There is no more snooker this year so it’s time to take stock, preferably with as much food and alcohol as possible.

It’s traditional to review the season rather than the calendar year but the whole concept of seasons has become somewhat irrelevant in this era when snooker rolls on and on. No sooner does the World Championship end as the new ‘season’ is about to start.

So as we have this chance to pause, we can reflect on 2013, a year in which there were many events, many winners, many terrific matches, controversy, drama and much more besides.

To simplify, there were hits and misses. Here are mine:


O’Sullivan predicted his return at the Crucible would be a ‘car crash.’ In fact, he motored to a sensational victory, proving once again that he produces his best when the odds are apparently against him.

This was one of snooker’s most notable achievements, but just as notable was the fact nobody had stepped up and taken him on. This has changed now that O’Sullivan is playing more snooker…but the Crucible is a different prospect and he goes there clearly capable of making it six world titles.

In winning three successive ranking titles, Ding proved that it is possible to dominate: you just have to be exceptional. Steve Davis was. Stephen Hendry was. Ding at his best is sublime and his patience and discipline got him through the various dodgy times in matches he may have lost a couple of years back.

It’s still five months until the world final. If Ding is in it then the viewing audience in China will be colossal. And if he’s in it playing the snooker he’s already produced this season then he will take some stopping.

This was a welcome new event for several reasons. First, it was for the elite. There was one table, not ten, and the game’s best were rewarded for their achievements.

ITV4 also provided excellent coverage, the crowds were good and it gave snooker in the UK a shot in the arm. One thing though: Matchroom should announce now what the criteria is for places next season. Anthony McGill came up with a good idea: invite the last 16 major tournament winners and thus avoid any arguments.

Robertson’s century tally for the season now stands at 60, just one off Judd Trump’s seasonal record set during 2012/13. The Australian completed the triple crown at the UK Championship and ends 2013 as world no.1.

More than that, he is an eloquent speaker and his positive attitude is refreshing in a sport where so many enjoy a moan.

Hearn is Britain’s leading sports promoter. I know because he told me. But behind his boastful demeanour, Hearn is a shrewd operator with a genuine sense of what the public wants and the business savvy to make it happen.

Many top players disagreed with the flat draw system but in the early stages of this format they have been the main winners: literally – at the recent World Open qualifiers every member of the top 16 made it through.

Fans can now interact with players and others in the snooker world in a way impossible and unimaginable years ago thanks to Twitter.

Not every tweet is helpful or edifying but they each represent the truth of the moment for players and are a world away from shiny and false PR. Players are human beings, not robots. For good and bad, Twitter has provided a window on the range of human emotions which come with life as a sportsman.

This has been another successful year for a successful exhibition series which showcases some of the players who did so much to put the game on the map in the first place.

The Legends nights have the right mix of fun and competition and the televised event in Bedworth last May was a good way to wind down after the World Championship.


There’s nothing wrong with this as a tournament but the complete lack of atmosphere due to low crowds was a disappointment. Participation levels in China are remarkable but ticket prices remain a problem. Quite simply, many ordinary Chinese snooker fans are priced out of attending live matches.

It was a particular shame in Haikou because it marked ITV’s return to broadcasting snooker. They are not understood to be particularly keen to show the World Open again.

2013 was a disappointing year for Trump’s fans as he did not win a professional title this calendar year, having won at least one each year since 2008. He had a good run in the World Championship but lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semi-finals. This season, results have been hard to come by.

I think one of his problems is that the fear factor he had a couple of years ago when he was the exciting new kid on the baize has gone. There is also the pressure of raised expectations: before he was winning titles, 2013 would have been judged a successful year, now he’s there to be shot at. But there’s another year on the way and Trump remains both young and talented. All great players have endured slumps and found their way out.

Nothing whatsoever was heard about this in 2013 beyond a vague announcement of an event last March which never happened.

The truth is, there was never anything wrong with snooker as a game, just how it was being run. Now that has been addressed the traditional game is flourishing and gimmicks will recede into history.

Lee’s appeal against his 12-year ban for match and frame fixing will be heard on January 30. If he is unsuccessful his snooker career is over.

Snooker is no more susceptible to cheating as any other sport but neither is it immune. It has embraced the betting industry but needs to remain constantly alive to ensuring players are not led astray by those looking to make a fast buck, which appears to be what happened to Lee.

World Snooker launched a ‘Ladies Day’ at the Crucible where warm words were spoken about helping the women’s game but when Reanne Evans qualified for the Wuxi Classic she had to play a wildcard and, had she won, would have played Neil Robertson in a session not televised in Europe.

The good news for the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association is that Mandy Fisher, who has probably done more than anyone to champion the women’s game, has returned to the helm, which should hopefully help their circuit to grow again.

This service has taken a few backward steps this year. They dispensed with commentary to cut costs and also reduced the number of cameras used.

Always the problem on the Internet is how to make money out of something when people can get it for free. Those who have watched on dodgy streams rather than subscribing certainly haven’t helped but by and large people do pay if they feel a service is worth it.

