Mark Selby has won two PTC titles in the last season and a bit but could still end up as world no.1 without having won a fully fledged ranking title in the two-year cycle.

There have been only eight players to have held top spot since the world rankings were introduced in 1976: Ray Reardon, Cliff Thorburn, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson.

The rankings have only really held weight since the mid 1980s when a substantial number of tournaments were used to formulate the list, which was worked out based on two season’s points up until last year.

Now it is a rolling list but no less accurate for that. The fact is, Selby is incredibly consistent – last season he appeared in two finals and three semi-finals.

He can take over from Williams when points are deducted at the next seedings cut-off point in a month’s time.

The old points system seems rather quaint now. Winners of ranking tournaments received six points (ten for becoming world champion), runners-up five, losing semi-finalists four and so on until we got into merit points.

This system may look antiquated but it always seemed to produce a pretty accurate list.

It all changed in 1993/94 when the tariffs were upped to the several thousands. Legend has it they were worked out by then WPBSA chairman John Spencer on the back of a fag packet, a story which ought to be true even though it probably isn’t.

The problem with both systems is that good performances took a long time to be rewarded with a rankings climb, so that winners of the UK Championship Doug Mountjoy, O’Sullivan, Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui still had to qualify for the Crucible.

They remain arbitrary, though. I don’t see how the excellent German Masters is any less of a tournament than the Shanghai Masters, yet the winner receives 2,000 fewer ranking points.

It would be so much simpler just to scrap these tariffs and rank the players based on money won in each ranking tournament.

Because prize money – the amount sponsors believe a tournament is worth – does reflect on the importance of an event.

Personally, I can’t say the rankings excite me too much. A player’s stature comes from what they’ve won, how much they’ve achieved, rather than the number next to their name.

When Mark Williams dropped out of the top 16 he was still Mark Williams, with the aura and he class he always had. It was just that his form had gone walkabout.

When other players played him then didn’t think, ‘I’m playing the world no.22.’ They thought, ‘I’m playing Mark Williams.’

And it isn’t so much about a player’s ranking position as the band they end up in.

There is no material benefit to being ranked, say, sixth over seventh but there is a very dramatic difference between 16th and 17th place.

Whatever the system, success should be rewarded. Winning a tournament should mean a significant improvement.

But remember, the rankings is a game of snakes and ladders: every player has a chance to go up but they equally are in danger of sliding down.

As ever, performance on the table will determine a player’s position, whatever system is in place.



Mark Selby’s capture of the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany last night was another classy performance from a player now closing in on becoming world no.1.

Selby lost only one frame in reaching the semi-finals, where he recovered from 3-1 down to edge Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-3, employing his trademark steel under pressure.

In the second frame of the final, he trailed Mark Davis 0-70 but Davis went for a risky plant, left a red on and Selby produced a good 73 clearance to lead 2-0.

It was the key moment of the match and he duly went on to complete a 4-0 victory and receive the special trophy presented by Paul’s father, Alan Hunter.

Selby failed to win a televised title last season but he has already won two in this campaign, having secured the Wuxi Classic last month.

It is perhaps not surprising that he is thriving in this new era. He loves snooker, he loves playing snooker and he will play in as much as he can – wherever it is.

The fourth PTC was a triumph. Huge attendances in Fuerth once again demonstrated the thriving market that exists for snooker in Germany, where the fans are enthusiastic but also respectful.

They were treated to a parade of star names, some new faces and O’Sullivan’s magnificent 147 on Friday night.

Selby said afterwards that he hoped they could all be back next year. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that.


LEN GANLEY: 1943-2011

Len Ganley, the former referee and one of the circuit’s best known characters, has died at the age of 68.

Len (pictured with Alex Higgins and Terry Griffiths) was a familiar face on television for two decades, taking charge of many of snooker’s best known occasions in the 1980s and 90s.

He refereed four World Championship finals. The first was in 1983 when Steve Davis beat Cliff Thorburn. He also officiated the Crucible final in 1987, when Davis beat Joe Johnson, Stephen Hendry’s historic first capture of the title in 1990 and Hendry’s session-to-spare defeat of Jimmy White in 1993.

Len also refereed the famous 1983 UK Championship final between Alex Higgins and Steve Davis, in which Higgins recovered from 7-0 down to win 16-15.

If ever anyone fitted the description ‘larger than life’ it was Len. He was someone who enjoyed his time on the circuit to the full and was a distinctive, popular figure with TV audiences.

Born in Northern Ireland, where he was a chimney sweep in his youth, he settled in Burton-on-Trent in the early 1970s and, a keen snooker player, got into refereeing while working variously as a bus conductor and milkman.

He first donned the white gloves after he played Ray Reardon in a league match. When the multi-world champion got to a century, with the colours still on, the 600-strong crowd got over-excited but Ganley, with his imposing frame, hushed them and Reardon suggested that officialdom would come easily to him.

When snooker took off on TV in the late 1970s, refereeing became a full time job.

