28.12.07

JOHN HIGGINS MBE

John Higgins has been awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours list.

This is in recognition of his second Crucible triumph last season as well as his many other achievements in the sport.

Congratulations to John, who joins the likes of Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Parrott, Jimmy White and Mark Williams in being honoured in this way.

21.12.07

AND SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS...

We’re shutting up shop for another year here at Snooker Scene Towers so would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Looking back at 2007, what’s striking is how little snooker there has actually been in terms of tournaments. Just eight ranking events and a handful of invitation tournaments for the top professionals.

However, I think 2008 will be much, much busier with John Higgins’s new ‘World Series’ and, I understand, more events on the cards in the Far East.

Any major sport looking for exposure in the media needs to create a feeling of momentum, which has been severely lacking in snooker in recent times.

Having whole months go by with nothing happening makes the sport look like its in decline when, in fact, across Europe and China it is booming.

There was no player of 2007 even if the year was book-ended by Ronnie O’Sullivan’s fine performances in winning the Saga Insurance Masters and Maplin UK Championship.

Shaun Murphy was the most consistent player and there were also strong showings from the likes of Neil Robertson and Stephen Maguire but Higgins came good when it really mattered at the Crucible.

The last week of the 888.com World Championship offered what snooker at its best can: great snooker, close finishes and plenty of drama.

There are still problems in how the game is administered but at least there is now stability and little in-fighting.

There’s every reason to be positive heading into 2008.

18.12.07

RONNIE DESERVES PROPER RECOGNITION

What do the following have on common? – Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths, Jimmy White, John Parrott and Mark Williams.

It’s not just that they have all been great players but that they have all received honours from the Queen.

Missing is John Higgins, who is surely due one after his second Crucible triumph, and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Ronnie’s colourful off table life probably precludes him from receiving one in the eyes of many but why should it?

He has, more than anyone playing the game today, sustained the popularity of a sport that has been a huge favourite with television viewers for more than three decades.

Furthermore, his great natural style of play has created many new snooker fans around Europe who are seeing the game for the first time on Eurosport.

Ronnie is also one of British sport’s leading characters and most sublimely talented exponents.

Add in his considerable on table achievements and, even if you believe that the Honours system is highly questionable in many regards, he deserves recognition from his country.

17.12.07

RONNIE RULES UK

What an end to 2007.

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first ranking title for 33 months came courtesy of a highly polished display against Stephen Maguire, who failed to produce any sort of form in the opening session.

It wasn’t the classic Maplin UK Championship final we’d been hoping for but the scenes that followed – Ronnie’s daughter Lily standing on the table – will live long in the memory.

It was nice to see this often troubled cueman with a broad smile on his face and holding one of the game’s major trophies aloft once again.

His maximum in the decider of his semi-final against Mark Selby was a slice of sheer genius, an incredible end to an absorbing contest.

The crowds turned out in force during a successful week in Telford and were treated to some excellent snooker. The sponsors should also be commended for their efforts in creating a buzz around the event not just limited to events in the arena.

And O’Sullivan’s capture of the title was the perfect way to mark the 30th anniversary of this great tournament.

15.12.07

HIGGINS LAUNCHES 'WORLD SERIES'

In what could potentially transpire to be one of the best things to happen to snooker in recent years, world champion John Higgins and his manager, Pat Mooney, are to launch a 'World Series' of events around Europe next year.

Four tournaments are planned between May and August with Higgins hoping the mini-tour will grow in future years.

Eurosport's blanket coverage of major events has done for snooker in Europe what the BBC did for it in the 1970s and 80s.

Warsaw, Moscow, Jersey and either Germany or Holland have been chosen as the stopping off points for the first four tournaments.

"I've been looking forward to doing something like this for a long time," revealed Higgins.

"The idea is to get some small invitational events going - and with time they will grow and grow. The future of snooker is in Europe.

"I've always wanted to give something back to snooker and, being the world champion, this is the ideal opportunity.

"My name carries a lot of weight in the game, so I want to do my best to promote the sport. I've been happy to sit in the background in the past, but with my business head on I know I've got to push myself more.

"This is a very exciting opportunity for snooker, myself and a lot of other players."

The tournaments, which will all be televised, will feature top players plus local hopefuls and will compliment rather than clash with the main World Snooker events.

This could be the start of a genuine expansion of the game across the continent.

13.12.07

SELBY AND FU SHATTER RECORD...SLOWLY

Myself and Joe Johnson have just commentated on the longest ever frame of televised snooker, a 77 minute, 31 second grind between Mark Selby and Marco Fu which Selby eventually won to edge their Maplin UK Championship quarter-final 9-7 at Telford.

This beats the record of 76 minutes held by Bill Werbeniuk and Eddie Charlton in their match against Les Dodd and Jim Bear in the 1985 World Doubles Championship.

The previous record in a ranking event was 74 minutes, 8 seconds set by Graeme Dott and Peter Ebdon in the 2006 world final.

Time for bed, I think.

RONNIE THE MAN TO BEAT

It's a year to the day since Ronnie O’Sullivan walked out of the Maplin UK Championship trailing Stephen Hendry only 4-1 in the quarter-finals and it already seems like a distant memory.

He was classy in accounting for a 6-2 lead over Jamie Cope this afternoon and so anxious to get on with it that at one point he asked the referee, Terry Camilleri, to wait until he had walked round the table before retrieving the potted colour.

This is ominous form as O’Sullivan attempts to win his first ranking title since March 2005, but he still faces some tough opponents at Telford.

Marco Fu or Mark Selby awaits in the semi-finals with Stephen Maguire or Shaun Murphy to meet in the final.

I predicted last week that the cream would rise to the top and, for once, I’ve got something right.

12.12.07

LET THE PLAYERS SPEAK THEIR MINDS

One of the biggest misconceptions about snooker today is that ‘there aren’t any characters in the game.’

This is usually trotted out by people who have never spent any time on the circuit. If they had, they would know there are plenty of characters, not to say a fair number of eccentrics, among snooker’s travelling circus.

On Monday, Michael Holt was beaten 9-6 by Ronnie O’Sullivan. It was a disappointment because he knew he had a chance to win.

The Chris Evans show on BBC Radio 2 wanted to speak to him and he waited patiently at the venue for more than two hours to take part in the interview.

Evans was so taken with Holt that he immediately invited him back on yesterday’s show.

It takes players like Holt to put themselves out to assist the media and World Snooker in promoting the sport. Most players are helpful in this regard. Indeed, the relationship between press and players is generally very good.

However, shifting perceptions that snooker is a sport populated by robotic automatons isn’t easy.

What doesn’t help is the insistence of World Snooker that players should not say anything remotely controversial.

Graeme Dott said he didn’t like Ian McCulloch back launching the Grand Prix in August. It was the sort of meaningless spat that happens pretty much every day in football but Dott has now been threatened with disciplinary action.

If the players aren’t allowed to stray beyond some carefully crafted corporate image, how are their personalities supposed to come to the fore?

11.12.07

NEW TOURNAMENT LAUNCHED

Ever the innovator, Matchroom supremo Barry Hearn has found another gap in the market and intends to fill it by staging what is in affect a qualifying event for the Premier League.

It will run between February and May and be shown in betting shops and on the internet.

Read the official press release here:
http://www.matchroomsport.com

10.12.07

CHANGING OF THE GUARD?

Mark Allen’s victory over Stephen Hendry and Jamie Cope’s excellent performance last night against John Higgins, taken together with defeats for the likes of Ken Doherty, Peter Ebdon and Stephen Lee, raises the question of whether we are entering a new era of snooker in which the old guard is being swept away.

I’m not so sure.

Nobody goes on forever in any sport and Allen are Cope are bona fide stars of the future but let’s not forget that Doherty, Ebdon and Lee weren’t beaten by young up-and-comers but vastly experienced players in the form of Nigel Bond, Ian McCulloch and Mark King.

Even so, there are clear signs of a changing of the guard represented by the likes of Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui, Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby coming to the fore in recent years.

Cope has already been in two finals and he produced the break of the day yesterday in clearing with 53 to win the sixth frame of his match with Higgins, bringing two reds off cushions and appearing as nonchalant as a multiple world champion as he knocked in a tough pink using the rest and a far from simple black.

New eras tend to be created gradually with young stars improving while the established elite begin to decline.

However, we can only say the old guard’s days are numbered if they start winning tournaments on a regular basis.

9.12.07

RANK AND FILE

I thought Ken Doherty played as poorly as I’ve ever seen him in losing 9-7 from 7-4 up to Nigel Bond in the first round of the Maplin UK Championship in Telford last night.

He didn’t seem able to do anything right – evidence, perhaps, of his lack of practice having become a father for the first time just over a week ago.

The defeat means Doherty is almost certain to be ranked outside the elite top 16 in the provisional world rankings heading into the New Year.

As we’ve seen with Matthew Stevens and, possibly, with Mark Williams, no-one is too good to be relegated.

It’s all about results and if you don’t win, you won’t survive the increasingly competitive drop-zone.

Shaun Murphy entered this event top of the provisional standings but returns level at 4-4 with Paul Davies and a shock result cannot be completely discarded.

Murphy is a fluent player whereas Davies is far more methodical and, if the Welshman can disrupt Murphy’s rhythm, he could spring a surprise.

Meanwhile, Ronnie O’Sullivan appears to be in good spirits and I expect him to have too much firepower for Michael Holt when they start out this afternoon.

O’Sullivan lies second in the provisional rankings and will be ready to pounce if Murphy slips up.

8.12.07

HENDRY'S WOES

Stephen Hendry may still beat Mark Allen in the first round of the Maplin UK Championship but - at the time of writing - this seems unlikely.

I well remember when Hendry was beaten 9-0 by Marcus Campbell in the first round of the 1998 event. Various pundits wrote him off and suggested it was the beginning of the end but he recovered to win a seventh world title later that season.

However, that Crucible triumph was the last time the Scot captured one of snooker's 'big three' titles (the UK and the Masters being the others) and there were signs this afternoon that he has real problems.

He wasn't helped by the fact Allen played superbly in claiming his 6-2 lead but, unlike Steve Davis, Hendry has clearly decided not to change his game despite the threat of decline.

The tricky cut-back black he went for leading 60-0 in the seventh frame was proof of this.

Hendry's always been adventurous in his shot selection and, in the glory years, most of them went in but he's starting to miss more and more of these key balls.

