Twenty years ago in the summer of 1992 as the eyes of the sporting world were about to turn to the Barcelona Olympics, three teenagers were ensconced at the Norbreck Castle Hotel on Blackpool seafront embarking on careers in professional snooker.

There was Ronnie O’Sullivan, of whom much had already been written. A snooker prodigy backed to the hilt by his father, he had cut a swathe through the junior ranks.

There was John Higgins, a quieter Scot, who began playing because his father took him and his brothers into a snooker club one day to give them something to do.

And there was Mark Williams, a left-hander, the son of a coalminer from the snooker hotbed of Wales.

In the two decades that have followed they have won 66 ranking titles between them, including ten world titles. They have each been world no.1. They have each tasted glory and they have each had their low moments.

They are three bona fide legends of the game: the best three players of the current century and still all ranked in the top 16.

But now they are in their late 30s, what lies in store for this formidable triumvirate?

Before I consider that, a dip back into the archives...

The first qualifier back in 1992 was for the UK Championship. They were each successful in their opening matches, played in the Norbreck's grand ballroom.

Higgins beat Ray van der Nouwlan 5-0. Williams defeated Jason Greaves 5-2. O’Sullivan received a walkover and then beat Jason Scott 5-3.

If you don’t know these names, don’t worry. The game had gone open to anyone with the money to enter the year before. There were around 700 professionals but the vast majority fell by the wayside.

O’Sullivan and Williams both qualified for the final stages, successfully negotiating nine rounds to do so.

Williams recovered from 8-3 down to 8-8 with Stephen Hendry but lost the decider. O’Sullivan beat Alain Robidoux but lost 9-8 to Cliff Wilson to be denied a place on television.

The world didn’t have to wait long. O’Sullivan was the first of this holy snooker trinity to make his mark. Just a year later he won the UK title the week before he turned 18.

But problems were already beginning to bubble up, all stemming from his father’s imprisonment for murder. Cut adrift in the world and suddenly in the public eye, O’Sullivan struggled to cope.

Higgins had a far more stable home life and, dedicated and possessing a good snooker brain, won his first ranking title in his third season at the Grand Prix. He swiftly became the first teenager to win three ranking titles. Steve Davis commended him for playing the game “the right way.”

It was Higgins who beat his two contemporaries to the world title in 1998. It looked like he might dominate in the manner of Davis and Hendry but a mixture of factors stopped this: though determined, Higgins was not quite of this mindset. He became a father and enjoyed family life. Plus, there was O’Sullivan and Williams to contend with.

Williams’s first ranking title came in 1996. From the back end of 1998 to 2003 he enjoyed a terrific run which encompassed all the game’s major titles. He became in 2002/03 the only player other than Davis and Hendry to win the ‘big three’ trophies – UK, Masters and world, in the same season.

Since this early flourishing there have been titles and scandals, bust-ups and comedowns, moments of brilliance and times of despair. They have each ridden the snooker rollercoaster and experienced the full range of emotions it has to offer.

Here in 2012, there is a new era. It would have been perfect for all three as teenagers and they would have made hay. But how much longer will they continue at the top level?

In O’Sullivan’s case, it’s hard to say, purely because he currently isn’t playing at all.

He is the reigning world champion but has opted out because he finds the players’ contract ‘too onerous.’

O’Sullivan’s camp tells me Ronnie sees this as a point of principle. He does not want extra money to play in tournaments but believes his worth to the sport means he is deserving of money for promotional activities. Every player’s contract stipulates they must do these activities if asked, but the point is O’Sullivan will be asked more than any other player, because he is the biggest name in the sport.

When will he return? There’s no guarantee he will. World Snooker is not budging an inch and neither is he. The big day is approaching, on August 6. This is the closing date for entries for the UK Championship. If O’Sullivan is willing to miss this tournament then there’s no reason to believe he will play at the Masters or even the World Championship.

Higgins, it should also be noted, hasn’t played yet this season. He is in a position to pick and choose more than players lower down the rankings but this is a big season for him.

Last season, he was poor. He told me at the World Championship launch that he hadn’t practised properly and that he was having a table installed at his house to try and remedy this.

But is the hunger still there? I don’t mean to win trophies – that will never go away – but to practice and practice to maintain his place in the elite at an age when players are supposed to decline.

Williams is always talking himself down. In many ways, Mark has never changed. He’s always been a bit cheeky and a fan of winding people up but, underneath it all, is thoroughly decent.

The way he responded to dropping out of the top 16 showed how good he can be when he’s fully determined. He got back to no.1 and is still third at the time of writing.

The bottom line, though, for these three men – all fathers – is that they don’t want to be playing snooker every week, not at this stage of their careers.