The professional circuit is still comprised of 75% British players, largely because the entire qualifying set-up has been based in Britain for decades. But all six major ranking events this season have been won by non-British players, with only two British finalists.

This does not represent the end of snooker in the UK but does point to the game becoming more global, which is the key to its ultimate survival as a big money sport.

And with all that, and plenty of snooker to look forward to in 2014, I wish a very merry Christmas and happy New Year to all readers of this blog.



It was no great surprise to me that Ronnie O’Sullivan was not named on the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

This is no fault of O’Sullivan but a reflection of the way snooker is still viewed by many sections of the media.

SPOTY used to be the concluding moment of the BBC Sports Review of the Year, which did what it said on the tin: reviewed the sporting year, in the company of those British sportsmen and women who had made it so memorable.

When the name of the programme changed, so did its focus. It is now an awards show in which personalities dominate over sport.

For over 40 years the voting system for SPOTY was very simple: you voted for whoever you liked. Whoever got the most votes won.

In more recent years it was changed to a pre-chosen shortlist of ten, from which the public could choose.

For there to be a shortlist, there has to be people choosing the shortlist, and this is where things went bad for snooker.

Because years ago, when it was a free vote, snooker fared really well. Steve Davis appeared in the top three more than anyone else. In 1988, after becoming he first player to complete the triple crown of world, UK and Masters titles he won the main award, although he was playing in a tournament in Belgium so could not accept his prize in the studio.

Stephen Hendry would also appear in the top three but no snooker player since has got close.

O’Sullivan, in the year he returned from a long sabbatical to win a fifth world title, deserved proper consideration. He didn’t get it. His name was put forward to the selection panel but they quickly dismissed it.

Hendry, a member of the BBC snooker team but very much his own man, told the Daily Star: “There’s a snobbery towards snooker that has always been there. Ronnie’s a personality. When you take the whole title ‘Sports Personality’, you couldn’t really get much more of a personality than Ronnie. And in terms of sporting achievement I would like to see someone else take a year off and then come back and win the major title in their chosen sport.”

One of the problems is that, since National Lottery funding transformed British sport, we are actually very good at a number of sports. So it’s a lot harder than it once was to get on the list.

But a glance at the people who chose this shortlist was a clue as to the sort of sports they would consider. There was an overwhelming middle class bias and also representatives of sports whose competitors then found themselves among the final ten.

O’Sullivan is one of the biggest personalities in any sport. He’s divisive, certainly, but his personality combined with his achievement in becoming world champion again deserved some recognition.

Unlike most of the other contenders, he actually won his major title on the BBC.

Of course some will say, who cares? It’s only a TV show. Yes, and it was a chance for snooker to gain some coverage outside its own bubble on a programme watched by general sports fans and some people who don’t much follow sport.

If snooker can’t get a player on the final list in a year like this then it surely never will.



Neil Robertson’s recovery from 5-1 down to beat Mark Selby 10-7 and win the UK Championship in York last night was final confirmation, as if it were needed, of his status as a modern great.

World champion in 2010 and Masters winner in 2012, Robertson’s capture of the UK title makes him the eighth player to have won the game’s ‘triple crown’ of major events.

It’s a good list to be on: Steve Davis, Terry Griffiths, Alex Higgins, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The triumph looked unlikely early on. Robertson appeared inhibited and unable to produce his best as Selby took control of the first session.

However, Robertson must have left the arena feeling confident after ending the afternoon with a century and made two more in levelling at 6-6. His tally of centuries for the season now stands at 58, just three away from the record Judd Trump set during 2012/13.

The pressure had by now transferred to Selby, who having led 6-3 found himself 8-6 down. At one point Robertson had amassed 410 points without reply.

Selby rallied to 8-7 but missed the final black for 8-8, after which victory, even for a player as determined as the Leicester man, seemed unlikely.

For Selby, the UK Championship turned into a tale of two black balls, which between them emphasised the conflicting emotions sport can produce: joy as the black went in for the maximum, despair at missing it to level the final.

Robertson too was emotional, seemingly wiping away a tear at the end. His mother, Alison, who he is able to see only rarely, is in the UK for Christmas. She has a 100% record in finals, having previously seen Neil win the World Championship.

He is a worthy world no.1 and a player whose attitude and demeanour should serve as inspiration to all those who have ambition to rise up the ranks. A fine player, he also speaks well and conducts himself professionally.

This was a terrific final of high quality with an absorbing closing session befitting the status of the tournament.

The Barbican Centre and its audience certainly played its part. It would be a great shame if York was snubbed next year. There were complaints about space and the format but does anyone really think they will vanish if the UK Championship is held somewhere else next year? I doubt it.

There are qualifiers this week for the German Masters and World Open but the UK Championship was the last tournament of 2013. It was a great way to end the year.



A tournament which began with a chorus of complaints will end in a grandstand finish when world no.1 Neil Robertson meets world no.2 Mark Selby for the UK Championship title in York today.