The 38 year-old hardly enjoyed a confidence-boosting build up to Telford after he was beaten 6-0 by an inspired Ding Junhui in the Premier League at Glenrothes and 5-1 in the semi-finals at Aberdeen by Ronnie O'Sullivan.

After everything Hendry has done in the sport, it would be foolish to write him off and he wouldn't play if he didn't think he could still win titles but this is surely a crossroads in his career.

6.12.07

RONNIE OUT OF MALTA

Ronnie O'Sullivan has pulled out of the Malta Cup.

Actually, that isn't quite correct. He didn't want to play in the first place and was entered without his knowledge by his management company.

Malta has never been a favourite destination for O'Sullivan (I've no idea why as it's a lovely place) but I understand his main reason for not going is that he doesn't wish to spend a week away from his family when there is a tournament - the Welsh Open - starting the day after the Malta final.

It looks like clumsy scheduling but there is method in this madness: a gap has been left for an eighth ranking event in the Middle East.

However, the signs are that this won't take place this season.

Some will criticise O'Sullivan but he has a right not to play if he doesn't fancy it and isn't to blame for being entered into a tournament without knowing about it.

It is, though, a blow to people who have already booked tickets for the Portomaso event on the understanding he would be playing.

The fear now, of course, is that other players who didn't wish to play and have found themselves in the draw will also pull out, which would cause huge problems bearing in mind the event is played using a round robin system and the players in each group have been carefully selected based on their rankings.

5.12.07

WHO WILL RULE UK?

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the UK Championship is the lack of surprises over the years.

Sure, there have been plenty of shock results but surprise winners have been thin on the ground.

In fact, I’d say there had only been three in this great tournament’s 30 years.

The first winner, Patsy Fagan, was by no means among the favourites (which would have been Ray Reardon, John Spencer, Alex Higgins and Doug Mountjoy) in 1977.

John Virgo would not have been tipped by many to win the 1979 event.

Mountjoy was 24th in the world rankings and widely thought to be in terminal decline when he won the title for a second time in 1988.

You could argue that, at 17, Ronnie O’Sullivan was a surprise winner in 1993 but most people recognised his prodigious talent and expected him to start capturing titles sooner rather than later.

Most of the game’s great and good have won the UK Championship, with the notable exceptions of Reardon, Spencer, Cliff Thorburn and Dennis Taylor.

This year’s event looks set to be competitive, but could there be a rare shock winner?

The way snooker is these days it seems more likely than a decade ago. But who are the contenders?

Mark Allen is certainly one. I think he’ll give an out of form Stephen Hendry real problems on Saturday and has the sort of game to go all the way.

Ricky Walden could prove a handful for Mark Williams, but would have to claim a series of other scalps were he to advance to the final.

How about someone like Stuart Bingham? He’s playing Steve Davis the first round, who he’s beaten three times out of three.

Or one of the veterans, like Nigel Bond and Dave Harold, aiming to follow Dominic Dale, Marco Fu and Fergal O’Brien in turning back the clock?

We will see over the nine days of the Maplin-sponsored tournament at Telford International Centre, which is broadcast live on the BBC and Eurosport.

And yet, for all the talk of shocks, I can’t help thinking that by the law of averages O’Sullivan – who is 32 years old today – has to win a ranking event some time soon (it’s been 33 months).

Looking at the draw, I fancy him to beat Shaun Murphy in the final on December 16.

That would certainly maintain the notion that, at the UK Championship, the cream always rises to the top.

1.12.07

DADDY KEN

Congratulations to Ken Doherty and his wife, Sarah, on the birth of their first child, a son, yesterday.

UPDATE: Ken and Sarah have named their son Christian

30.11.07

ON THE MARK

In my opinion, Mark Allen is the real deal. He will be one of snooker's top players for many years to come.

Yesterday, I watched part of his match in the Maplin UK Championship against Andrew Higginson, who himself played with great fluency.

Allen impressed me a lot. He compiled a number of big breaks - including a 146 - but his safety was also good and he played the right way in winnng 9-7.

The 21 year-old from Antrim reached the top 32 in the rankings after only two seasons on the main tour, which is good going by anyone's standards. He will surely join the top 16 next season.

I like his aggression and will to win, although he was in the wrong when he swore at the referee during his round robin match with Ken Doherty in the Grand Prix last month.

Allen immediately accepted he had been wrong. Before and after a match he is a mild mannered chap, it's only in matches where he becomes particularly animated.

And what's wrong with that? As long as he curbs his emotions and doesn't flout the game's ettiquette then I think it's refreshing.

At Telford, he will play Stephen Hendry, who beat him in his first pro event, the 2005 Northern Ireland Trophy.

Allen was over-awed then. It's fair to say he won't be when they meet in just over a week's time.

"I was a bit star-struck because it was my first tournament,” Allen told me. “But this is my third year on the tour and I don’t feel I have to look up to anyone any more.

“You have to give every player the same respect whoever they are. I’m just out there to do a job. It’s a tough match but I think I’m capable of winning it.”

27.11.07

TOMMY WHITE

Everyone here at Snooker Scene sends our sympathies to Jimmy White whose father, Tommy, died today at the age of 88.

Tommy was a regular fixture on the circuit and his friendly, cheerful manner never wavered despite all those Crucible disappointments.

Like all Jimmy's fans, Tommy experienced many highs and lows over the years but remained immensely proud of his son's achievements.

When Jimmy won the 2004 Players Championship in Glasgow, Tommy leapt out of the crowd to embrace his son and the man he beat in the final, Paul Hunter, also now sadly gone.

The moment was sweeter for Jimmy - and everyone who knew Tommy - because his dad was there to celebrate with him.

26.11.07

ANOTHER LATE, LATE SHOW IN PROSPECT

Here's a very simple question: who exactly believes that snooker fans are all insomniacs?

I ask because despite the 00.53am finish to the 2006 world final and the 00.54am finish to last season's Crucible finale, the final session of next year's showpiece showdown is scheduled to start, once again, at 8pm.

When John Higgins beat Mark Selby 18-13 last season, 2m viewers were watching. 5.2m had been watching 90 minutes earlier but most of them switched off, presumably because they were tired ahead of another week at work and could not stay with it.

How many children - the stars of snooker's future - woud have been watching at this time?

Let's not forget that there were still another four frames possible in the match.

Let's also remember that for many of those watching on Eurosport on the continent it was an hour later.

Very little got in the newspapers the following day because it was simply too late to meet print deadlines. Most of the coverage the day after this was focused on the scheduling.

Higgins himself was adamant the timings had to be changed to avoid a repeat of all this.

Surely, we all thought, lessons would have been learned and the final session this season would start at, say, 7pm.

In fact, nothing has changed and it's hard to see - barring a runaway - how another late, late show can be avoided next May.

The final afternoon session is, according to the booking form, supposed to start at 2.30pm. This was the case last year but it was changed to accomodate live BBC coverage of the women's FA Cup final and I'd be prepared to bet the same will happen this season.

Late night drama is all well and good but one of these days - perhaps next year - the final will finish at close to 3am and the sport will be a laughing stock.

They got away with it this year. Why take the risk next year?

25.11.07

MORE MISERY FOR JIMMY

Jimmy White faces a tough fight to keep his place on the professional circuit after crashing out of the Maplin UK Championship qualifiers in Prestatyn tonight.

White, 45, was beaten 9-7 by Mansfield’s Lee Spick in the second qualifying round of the £500,000 tournament.

The 1992 UK champion had needed to win three matches to reach the televised phase at Telford next month.

And White was hoping a good run in snooker’s second biggest event would kick-start a nightmare season in which he has failed to qualify for the final stages of the first four ranking events.

White, once as high as second in the world rankings, has fallen to 73rd in the provisional standings.

Only the top 64 at the end of the season will be guaranteed their places for the 2008/09 campaign.

23.11.07

TOUGH TEST FOR WHITE

Jimmy White, six times the Crucible runner-up, has been handed a tough qualifying draw for this season's 888.com World Championship.

Assuming White defeats Matt Selt or Fraser Patrick, he will have to beat Andrew Higginson, last season's Welsh Open runner-up, and the always tricky Mark King to make it through to the TV phase.

The perennial crowd favourite makes his bow at Prestatyn on January 8. The final round will be held at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield from March 7-10.

White failed to reach the Crucible last season when he lost his first qualifying match 10-4 to Jamie Burnett.

The full qualifying draw is now available to view on worldsnooker.com:
http://www.worldsnooker.com/tournament_latest_drawsheet-93.htm

THE LONG ROAD TO TELFORD

It will take eight days and a great deal of snooker to find the 16 qualifiers who will join the elite top 16 for the final stages of the Maplin UK Championship.

The qualifying for snooker's second biggest ranking tournament got underway at chilly Prestatyn today with 80 hopefuls doing battle for the Telford places.

I've given up attempting to predict who will come through because the strength in depth these days is such that literally anyone could.

Only four of the qualifiers for the Grand Prix in Aberdeen made it through to the Northern Ireland Trophy at Belfast.

Even though the formats were different, this illustrates that the days of players qualifying for every event with a string of victories under their belts has gone.

The UK qualifiers are two days longer than originally planned because only the top 16 are seeded through this season rather than the top 32 as in previous years.

Therefore, the likes of Matthew Stevens [the 2003 winner], Joe Swail and Mark Allen will be in action in North Wales next week alongside former champions Jimmy White and John Parrott.

I'd advise anyone who has never been to Pontin's to go and watch because there's always plenty of drama in the qualifiers, especially when the nerves start to bubble up.

The prize of playing on TV is such that, on a good day, you can see more twitching than in one of Bill Oddie's nature shows.

22.11.07

DING SETS NEW WORLD RECORD

Ding Junhui set a new world record during his extraordinary 6-0 victory over Stephen Hendry in the partybets.com Premier League in Glenrothes tonight.

The 20 year-old Chinese ace knocked in three centuries on the way to amassing 495 points without reply in opening a 4-0 lead over the seven times world champion at Rothes Hall.

The run of unanswered points was one more than the record of 494 set by John Higgins during his 9-2 thrashing of Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2005 Grand Prix final.

Ding fired in breaks of 133, 87, 136 and 138 before Hendry finally stopped the rot by scoring five points at the start of the fifth frame.