I know that when people who knew him remember Len they will do so with a smile.

Warm, ebullient and eccentric, his cult status was confirmed when the band Half Man Half Biscuit wrote a song about him: ‘The Len Ganley Stance.’

Len also appeared in an advert for Carling Black Label in which he was shown crushing a cue ball.

He was invariably involved in many of the laughs the circuit regulars enjoyed during long weeks on the road.

There was one hilarious misunderstanding in Aberdeen. A young lad clutching a programme approached him for an autograph and Len, ever obliging, asked him where he wanted it.

‘On the back’ came the reply meaning, of course, the back of the programme but a confused Len took the black marker pen and signed the back of his white sports coat instead.

Never one to take himself too seriously, he once had a personalised number plate which began ‘FLG.’

With great pride he explained it stood for ‘Fat Len Ganley.’

Less well known is the enormous amount of work Len did for charity.

Every year at the Crucible he collected money to provide motorised wheelchairs for handicapped children and raised many thousands of pounds over the years, which became millions through the golf days he also ran.

His fundraising method at the Crucible was direct: anyone he saw backstage, of whatever status or stature, would be obliged to hand over a ten pound note.

And this gentle giant certainly wasn’t shy of asking the great and the good to contribute to the cause.

Len was awarded the MBE in recognition of these efforts

He retired from the circuit in 1999 and returned to Northern Ireland to coach youngsters but still popped up from time to time to see his many friends.

In later life he suffered from diabetes and his health has been in decline since he suffered a heart attack in 2002.

His son, Mike, is the WPBSA’s tournament director. I send my sympathies to him and the whole Ganley family.

Another of the gang from the era that lifted snooker to the heights has departed the stage.



Away from the comments and the controversies, the travails and the tweets, what really matters about Ronnie O’Sullivan is this: when he plays his best he is the most awesome sight in snooker.

He proved this again in Fuerth tonight by making the 11th competitive maximum break of his career in reaching the last 16 of the Paul Hunter Classic.

This 147 included a brilliant shot on the last red to get round the table for the 15th black. It was sublimely skilful; it was Ronnie at his audacious best.

He beat Adam Duffy 4-0 after a great day at the office and is now back in front, 11-10 over Stephen Hendry in career maximum breaks.

It left a large crowd in Germany delighted and looking forward to O’Sullivan’s return to action on Sunday.

And with John Higgins surprisingly beaten 4-3 by Li Yan, O’Sullivan must surely now be favourite for the title.

Mark Selby, though, knows how to get him under pressure and will do all he can to frustrate O’Sullivan if they meet in two days time.

However, what we’ve been reminded of tonight is that talent and flair is what brings the crowds coming back for more.

Everyone would like to play snooker like Ronnie O’Sullivan. Very few can.

He has produced yet another moment to remember.



Sam Craigie will tomorrow make his television debut in the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany.

Some debut it is too for the 17 year-old, against world champion John Higgins.

Craigie hails from Wallsend (so named because it lies at the end of Hadrian’s Wall, fact fans), which is close to Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

He hails from a snooker-mad family. His elder brother, Stephen, has previously been on the circuit and is doing his best to get back on.

The brothers had an unusual helping hand in the development of their careers in the form of the local police force.

In 2003, the police club closed down and officers needed to get rid of the full sized snooker table.

The word was put out and the Craigies’ father, also Stephen, was the grateful recipient, although only after building an extension on the family home to accommodate it.

This proved to be a great decision. Both sons have impressed as amateurs. Stephen is a former European junior champion and Sam, after a number of successes in English national events, last year won the World Under 21 Championship – beating his brother 7-6 in the semi-finals – and thus qualified to be a professional.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: “I’m really pleased the lads have been so successful. It’s a great reflection on the area and it’s good to know that the police have played a small part.

“Often young people only come to the notice of police for the wrong reasons, but that’s certainly not the case here. They are a great example of what you can achieve with hard work, the right equipment and talent.”

Young Sam will need an arresting performance to beat Higgins but what a proud day for the family.



The fourth PTC of the season this week is a special event, not just because it is staged in Germany and broadcast live on television but because it carries the name of Paul Hunter.

He died tragically young in 2006 but is still much missed on the circuit and by snooker fans.

He will forever be remembered for his three dramatic victories in the final of the Masters and rightly so. It wasn’t just heart and poise under pressure that was so impressive but the quality of snooker he produced in adversity – four centuries in six frames against Fergal O’Brien in the first of his comebacks.

But it should also be noted how much of a prodigy Paul was. It’s often said that it’s hard for young players to make a breakthrough these days.

Well it always has been. When Hunter turned pro in 1995 there were something like 600 players on the circuit.

To qualify for the final stages of a ranking event in that first season he had to win seven matches and then an eighth to reach the last 32.

Hunter did so at the Welsh Open and went all the way to the semi-finals at the age of just 17.

He remains the youngest player ever to reach the last four of a ranking tournament, younger even than Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan or Ding Junhui.