These two tough, dedicated match players have made it through the melee of six rounds of snooker at the Barbican Centre to set up what seems likely to be a close, high quality final.

If Selby wins he will replace Robertson at the head of the rankings and become only the third player and the first since Stephen Hendry in 1996 to successfully defend the UK crown.

If Robertson wins it will be the sixth successive ranking title won by a non-Brit and he will become the eighth player after Steve Davis, Terry Griffiths, Alex Higgins, Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan to have won the world, UK and Masters titles – snooker’s triple crown.

Robertson and Selby somehow avoided each other in draws for years but have played a fair amount over the last couple of seasons, including a right old grind in York last year when Selby recovered from 4-0 down to win 6-4 in the quarter-finals.

Despite a late night semi-final, Selby also beat Robertson 10-6 in the Masters final, a scoreline reversed by the Australian in the China Open final earlier this year.

They are evenly matched in temperament and style, though despite Selby’s maximum yesterday, Robertson has scored more heavily.

Most bookmakers have made him slight favourite but it would be a surprise if either player won be a large margin.

There’s £150,000 for the winner. It’s been a long tournament – probably too long – but we are left with what could be a classic final featuring two players imbued with the qualities needed to win the game’s biggest titles.

Robertson and Selby are two of snooker’s real fighters and this will be a fight to the finish.



From Oldham Civic Centre to the Barbican in York with many stops in between it has taken just under 32 years since Steve Davis made the first official 147 break for Mark Selby to compile the 100th.

Fittingly, it was dramatic. Selby played a great shot to go round the table from brown to blue but was left needing the rest for the pink. He potted it but was left with a tough black, which he dropped in dead weight to the left middle.

It was a moment of magic and a moment of history, a milestone that was thankfully achieved in a televised match.

Selby had missed the final black on 140 in last season’s China Open but, with the pressure on and £59,000 available for the maximum, was cool and deadly accurate in sinking the final ball.

When Davis made his 147 at the 1982 Lada Classic in Oldham it was a significant first. The maximum has enlivened many an event since.

Of the 100, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan have each made 11. John Higgins has made seven.

A total of 52 players from 13 different nations are on the list of 100 maximums. Selby’s was the 50th on television.

Maximums became more common as the professional game expanded with more players, became more attacking and playing conditions more conducive to heavy scoring.

There were eight compiled in the 1980s, 26 in the 1990s, 35 in the 2000s and 31 so far in this decade.

But when you consider the thousands and thousands of frames that have been played – from World Championship finals down to the lowliest qualifier – 100 isn’t that many.

There were 11 in 2012 but for all the snooker played this year there have been four in 2013.

It is still an achievement worth celebrating, as Selby and the Barbican crowd did with sheer joy.

The maximum break, made under the pressure of tournament play, is that rare thing – perfection in a very exacting sport. 



Ronnie O’Sullivan turns 38 today and, judging by his performance at the UK Championship in York last night, he will remain a major force for several years yet.

O’Sullivan blew Robert Milkins away 6-0 in 69 minutes. Potting cleanly and not so much controlling as ordering the cue ball around the table, he made a string of sizeable breaks to book his quarter-final place.

O’Sullivan now faces Stuart Bingham, who ran him so close in the Champion of Champions final in Coventry last month.

Neither man played their best in that match but O’Sullivan exhibited the patience and discipline which have also been in abundance at the Barbican this week. He seems calm, relaxed and willing to take the rough with the smooth. It makes him dangerous.

Neil Robertson said in Coventry that, having lost to Milkins in the first round at the Crucible last season, he was in no mood to watch any of the World Championship but tuned in for O’Sullivan’s matches and learned a great deal as a result, particularly in terms of how he kills frames off with such ruthless efficiency.

It seems to have rubbed off on Robertson, always a fine player but now one with a tight all round game. When he gets in he invariably makes a pile, as evidenced by the 54 centuries he has already made this season.

Robertson eased through 6-1 over Joe Perry last night and this afternoon faces Stephen Maguire, a tough competitor who could well cause him problems.

Tonight, Mark Selby, yet to hit top gear but playing well enough, takes on Barry Hawkins, who beat him in the second round of the World Championship earlier this year.

Ricky Walden, who survived an error strewn ending to his match with Ding Junhui, meets Mark Allen.

Ding’s great run – 22 matches in major ranking events – had to end some time. He put up a great fight against Walden but eventually left him a dolly pink for victory.

Allen was unaccountably nervous early on against Judd Trump but from 4-2 down turned it around. Trump will be very disappointed that having so obviously been on top he failed to convert victory.



A week into the UK Championship and talk remains centred around the format and, more particularly, the venue.

It seems to me the Barbican Centre is being set up as a kind of patsy to be blamed for all the complaints about the format and playing conditions.

World Snooker has started making noises along the lines that the event will go elsewhere next year. Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, which hosted the recent Champions of Champions, has been mentioned and this is indeed a first class facility.