But the Scot broke down and Ding pounced with a run of 54 to lead 5-0.

And Ding then wrapped up the whitewash by adding the sixth having out-pointed Hendry 636-41.

RILEYS BACK CHARITY APPEAL


I learned today that the great uncle of Gemma Atkinson, the actress currently appearing on British TV in I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here, was the three-times world champion John Spencer.

She is taking part in a campaign for Everyman, which is Europe's first and only centre dedicated to male cancer research.

John died in July 2006 after a long and painful battle with cancer.

In support of the campaign, Rileys are aiming to raise £150,000 to help fund further research.

21.11.07

HAROLD ON A SWISS ROLL

Congratulations to Dave Harold for beating Ken Doherty 5-0 in the final of the Swiss Open.

This is the latest in a number of satellite events around Europe that are not only providing players with opportunities to get some good match practice but are also spreading the snooker word.

Dave is now 40 and one of a number of players who could figure in a World Seniors Championship, were such a thing to be organised.

The last, and indeed only, Seniors World Championship was staged some 16 years ago when Cliff Wilson beat Eddie Charlton in the final, with the tournament open to over 40s.

Think of the quality of the field using the same criteria today: main tour players Steve Davis, Jimmy White, John Parrott, Harold, Nigel Bond, Tony Drago and David Roe and possibly the likes of Tony Knowles, Mike Hallett, Willie Thorne, Cliff Thorburn, Darren Morgan, Joe Johnson and Alex Higgins.

Stephen Hendry himself turns 40 in just over a year's time and Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon aren't far behind.

Would anyone else like to see such an event?

20.11.07

AWARD FOR CLIVE EVERTON


A good time was had by all at the Snooker Writers Association annual dinner on Sunday where the cream of snooker journalism was joined by our award winners Jamie Cope (Newcomer of the Year) and Andrew Higginson (Achievement of the Year).

Snooker Scene's editor and BBC commentator Clive Everton was also in attendance to pick up his Special Award in recognition of his long service and continuing battle for free speech with World Snooker, who have so far spent more than £100,000 of its members money trying - without success - to put him out of business.

Clive was first writing about snooker more than 40 years ago and his passion for the game remains as strong as ever. As Steve Davis said at the Crucible last year when Clive celebrated his 500th day there: "Thanks very much for all the memories and thanks very much for being such a snooker fan. You've given a lot of people a lot of pleasure by continuing with the magazine and all of your enthusiasm."

16.11.07

MAN OF THE CENTURY

Ronnie O'Sullivan compiled the first century of his professional career as a 16 year-old at the Norbreck Castle Hotel, Blackpool during the long hot summer of qualifying for ranking events in 1992.

He fashioned his 500th last night in the partybets.com Premier League in Kidderminster.

Much has happened to him on and off the table in the 15 intervening years but one fact remains constant: on the table he is capable of genius.

O'Sullivan is only the second player to reach the 500 mark. Stephen Hendry is more than 200 ahead in first place.

However, Hendry has been on the circuit for seven years longer than O'Sullivan.

And if you average out the number of centuries per season for the two players they each come out at 31.

15.11.07

HOW SNOOKER CAN LEARN FROM DARTS

It isn't so long since darts was generally a bit of a joke in Britain.

The split in the early 1990s that resulted in two World Championships led many to predict the sport would whither and die.

In fact, it has grown to such a degree that it is now one of television's leading sports.

Each day next week, ITV4 will show around five hours of live coverage of the Grand Slam event featuring players from the PDC and BDO.

The top prize is £80,000 - more than the winner of every snooker ranking event bar the World and UK Championships will pocket - and a full house is expected at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

The rise in interest in darts can be attributed squarely to one man: Barry Hearn.

It was Hearn who realised the game's potential and marketed it with his usual flair and sound commercial decisions.

Let us not forget that two decades ago he was one of the biggest figures in snooker as manager of Steve Davis and various other leading players.

Hearn led expeditions to Thailand, Hong Kong, China and other outposts and helped build up interest that led to major tournaments being staged in these places.

He had bags of ideas and generated big bucks for his players but ran into what every entrepreneur who has ever become involved with snooker has suffered: envy and suspicion because he wanted to make money for himself.

The WPBSA's attitude to such people - from Mike Watterson to Hearn to Ian Doyle to Altium - has always been the same: we don't need you, we can do it all ourselves.

It is this attitude that has left snooker stagnated with fewer tournaments than in previous years and falling prize money while darts has thrived.

Hearn markets his sports at the top end. He concentrates on the stars - like the great Phil Taylor - because they generate the interest.

Because of how snooker is run, the same consideration has to be given to the world no.96 as the world no.1.

Actually, if the WPBSA used Hearn's model, the world no.96 would end up earning ten times as much as he does now because the sport as a whole would have a higher profile and there would be more playing opportunities.

Hearn still promotes snooker's Premier League but gradually became frustrated with the snooker world and concentrates instead on darts and other sports.

Nobody laughs at darts today. Snooker can learn a great deal from the way Hearn has transformed that game and should treat the next entrepreneur to come to our sport with greater respect.

13.11.07

MURPHY'S LAW

As a boy, Shaun Murphy's twin ambitions were to be world champion and world no.1

Two years ago, he achieved the first; in the latest provisional ranking list he is up to no.1 so well on his way to achieving the second.

The rankings don't lie. Of the seven ranking events staged so far in 2007, Murphy has won 1, been in the semi-finals of 3 and the quarter-finals of another 2.

This record of consistency suggests Murphy will be hard to shift when the rankings receive their annual revision after the 888.com World Championship next May.

To me, Murphy is the only top player around who exhibits similar characteristics to Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, in terms of his will to win and work ethic.

John Higgins, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Williams are three of the greatest players of all time but did not - and still do not - have the drive of Davis and Hendry.

Players can become too comfortable and take their foot off the gas. Davis and Hendry would always forget about a tournament they had just won to concentrate on the next one.

Murphy seems to be cut from the same cloth and I feel he has more than one Crucible triumph to come.

He isn't to everyone's taste. The well publicised 'chalk-gate' incident with Stephen Maguire at the 2004 Grand Prix hardly endeared him to many.

Some dislike his religion, but this is just prejudice plain and simple.

And let's not forget how unpopular Davis and Hendry were with some people in their pomp.

Is this the age of Murphy? It's too early to say.

But at 25 he has time on his side and the world at his feet.

11.11.07

MAGUIRE ON FIRE AGAIN

He may have been saddled with a ridiculous nickname (what on earth is the 'Merlin of Milton' supposed to mean?) but on the table Stephen Maguire has proven this week that he is pure class.

His confidence was knocked by failing to put away Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round of the 2005 World Championship but the Glaswegian does not appear to have suffered a negative reaction to losing 17-15 from 14-10 up in the Crucible semi-finals last season.

By beating Fergal O'Brien 9-5 in the Northern Ireland Trophy final in Belfast tonight, he becomes only the 15th player to have won three or more ranking titles.

Up to third in the provisional rankings, he can relax a little now that his three-year wait for a title has ended and will surely challenge in the rest of this season's events.

Snooker is becoming increasingly difficult to predict but Maguire, like Dominic Dale in Shanghai and Marco Fu at the Grand Prix, had to play some top class stuff to win the title, capping a terrific and well supported week in Belfast.

10.11.07

FEARLESS FERGAL

Fergal O'Brien's break of 48 with which he clinched his 5-2 victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan to reach the Northern Ireland Trophy semi-finals in Belfast last night was one of the finest I have ever seen.

Although the context of the match was different, it would not be overstating things to compare it to Alex Higgins's match-saving 69 in the 1982 World Championship semi-finals against Jimmy White.

When Fergal came to the table the only colour on its spot was the yellow. Various other colours and sundry reds were on cushions.

He fashioned a perfect run to secure victory and reach his first semi-final for eight years.

Well done to him. Just because he didn't make the break in five minutes does not mean it wasn't excellent snooker.

There is a common misconception about Fergal: that he is a grinder; a tactician.

In fact, he is an attacking player who plays at a measured pace.

He has made 90 centuries in his career, placing him 28th on the all time list. This is not the record of someone always keeping things tight.

Fergal loves snooker. It runs in his blood. If he wasn't playing he'd be watching.

Good luck to him this weekend.

9.11.07

TV MATCHES

A brief word about televised matches because I've heard some criticism of Eurosport for the matches that have been chosen, not least the decision to show Shaun Murphy v Peter Ebdon rather than Neil Robertson v Stephen Maguire today.

Eurosport do not pick the matches. Furthermore, they are not consulted about which matches are chosen.

The local broadcaster, TG4, and World Snooker are responsible for deciding on who plays on which table.

It's a shame we haven't seen Mark Allen yet bearing in mind he had brought in more spectators than any other player and we won't see him tonight because (understandably) the TV match is Ronnie O'Sullivan v Fergal O'Brien.

Thankfully, it goes down to one table from tomorrow so we can see every ball after that.

8.11.07

SNOOKER PERFECTION

Ronnie O'Sullivan today made five centuries in the five frames he won to beat Ali Carter 5-2 and reach the Northern Ireland Trophy quarter-finals in Belfast.

Nobody has done this before in a best of nine frame match.

Included in this was the seventh maximum break of his career, completed in the same nonchalent fashion - right and left-handed - as the other four centuries.

This is as good as snooker gets. It was sheer genius.

Whatever anyone may think of O'Sullivan's controversial career, you can only applaud a true sporting great at the top of his game.

3.11.07

TV MATCHES IN BELFAST

The following matches will be shown on TG4 and Eurosport over the first two days of the Northern Ireland Trophy:

Sunday
Afternoon: Joe Swail v Liu Song
Evening: Marco Fu v Adrian Gunnell

Monday
Afternoon: Matthew Stevens v Martin Gould
Evening: Gerard Greene v Liang Wenbo

The top 16 enter the fray on Tuesday.

2.11.07

110SPORT 'VICTIMS OF SMEAR CAMPAIGN'

110sport, who manage Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ken Doherty among others, have issued the following statement:

110sport Management Ltd, snooker’s biggest management group, have reason to believe they are victims of a smear campaign which has been directed against them by certain individuals form within the snooker fraternity.

Spokesman for 110sport, Stewart Weir said; “We became aware of this a number of weeks ago, firstly through the grapevine and latterly when we started receiving telephone calls from several newspapers.