In that debut season he also qualified for the UK Championship and Thailand Masters. Paul won 62 matches in ranking tournaments.

It was obvious he would very soon be a handful for the top players and someone who could raise the profile of the game. The public have a special affection and regard for sports men and women who achieve while young.

The following season Hunter featured in the UK Championship quarter-finals and, in 1998 at the age of 19, he won the Welsh Open.

It wasn’t one of those events where the draw opened up. Hunter beat five top 16 players to capture the title: Steve Davis, Nigel Bond, Alan McManus, Peter Ebdon and, in the final, John Higgins.

He went on to win two more ranking titles, plus of course his three Masters crowns, and become a great favourite with many. Like all players he lost some matches it can be argued he should have won, notably his epic Crucible semi-final with Ken Doherty in 2003, but he also won matches he probably should have lost.

Paul was one of those players who has been remembered not just for his achievements but for his character.

It is entirely appropriate that the players are competing in a tournament that bears his name.

Let’s hope they do him proud.



In capturing the third Players Tour Championship title of the season in Sheffield tonight, Ben Woollaston has made the breakthrough that his talent has long threatened.

The 24 year-old hails from Leicester, a snooker hotbed that has produced the likes of Willie Thorne and, more recently, Mark Selby and Tom Ford.

Woollaston is a contemporary of these latter two and has watched Selby become one of snooker’s leading lights and Ford win a PTC last season.

Now Woollaston has made his own significant step forward and what a moment it is for him, winning a tournament that included all of snooker’s top stars.

Graeme Dott started the final favourite as a former world champion, tough-as-old-boots match-player and someone who had already removed Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and John Higgins from the tournament.

He seemed to hold the upper hand after scrapping out the third frame to lead 2-1 but Woollaston got his head down and won the last three frames for a memorable victory.

Earlier this year he got married to a woman from Belarus, a referee in fact.

Maybe this new found stability and maturity has helped his snooker. With a family to provide for, maybe it has focused his mind.

The other woman in his life, his mother, Joy, will also obviously be delighted, having accompanied him to so many tournaments through his junior and professional days.

Joy is certainly the word for the Woollastons tonight. Well done to Ben.



On the first day of any job you are shown what to do: where to go, who to speak to, what your duties are.

This is not the case for snooker players and never has been. As I’ve written before, a new professional is just expected to turn up with a cue and start playing.

And that is pretty much it. The WPBSA, despite being a ‘members’ association has a poor track record when it comes to inducting players into life as a professional.

The effect has been corrosive. Players accused now of being selfish and not seeing the bigger picture may look at things differently had they been properly schooled.

They have historically not had it explained to them what their professional duties actually are.

There’s been no media training, no financial advice, no steers on dealing with managers and obtaining personal sponsorship.

There was a programme a decade ago, the Young Players of Distinction, which addressed a lot of this, but only for a chosen few.

The rest have just had to get on with it and many have found it difficult.

Snooker players by and large are single minded: snooker is their passion and they need help in other areas.

It seems like a dream profession to many but away from the actual playing it can be boring, lonely and often overwhelming: all that time to think about what can go wrong.

Thankfully, the WPBSA chairman, Jason Ferguson, a former player himself, is addressing these issues.

As part of a wide ranging development programme, which includes a more concrete structure to link the professional game with the grass roots of the amateur ranks, new Centres of Excellence are being launched to provide facilities to nurse talent.

One such centre will be the excellent South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester, whose launch was earlier this week.

But Ferguson also recognises that new players should be looked after more by the very association of which they are members.

“The day I turned professional I was 21 and I was suddenly thrown into a professional sport,” Ferguson said.

“I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t even know who the tournament director was.

“I remember spending the first two weeks of my professional career wondering why I’d bothered and I never want a player to ever feel like that again.

“I think it’s crucial that when new players qualify for the tour they are shown the ropes. It’s vital that we are responsible as a governing body to our members, for the players.”

Nobody would disagree with that, but problems remain in this bright new era.

Several amateur players at the PTC in Sheffield have had their match times changed. Indeed the draw seems to have changed for some of them.

Some players on Twitter said that they believed they had today off and were playing tomorrow but that this has now been altered.

This is clearly the last thing they need. Playing snooker for a living brings sufficient pressure without organisational problems adding to it.

The raft of new playing opportunities are of course exciting but even this brings additional pressure: making sure the entries are in on time, booking hotels and flights, practising enough but not too much, pacing throughout a long season.

Some players have people to do all this for them but, ultimately, they are alone in the arena. Snooker is about as solitary a sport as there is.

Players take a lot of stick. That is the nature of being in the public eye, where your every action and decision is endlessly analysed and criticised. Sometimes that criticism is warranted.

But they are human like the rest of us and deserve better support than they have historically enjoyed.

They are, after all, the people who bring this great game alive.



The Partycasino.com Premier League returns tomorrow, which means the first chance to observe and assess its new format.