But York is a lovely city and the Barbican a great venue. Crowds are always good. On the second night of the tournament when there were no star names playing World Snooker had to install extra seating in the Sports Hall to meet demand.

Is York really so bad? It’s a little cramped, sure, but the complaints have not been as widespread as all that. All through my career, every event and every format has attracted criticism for varying reasons. It comes with the territory that someone, somewhere, will always be annoyed about something.

There’s another point to make. I think it enhances a tournament when it is established in a particular place rather than being constantly moved around. When the professional circuit was being built up 30 years ago events became synonymous with their sponsors and their venues: the Rothmans Grand Prix at Reading, the Coral UK at Preston, the Embassy World Championship at the Crucible, the Bensons at Wembley.

Now, the only venue that means anything is the Crucible. To leave somewhere which attracts strong crowds who have supported the UK Championship would be a shame.

The main problem with the format is that there are so many interesting matches that TV viewers can’t watch.

Comparisons have been made to Wimbledon but there the BBC televises something like seven courts. That’s not going to happen for the UK snooker Championship.

It’s the sort of format which would have suited Sky Sports a decade ago when they pioneered interactive snooker, showing a choice of three tables. However, Sky has lost interest in the sport beyond their novelty events.

The top players rightly take centre stage on TV but there has so far been a dearth of close matches of the sort which draw and keep audiences, though that will change as the big names start to play each other.

Barry Hearn told the media this week that he was fed up with ‘whingers’ moaning about the format changes.

He said: “People are forgetting that snooker was dead in the UK. Players and purists have this attitude that I’m messing with a great event. That is rubbish. We are keeping it alive. We know the venue is not right and we have made some mistakes, next year that will change but we were committed to York.

“The 128 draw stays, get used to it or get another job. I am fed up with listening to whingers who were themselves culpable of helping destroy this game. My advice is put your heads down, play snooker, earn your money, and leave it to the experts.”

I can see both sides here. Hearn is absolutely right to point out that some players and, more specifically, ‘managers’ were the very people who almost brought the game to its knees. He and his team has worked extremely hard to increase the number of tournaments to an almost unimaginable level and with it more than double the prize money on offer.

However, that doesn’t mean all criticism is unjustified. Players and anyone else should be allowed to question and complain, although some may wish to consider the manner in which they do so.

There has to be a better response to these complaints than: “If you don’t like it, get another job.”

One player who might have had to do that was Neil Robertson after he dropped off the tour as a teenager. But he worked hard and now he’s world no.1, and a very eloquent one at that.

Robertson’s ability on the table is obvious but he also seems to understand his responsibilities off it too. He speaks positively about his sport and clearly uses his own experiences to gain perspective.

The Australian is one of a number of big hitters still going strong in York as the last 32 is completed today.

Also still in the hunt are defending champion Mark Selby, world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen and Judd Trump, who last night compiled three centuries to see off Xiao Guodong.

When Trump came to York two years ago he was flavour of the month following his excellent performance in the World Championship earlier in 2011. He won the UK title but it doesn’t take long for the knives to come out when players start to become successful. Trump came into this year’s event with the world and his wife offering opinions about his game and his lifestyle after a disappointing start to the season.

This is part and parcel of life as a top sportsman but can seem unfair when coming from people who don’t actually know you, or the factors in the background which, unknown to them, are affecting your performance.

The best way to answer all of this is on the table. Trump looks to be coming good again. His problem, though, is that so are so many others.

There’s still six days to go and all signs are that it’ll be a high quality end to the tournament which may still yet be remembered for the right reasons.



One of the undoubted positives of the new UK Championship format is that there are more faces to see and, for the media, more to write about.

Already this week there’s been a big feature in the Daily Mail on Shane Castle, who played his part in a really exciting match last night against Mark Selby, with the defending champion having to dig deep to come from 3-1 down and win 6-4.

Today another new face, Chris Wakelin, returns to action a few days after his dramatic 6-5 defeat of Ryan Day.

Wakelin was a full time delivery driver for Asda but has gone part time to concentrate on his snooker after qualifying through the Q School, having battled depression and debilitating attack of the snooker ‘yips.’

There’s also John Astley, who edged three times UK Championship runner-up Ken Doherty in the first round. He faces Stuart Carrington, from the snooker stronghold of Grimsby, who had a good 6-2 win over Ben Woollaston in the opening round.

And Chris Norbury, who knocked out Martin Gould, takes on Scotland’s Anthony McGill, himself a 6-5 black ball winner over Kyren Wilson.

The big names quite rightly get the TV tables, though, and Judd Trump is centre stage this afternoon. Winner in York two years ago, he comes to the Barbican Centre having failed to get past the last 32 of a major ranking event all season, although he did reach a European Tour final.

Trump was one of the players to complain about the format after his first round win but he may be better off focusing on his game. I think it’ll turn around for him soon but there’s no guarantee it’ll be this week.