“Once we had explained the situation to these newspapers, they decided in their best interests not to run with the story.

“However, the individuals who have instigated this campaign, and who we know are from the Yorkshire area and the Isle of Man , have persisted with their attempt to blacken our name and reputation by touting the same story around the newspaper world.

“Their claim, and not necessarily those of the players they have listed, is that several of our former clients have complaints concerning how they were managed during their time with our company.

“What we would say to those players, even after several years outside of our management, we would be willing to discuss those grievances. However, if they feel strongly enough, we would happily see them in a court of law, an option which has been open to them all along.

“We would also say that, if any financial claims are made against our company, counter-claims would be issued immediately.

“110sport are also adamant that if these underhand tactics continue against our company, we will forward our dossier on to both legal and snooker authorities.”

1.11.07

WHAT'S THE TIME, RONNIE?


Here's a picture from Ronnie O'Sullivan's photo-shoot for Vasto watches in China.

Has snooker finally gone upmarket?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TED!

We send our birthday wishes to Ted Lowe, who is 87 today.

For those too young to remember him, or from outside the UK, Ted was a BBC snooker commentator for 50 years until his retirement in 1996.

He brought us Pot Black, which built snooker's popularity on TV and led to the creation of the professional circuit as we know it today.

Ted earned the nickname 'Whispering' because, in the 1950s, he would sit in the crowd to commentate and would obviously have to keep his voice down.

He still follows snooker and sent me a very nice letter this year after I wrote a piece about him in Snooker Scene.

We hope he's enjoying his birthday.

30.10.07

WPBSA AGM RESULTS

The WPBSA AGM was held today in Sheffield.

Mike Dunn and Jim McMahon, the two serving directors required to submit themselves for re-election, made it back on to the board while Brandon Parker was unsuccessful.

The results (votes for and against):
Mike Dunn: 45-14
Jim McMahon: 42-17
Brandon Parker: 16-42

RONNIE 'BECOMES SNOOKER'S RICHEST PLAYER'

110sport have issued the following statement:

RONNIE O’Sullivan has half-a-million reasons for putting the disappointment of last week’s Grand Prix final defeat behind him.

For the twice-world snooker champion is about to become the game’s highest-earning player off-table by entering in to a series of endorsement contracts in China.

The 31-year-old, who lost to stablemate Marco Fu in Aberdeen, is in Guangzhou this week to film a series of TV commercials and complete contracts that will boost the world No.5’s income by £500,000 over the next two years.

O’Sullivan will put his name to a series of products including watches, clothing and snooker tables.

A spokesman for Stirling-based 110sport, O’Sullivan’s management company said; “Ronnie is such a massive attraction in snooker, especially in China where the game has taken off.

“As the most spectacular player in the game it’s not a surprise that companies want to align themselves with the biggest character in snooker.”

Good luck to Ronnie. This certainly confirms his and snooker's popularity. I just hope it means he actually plays in tournaments in China in the future because his participation in the Far East will help grow the game even further.

29.10.07

WOMEN'S SNOOKER: WHERE NEXT?

I read a story in one of the newspapers last week which questioned why Reanne Evans, as women's world champion, should earn so much less than Ronnie O'Sullivan (who isn't the men's world champion but is someone the paper presumably thought its readers would know).

This is a question often asked and has a very simple answer: because the standard in the women's game is nowhere near as high as that in the men's, so sponsors, TV and the public are less interested.

I say the 'men's' but women have never been barred from playing on the professional circuit. Allison Fisher, the best women's player of all time, beat Mike Hallett and Neal Foulds in the Matchroom League but her highest ranking was only 192.

Barry Hearn televised the women's World Championship a few times but it didn't really catch on.

In 1997, the WPBSA took the women's game under their wing, staging finals during major ranking tournaments, including at the Crucible.

A few years later the women were cut adrift and now have to fend for themselves with meagre sponsorship but a circuit of sorts.

Fisher, Karen Corr and Kelly Fisher have all gone to America to play on the far more lucrative 9-ball pool circuit, where they are all doing well.

Evans has vowed not to follow them. She loves snooker and would like to make a decent living from it.

For this to happen she needs a more competitive circuit and that will only happen if more women take up the game.

Snooker has always had a strong female following but playing standards have not really risen. If they did and a woman emerged who could challenge the leading male players the game itself would receive a huge boost.

As snooker is not a physical game there is no reason in theory why this could not happen.

Only time will tell if it actually does.

26.10.07

WHIRLWIND SET FOR JUNGLE?

Jimmy White is rumoured to be among the celebrities being lined up for the new series of I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!

For non-UK readers, this is a TV programme in which celebs are ritually humiliated in a jungle setting.

Then again, Jimmy's spent so much time at Pontin's of late that it might come as a welcome relief.

25.10.07

DALE V FU - WHO SHOULD GET IT?

The Saga Masters wildcard will go to Grand Prix champion Marco Fu unless something extraordinary happens at the Northern Ireland Trophy.

This is bad news for Dominic Dale, the Shanghai Masters champion, who also missed out after winning the 1997 Grand Prix when Jimmy White got the nod instead.

Fu is favoured because he can do much to help raise interest in Asia. However, Dale won a tournament in China, which we are constantly told is the great emerging market for the game.

The obvious choice would be to invite them both but it may be too late for that now.

21.10.07

BEWARE CUE MAN FU

This may come back to haunt me but I don't expect Marco Fu to be roundly thrashed by Ronnie O'Sullivan in today's Royal London Watches Grand Prix final in Aberdeen - which is the outcome many are predicting.

Fu was sluggish to say the least in putting away Gerard Greene 6-5 in a four hour, 18 minute grind last night but experienced the jitters that heavy favourites often do.

Against O'Sullivan, he won't have this and, having beaten Ronnie five times in 11 meetings, is well capable of causing an upset.

That said, I'd be amazed if O'Sullivan doesn't win his first ranking title in 31 months. He was superb in recovering from 5-2 down to beat Shaun Murphy 6-5 and seems to be cueing as well as ever.

My prediction? Ronnie to win 9-5 or 9-6. Whatever the result, let's hope it's good stuff.

19.10.07

SPEAK UP, RONNIE

Ronnie O'Sullivan has been in sublime form at times in Aberdeen this week but is refusing to play ball with the media, answering only in mumbled half-phrases in his post match press conferences.

Most people at the tournament find this behaviour pretty tiresome. Shaun Murphy has just suggested it is unprofessional.

I'm not sure what Ronnie's exact problem is but the regular snooker press have nothing against him. Indeed, we like him so it's a shame he is choosing to act in the way he is.

18.10.07

AT LAST, IT'S A KNOCKOUT

So it's over then. 120 matches and we finally have the last 16 line-up.

Hopefully what has happened over the last five days will spell the end of the round robin format at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix.

There have been too many dead games, too much confusion, poor crowds in Aberdeen and, far worse, all sorts of insinuations about the integrity of certain matches.

None of this has done the sport any good whatsoever.

14.10.07

HIGGINS: 'I NEARLY WALKED OUT OF SHANGHAI'

John Higgins has revealed that he almost pulled out of the Shanghai Masters in August after being told that his world final re-match with Mark Selby was being put on a non-TV table.

Higgins told me how incensed he was in an interview for the Sunday Herald, which can be read here:
http://www.sundayherald.com/sport/nationalsport/display.var.1758705.0.the_gospel_according_to_john.php

I know some people will say, 'prima-donna, who does he think he is?'

Well here's who he is: the world champion and world no.1 who flew to Shanghai the month before the tournament to attend an official launch.

The matches chosen ahead of his were Steve Davis v Dave Harold and Stuart Bingham v Stuart Pettman.

As I said at the time, it was a bewildering decision.

RICHARD BEARE RESIGNS

Richard Beare, the circuit's master of ceremonies for the last two years, has resigned.

Beare was seen behind the mic at Pot Black last week but contacted World Snooker a few days later to say he did not wish to continue.

This would be a good chance for them to bite the bullet and ring up the much missed Alan Hughes, who did the job for two decades before resigning after being expected to do more work for less money.

Of all the people who have done the job at various tournaments over the years, Alan was easily the best.

13.10.07

NEW START COULD MEAN SAME OLD HENDRY

I think Stephen Hendry will do well in Aberdeen this week some 20 years after he first won the Grand Prix.

He has a new cue this season and a new coach in the shape of Chris Henry, who previously helped Hendry's great rival Peter Ebdon.

At 38, Hendry is not content to sit back and wallow in nostalgia for the good old days. He still believes there are many good days to come.

In recent seasons, he hasn't played consistently as well as he did when he was in his 1990s heyday but there have been flashes of the old Hendry at times and if he puts it all together he will remain a force to be reckoned with.

Of all the players I've watched, at his best he has been better than anyone else.

12.10.07

RONNIE ON THE RUN

Ronnie O'Sullivan preferred to take part in a 5km cross country race in Loughton instead of Pot Black last Saturday, I can reveal.

He was said not to have accepted his invitation to the one-frame event because of 'personal reasons'.

He was not compelled to play in the tournament but at least he would have been guaranteed a top eight finish.

In his race, he finished 19th.

10.10.07

RE: JOYCE

Mark Joyce makes his television debut this Saturday at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen.

It gets better for him - he's making it against Ronnie O'Sullivan.

As he told me at the qualifiers, 'this is the reason I play the game.'

Mark has only been on the circuit since the start of last season. Indeed, this is only the ninth ranking event he has played in.

What chance does he have of causing an upset? You never know which Ronnie will turn up, of course, but it can be hard adjusting to the different conditions. TV lights, a big arena and, we hope, a large crowd will take some getting used to.

Nevertheless, Mark should think of his friend and fellow West Midlander Martin Clark, who made his TV debut at the 1987 International in Stoke against Dennis Taylor, then very much one of the sport's top stars.

The result? Clark 5, Taylor 0.

9.10.07

ONE YEAR ON

It is a year to the day since Paul Hunter died.

I’m sure many people remember the shock of hearing of his passing 12 months ago. Everyone knew he was seriously ill, but for someone so full of life to die at the age of 27 didn’t seem credible.

He certainly isn’t forgotten but, of course, life and snooker moves on.

I’m sure everyone in snooker would send their best wishes to his widow, Lindsey, and family today.

It would have been Paul’s 29th birthday this coming Sunday. It would be nice if this were acknowledged in some way at the Grand Prix in Aberdeen.