The league now features ten players and each night consists of two best of five frame semi-finals followed by a best of five final.

The Embassy Theatre in Skegness hosts the opening night, which will as usual be televised live by Sky Sports.

World champion John Higgins plays Jimmy White in the first semi-final and Neil Robertson faces Matthew Stevens in the second.

The shot-clock remains but is reduced to just 20 seconds.

Nobody has played better under the shot-clock than Ronnie O’Sullivan, the nine times Premier League champion who has won five of the six tournaments held under the 25 second limit.

Can his dominance continue?

Under a much more cut-throat format, O’Sullivan may be more vulnerable. These matches are really very short.

However, the other side of that coin is that his ease with the shot-clock could be even more apparent – and the unease many of the other players feel even more obvious.

Some people sneer at the Premier League but it is in fact one of snooker’s most successful events, having run since 1987.

It also fulfils an important function in bringing live snooker to various parts of the UK not normally served.

This is more important now than ever as there are fewer top snooker tournaments played in Britain than at any time in the lifetime of the league.

Full details here.



It’s a pub argument for any sport elevated to virtual warfare on the internet: who is the greatest of all time?

The answer rests on semantics. What is the definition of greatness?

In sport, the test of greatness should be achievement, chiefly titles of importance.

However, snooker has had many eras. There was the pre-war dominance of Joe Davis, the rebirth of the game at the end of the 1960s and the decade that followed, in which Ray Reardon was the most successful player.

In the 1980s, Steve Davis was undisputedly the best player, just as Stephen Hendry bestrode the 1990s.

Since then there has not been one consistent dominant force but the three players who have won more of what matters than anyone else have been John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Others would point to Alex Higgins, whose mercurial genius for the game was significant on and off the table.

Comparing eras is pointless, really. You can’t transplant, say, Mark Williams into the 1930s and ponder how he would have fared against Joe Davis, just as you can’t time travel Davis to the present day.

Players of the various eras all had their own specific challenges, be it the quality of the opposition, the conditions or the number of competitive opportunities.

But in the televised age of tournament snooker, which encompasses the last 35 years, the field narrows.

What Steve Davis did in the 1980s should not be underestimated. This was a time when more people watched snooker on TV in the UK than have done before or since.

To be able to handle that sort of attention and pressure and win as many major titles as he did shows a greatness to match any sportsman from any other sport in any other era.

And that Davis has continued to turn up impressive performances into middle age – witness his defeat of John Higgins at the World Championship only last year – further enhances his status as an all round legend.

He must have felt invincible in the 1980s. And then along came Hendry, who kicked down the door to the throne room with quite astonishing grit and self possession.

Noel Gallagher once said that his frustration with the Beatles was that they had the chance to it all before Oasis.

This was perhaps wilful ignorance on his part. The point is without the Beatles, there may never have been Oasis.

In the same way, the style of snooker Hendry pioneered paved the way for the all out attacking game we see in virtually every leading player today.

Hendry’s talent and dedication should not be clouded by the inconsistency he all too often suffers from today.

When he played his best, he was better than everyone else. Under pressure there has never been anyone as formidable.

In terms of sheer skill, O’Sullivan trumps even Hendry. Right or left handed, the man is a genius, although he dislikes that word, pointing out that he has had to practice like anyone else.

O’Sullivan’s best performances have been examples of sporting artistry that are all too rare, providing moments to cherish and admire.

To win three world titles in the last decade, given how competitive snooker has been in this time, is a fine achievement.

If talent were the only ingredient needed for success O’Sullivan would surely have won more times at the Crucible but he has freely admitted that he is of a different mindset to Davis and Hendry.

Higgins has now won four world titles. Davis described him twice in the aftermath of last season’s World Championship as the greatest player ever.

Does this have validity? Do four world titles since 1998 beat seven from 1990 to 1999?

If not, then why shouldn’t Joe Davis get the nod for winning 15 from 1927 to 1946?

It’s a minefield and, ultimately, comes down purely to a matter of opinion. So I shall give mine.

Let's be honest, many people who take part in this debate start from the point of view of being a fan of a particular player trying to twist the facts to best suit their favourite.

I'm not going to do that. If I did, Jimmy White would probably win.

It is purely based on what I have seen and what I have heard from other people I respect.

So who is the greatest player of all time?

Perhaps the real question should be this: why does there have to be one? Why can’t the different skills and achievements of snooker’s colourful past and ongoing present be appreciated for what they are?

Well they can be, but there's no fun in that.

So here goes...I believe that if Hendry played now like he did 15 years or so ago then he would still be no.1.

He may not win seven world titles in the current era but he would still win more than anyone else.

Why? Because he had the game, he had the belief and he had the nerve.

In some ways the game was harder in the 1990s because there were fewer attacking players and more of the old style hard men who tied matches up.

Hendry rolled them all over and was a revelation: five ranking tournament victories in a row, seven centuries in the 1994 UK Championship final, a record 36 ranking titles - just a few headline achievements in a quite remarkable parade of success.

