player with more experience in that position and he’s taken a strong interest in coaching and development. To have his name linked to something like that is fantastic because if you mention Steve’s name in any country around the world that likes snooker they know who he is and respect him.

“There’s a lot of work to do, particularly with the grass roots and amateur side of the sport. We need more coaching and more development, which means more players, more tournaments and more growth as a sport. We have to feed the sport from the bottom, working with the amateur bodies.”

All of which will require a great deal of patience, as the alphabet soup of amateur organisations, each with their own proprietorial turf wars and internecine struggles, are not always willing to embrace change.

Ferguson seems a suitably patient sort, but why come back at all? After all, his last dalliance with snooker politics left him battered and bruised and effectively ended his playing career.

During the last few years he has pursued a successful career in local government, rising to the role of mayor of his town, Ollerton.

“It was a hard decision to return,” he said. “Since I resigned the first time I’ve built a life outside snooker. I was very busy when I was first approached about coming back on the board. I had to think twice and think back to the reason I left in 2002. I have a young family and responsibilities in my town but the passion for snooker is still there and I’ve missed the game.

“I’ve had regrets about ever getting involved in snooker politics. I was a top 32 player when I became a director and there’s no doubt that it took its toll on my playing career. I was 33 years old and chairman of a large company. It was a big responsibility and my time spent practising dwindled to next to nothing, as did the results.

“I don’t regret it now, though. I look at what’s happened in my life since and I’ve enjoyed my new roles, and spent time with my family.

“I’ve had a public role the last few years. As mayor I’ve held public meetings in front of hundreds of people. If you can defend council tax levels it’s a good start. It’s toughened me up and definitely helped in terms of coming back to the WPBSA.

“So I don’t regret coming back. I love this sport with a passion and this role suits me as a person. I’m enjoying being back and seeing the players I grew up with once again.

“I hope I can make a real difference and that the players can see that the changes being made are for the greater good.”



A quick heads up, as our American cousins would say, for this week's big interview which is an exclusive chat with WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson.

In it, he explains why he returned to snooker politics, his relationship with Barry Hearn, his thoughts on the recently aborted EGM and what needs to happen to ensure snooker's growth in the future.

Read all about it tomorrow...


The Welsh Open will be played under a new format this season.

The tournament, staged in Newport, will use best of seven frame matches for all rounds up to and including the last 16.

This means the Newport Centre can go from three tables to two, both of which will be televised.

Last season's second table looked awful on the TV, as if there was barely room to cram it in.

The Welsh Open, as I wrote earlier this month, has become the poor relation of the ranking event circuit. These changes are by no means guaranteed to alter that but at least World Snooker are trying something new.

The World Open format was similarly bold but seemed to go down well and the shorter format did not produce a high number of shocks - on the contrary, it proved that the top players are the best under pressure.

The point about snooker formats is that they have all been devised for TV, but most of them for TV as it was a quarter of a century ago.

The Welsh final will still be best of 17, the semi-finals best of 11 and the quarters best of nine.



For John Higgins to win the first tournament after his suspension is a remarkable feat.

He was nervous, he was rusty, he was unsure of the reception he would receive. However, tonight he beat Shaun Murphy 4-2 to win the fifth event of the European Players Tour Championship in Hamm and provide the PTC series with its eleventh different winner from the twelve tournaments contested so far.

Higgins didn’t pick up his cue from losing to Steve Davis in the second round of the World Championship last season to shortly after learning that he would be returning to the circuit despite the News of the World scandal that cast doubt on his entire professional career.

The 35 year-old three times world champion went to Germany with his wife, Denise, and found players to be largely welcoming.

I’m sure John felt he had a point to prove and to win the title says a lot about his own mental strength. The strength of his game was never in dispute.

The whole experience seems to have made him even tougher than before. There was no better way to answer the doubters and he knew that. As so often before, he rose to the occasion.

In normal circumstances winning an EPTC title would not register high on the list of achievements for a player as steeped in silverware as Higgins.

But the manner in which this trophy was won much surely make it one of the most satisfying of his career.



A year ago, the prospect of John Higgins becoming the black sheep of the snooker family seemed ludicrous.

He was the best player in the world with a well earned reputation as an amiable guy, unaffected by fame and fortune.

All that changed in the Ukraine earlier this year and the subsequent News of the World sting that left Higgins fighting for his professional survival.

Today he returns at the European Players Tour Championship in Hamm, Germany, his first match since losing 13-11 to Steve Davis in the second round of the World Championship.

In an interview with the Scotland on Sunday, Higgins likened this to a trip to the dentist. He is unsure about how his fellow players and the wider game will welcome him back.

Some have sent messages of support. Some have not. I know one well known player – a good friend of Higgins – who was simply too embarrassed by the whole affair to say anything to him at all.

Higgins has been the recipient of many - mainly anonymous - insults from some fans on the internet and admitted he read many of these comments through natural curiosity.

But public opinion is only that: opinion. The tribunal was headed by an independent lawyer who came to his judgement based on the available facts, not his own prejudice.

I wouldn’t write anything about John that I wouldn’t say to his face.

I believe he was very naive, well, stupid, to put himself in that situation but the idea that, were this a genuine plot, he would have trousered the £260,000 ‘bribe’ is not one I could picture. I’ve known him a while and that isn’t him.

But it is true that top sportspeople can develop a kind of arrogance without even knowing it. They become accustomed to a lifestyle and a sort of untouchability that means they don’t fully think through their actions.

Regardless of whether he was led into a possibly career ending scenario by his manager, Higgins should surely have behaved in a more professional manner.

And he knows that. He will have thought of little else since he was suspended.

Some will forever look at him and see someone they believe was prepared to cheat. Some will be happy to see a successful, contented person brought down a peg or two. Some will support him to the end.

Higgins will never convince everyone of his innocence and as the years go by the myths surrounding the case will grow.

But he’s back and he has every right to continue what was, until last May, a glorious career.