A plaque honouring him was today unveiled at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield by Daniel Wells, the first recipient of the Paul Hunter Scholarship.

Paul's father, Alan, and two of his uncles were present. The plaque reads:
In Memory Of Paul Hunter.
October 14th, 1978 to October 9th, 2006.
A Great Champion.

Wells said: "October 9 is a day when all snooker fans, and anyone that knew Paul, will pause for thought.

"The way Paul played as well as the way he conducted himself has been an inspiration to me and I feel extremely fortunate to benefit from the Scholarship that carries his name.

"I hope that this plaque will remind anyone who plays at the Academy to follow the example of sportsmanship which Paul set."

- Watch the deciding frame of Paul Hunter's last Wembley Masters victory here: http://www.worldsnooker.com/interactive_video.htm

8.10.07

POT BLACK A TURN-OFF

Pot Black attracted a viewing audience of only 800,000 to BBC1 on Saturday afternoon.

This could in large part be down to the fact England were playing (indeed beating) Australia in the Rugby Union World Cup quarter-finals on ITV.

But I can't help thinking that people would rather watch a competitive event that has meaning rather than what is basically a bit of a laugh, albeit one that carries a first prize of £10,000.

Well done to Ken Doherty, who clearly enjoyed himself.

Like all players involved other than Stephen Hendry, Ken wasn't born when Pot Black was first screened in 1969.

It was the first time snooker had been seen on colour TV and made stars of the early professionals, leading to the creation of the professional circuit we have today.

It is questionable, though, whether people are as beguiled by the one frame format now.

5.10.07

IF THEY ONLY HAD A TOURNAMENT...

Remember the Wizard of Oz? Dorothy and chums took a trip to the Emerald City but it was all a dream.

Well now the Emerald Classic, planned for Galway later this month, has been revealed to be a fantasy as well.

The tournament has been cancelled. A great shame, this, considering the high quality field that had been assembled.

Spiralling costs and poor organisation appear to be the reasons it's been called off.

Meanwhile, I understand the Kilkenny Masters, staged last March, is by no means certain to be held again.

4.10.07

WHY ISN'T RONNIE IN POT BLACK?

I see Ronnie O'Sullivan has attracted quite a bit of criticism because he isn't playing in Saturday's Pot Black.

I can understand snooker fans being disappointed but the fact remains that Ronnie DID NOT withdraw from the tournament. He was never in it to start with.

He had, as a member of the top 7, been invited to play but was under no obligation to compete.

What caused some irritation was that he left it so long to decide, meaning the draw could not be printed in, for instance, the Radio Times.

I've heard it suggested that he isn't playing because of disatisfaction over how his disciplinary hearing following his York walkout last season was handled.

Ronnie was fined £21,000 despite providing what his management considered to be compelling medical evidence pointing to his mental state at the time.

I think it was right he was punished for such a lapse in professionalism but there was a huge hypocrisy in that the very people fining him - the WPBSA - had covered up another premature concession, from Ding Junhui, at the Masters in January because they didn't want this showpiece final ruined.

OK, so Ding was 9-3 down in a best of 19 and Ronnie was only 4-1 down in a best of 17 but the same principle should apply.

Ironically, Ronnie took part in this cover-up but did so with the best of intentions, because he was concerned about Ding's welfare.

All of which leads us to here: Ronnie didn't play in Shanghai, he's not playing in Pot Black and his participation in all of the rest of this season's tournaments can't be taken for granted given his continuing depressions.

For those of us who enjoy watching him play this is all very sad.

3.10.07

NEW ISSUE OUT NOW

In the October issue of Snooker Scene, out today, Clive Everton examines Ronnie O'Sullivan's current mental state and asks whether it will stop him winning a title this season.

We also have full coverage of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix and Saga Insurance Masters qualifying events and the IBSF World Championship, as well as all the news and results from the worlds of snooker, billiards and pool.

We have also reviewed Lindsey Hunter's book 'Unbreakable' about the life and death of her husband, Paul.

1.10.07

RONNIE DOESN'T POT BLACK

So Ronnie O'Sullivan has decided not to play in Pot Black on Saturday.

He wasn't compelled to. It isn't a ranking event and he hadn't officially entered the tournament.

However, I understand he kept the WPBSA hanging on for weeks before finally making a decision so they can be forgiven for being unhappy with him.

26.9.07

THE GRAND NATIONALS

I'm in Dublin this week for the vcpoker.ie Irish Professional Championship here at the Red Cow Exhibition Centre.

It's a competitive field featuring all of Ireland's top pros and enlivened by the presence of Alex Higgins, who plays tonight.

The Irish players are all agreed that it's a source of pride that they have a national professional championship while the likes of England, Scotland and Wales do not.

Years ago, these events were subsidised by the WPBSA but, to cut costs, this subsidy was withdrawn in the early 1990s and the English, Scottish and Welsh Championships all came to an end (to be fair the tournament in Wales became the Welsh Open).

I recall Stephen Hendry electing not to play in later Scottish Championships because it was basically too easy for him. How times change. Can you imagine Hendry, John Higgins, Graeme Dott and Stephen Maguire battling it out for their national title?

Or how about Mark Williams, Ryan Day, Matthew Stevens and Dominic Dale fighting it out for the Welsh title?

England have a horde of players who would make their event competitive.

Broadcasters, sponsorship and venues need to be found, not to mention someone to organise them, but the return of the national championships would be a welcome step forward, with players competing not just to be the best at a particular tournament but the best in their own nation.

24.9.07

ANOTHER REF QUITS THE CIRCUIT

Johan Oomen has resigned as a WPBSA referee with immediate effect.

He officiated at the Shanghai Masters in August but has now put away his white gloves for good.

This is a shame as Johan had become established as one of the game's leading refs.

Over the last few years, several top referees have left the scene. Colin Brinded sadly passed away in 2005 while Lawrie Annandale, Paul Collier and Stuart Bennett all quit because of the meagre financial rewards for this very important job.

Veteran refs John Williams, Len Ganley and John Street have also disappeared from the circuit over the last decade.

All this leaves Jan Verhaas and Eirian Williams as the top two refs, with Michaela Tabb, Alan Chamberlain, Pete Williamson, Terry Camilleri and Colin Humphries making up the 'A-Team'.

It's a very, very hard job at times and needs superior concentration as well as a steely nerve.

That so many refs have got fed up in recent times suggests they are not being treated as they should.

19.9.07

NIGEL GETS HIS KIT ON

Following the revelation that Willie Thorne is to trip the light fantastic on Strictly Come Dancing comes the news that Nigel Bond is to appear on Sky One's Premier League All Stars.

The live show, hosted by Helen Chamberlain and Ian Wright, features former Premiership stars and celebrity fans of each club competing indoors in London next week.

Nigel is a long time fan of Manchester City and lines up alongside the likes of Rodney Marsh, Nicky Summerbee and the convicted fraudster Nick Leeson.

17.9.07

MEMORIES OF MATTHEW

The government are very keen that we recycle so I thought I'd post a story I wrote some seven years ago.

It was prompted by the realisation that Matthew Stevens is now 30 (it was his birthday last week).

At the 2000 World Championship, I interviewed his father, Morrell, who was proudly cheering him on as he reached the final.

Matthew was to lose 18-16 to Mark Williams from 13-7 up. Less than a year later, Morrell died.

The Crucible defeat had already knocked Matthew's confidence and his father's death contributed to a period in which he went off the rails a little.

That he hasn't won the World Championship, or more than one ranking title, given his great ability is a great surprise. Certainly when I wrote the following for the Sunday Herald in April 2000 I would have expected greater things from the Welshman...


Matthew Stevens defeated Joe Swail 17-12 in the £1.46 million Embassy World Championship yesterday to become the youngest finalist in the sport's premier event since Stephen Hendry won the title in 1990.

The 22 year-old appeared to be coasting to victory when he led 12- 6, saw this advantage reduced to 13-12 by the determined Northern Irishman, but played some tactically superior snooker in the final session to book his place in today's final.

"It felt more like a 17-16," a relieved Stevens said. "Joe made it very difficult for me when he came back from 12-6. He stuck in there but I managed to win under pressure. It might not have been too pretty to watch because quite a few of the frames were scrappy, but I feel on a high to have got through."

While Stevens held his nerve in the arena, he was watched backstage by anxious relatives and friends who had made the journey to Sheffield from Carmarthen, none more proud than his father Morrell.

Stevens senior, who has accompanied his son for the last decade to endless junior events, pro-ams, qualifying schools and anonymous league games, ignored the hype surrounding his charge who was installed as favourite to reach the final from the top half of the draw following the surprise exits of Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round.

At a time when even the late night television highlights were a distant memory, dad suddenly realised this week how far his son had come.

"It was 4.30am," he explained. "I suddenly shot up and found myself saying 'Bloody hell: Matthew's in the semi-finals of the world championship.'"

Many within snooker had already decided that Stevens was special long before the 17-day marathon began. With a reputation as one of the most deadly break-builders in the modern game, he has managed to shrug off the uncertainties that have seen so many players, including quarter-final victim Jimmy White, wilt under the pressure of the Crucible spotlight. Much of this inner confidence is due to his dad's guiding hand, although snooker was never a path the family pushed.

"It was a complete accident. I didn't play snooker at all and had little interest in it, but one Christmas my wife Sandra was in town and bought a three foot table as a stocking filler. Matthew hasn't put a cue down since," said Morrell.

"He virtually wore that first table out and began playing on the carpet because he wanted a bigger surface. It was obvious he had some sort of talent for the game so I took him down to one of the clubs in Carmarthen, but they said he was too young.

"When he started knocking in 30 breaks regularly at the age of nine at another club, the one he had been turned away from invited him back."

The improvement was rapid and, at the age of 11, Stevens made his first century break. Naturally, his father remembers the date. "It was Valentine's Day, 1988," he says, as if recounting his own date of birth. "Matthew was put into the local league side and was winning matches against 20 and 30 year-olds.

"They didn't always take it well. I remember he once played at a working men's club against a 6ft, 7in miner who was about 25 stone. Matthew beat him and the miner just sat in the corner for the rest of the evening, not talking to anybody."

The young Stevens also played football for his district side, which led to a difficult choice of sports until, at the age of 14, he made the decision to concentrate on snooker and, two years later, was playing on the professional circuit.