Jimmy White won the UK title in 1992 and reached two other finals. His win 21 years ago stands as his greatest success and it’s a credit to his pure love of snooker that he is still prepared to work hard, and that so many people still will him on.

There was a large crowd in York for his first round win over Michael Wasley, in which White played really well, making the 300th century of his career, the 12th player to reach this milestone.

White has a foot injury which means he half limps around the table, but you feel that as long as he can stand up or even hold a cue, he will still be out there doing his best, whatever the format, whatever the system.



David may have beaten Goliath according to biblical myth but victory for any of the four amateurs playing the top four seeds in York today would make that particular result look like a lot of fuss about nothing.

Shane Castle is only 15 but faces Mark Selby. Rhys Clark will play Ronnie O’Sullivan. Dylan Mitchell tackles Neil Robertson. Antony Parsons takes on Ding Junhui.

There’s no reason to suspect these four televised matches will be anything other than walkovers given the gulf in experience and achievement between the players but the same could be said for Marco Fu’s contest yesterday against Mitchell Travis, another amateur. Travis won that one 6-5, albeit it wasn’t televised.

It’s now 20 years since O’Sullivan won the first of his four UK titles and, remarkably, he is still at the top.

Back then there were 700 professionals. When O’Sullivan turned pro the previous year he had to plough through something like ten qualifying rounds to reach the final stages and did so without complaint.

Doubtless today all 700 players would be brought to the final stages to make everyone feel good about themselves and the matches played on six foot tables over the course of a month.

The UK Championship will be the first tournament broadcasted by the BBC since the World Championship last May.

But for the BBC, the professional game would never have become what it has. When snooker was going through dark times the BBC stuck with it, unlike ITV and Sky, who dumped it when it had served its purpose.

Quite simply, the BBC kept the sport alive. Without its backing in the early years of the 21st century it would have gone under.

Exposure on terrestrial television is important for snooker in the UK. Traditionally clubs fill up when mass audiences are exposed to the game.

Those audiences have grown around the world, most notably because of Eurosport and Chinese TV.

These events are now watched by far more people than 20 years ago, which can only be a good thing.

But if you think the BBC coverage was all better in the old days then here’s the opening day schedule from this tournament 20 years ago, in 1993:

BBC1: 3.50-4.35pm
BBC2: 6.35-7.05pm, 11.45-1.40am

And, er, that was it. No red button. No website. No satellite alternatives.

There’s no coverage of this year’s morning sessions, presumably because the BBC budget is the same as last year when there weren’t any.

This is a shame, but it’s also absurd that the much vaunted liveworldsnooker.tv can’t show them.

That particular service has not had a good week, with the decision to stream matches not from the main arena – where all the attractive ties have been staged – but in the Sports Hall.

This led to the situation on Thursday when matches involving Mark Williams, Mark Allen, Jimmy White, Judd Trump, Stuart Bingham and Barry Hawkins all went unstreamed.

It’s been a hectic start to this UK Championship and the last 128 round hasn’t even finished yet.

Stephen Maguire yesterday joined the chorus of complainers among the top players, saying: “the guys that walk about in their suits and put gel in their hair and go for fancy meals at night with nice bottles of wine should sit down over that wine, as there are a few of them here, and try to fix this tournament because it is ruined.”

Those of us with scarcely enough hair to justify any gel may raise an eyebrow at this. More seriously, few work harder for snooker than Jason Ferguson, the WPBSA chairman, who does indeed wear a suit and who was yesterday named as one of 20 Sports Innovators of the year by industry magazine SportBusiness International.

Ferguson said yesterday that he was listening to the complaints but the truth is there has been a wide range of views expressed and by no means is there a majority against the changes.

Anyway, back to the snooker. Not least because I get the feeling that once this event hits its stride the controversy of the first few days will be a distant memory.



“It’s like a circus,” said Judd Trump last night of the UK Championship.

I’m not sure when circuses started to get such a bad rap but that’s a side issue. Trump’s point was that there are too many tables and too many matches being played in York.

He added: “with four tables in the main venue for a UK Championships, I think that’s just poor. When it is down to two tables with the barrier up, you feel like you’re at a tournament where there is pressure.”

Actually, had Trump been a top 16 player 20 years ago he would have played in an eight table set-up at Preston Guild Hall and had to win two matches to reach the televised stage, but his was not the only voice questioning the wisdom of bringing 128 players to the Barbican Centre.

Far from it. There seems to be three categories of player: those who agree with the new system, those who have accepted it and those who are against it. Of these, the latter camp are the most outspoken.

The main arena features four tables. The two in the middle, configured for TV, are spacious enough but the two at either side are not.

“They’ve crammed four tables in. It should be three in my opinion,” said Ali Carter, a semi-finalist at York last year.

“They’ve taken 128 players to a venue but, for me, I don’t think it can accommodate it.

“The table I was on had about five foot of room around the black spot area. When you’re tight on the side cushion you can’t walk into your shot. It’s like you’re closer than at the Crucible.