I realise many people reading this now were not watching snooker at the time and may well doubt my judgement but something pretty special is going to have to happen over the next few years to shift my opinion on the greatest of all time.

Doubtless, though, you will have your views on this issue.



Barry Hearn, the chairman of World Snooker Ltd, has sent a strongly worded letter to all members of the professional circuit in which he criticises those players who have opted not to play in the new Brazilian Masters.

Hearn takes the unusual step of naming all the players who turned down an invitation for the event, which is due to be held in September.

He writes: “The fact that Mark Williams, John Higgins, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Allen and Matthew Stevens have all declined their invitation to the Brazilian Masters is very, very disappointing.

“A year ago all these players were moaning about lack of tournaments and yet now I am getting excuses ranging from “I think I’m worth a few more bob” to “I do not want to be away from the wife and children!”

“It is time for all players and in particular the top players, who have so much to gain, to understand that snooker is a sport not a hobby and they are professional sportsmen not part timers.

“This tournament could open up the whole of South America and it needed the support of all the top players to get us a major ranking event next year. Frankly, the commitment is just not good enough.

“I know it is a long trip coming so soon after Shanghai but they were the only dates available so we had no alternative. Nevertheless, it is time some players realised their responsibilities to the sport if they want to share in the future success.

“So let us start by behaving like professionals please – there is a massive amount of effort going into revitalising snooker and it is very demotivating to see that the support from the so-called “stars” is not really there.

“On another negative note, I am disappointed to see that Judd Trump is intending to play Ding Junhui in a televised match in China at the same time as the final of the Brazilian Masters.

“I am disappointed that they are not playing in Brazil, but more disappointed that they have not read their players’ contract which prohibits any Pro Tour player playing in a event that is not sanctioned by World Snooker.

“The organisers have now applied for a sanction belatedly and providing they adhere to our terms, we will not unreasonably withhold it, taking into account that they actually agreed to the terms of this match prior to the players’ contracts being signed.

“These exceptional circumstances will not exist in the future and all Pro Tour members are reminded that they cannot play in any televised match, anywhere in the world, without the sanction of World Snooker.”

I can understand Hearn’s frustration. He and his team are trying to build a global circuit and by most measures are doing a good job.

He is genuinely mystified by the attitude of some of the players because he has not encountered it in any other sport and thinks nothing personally of getting up at 5.30am and driving up the motorway to do a deal, or flying around the world for business and flying back the next day.

On the other side, though, players are having to suddenly adjust to playing much more snooker, a lot of it in far away places.

Brazil is only a few days after the Shanghai Masters and does not carry ranking points. Players may feel that it is not worth their while and there is no point exhausting themselves at a relatively early point in the season.

I would agree that in future years, with so much travelling, the calendar should be structured more sensibly.

But this is failing to see the bigger picture. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: ask not what snooker can do for you but what you can do for snooker.

When Hearn promoted an exhibition in Brazil in 1985 between Steve Davis and the national champion, Rui Chapeu, an audience of 40m tuned in to watch on television.

South America is a new, potentially exciting market. There may not be sufficient interest there to sustain a ranking tournament but there’s certainly now less of a chance if the game’s star names don’t pitch in and try to get something going out there.

You’ll notice two players who are going to Brazil – Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, who at their respective peaks barely had a day off with tournaments and exhibitions.

They saw it as what it was: their profession. They also saw promoting snooker, and, yes, making good money from it too, as their responsibility.

I think one sentence of Hearn’s letter is worth repeating, so I will:

“It is time for all players and in particular the top players, who have so much to gain, to understand that snooker is a sport not a hobby and they are professional sportsmen not part timers.”

Most people reading this now who are in full time employment get no more than six weeks holiday a year and earn considerably less than top snooker players.

If snooker had had a calendar such as the one for this season for the last ten years then I would defend the right of players to pick and choose events.

But at this time when the game is being rebuilt, they really need to realise that it is in their hands as to whether it reaches the heights many of us believe is possible.

If it doesn’t, then it won’t be Hearn’s fault.



Judd Trump followed in Ronnie O’Sullivan’s footsteps by winning the second Players Tour Championship title of the season in Gloucester tonight.

Trump beat Ding Junhui in 41 minutes to secure the £10,000 first prize and will join O’Sullivan, winner of event 1, in the grand finals providing they each play the requisite amount of tournaments.

Trump follows in the lineage that includes O’Sullivan, Alex Higgins and Jimmy White: players who make the game of snooker look not only ridiculously easy but who also entertain.

His capture of the China Open and run to the World Championship final at the end of last season brought huge financial rewards, vastly increased attention and the pressure of expectation.

But for all his tongue-in-cheek ‘international playboi’ stylings on Twitter, Judd is a pretty chilled out character who is dedicated to snooker.

He has the game and the belief to continue his great stride forward this season.