"Matthew used to play in a lot of junior tournaments which meant that he missed quite a bit of school," Morrell said.

"His headmaster called us both into his office one day and told us that, as long as he knew when Matthew would be absent, that it was fine.

"That really helped because it taught Matthew that if you give 100% to something then you can achieve your ambitions.

"We must have spent over seven months in total out of about three years at the pro qualifiers in Blackpool. There were hundreds of players there all looking for a break and it was tough, but there wasn't a single moment when I thought Matthew wouldn't get through it.

"His first ranking was 636. Five years later he's up to nine, but there are so many of the players we used to see in Blackpool who are still where they were."

Snooker observers were quick to spot Stevens' potential. He made a steady climb up the ranking list and was soon yapping at the heels of the game's star names. In 1995, he won the Benson and Hedges Championship, an event for lower ranked professionals, which earned him a wild card invitation to the prestigious Wembley Masters. There, he defeated Terry Griffiths, the 1979 world champion on whose club table he practises, in the first round to offer proof, if it were needed, that the new generation of Welsh player was finally overtaking the old.

The following season, Stevens reached the semi-finals of the Grand Prix. In 1998 he was runner-up in the Liverpool Victoria UK Championship, and he gradually played his way into the elite top 16 in the world rankings.

He was a winner again at Wembley in February when a 10-8 victory over Ken Doherty earned him £165,000 as Benson and Hedges Masters champion. If there had ever been any doubters, they were silenced once and for all.

"I said to Matthew after he won at Wembley that if he never potted another ball, it was all right with me," says Morrell. "And, the lovely thing is success hasn't changed him at all. He still goes out on a Saturday night with his mates, still treats everyone the same and can still be a pain in the backside when he wants to be."

There is a moment of laughter, but in the Crucible there is nowhere to hide, not even for the dads. He knows that this is the biggest weekend of the snooker year and, come Tuesday morning, Morrell Stevens may be waking up as father of the world champion.

That's if he gets any sleep at all.

16.9.07

ON THE RUN...

Good luck to Michael Holt who is today doing a half marathon in Nottingham for Diabetes UK.

To clarify: this is the race, not the chocolate bar.

13.9.07

IT'S WALTZING WILLIE!

Willie Thorne is to appear on the new series of Strictly Come Dancing, which starts on BBC1 next month.

Willie, whose prowess on the dancefloor is unknown, follows in the footsteps of his fellow BBC commentator Dennis Taylor, who appeared two years ago.

"I've not even danced before so this is going to be quite fun," said Willie, the 1985 Mercantile Classic champion, though this triumph is unlikely to help him much when it comes to fox-trotting.

"We're being told they want to see our hips move but I haven't seen my hips for about 10 years let alone moved them. I'm an ugly duckling and I'm hoping they will turn me into a swan."

Willie is up against celebrities including Blue Peter presenter Gethin Jones, former England and Liverpool footballer John Barnes, GMTV's Kate Garraway, BBC Sport's Gabby Logan and Brian Capron, who played a serial killer on Coronation Street.

Whether it'll be murder on the dancefloor for Willie remains to be seen.

BETTING STORY UPDATE

Further to yesterday's story about 'unusual betting patterns' during the Masters qualifiers, Tony Brennan is quoted in today's Racing Post as saying he was one of the punters whom Stan James refused to pay out.

Brennan revealed he'd had £1,500 on three matches (Liang Wenbo to beat Joe Delaney, Ricky Walden to beat Alfie Burden and Jamie Burnett to beat Joe Swail).

He said: "I'm disappointed because I have bet with the firm for a long time now – and I'm not in front – and on one of the few occasions when my number comes up Stan James act like bad losers.

“I will carry on betting with them, but I may stop and think before betting big with them."

SJ's Steve Walsh told the newspaper: "It looks as if it was more a case of the punters having more information than us because it looks as though every match was played on its merits."

Walsh added that he was waiting for official confirmation from the WPBSA before paying out punters.

SJ became suspicious because there was more money staked than they would have expected for such a minor snooker event but that's the risk bookies run for having betting on it in the first place (only three firms did).

It seems a bit much to scream up just because a few snooker punters - who follow the game and current form very closely - have correctly predicted results.

12.9.07

BOOKMAKER PROBES 'UNUSUAL BETTING PATTERNS' AT QUALIFIERS

The bookmaker Stan James has launched an investigation into what it describes as "unusual betting patterns" at the Saga Insurance Masters qualifying tournament.

Today's Racing Post reports that SJ returned winning stakes to some punters who had placed bets on four matches played last Sunday.

SJ say they have no problem with the performances of the players involved or the results of the matches but that they "are looking into about a dozen bets placed in a couple of regions in the UK."

The matches concerned were 1/2 shot Liang Wenbo's 5-2 victory over Joe Delaney, 1/3 Ricky Walden's 5-0 hammering of Alfie Burden, Jamie Burnett (6/5 from 11/8) upsetting Joe Swail 5-2 and 5/6 chance David Gilbert's 5-3 win over Joe Perry.

These kinds of stories come round periodically and tend to be nothing more than nervous bookies reacting to unexpectedly high wagers.

I can't say I found any of the results listed particularly surprising but snooker's problem is that there is no apparatus in place to properly investigate allegations made - I remember one time where betting was suspended on two matches and the WPBSA sent an 'observer' into the arena to watch them both at once!

11.9.07

SNOOKER WEBSITE OF THE WEEK#5

Firstly, apologies that this feature did not appear last week, but I was observing the religious festival of…er…OK I forgot.

Not every governing body has its own website. None has a better one than the Republic of Ireland Billiards and Snooker Association.

www.ribsa.net is precisely what a national association’s site should be like. What people logging on to such corners of the web want is information that is constantly updated. In this regard, RIBSA are ahead of everyone else because they update their tournaments, rankings and calendar constantly.

Their news pages are easily to read and the results are split into the various age sections, ensuring it is easy to find what you’re looking for.

There is a comprehensive links section giving details of snooker clubs in each county of Ireland – invaluable for anyone starting out or just looking for somewhere to play.

Also useful is a list of Irish coaches and downloadable technical guides from coach P.J. Nolan.

On the first page there is even a woman imparting (albeit in a disconcerting American accent) the latest Irish snooker news.

There is also ‘RIBSA TV’ which makes various frames from Irish events available to view.

It’s all very neat and is the sort of site governing bodies should aspire to replicate if they expect their various events to gain any publicity.

10.9.07

WHITE MARCHES ON

Jimmy White moved a step closer to clinching a place in the final stages of the Saga Insurance Masters after beating Jamie Burnett 5-4 to reach the quarter-finals of the qualifying event in Sheffield today.

White, the Masters champion in 1984, finished off with a break of 113 in the deciding frame.

The 45 year-old Londoner has been an ever present in the final stages at Wembley since 1982 but, with only the world’s top 16 seeded through, is unlikely to receive a discretionary wildcard this year having slipped to 78th in the provisional rankings.

However, White will still be among the 18-man field in January if he wins the qualifying tournament.

He trailed 2-1 but compiled breaks of 68 and 114 to edge 3-2 ahead before Glaswegian Burnett, who knocked White out of last season’s World Championship qualifiers, drew level with a run of 61.

They shared the next two frames before White’s second century of the match put him three wins away from securing his Wembley place.

6.9.07

RONNIE'S GREATEST STRUGGLE - WITH HIMSELF

Ronnie O'Sullivan's ongoing emotional problems are explored in an interview with Matthnew Syed in today's Times newspaper.

I was particularly interested in the revelation that Ronnie used to keep a diary - that would make fascinating reading!

Interview here: www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/more_sport/article2395208.ece

5.9.07

LESS UK MEANS MORE RONNIE

The Maplin UK Championship has been shortened by four days and will now run from December 8-16 at the Telford International Centre.

The official WPBSA press release states that this “guarantees all of the top 16 players’ participation in the televised stages of one of snooker’s most important tournaments” but this is misleading as there will be four tables, only two of which will be televised.

It also means that, for the first time ever, some matches in the last 16 of the game's second biggest event won't be broadcast at all.

It seems likely the change has primarily been made because Ronnie O’Sullivan, as world no.5, as well as the likes of Stephen Hendry (8) and Ding Junhui (9) would otherwise have to play a match before the TV phase.

The BBC, quite understandably, would rather they competed in front of their cameras.

In previous years, the top four seeds (in this case Peter Ebdon, John Higgins, Graeme Dott and Shaun Murphy) have had their matches held over, but it is by no means certain that any or all of these four players will now play on a TV table.

Indeed, recalling that the WPBSA relegated the Higgins v Mark Selby world final rematch at last month’s Shanghai Masters to a non-TV table, I’d say nothing is guaranteed.

4.9.07

ALEX HIGGINS BACK IN ACTION

Snooker legend Alex Higgins returns to competitive action later this month for the VC Poker Irish Professional Championship in Dublin.

Higgins, 58, faces former British Open champion Fergal O’Brien in the first round at the Spawell Club,Templelogue.

The twice world champion has not competed since last year’s Irish tournament but has accepted an invitation to play in his home event, which he won five times between 1972 and 1989.

Ken Doherty starts his title defence against Dungannon’s Patrick Wallace on the opening day of the tournament, September 25.

Doherty, the 1997 world champion and current world no.4, beat Michael Judge 9-4 in last year’s final.

Mark Allen, who beat Doherty in the first round of last season’s World Championship, plays Garry Hardiman.

Joe Swail, the 2005 champion, is seeded second and begins his campaign against Colm Gilcreest.

The tournament, which was revived two years ago having not been held since 1993, runs until September 30.

First round draw: Ken Doherty v Patrick Wallace (8pm, Sep 25); David Morris v Vincent Muldoon (5pm, Sep 26); Gerard Greene v Leo Fernandez (5pm, Sep 25); Michael Judge v Dessie Sheehan (2pm, Sep 26); Fergal O’Brien v Alex Higgins (8pm, Sep 26); Mark Allen v Garry Hardiman (2pm Sep25); Joe Delaney v Eamonn Kelly (11am, Sep 25); Joe Swail v Colm Gilcreest (11am, Sep 26)

2.9.07

MONDAY NIGHT CLIVE UPDATE

Unfortunately, Clive Everton's Q&A session at the Landor Theatre tomorrow has had to be cancelled.