“It’s not for me, this flat draw. I think it was working last year so I don’t know why they’re doing this.

“The top 16 all started at the bottom and got to the top. Why doesn’t everyone else have to do that?”

The counter to this is that the previous, labyrinthine qualifying structure was stifling new talent. However, Graeme Dott argued that the flat draws are even more damaging to young hopefuls.

“I think it hinders the players coming through,” he said. “Neil Robertson fell off the tour originally. If he’d got back on in this format, how would have he have done? If he’d been beaten by the players he was being beaten by, how would he have handled playing Ronnie O’Sullivan? So you would have lost him. Would Judd Trump have found it easier?

“I think it’s wrong for the future of the game. I don’t think it’s good for snooker. Kids coming through should learn their trade.

“People think it’s a great idea now but ask them halfway through the season. Eight players didn’t enter the UK Championship because they don’t have the money.”

Some would say top players just want to protect their privileged positions.

Of course they do. Who wouldn’t? They’ve worked hard to attain them. They’ve put the years in at soulless qualifiers and now they want the rewards for those efforts.

But not every top player agrees with Carter and Dott. Stuart Bingham, first and foremost a snooker lover, has the attitude to just play, hopefully win and the perks will come.

“I felt a little bit tight against the wall but from Wednesday it’ll be down to two tables,” he said.

“I’ve read a few comments from people saying it’s like a PTC. But it is what it is. You have 128 players coming to a tournament and have to fit them in somewhere. You just have to get on with it.

“I’d love to be 20 now and in the game. I’m 37 and one of the oldies but I wish this was happening 20 years ago. Someone could come here, have a buzz up and get to the quarters, semis or maybe even win it.”

Nigel Bond has been around longer than most. He’s been at the top and now he’s down in the middle ranks. Wherever he's been ranked he has remained a sober, measured voice in any debate.

“The format is fine,” Bond said. “I was in the Sports Hall but at least you feel part of the tournament in the fact that you’re at the venue.”

Most would agree that snooker had stagnated before Barry Hearn’s takeover in 2010. A dearth of new faces and a paltry number of tournaments had seen the sport slowly gurgle towards the plughole.

The truth is, it is too early to judge whether the flat draw innovation will be a positive for snooker or not.

But I would say this: if it’s the right system, then it must be used in every event, including the World Championship. To not do so is hypocrisy, almost an admission that it is wrong.

This would mean the end of the Crucible. Is four decades of tradition worth losing for the sake of completely levelling the playing field?

I would also say this: players have every right to comment on their work conditions. This is their livelihood after all.

The problem, though, is that to the outside world they can just seem like a bunch of moaners, unappreciative of what they have.

To many, playing professional snooker where financial rewards are high seems like a dream job. The temptation is to just say, ‘get on with it’ and there may be something in that.

The danger with this year’s UK Championship is that all anyone wants to talk about is the format.

Ultimately, like every other event ever played, it will come down to who plays the best. For all the talk of quantity, it is quality which always triumphs.



In 866, the Vikings invaded York. This week, a horde of snooker players have descended on the city in pursuit of one of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious titles.

There won’t be any literal bloodshed but the williamhill.com UK Championship will still be a fight to the finish, and it’ll take a while to finish with 128 hopefuls starting out.

Some have already departed before the main arena even hosts any play. On the basis that it’s best to comment on something when you’ve seen it, I ventured to York yesterday to take a look at it all…

With the sort of timing only learned through long experience of free-loading, I arrived in the media centre at the precise moment they were serving the complimentary food.

My enjoyment of this was tempered only by then watching Dominic Dale devour a water bug on behalf of World Snooker’s Youtube channel, in support of a jungle-confined Steve Davis.

The association hopes to persuade other players to do similar. “We have loads of bugs and cockroaches,” an official cheerily said, as I eyed the remnants of my lunch with growing unease.

Pre-Christmas snooker is always special. It’s the time of year city centres are lit up with decorations as feelings of goodwill and glad tidings sweep away all negativity. Almost.

“That’s my season ruined,” said Dave Gilbert after losing 6-4 to Li Hang. In fairness, there are no positives to take from a first round exit which leaves the loser going home with not a penny for their efforts.

Money was upmost in Marcus Campbell’s mind after a disappointing recent run was ended by his marathon 6-5 defeat of Lu Haotian.

“I’ve got a young family and I haven’t had a cheque for a few months,” Campbell said. “Your outgoings are so heavy and it’s difficult to find the money. You’re outlaying £10- 15,000 and then waiting for two or three months for it to come back in. That in itself brings pressure.

“The system is very cut-throat. You’re flying to Poland or Germany for a PTC and forking out £600 a time. My last three draws have been Andrew Higginson twice and Joe Perry. So that’s nearly £2,000 in matches where you’re second favourite.”

There was great excitement late in the afternoon as Liang Wenbo closed in on what looked like being the 100th maximum in snooker history.