I’d fancy any of them to come good in a major tournament but the events which take place a little below the radar understandably don’t get the juices flowing in the same way, and it is because of this that they may slip down the rankings.

And it will happen eventually because it happens to every player. The question is how long it will take.

O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams were products of the 1980s snooker boom on British television. They were inspired by the heroes of this golden age.

The boom ended and fewer young players have come through the ranks. Those who have are yet to emulate the achievements of these three remarkable players.

Personally, I hope they all continue at the top level. Between them they have been responsible for some of the most memorable moments of snooker's recent history.

They are three very different men in terms of personality but they are united by their status in the sport.

20 years ago they displayed great promise. They have each delivered in ways which will never be forgotten.


Unknown said...

An excellent piece, albeit a sad read. The comment on O'Sullivan and 6th August was very interesting.

wild said...

Every player’s contract stipulates they must do these activities if asked, but the point is O’Sullivan will be asked more than any other player, because he is the biggest name in the sport.

point is he is famous he is popular so he can earn from exhibitions the snooker tour as it is doesn't fit well with him so he sulks.

another point he is World Champion and he is popular with the public. of course sponsors will use him more you cant have the adulation he enjoys without some prize to pay.

Anonymous said...

Your note on Ronnie puts a slightly different spin on the matter.

As I read it he is happy to play tournaments for the same £ as everybodyelse but he wants to be paid the market rate for personal appearances.

What is wrong with that?

If company x want to pay £kkk for Ronnie to do their sales conference or £1k for a lesser player that's the real world.

I went to an event hosted by Jonathan Ross who was paid the market rate and he was worth every penny - he made the event.

Somebody needs to get a grip.

Anonymous said...

I think ronnie will win this battle,sponsors will lean on barry to budge,because o sullivan is the biggest show in town and he and barry know that only to well.On a different note dave,do you know if the seating arrangments for the masters 2013 are the same as last year,ie you buy a ticket and people who arrive earliest get the pick of the seats?


Hi David. The class of 1992. O'sullivan, John Higgins, and, Mark williams. All World, U'K, and London Masters winners. Great Players.

To go slightly off-subject, today marks two years ago, to the day, since the passing of another World, U.K, and London Masters champion. Another Higgins. Alex Higgins. He died on 24-7-2010. Today, is 24-7-2012. amazing how time flies.

Anonymous said...

I thougt Ronnie could wait longer before signing, because he will be automatically seeded 1st.

wild said...


Barry Hearn wont budge on this and neither should he.

sponsors are the people who want players time for nothing so if anyone will budge it will have top be them or Ronnie.

Anonymous said...

Re 12:57

With respect Sponsors dont "want time for nothing". It's not measured like that.

Sponsors pay to have their clients entertained & to promote their brand.

The sponsor puts a financial value on that total package, and clearly expect their clients to be able to mingle with the top players & other celebs like Hazel or Dave H.

This is the real world.

Somebody nees to get a grip

Anonymous said...


if he dont sign the contract he wont be seeded 101.

Anonymous said...

other celebs like ... Dave H.

This is the real world.

Dizzy's fantasy island is more real.

Anonymous said...

the day ron gets more money just for being him, is the day i stop watching.

snooker made him. he didnt make snooker.

he owes it, as does all the rest. its the game that is special, not one or two people.

besides there are better players. maybe not on top form, but there are more consistent players id pay to watch.

id pay to not watch ronnie when hes just messing about.

Anonymous said...

How about asking for an interview from the world champion Dave?

wild said...

How about asking for an interview from the world champion Dave?

he will probably want more money than dave or snooker scene can afford hes a greedy little sod.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe Barry didn't try to get snooker added to the Olympic sports this year, what with it all being so close to the Romford Matchroom and all....the first Olympic event in Romford!

jamie brannon said...

Ronnie may miss the UK, but the Masters and world championship would be a different thing. They are the big two for him, and by missing the UK he may alert Hearn into action.

Anonymous said...

A shame O'Sullivan couldn't have been included in the Olympics ceremony, as a current world champion and one of the few genuinely world class sport stars this country has.

Anonymous said...

1121 i dont think they pick people whove done a lot of bad things, no matter howgood they are at sport

Anonymous said...

It's not like he's a kiddie fiddler though is it? He bunked off a few PTCs, and used some ill-advised language at a press conference once...jeez, this country sure likes to judge, why doesn't it just bring back public hanging and be done with it?

Anonymous said...

nobody is suggesting he was a KF, were they?

what he did do was a lot more than use ill advised language.

he asked for oral sex...

in some places that could see you on a certain register.

open your eyes and ears!

Abhimanyu said...

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