All those who bought tickets should have been contacted by the theatre.

31.8.07

MICHAEL'S INDIAN TAKEAWAY

Well done to Michael Georgiou who today defeated China’s Anda Zhang 11-6 to win the World Under 21 Championship in Goa, India.

Georgiou, a 19 year-old Londoner, follows in the footsteps of past winners Peter Ebdon, Ken Doherty and Ronnie O’Sullivan, who all went on to triumph at the Crucible after turning professional.

Having beaten defending champion Passakorn Suwannawat of Thailand 5-4 in the last 16, Georgiou cruised into the final with a 6-1 win over Yu Delu of China and 8-5 defeat of Irishman Vincent Muldoon.

He made breaks of 86 and 72 on the way to beating 15 year-old Zhang, who had been looking to emulate his compatriot Ding Junhui, the winner in 2002.

“Before the final began I had the belief that I could win and just went out there and did it,” said Georgiou, who works as a resident coach at the Royal Automobile Club in London.

MONDAY NIGHT CLIVE

Tickets are still available for next Monday's 'Audience With Clive Everton' at the Landor Theatre in London as Clive launches his new book 'Black Farce and Cue-Ball Wizards: The Inside Story of Snooker' with an evening of anecdote and reminiscence.

Tickets can be bought from the Landor Theatre box office on 02077377276.

http://www.landortheatre.co.uk/

30.8.07

SHOULD JIMMY WHITE GET A MASTERS WILDCARD?

The qualifiers for this season’s Saga Insurance Masters get underway next week. Jimmy White, the champion in 1984, will face Matthew Stevens, winner seven years ago, in the tie of the first round less than a year after they played in the wildcard round at Wembley.

A note of caution to anyone wishing to watch this match: it is being played at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield where seating is severely restricted (some tables have no seats at all) so I’d check before rushing to the steel city hoping to watch these two Crucible nearly men doing battle.

That aside, it seems unlikely, given recent form, that Jimmy will win this qualifying event, which leads to the inevitable speculation about whether he will be awarded a wildcard for the Wembley tournament in January.

I think he should be and this is why…

Jimmy White has, through his many ups and downs, been one of the most significant figures in the game’s history. His natural, attacking style helped revolutionise snooker in the 1980s and his Crucible duels with Stephen Hendry in the 1990s were compulsive viewing.

At 45, he remains the most popular player in the game. His form has deserted him but his fans have not.

This could easily be Jimmy’s last season on the circuit. He’s 78th in the current provisional rankings and finds the qualifying set up at Pontin’s, Prestatyn hard to adapt to after years and years of playing in the top flight on television. If he doesn't finish in the top 64 at the end of the campaign he will be relegated.

What better way to reward him than with one final fling in his hometown?

I understand the arguments against. Jimmy has done little for three years so why does he deserve an invite? Why not give it to a star of the future rather than a figure from snooker’s past?

But – and here’s the point – wildcards are meant to reward either popularity or achievement.

Assuming there are three wildcards again, give one to Dominic Dale or Jamie Cope or maybe Judd Trump by all means, but give the other to Jimmy.

It’s true that he didn’t bring many punters in for his match against Stevens last season – I’d say around 600 – but the match was scheduled for a Monday afternoon (hardly prime time) and you can bet that he fetched in at least 300 more spectators than anyone else would have managed in the same slot.

Here’s what I’d do: stick Jimmy on the first night at Wembley against Steve Davis, who has to play in the wildcard round.

What better way to kick-off the tournament than these two legends going head-to-head?

I don’t usually have much time for the obsession with snooker’s past, but I’ll make an exception here because, with Davis on the verge of dropping out of the top 16, it could be the last Masters for both of these players.

They deserve respect for the considerable roles they have played in making snooker the successful television sport it is today.

Such a match would attract publicity, spectators and plenty of TV viewers. Plus, you’re guaranteed one elder statesman in the next round.

There isn't a player on the circuit who doesn't owe these two veterans a debt of thanks - so let's see it paid.

29.8.07

DANIEL, YOU'RE A STAR

Daniel Wells, the first young player to be awarded a scholarship in the late Paul Hunter's name, is seeded second for the knock-out phase of the IBSF World Under 21 Championship in Goa, India.

This is a huge international event won previously by Ken Doherty, Peter Ebdon and Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Daniel, 18, won all seven of his matches in the group stage and faces Ahmed Muanedi of Bahrain today in the last 32.

The Paul Hunter Scholarship was launched by the WPBSA following Paul's death at 27 from cancer last October.

Daniel has begun a year long programme during which he will receive coaching, media training and high quality practice at the superb World Snooker Academy in Sheffield.

You can read about the programme here: http://www.worldsnooker.com/news_editorial-18833.htm

And follow the World Under 21 action here: http://www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk/files/Results/2007-8/07-8-International/2007-IBSF-WorldUn21/2007-IBSF-WorldU21-ko.htm

27.8.07

SNOOKER WEBSITE OF THE WEEK#4

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s official website - http://www.ronnieosullivan.biz/ - is not far off being the perfect template for what a player site should be.

It is well constructed, regularly updated and geared towards people too often ignored in snooker – the fans.

It’s hard not to like Ronnie. He’s had a lot of problems in his life and has also let himself and his sport down at times, but he’s a fascinating character and, of course, a brilliant snooker player.

He has brought many, many people to the sport that would ordinarily not have given it a second look.

His website rewards them with a plethora of Ronnie-based material.

There is a shop where merchandise can be purchased, including T-shirts, mugs, his book and DVD and exclusive photographs.

The picture section features Ronnie at the table, in exhibitions and in his personal life.

There is a biography with stats (although some of these are out of date) and a fixtures list of when and where the ‘Rocket’ will be lifting off this season.

A perusal of the forum reveals that there are a lot of women who like Ronnie and that many of them live around Europe.

This shows how Eurosport’s extensive snooker coverage of the last few years has helped create legions of new fans, with Ronnie in particular widening the game’s appeal to countries where the game has no real history.

The forum is vehemently pro-Ronnie, with even the slightest sceptical opinion dismissed out of hand, but this is hardly a surprise on a site dedicated to him and I don’t mention it as a criticism.

Ronnie has a lot of supporters. I don’t know how this makes him feel: he’s always struck me as a rather shy man who doesn’t seek the bright lights of fame.

Regardless, those supporters have been rewarded with a site that seems geared towards what they want, which is surely the way it should be.

24.8.07

SOMETHING A-MISS

We were talking about the miss rule in the office the other day – those long summer afternoons fly by.

It was chiefly in response to Fergal O’Brien’s outburst during the Shanghai Masters.

Fergal’s normally implacable temperament cracked when referee Johan Oomen failed to call a miss after Steve Davis failed to escape from an exceptionally difficult snooker on the last red during the first frame of their opening round encounter.

Oomen’s argument was that, as the shot was so difficult, a miss should not be called. Fergal, with some vehemence, said that as Davis had not left the red on he was gaining the advantage – which is precisely the situation in which a miss should be called. In the end, Oomen stood his ground and Davis went on to win the frame on the black.

I had sympathy for Oomen. The fact was that it was a tough escape and Davis spent a long time considering how to get out of it.

But the central point the matter raises is this: what’s the point in laying a really difficult snooker?

Referees tend to look sympathetically on the snookered player in such circumstances so the player laying the snooker would actually be better advised to lay a snooker that is missable but not nigh on impossible.

A miss is called 99% of the time when a player escapes. The only time it isn’t (apart from when snookers are required) is when the snooker is so fiendish – surely down to the expert skill of the player laying it – that an escape is very difficult. So the player snookered actually has a form of advantage.

There’s something not quite right about all this.

22.8.07

HAPPY BIRTHDAY STEVE

Steve Davis is 50 today. He turned professional in 1978 and 29 years on is still ranked 15th in the world.

What a remarkable sportsman he is. Although most of his achievements have been surpassed by Stephen Hendry, Davis remains a legend.

Davis, as much as anyone and more than most, has played a vital role in popularising Snooker as a major television attraction.

He was the Tiger Woods, the Roger Federer, the Michael Schumacher of our sport in the 1980s and, two decades on, is still able to compete, albeit on a less regular basis, with the best the game has to offer today.

In the August issue of Snooker Scene, we listed his ten greatest moments.

They were:

1980 – WINNING HIS FIRST PROFESSIONAL TITLE
Davis beat Alex Higgins 16-6 to win the UK Championship and launch himself into the game's winners' circle, where he remained for well over a decade.

1981 – WINNING HIS FIRST WORLD TITLE
The first of six Crucible crowns in the 1980s.

1982 – MAKING THE FIRST TELEVISED MAXIMUM
147s are relatively common today, but Davis made the first.

1985 – THE BLACK BALL FINAL
Although he lost 18-17 to Dennis Taylor at the Crucible, Davis himself rates his involvement in the final as a highlight all these years later.

1987 – 18 IN A ROW
At the 1987 Mercantile Classic Davis reached his 18th consecutive ranking event quarter-final - which remains a record. It emphasised his consistency in the decade when he was king.

1988 – WINNING THE BBC SPORTS PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR
Winning this coveted prize proved his popularity with the British public as the snooker honeymoon continued.

1989 – WINNING A SIXTH WORLD TITLE
Davis equalled Ray Reardon's modern day record in awesome style by hammering John Parrott 18-3 in the final - still the biggest margin of defeat at the Crucible.

1993 – BACK-TO-BACK RANKING TITLES
Stephen Hendry was by now top dog but Davis's capture of the European and British Open titles proved he was still a contender.

1997 – WINNING THE MASTERS
Widely written off as a player in decline, Davis came from 8-4 down to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-8 at Wembley.

2005 – REACHING HIS 100TH FINAL
Davis reached the UK Championship final at York with superb displays to beat Stephen Maguire, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry before losing 10-6 to Ding Junhui.

21.8.07

CLIVE ON THE RADIO

Sorry for the short notice but Clive Everton will be on Simon Mayo's show on BBC Radio 5 Live just after 2pm this afternoon.

You can listen here http://www.bbc.co.uk/fivelive/ if you're supposed to be working.

20.8.07

SNOOKER WEBSITE OF THE WEEK#3

No I hadn't forgotten to update this every Monday as promised, I was in Edinburgh. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, this week it's www.snooker.org.