I looked forward to telling my grandchildren that I was there for this moment of history, and by ‘there’ I mean huddled round Matt from Prosnookerblog’s laptop with a bunch of other journalists having been too lazy to actually go and watch it close up.

“It’s all about this shot,” I said as Liang stood over the 15th black, trotting out a hoary old cliché which, for once, proved correct as he overran position for the yellow and missed an awkward cut-back.

Liang took it well considering the prize at the UK Championship for a 147 is £59,000 (though split if there is more than one).

“I had a good chance but I hit it too hard,” he said. It turned out he was unaware of the big bonus: “I didn’t know. I was just concentrating on playing.”

I had earlier ventured into the arena to watch some of the newer players, such as Chris Wakelin and Elliot Slessor, both of whom impressed me.

Slessor was beaten by Liang but Wakelin beat Ryan Day 6-5 having seen his 4-1 lead wither away.

As impressive a player as Wakelin seems, he is also an assured speaker, which suggests World Snooker’s media training programme is working.

His is a tale of triumph over adversity. A year ago he was being treated for depression and suffered the ‘yips’, unable to properly deliver the cue. As his health improved, so too did his snooker.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve gone through to suddenly not be able to play the game I’ve loved all my life,” Wakelin said.

“Snooker is a lonely sport when you’re not playing well. At its worst, I played a local match with the black over the pocket and the cue ball in the middle table. It was the easiest shot ever but I played it with the rest because I couldn’t deliver the cue.”

Thankfully he recovered and came through Q School earlier this year. Whatever the set-up here, he was determined to enjoy it.

But it has to be said the set-up is not ideal. The Barbican Centre is a great venue but possibly not for this format. The playing arena in the Sports Hall, which houses four tables, is a little cramped to say the least.

Snooker, of course, has often been at its best when played in an intimate environment – as at the Crucible – but this looked and felt a little like a club, certainly a contrast with the excellent Badminton Hall layout in Sheffield, used for the World Championship qualifiers these last few years.

There’s no room for practice facilities so players have to go to a nearby club, although conditions there are said to be good.

It was encouraging, though, that yesterday attracted a large crowd even though the game’s really big hitters are yet to start out. There was so much demand for the evening session that extra seats were installed.

That evening session dragged on and on but included a career best win for Chris Norbury, 6-3 over Martin Gould, who was suffering with throat problems.

I doubt Norbury’s assertion that the format is “better for everyone” will be shared by all his fellow players. Some of the bigger names coming in today may feel it’s a comedown compared to the two-table set up last year, although most of their matches will be played in the superior main arena.

This is, after all, the UK Championship, one of snooker’s crown jewels. But whatever the set-up, whatever the format, snooker still has the capacity to deliver high drama, as proven by Alan McManus’s last ditch win over Joel Walker.

Walker cleared the colours to force a re-spot but went in-off playing a safety, thus handing a 6-5 victory to the Scot.

That one shot he played, and its outcome, sums up the narrow margin by which this game is played. There’s a lot of talent out there. Some days you get the luck you need, others it cruelly conspires against you.

But everyone keeps coming back for more, and there’ll be much more before the champion is crowned on December 8.



The williamhill.com United Kingdom Championship has a fine history forged from 36 years of competition.

The event began as a non-ranking tournament for British and Irish players only but gained ranking status in 1984. It was Steve Davis’s first major title and he won six UK trophies from 1980 and 1987.

Stephen Hendry has five UK titles to his name, Ronnie O’Sullivan four and John Higgins three.

For many years the event was staged at Preston Guild Hall and had a best of 31 frame final but in 1993 the final was reduced to best of 19. Two years ago the best of 17 frame early matches were reduced to best of 11.

This worked well for a 32-man TV format but this year it has changed again, with 127 matches to be played in 13 days at the Barbican Centre in York.

There are so many matches to be crammed in that the venue itself has been split in two, with some matches in the main Barbican arena and some in a sports hall.

This prestigious and much loved event has become the Boxing Helena of tournaments – sliced, cut and squeezed into as tight a space as possible.

The BBC, host broadcasters, was not entirely happy with the ‘flat’ everyone-in-the-first-round format which risked losing the game’s big hitters before the cameras arrived on Saturday.

A compromise has been reached. Seed no.1 plays seed 128, no.2 plays no.127 and so on, which considerably reduces the likelihood of shocks.

Some players are doubtless unhappy with this rigid system but the fact is the BBC pays something like £4m a year to televise their events and it’s completely understandable that they want recognisable faces on the screens, because that’s what most viewers want.

The four top seeds – Mark Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui – have had their last 128 matches held over for TV, although it remains to be seen how competitive these will be as they are each playing amateurs with no experience of the forbidding TV arena.

There is streaming of some earlier matches but the problem for fans is that they have no idea when anyone is playing once the first round is concluded. If you want tickets to watch, say, Judd Trump in the last 64, you don’t know what session to buy them for.

It is, though, a great venue in a nice city and the UK Championship remains a title every snooker player wants on their CV.