PTC3 ends on the day Trump turns 22. In a snooker sense the boy has already become a man.



There were many reasons why snooker found itself as one of the most popular attractions on British television in the 1980s.

There were only three channels until 1982 when Channel 4 launched and despite what people would have you believe it wasn’t all wall-to-wall Fawlty Towers and Boys from the Black Stuff: there was as much rubbish then as there is now.

There was no internet or DVDs. Videos were becoming popular but television had a power that it has perhaps lost in the digital age.

Snooker was cheap to produce and offered up late night drama in the days when you could easily avoid the scores before the highlights came on.

But it was the varied cast of characters that really made snooker such a success. Like a soap opera there were heroes and villains, people you could root for and those who you wished would fall under a bus.

Snooker is still like this but the game is now a profession, largely due to the way the circuit was built in the 1980s.

Prior to this, players made their money on the exhibition circuit, where they slogged around the country trying to earn a living.

For this, they had to develop their personalities. They had to tell jokes and do trick-shots and everything they could to get asked back.

Many of them never lost that knack for entertaining off the table: Dennis Taylor and Willie Thorne for instance are both great value doing after dinner speeches and on corporate occasions.

When they started playing, there was no issue of there being “too many” tournaments. There was the World Championship and the odd event here or there, mostly for paltry prize money.

Alex Higgins earned less than £500 for winning the 1972 world title but he more than anyone had the sort of charisma that helped lead to snooker’s rise and rise.

With Higgins, you not only got exciting snooker but also an atmosphere of threat, the feeling that anything could kick-off at any moment.

I heard a story that Alex did an exhibition at which a famous racehorse was brought in so they could pose for pictures, the Hurricane being a very keen follower of racing.

Except, he decided to leap on the horse’s back, which startled it to the extent that it defecated all over the floor. Higgins wasn’t asked back.

Exhibitions were often fraught affairs. Fred Davis turned up at one once and asked where the table was. The promoter replied: “we thought you’d bring it with you.”

The laconic John Pulman had a bad experience at an exhibition which resulted in some name calling.

“Who called the organiser a c***?” someone angrily demanded.

Pulman responded: “Who called the c*** an organiser?”

Many exhibitions were held in holiday camps where there was a captive audience of holidaymakers looking to be entertained.

From this, Ted Lowe helped to found the Pontin’s festival of snooker in Prestatyn, which at its height attracted all of snooker’s biggest names as well as many plucky amateurs and juniors.

When Steve Davis started to become successful he ventured out on the exhibition circuit and it proved to be very lucrative for him. He’s still great value now, playing up his deadpan ‘interesting’ image.

Today’s top players don’t need to do exhibitions to top up their tournament earnings but they still happen.

Jimmy White does plenty and always seems to play great in them, and last weekend Judd Trump did some in Ireland.

Jason Francis has made a success of the Snooker Legends tour, featuring some of those names who began on the exhibition road in the 1970s and are still entertaining audiences 40 years on.

Exhibitions are fun and show audiences a different side to a player’s personality but they should only ever serve as an sideshow to professional snooker.

When Joe Davis retired in 1946 he still played regularly and this diminished the World Championship because everyone knew the best player in the game wasn’t playing in it.

Trump and Ding Junhui have elected not to play in the new Brazilian Masters but instead take part in a televised exhibition in China.

I find it hard to believe World Snooker will sanction this because it is a very dangerous precedent at a time where the governing body is trying to build a global calendar.

Snooker is a less innocent sport since money came into it and began to influence virtually every decision.

But that’s life and there’s no point complaining about it. Snooker has attracted millions over the years because, as a product, it has proven itself to be popular.

It has grown to a level the guys of the 1970s, driving up another motorway to undertake an exhibition engagement, could scarcely have believed was possible.

They deserve credit and thanks for helping to make that happen.

EDIT: Since posting this yesterday, Trump's management have got in touch and asked to make the following two points:

1. The Chinese event is a promotional event to promote the game in one of the poorer underserved regions of China. Judd is keen to help promote the game's profile and was delighted to have been asked.

2. When Judd agreed to do this, we were aware of the Brazilian event but Judd was outside the top 16 and did not expect to have such a big leap so quickly. Crucially if Judd had not reached the final of the WSC he may not have received an invite to Brazil at all.



The sun is shining (at least where I am) but snooker’s great and good are hard at work at the second PTC of the season in Gloucester.

The amateur rounds end today and the big boys come in tomorrow, all played at Paul Mount’s impressive South West Snooker Academy.

There will be live streaming from two tables free on betting websites such as Bet365 and Betfair and on liveworldsnooker.tv, whose headquarters I visited last week.

What an operation it is. They receive feeds for and then distribute thousands of sporting events every year, with commentary in many languages.

Snooker is the latest sport to embrace the internet age, later than it should have done, though that is certainly not the fault of Perform Group.

Anyway, on to the action...

Ronnie O’Sullivan won the first PTC, playing superbly with eight centuries during the event.