This is a site run by Hermund Ardalen, a snooker obsessive from Norway. Hermund set it up back in 1994, when Stephen Hendry still had a few world titles left to win, Jimmy White was still hoping to stop him winning them and most snooker folk thought the internet was an arcane term used in fishing.

Today, there's plenty of competition but WWW Snooker is still a first rate resource for anyone with an interest in snooker.

Not least, Hermund runs a prediction competition for those wishing to forecast the results of tournaments (nobody tipped Dominic Dale to win in Shanghai I notice).

There is a huge archive of results, ranking lists and player stats as well as links to all manner of snooker related sites.

There was a time where this site was pretty much the only place on the world wide web where anyone interested in snooker could go.

That isn't the case now, of course, but Hermund was there before everyone else and deserves respect for all his efforts.

You can also check out his blog www.billiardpulse.com for coverage of and links to all major cue sports competitions.

AN EVENING WITH CLIVE EVERTON

Clive Everton, the editor of Snooker Scene, snooker correspondent of The Guardian and a member of the BBC commentary team for 30 years, will be launching his autobiography 'Black Farce and Cue Ball Wizards: The Inside Story of Snooker' with an evening of anecdotes and reminiscence on September 3.

Clive will talk about his life in the sport and will take questions from the audience.

This event is taking place at the Landor Theatre in London from 8pm.

Tickets cost £10 and are available from the box office on 0207-737-7276.

19.8.07

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SNOOKER IN CANADA?

Remember the days of Cliff Thorburn, Kirk Stevens and Bill Werbeniuk? Remember Alain Robidoux and Bob Chaperon? Remember when Canada was a snooker stronghold?

So what went wrong?

The Ottawa Citizen decided to find out...

http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/sports/story.html?id=737921e7-2b44-46fb-aa57-568b098deb5e&k=1408

15.8.07

WHITE UNDER PRESSURE

Jimmy White is 78th in the provisional rankings.

I'll repeat that: Jimmy White is 78th in the provisional rankings.

Bearing in mind he won a ranking event three years ago and was still the world no.8 in 2006, this has to be the most rapid decline of a snooker great in the game's history.

Journalistic impartiality aside, I'm a great fan of Jimmy as a player and a person, which makes his fall particularly disappointing.

Remember, he has to finish inside the top 64 at the end of the season to be sure of keeping his main tour place.

The way things are going this is by no means certain. Jimmy doesn't enjoy playing at the Prestatyn qualifiers and at the age of 45 must know that his best years are behind him.

It doesn't get any easier, either. In the Northern Ireland Trophy qualifiers he's been drawn to play Leo Fernandez, who has been enjoying some good form of late, or Xiao Guodong, the 18 year-old Asian under 21 champion who beat Michael Judge in the recent Shanghai Masters. If he gets through that he plays Dave Gilbert, who qualified for the Crucible last season.

It is entirely possible that the only time we will see Jimmy White on our TV screens this season is in the Premier League, to which he has been invited once again, although he must still be a favourite for a Wembley Masters wildcard.

13.8.07

DALE HITS THE RIGHT NOTES

And they say there are no characters in snooker...

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=T7ThPMQ3Jo8

SNOOKER WEBSITE OF THE WEEK#2

One of the best, and paradoxically worst, features of the internet is the opportunity it affords people to post opinions whether they know anything about a particular subject or not.

People often get confused about the concept of free speech and forget that it comes with taking responsibility for what you say.

On internet forums, you can remain largely anonymous, which can lead to outrageous slurs, lies and libels.

Fortunately, www.thesnookerforum.com does not appear to be such a place.

It is a lively site where snooker fans around the world can come together to debate various issues, whether about favourite players, tournament results, advice on technique or a myriad of other snooker-related themes.

I don’t contribute because I’m not sure it would be appropriate but I do read it because the opinions of snooker watchers are always I interesting. These are the people who ultimately keep professional sport alive, after all.

The particularly heartening thing about TSF is the international make up of its members. The first thread I clicked on today had contributors from Egypt, South Korea, Greece, Sweden, Holland, China, Belgium, Finland and India.

The enthusiasm for snooker is great to see and there seems to be a genuine feeling of a community of like minded people.

Obviously, not everyone will agree with all opinions and not all incorrect statements are put right, but from what I’ve read there is a pleasing lack of aggro that you tend to find on many forums.

Passions tend to run high when particular players are debated. Inevitably, Ronnie O’Sullivan divides opinion pretty sharply and TV commentators of a sensitive nature may wish to look away at times but all credit to TSF and its members.

They are snooker people and no sport should ever forget that the fans are central to its success.

12.8.07

SPACEMAN SET FOR SHANGHAI FINALE

Dominic Dale is known as 'The Spaceman' because there are times when he appears to be on a different planet to everyone else.

He's an eccentric. People who don't think there are any characters in snooker obviously haven't met him.

Today, Dominic faces Ryan Day in the Shanghai Masters final ten years after winning the Grand Prix, his only major title.

In fact, this is his first final since he beat John Higgins 9-6 at Bournemouth - the longest ever wait between a first and second ranking final.

I wish Dominic well. I did quite a bit of commentary with him for Eurosport at the World Championship last season and what shines through is his sheer love of snooker.

Indeed, my colleague Neal Foulds tipped him to win the Shanghai title on the very first morning of the tournament on the basis that 'if anyone's been practising this summer, Dominic has.'

Day is a tough opponent and will start as favourite but 'The Spaceman' wasn't given much hope against Higgins and, ten years on, is playing as well as he ever has.

10.8.07

QUESTIONS FOR DING

Ding Junhui once again exhibited a petulant streak in losing 5-1 to Graeme Dott at the Shanghai Masters yesterday.

His rash swipe at the cueball when he broke down on 73 with a maximum on in the fifth frame could have been interpreted as a concession.

You’ll recall Ding tried to concede the Saga Masters final at Wembley last January after falling 9-3 behind as Ronnie produced a sublime spell of play. Put simply, Ding hasn’t been the same player since.

He seems to lose heart when things go wrong and this can’t bode well for the future. Snooker, like any sport, is full of highs and lows. Dealing with each is key to success.

Can he turn things round?

Of course. It’s worth remembering he’s already won three ranking titles and he’s still only 20.

Will he turn things round?

Only time will tell.

9.8.07

CHINA IS THE FUTURE

There are now as many ranking events in China as there are in England and for a sport with global aspirations that can only be a good thing.

There is a business rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing and with snooker so popular in China each city is determined to stage a top event.

The Grand Stage in Shanghai is aptly named: a superb arena that seats 8,000 with 3,000 expected for the final, which would make it one of the best attended matches in snooker history.

The locals are fanatical about snooker. Eleven young women wore t-shirts spelling out Michael Holt’s name, though how they would have coped had Martin Dziewialtowski qualified I’ve no idea.

It seems to me that there’s no reason – other than the obvious financial restraints – why more events can’t be added in China to develop a small Asian Tour.

Certainly their players are improving all the time and Ding Junhui is a national sporting hero in China.

Some British players don’t enjoy flying to the Far East but if they want to continue on the circuit they’d better get used to it.

8.8.07

WORLD FINAL REMATCH NOT ON TV

Has there ever been a more crassly stupid decision taken than the one made in Shanghai today to put Thursday's world final rematch between John Higgins and Mark Selby on a non-TV table?

For those of you watching in Europe, this was not Eurosport's decision. Indeed, the broadcaster lobbied hard to have it reversed.

Instead, Steve Davis v Dave Harold and Stuart Bingham and Stuart Pettman are being put in front on the cameras while Higgins v Selby and Ian McCulloch and Ryan Day are round the back.

What benefit is this to the game? Higgins v Selby is the match of the round and eagerly awaited after their gripping Crucible showdown.

The official - deeply flawed explanation - is that tables had been pre-assigned and tickets sold in the expectation that Ronnie O'Sullivan would be featuring.

So what? When O'Sullivan walked out of last season's UK Championship the paying public were fobbed off with the old excuse that 'players only appear circumstances permitting.'

Who would those who paid to see Ronnie rather watch: the world champion against the world runner-up or Bingham v Pettman? No disrespect at all to the two Stuarts but it's a no-brainer.

It's just yet another example of those people charged with promoting professional snooker selling it short.

GRAND FINISH FROM GRAND MASTER DAVIS

How about this for a stat: Steve Davis’s victory over Fergal O’Brien yesterday means that he has now won matches under five British Prime Ministers.

He turned pro in 1978 under James Callaghan, won six world titles under Margaret Thatcher, entered a gradual decline under John Major, declined further before enjoying a revival under Tony Blair and has begun his 30th season on the circuit under Gordon Brown.

Davis looked rusty for much of the match against O’Brien. He had barely practised all summer and suggested his cue would have woodworm in it when he got it out of its case.

But the 49 year-old loves competing, got stuck in and fought back from 4-2 down before producing a fine finish as his run of 99 gave him a 5-4 victory.

This remarkable sportsman shows no signs of running out of steam just yet.

6.8.07

SNOOKER WEBSITE OF THE WEEK#1

This is the first of a new weekly feature to be posted every Monday (assuming I remember) looking at different snooker websites.

We start with the best, www.globalcuesportscentre.com.

Put simply, it’s the leading resource for snooker and cue sports results and information on the web.

Janie Watkins, who set it up, works tirelessly to provide information on all tournaments – professional, amateur and junior – in snooker, billiards, pool, carom, pyramids and any other cue sport she can find information on.

Global Cue Sports carries live scoring from most snooker tournaments, including all the events of the world ranking event circuit from the qualifiers right through until the final.

Frame scores, centuries, results, schedules of play, photographs – it’s all there, including prize money, which the WPBSA absurdly refuse to publish on their own site because of the way it has fallen in recent years.

But it isn’t just the pro game that is covered in depth. GCSC also carry live scoring on all tournaments at Pontin’s, including the International Open Series, festivals, pro-ams and junior events.

There is a results archive, ranking lists, calendar, news pages and forum where fans can express their opinions.

Perhaps the best innovation of recent months is the addition of a video library of frames and matches from various events, including the PIOS, European Amateur Championships and pro-ams.

I know many players and members of the snooker press use GCSC to find information that they can‘t find anywhere else, or at least not as quickly.

The site seems to be improving all the time and I commend Janie for her efforts.

Global Cue Sports Centre is a significant contribution to our game and long may it continue.