The British players will have grown up watching it on the BBC, an often criticised corporation but one, it should be remembered, who created the snooker boom through showcasing it on colour television, and who stuck with the sport after other broadcasters had dumped it.

One constant at the UK Championship is a paucity of shock winners, certainly fewer than in the World Championship.

Selby is defending champion and starts in the group of favourites alongside O’Sullivan, Ding and Robertson.

Mark Allen will be hoping to translate good PTC form into a major event. Stuart Bingham will try to maintain the momentum of his run to the Champion of Champions final.

Judd Trump, the winner two years ago, is looking for much needed confidence and an upturn in form and results.

And there are many, many others hoping to come through the pack and spring a surprise in the biggest tournament staged in Britain since the Crucible showpiece last spring.

It all starts today with TV coverage beginning, as is traditional, on Saturday.



The UK Championship was first held in 1977. Its champion in 1978 was Doug Mountjoy, who two years earlier had won the world amateur title and thus found a way into the professional game, at the time a shop not so much closed as boarded up.

Mountjoy had won the Masters in 1977, went on to reach the 1981 World Championship final, became a familiar face on TV and spent 11 successive years in the elite top 16.

But by 1988, he was in decline. At the age of 46, he was dropping down the rankings. A 13-1 defeat by Neal Foulds at the Crucible had ended a miserable 1987/88 season in which he had won only two ranking event matches and finished 24th in the world, surely destined to keep sliding down the list.

Or so it seemed. In one of those rare, heart-warming moments sport uniquely and sporadically produces, Mountjoy authored one of snooker’s most remarkable fairytales, a compelling triumph against many odds.

But first, some background. There was no thriving circuit for a teenage Mountjoy to join. When the young players complain about money today they should consider how lucky they are to be born at a time where there is any at all in professional snooker.

At their age, Mountjoy was down a coalmine in South Wales, working long days and playing snooker only after his back-breaking shifts were done.

It was a hard life and a harder road to the top. Mountjoy turned professional at 34, when careers at the highest level are traditionally thought to be entering their final phase.

By 46, his game had declined but he made a decision which proved to be life changing. He went to see Frank Callan, a former Blackpool fishmonger who had gained a reputation as one of snooker’s leading coaches.

By following ‘the drill’ – one of Callan’s key technical routines – Mountjoy began to play with more confidence. The first sign that things might be turning round for him came at the Grand Prix in Reading in October 1988 where he knocked out the then defending champion, Stephen Hendry.

He arrived at Preston Guild Hall the following month for the UK Championship ten years after he had won it and found that the Hendry victory had been no fluke. Finding confidence and form, Mountjoy beat Foulds, Joe Johnson and John Virgo to reach the semi-finals.

In the last four he beat his old friend and compatriot Terry Griffiths, finding himself so relaxed that he went to sleep in his dressing room during one of the intervals.

And so, against any predictions, Mountjoy was back in the UK final. And facing him was Hendry, still only 19 but a player well poised to inherit the snooker earth.

This was a clash of styles, of generations and of goals: Hendry was looking to win the biggest title of his career to date, Mountjoy hoping to improbably turn back the clock.

In those days the final was played over two days and four sessions. Hendry made two centuries in the first of these but Mountjoy ended it 5-2 ahead.

A 98 break on the resumption made this 6-2 but in the next frame he missed a red which would have given him a five frame lead. Hendry, always a ruthless exploiter of opponents’ mistakes, seized his chance and levelled at 6-6. He made a third century in the last frame of the day to leave the final poised at 7-7.

Logic dictated Hendry would pull away on the second day. In fact, the opposite happened as Mountjoy produced surely the finest session of snooker of his whole career to win all seven frames played, ending with back-to-back centuries.

He began the evening with a third in succession to lead 15-7. Watched by a peak BBC audience of 13.2m, Hendry started to pull back the deficit, rallying to 15-12, but Mountjoy did enough in the next to win 16-12, land the £80,000 first prize and see his name once again etched upon a major trophy.

Of Callan’s contribution, he said: “I didn’t have a game. It’s difficult on your own to find out what you’re doing wrong. I went to Frank. He’s helped me so much he must be sick of seeing me. Without that guy I’m nothing.”

This alone would have been a fine story for the snooker annals but there was to be a memorable postscript as Mountjoy went on to win the next ranking event as well, the Mercantile Classic.

He rose to fifth in the rankings and reached another ranking final at the 1991 Dubai Classic, losing to Hendry.

And then, with everything going well again, Mountjoy suffered a double setback: he had a cancerous lung removed and found that a manager had badly ripped him off.

His career declined again and he quit the circuit in 1997 to coach in Dubai. Recently he has reappeared on TV screens in the World Seniors Championship and has practised at Tredegar Snooker Club, owned by Mark Williams.

Mountjoy’s second UK Championship triumph was 25 years ago this week. It doesn’t seem that long, perhaps because it is one of those snooker moments which feels timeless – a genuine tale of adversity conquered and of victory all the sweeter second time around.