There were plenty of big name fallers early on as the new season lumbered into life but the big hitters have all been playing since and it would be fair to assume more of them will go further this week.

The playing conditions at Gloucester are generally agreed to be better than those at Sheffield, not least because there is more room and, for that matter, more tables.

I can’t believe some of the things I’ve read and heard about the PTCs. They’ve only been going a year but already it’s ‘there are too many of them’ and ‘there should be more money.’

Snooker players should realise one thing above all else: the game was run for years by snooker players. If it isn’t in the position it should be in then that’s down to them. They voted for the people who ran it, they allowed everything that happened to happen.

The sport is now being rebuilt and needs the support of the players for it to reach the heights it deserves.

The opportunity is there to make a good living but, as in any profession, not everyone will reach the top.

However, in sport it’s down to you to realise your potential. Money is there to be earned, not handed out.

The winners of PTCs last season were all players with the right attitude. This, as much as talent, will be important again in Gloucester this week.



I only received one threatening phone call after the first part of my Snooker’s Biggest Bust-ups feature was posted last week, which has to be regarded as a result.

On, then, to part two...

Hendry was, of course, The Man in the 1990s but the one player he could never beat was Mark Johnston-Allen, a Bristolian who twice reached the final of the European Open.

After two defeats to MJA, Hendry faced his unlikely nemesis again at the 1995 International Open. The result: Johnston-Allen won 5-4 to complete the hat-trick.

This was too much for Hendry. “I keep losing to people who shouldn’t be in the same room as me,” was his conclusion.

Johnston-Allen, about as nice a guy as you could meet, thought this was hilarious but Hendry, embarrassed by an outburst that made him look arrogant, duly sought his foe out at the next tournament and apologised in person. Luckily for Hendry, Johnston-Allen retired a few years later and so caused the great man no further trouble.

Dale did not exactly endear himself to the cheery fans’ favourite when he qualified for the 1994 Dubai Classic.

White made what was doubtless supposed to be a constructive comment about Dale’s cue, to the effect that if it was a better model Dom might himself fair better. Remember this was 1994, so Dale’s razor-sharp retort: ‘and if you didn’t miss blacks off the spot you might be world champion’ didn’t exactly have the Whirlwind splitting his sides.

They played each other in the first round at the Crucible in 2002. White won easily, 10-2, and Dale was so disappointed that he broke up his cue and slung it out of the dressing room window, where with great fortune it did not land on the head of anyone passing by.

Robidoux, an extremely personable French-Canadian, took the rare hump when O’Sullivan had the temerity to reveal himself to be really, really talented.

They were playing in the first round of the 1996 World Championship when O’Sullivan, winning easily, decided to start playing left-handed. Robidoux took this as a personal slight and, ludicrously, played on when many snookers were needed on the pink in the last frame.

Just as ludicrously, O’Sullivan kept refusing to pot the pink before the match finally ended and they each headed to their respective press conferences to slag each other off.

Disappointingly, this was all patched up very quickly and Robidoux reverted to being the nice bloke he always was.

Showboating boxer Prince Naseem was a Sheffield boy who liked his snooker. His brother once kindly gave me a fruit pastille, but that’s probably not relevant.

At the 1997 World Championship, Nas came to watch his friend Stephen Hendry in his quarter-final against Morgan, a great competitor who led 5-3 after the first session only to lose six of the eight frames in the second and then the match, 13-10.

Morgan’s explanation for his nightmare session was that Naseem’s presence in the press seats was ‘intimidating’ him, adding: “I have never met Hamed and I have nothing against him as a person. He may be a nice bloke for all I know but he just walked in through the curtains with his missus and sat down right at the front. I just felt he was putting me off and putting Stephen into the mode he needed to be in, so I asked politely for him to be moved.”

Hendry went on to lose the final to Ken Doherty, due largely to Chris Eubanks’s refusal to pitch up and sit in the front row, boxing gloves and all.

Hearn built his empire on shrewd business decisions, associating with the right people (most prominently Steve Davis) and the fact that he has a warm, engaging personality. The players always got on well with him and were grateful for the new markets he developed, most of which were usually then hijacked by the WPBSA.

However, he fell foul of Stephen Hendry, at the time snooker’s youngest ever world champion, at the back end of 1990 after announcing his new Wimbledon-style World Masters in Birmingham, which would feature singles, doubles and juniors and hand wildcards to former world champions.

One such recipient was to be Alex Higgins, who the WPBSA had banned for a season in 1990 for a litany of disciplinary offences. Hendry’s reaction to this was to announce he would not be playing, thus depriving the event of the game’s brightest new star.

Hearn, a man rarely cowed by threats, realised his tournament would not be sanctioned if other players followed Hendry’s lead and so backed down. Higgins was out, Hendry was in and the event went ahead.

This is one of those stories that has been embellished over the years, but this version should be as close to what happened as makes any difference.

