The fifth European Tour event of the season is being staged in Scotland this week, a part of the world with a fine snooker heritage.

It’s earliest star was Walter Donaldson, the first player other than Joe Davis to be world champion when he won the game’s biggest title in 1947.

Donaldson also won the World Championship in 1950 but there was little money in snooker, the professional game all but died and he became so disillusioned with the sport that he broke up the slates of his table and used them to make a path in his garden.

Then again, back then there was no Twitter on which to moan about everything.

Bert Demarco, who died this year, opened snooker’s first commercial snooker club in the 1970s and became a prominent promoter and provider of playing facilities as the game began to emerge from the shadows and become seriously popular.

When television made snooker a very big deal indeed a proper circuit began to form and several Scots played their part. These players were good enough but not world beaters.

Among them was Eddie Sinclair, who is once said to have taken part in an epic drinking contest with beer-loving Bill Werbeniuk.

The story goes that with the score locked at 42 pints each Sinclair hit the deck and a victorious Werbeniuk headed to the bar for a social drink.

Jim Donnelly was the first Scot to play at the Crucible in 1982. It wasn’t until 1987 that a Scot won a match at the Crucible. This was Murdo MacLeod, a former baker who managed to make a bit of dough from snooker.

In 1989, John Rea made only the seventh ratified 147 break in snooker history in the Scottish Professional Championship.

But there was of course by then someone very special indeed making headlines for both Scotland and snooker.

Stephen Hendry changed the way the game was played and superseded the achievements of all his fellow countrymen as well as everyone else in the sport.

And Hendry inspired a new generation of Scots to take up snooker, ushering in an era in which Scottish players at major tournaments were the norm rather than the exception.

Alan McManus made an immediate impact when he turned professional in 1990. John Higgins soon climbed to the top after joining the pro ranks in 1992.

But there were many others too: Euan Henderson and Billy Snaddon reached ranking finals. Chris Small was a ranking tournament winner and member of the top 16. John Lardner, Graham Horne and Dave McLellan played at the Crucible.

Graeme Dott was world champion. Stephen Maguire has been UK champion. Jamie Burnett and Marcus Campbell are still going strong.

In 1996 the formidable triumvirate of Hendry, Higgins and McManus won the World Cup for Scotland in Bangkok. At this point Scotland had three players in the top six.

Hendry and McManus had even been introduced for a session of their Crucible semi-final in 1993 by a bagpiper.

Many of the Scottish pros of the 1990s have come and gone. One such was Drew Henry, a former UK Championship semi-finalist who reached 18th in the world rankings.

One distinct fact about Henry is that he was once shot at on the way to the Crucible. No, he really was. As he drove through Sheffield some thug with an airgun took a pot-shot, all puns intended, at his car.

Thankfully Drew emerged unscathed and went on to beat Mark King.

Small was christened ‘the human limpet’ by John Parrott due to his tendency to stick his claws into his opponent and not let go.

He was methodical all right and a late finish could usually be guaranteed if he was playing. Indeed, at the 2003 World Championship qualifiers Chris was, unsurprisingly, involved in the last match on and World Snooker, displaying the tact and diplomacy for which they were renowned at that time, decided to de-rig the arena around him. Thankfully they did leave his table up.

Nevertheless, as he sweated blood to try and reach Crucible there was banging and crashing and general noise.

“They wouldn’t have done this to O’Sullivan or Higgins,” Small said when the match was finally over.

Sadly a debilitating back condition forced him to quit but he did win the LG Cup in 2002, beating both O’Sullivan and Higgins along the way.

The Scottish amateur game was for many years poisoned by internecine political strife. This obviously affected the amount of new young players coming through but some have, notably Anthony McGill, Michael Leslie and Scott Donaldson (no relation to Walter).

Donaldson won the European amateur title this year at 18. It’s chastening to think that he wouldn’t even remember Hendry’s seventh world title triumph.

I hope all goes well in Ravenscraig. Previous tournaments have gone well north of the border. The old Regal Masters was always good fun and the several ranking events staged in Scotland in the 1990s were really well attended.

The amateur rounds of European Tour event 5 begin tomorrow with the pros entering the fray on Friday.


Anonymous said...

Weren't Jimmy White's car brakes cut once when he was also due to play Mark King? Makes you think, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

I knew Chris Small quite well...

he was really well liked, by fans and players.

much slower than Selby and a less heavy scorer.

he wasn't as successful as Selby, so speed / attacking obsessed (Ronnie)fans didn't aim their frustration at him in internet forums.

Graeme said...

Watched White lift his first pro title (Lang's Supreme Masters) at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow v Thorburn in 81.
Again, in 2004 when he triumphed in his last (most recent !) victory (Players Championship) v the great Paul Hunter.
Watched Hendry go down to White in his first pro match, again the Lang's in '85 (I think).
White played Higgins in the same tournament the following year. White ran out 5-0 victor in less than an hour. To give the crowd some value for their pound notes, they played a further 5 exhibition frames.
The match was mired in controversy (quelle surprise) when Higgins complained that the ref, his old foe John Williams, reprimanded the crowd at completely the wrong moment causing Higgins to miss a tricky ball along the cushion. It was very rarely Higgins' fault.
Happy days and great to see World class snooker back north of the border.
Good luck to the Scottish boys.

Graeme said...

....White v Higgins match was same year as White v Hendry, 1985.
Old age doesn't come itself !

Anonymous said...

Another Scot from the 90's was Paul McPhillips who was runner up in the then B&H Chp qual event and I believe beat Ronnie O'Sullivan once in a ranking event if my memory serves me well. Also Hugh Abernethy who also reached a final in the same event.