Chan was Hong Kong’s best player until the arrival of Marco Fu; Browne was an Irishman who once played at the Crucible.

Their unlikely altercation came during a match at the qualifiers at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in Blackpool in the early 1990s. There had been a dispute in a frame about a miss call, this being before the rule was refined to its current usage.

At the end of the frame, Chan left the arena to go to the toilet but found a sign on the door to the effect it was out of use. As he went off to look for another one, Browne appeared behind him, also looking to answer a call of nature.

Chan said, ‘No, Paddy, out of order! Out of order!’

Browne assumed this was a reference to the earlier miss rule discussion and grabbed Chan by the lapels, shouting: ‘Don’t tell me I was out of order!’

These two met in the first round of the 2004 World Championship, a match that Hann had to win to remain in the top 16. It wasn’t a friendly affair, with a few comments here and there as it wound on to its conclusion, which was victory for Hicks.

His remark to Hann as they shook hands - ‘that’s you out of the top 16’ – led to the players having to be separated by the referee, Lawrie Annandale, unwittingly forced to play a kind of Kofi Annan role.

Hann says he told Hicks: ‘You’re short and bald and always will be and I’ll fight you in the street for 50 grand any time you like.’ Hicks, who has never denied being short or bald, declined, although Mark King stepped up to fight Hann in a boxing match – Pot Whack as it was called.

Joe Davis was reported to be spinning in his grave.



A rather dizzying document released by World Snooker today lays out the extent of television and internet streaming coverage of the game over the course of the next season.

It explains that major events shown on television in, for instance, the UK will not be available to watch online on liveworldsnooker.tv.

This is because separate deals have been struck for internet rights with the BBC and Eurosport.

However, the document shows just how much snooker will be available to watch: all the ranking events on TV or online, the European PTCs on Eurosport, English PTCs and qualifiers online.

It also shows how crowded the calendar is going to be after Christmas.

Players risk burn-out going to the World Championship but the tournament schedule is having to be built if not from scratch then from a pretty low starting point.

The strategy appears to be to get the tournaments on in the first place and then, presumably, try to schedule them in the future so that there's not quite so much flying here, there and everywhere.

Whatever, it beats sitting at home complaining there aren't any tournaments.

Read all about it here.



So the cat has crawled rather quietly out of the bag: there will be live streaming of qualifiers and PTCs this season.

In addition, territories currently not served by live television coverage of major tournaments will now have access to them online.

World Snooker has set up livesnooker.tv with Perform, world leaders in internet sports streaming.

Qualifiers and PTCs remain free on betting websites if you have a funded account but are available in higher quality (the streaming, not the matches) on the bespoke website.

Full details are hard to come by but it appears to be £29.99 for a year’s viewing in the UK and Europe (or £2.99 a month) and £39.99 (or £3.99 a month) elsewhere – it costs more outside the UK and Europe because you get access to more tournaments as TV deals with the BBC and Eurosport prohibit absolutely everything being available to absolutely everyone.

It was all rather strange this morning when the streaming suddenly appeared but having seen first hand how these pictures are produced I’m not that surprised that a ‘soft launch’ (and it was certainly that) was favoured.

This is not just a matter of fixing a webcam to a table. It takes a lot of planning and all sorts of things in the production process can and do go wrong when you are setting up something new.

Thankfully Perform know what they are doing. They are responsible for streaming all manner of sport all over the world and produce the Championship League snooker event, which has run successfully for the last four years.

It appears the qualifiers will have two tables streamed, each with two camera coverage, graphics and, eventually, commentary.

From what I saw earlier today the coverage was excellent.

It has all come about in a rather understated way but, really, who cares? The bottom line is that it’s great news that there will now be professionally done streaming of snooker that has for too long been played under the radar.

For many it will be a chance to watch the qualifiers for the first time. And, of course, the PTCs feature snooker’s biggest names.

The world has come a long way since black and white television and the late, great Ted Lowe sat in the audience whispering his commentaries.

I was actually involved in a small way with the first attempt to stream snooker online more than a decade ago when I worked for TSN.

At the Regal Masters in Scotland we had our own studio and it had an anarchic ‘Wayne’s World’ feel to it a world away from the more formal TV presentation. When we interviewed players we showed them every respect but not too much deference and asked them questions fans would want answering (including, if I remember correctly, “have you ever dressed as a woman?”)

It had a few surreal moments too, notably when someone pressed a button inadvertently and viewers were treated to a few seconds of studio guest Phil Yates wolfing down his dinner.

The problem back then was that this was pre-broadband and watching on dial up led to buffering and the screen freezing (please no jokes about how, with some players, you couldn’t tell the difference).

Technology is vastly improved now and, with the game finally going places again, the streaming will allow fans to follow more snooker than ever before, as well as giving some of the lower ranked players some exposure.

Find out more here.


Two tables from the Shanghai Masters qualifiers are being streamed live on betting websites, including Bet365 and Betfair.

I'm not entirely sure why nobody was told about this, but there it is.