As we say goodbye to 2006 it’s worth pausing to look back at the snooker year.

When it began, you’d have done well to find anyone tipping Graeme Dott to win the 888.com World Championship. His 18-14 victory over Peter Ebdon at the Crucible was a long, grinding affair that finally finished at 12.52am but was no less of an achievement because of this.

Dott is a remarkable player. He has something many others lack: self belief.

He always believed he had it in him and proved it on the biggest stage of all. Let’s not forget he beat Neil Robertson and Ronnie O’Sullivan just to reach the final.

I salute Dotty and disdain those who wish to detract from his great personal victory in Sheffield.

The match of the year as far as I’m concerned was the Saga Insurance Masters final between John Higgins and O’Sullivan at Wembley.

This was a contest of the very highest quality. In front of more than 2,500 spectators and millions more watching on television, played for one of snooker’s great trophies, these two all time greats put on a memorable show.

O’Sullivan was just a ball from victory: a red which hung in the jaws of a middle pocket but refused to drop. Higgins’s 64 clearance to the black was one of the best pressure clearances ever seen. His 10-9 victory was probably the best win of his career given the circumstances.

Higgins almost won in Malta and China but lost out first to Ken Doherty then to Mark Williams in deciders.

Beijing again provided evidence of where snooker is heading in the next few years. The sheer enthusiasm of fans and media in China is amazing. If it is properly harnessed it will secure the sport’s global future.

Its best player, Ding Jun Hui, became only the third teenager, after Higgins, to win three ranking titles.

Another non-British rising star, Neil Robertson, became the first Australian to win a ranking title at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix.

Stephen Lee, in Wales, and a brilliant Peter Ebdon, at York, were also ranking event winners.

Stephen Hendry returned to no.1 in the world rankings after an eight-year gap while his great rival from the 1990s, Jimmy White, fell to 34th.

And what of O’Sullivan? He began 2006 by holding a press conference – and having a T-shirt manufactured – to stress that he loved snooker. He ended the year by walking out of the UK Championship mid-match after coming under sustained pressure from Hendry.

Bit by bit, O’Sullivan is using up any remaining goodwill that exists within the sport for him.

The WPBSA, who run the professional game, had a largely good year. They secured sponsors for the four BBC televised events and appear to be steadying the ship, with various rumours abounding of new tournaments to come next year.

Their officials at tournaments continue to work hard and diligently and deserve praise, not least because they invariably get it in the neck from all sides about decisions they themselves have had nothing to do with.

However, the WPBSA board’s pursuit of Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton for expressing opinions they don’t like suggests that this isn’t quite the brave new era many of us had hoped for.

For all the various notable performances on table, 2006 has in many ways been a sad year.

In July, John Spencer, the three times former world champion, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 70.

Spencer was the first Crucible world champion. He was part of the group of players who helped make snooker such a popular sport with television audiences that the international circuit we know today was able to grow.

He was chairman of the game’s governing body for six years, an excellent BBC commentator and a popular figure on the circuit, who suffered greatly first from myasthenia gravis and then stomach cancer.

Ian Black, a former Scottish Professional champion, died in October at the age of 51.

Pat Houlihan, a huge influence on White and, like Black, a player to have competed at the Crucible, died at 77 in November.

Peter Dyke, a key figure in snooker’s development through his various roles with Imperial Tobacco, died in September.

Just last week, Alex Lambie, Dott’s long time manager, died of cancer. There was no-one prouder when Dott triumphed in Sheffield last May.

And, of course, saddest of all was the death of Paul Hunter just five days before his 28th birthday. We all still miss him. His funeral is the snooker occasion I will remember most from 2006.

Paul and Lindsey’s daughter, Evie Rose, celebrates her first birthday on Boxing Day. I’m sure everyone in the snooker world sends the family their best wishes at this time.

Merry Christmas and see you in 2007.



You have to take your hat off to Peter Ebdon. Does anyone in the game try harder?

Ebdon puts in so much effort that he could never be a prolific title winner like Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan or John Higgins because he has to use up so much mental energy.

But the sheer determination and guts he shows when his game is sharp makes him one of snooker’s all time great competitors.

By winning the Maplin UK Championship last weekend, he became only the ninth player to have won both the world and UK titles.

He joins an illustrious list: Steve Davis, Terry Griffiths, Alex Higgins, Hendry, John Parrott, John Higgins, O’Sullivan and Mark Williams.

Ebdon’s 9-7 defeat of Higgins in the semi-finals was the match of the tournament and one of the best of the year.

Well done to him, though it was a shame the final didn’t match the high standards shown during the event.



The chairman of snooker’s governing body has said he believes Ronnie O’Sullivan should not be heavily punished for walking out of his Maplin UK Championship quarter-final against Stephen Hendry at York last Thursday.

O’Sullivan was trailing 4-1 in the best of 17 frames clash but leading 24-0 in the sixth frame when he conceded the match.

It was widely assumed the game’s most controversial star would face the full weight of disciplinary action for his behaviour but Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, told BBC Radio 5 Live that he prefers a lenient approach.

“I was at least pleased and relieved that within a very short period of time a statement was issued on Ronnie's behalf apologising to the spectators, the viewers and Stephen Hendry for his behaviour but it ought not to have happened in the first place,” walker said.

“Ronnie from time to time does suffer from depression and things of that nature. We owe it to the fellow to at least give him the chance to explain to us what state of mind he was in when he walked out.

“We will do whatever is appropriate. We’re not frightened of him but if there is a way to help to refocus I’d rather do that than hit him with a stick.

“At some stage I suppose you begin to run out of patience. I doubt whether we've reached that stage yet.”

Actually, it isn’t up to Walker to decide on the punishment but the WPBSA disciplinary committee.

The identities of those who sit on this committee are shrouded in unnecessary secrecy but the chairman is believed to be WPBSA board member Jim McMahon.

One question, though, for Walker: what does O’Sullivan have to do to make snooker bosses run out of patience?



Ronnie O’Sullivan’s sudden departure from the Maplin UK Championship was either the result of petulance or the onset of depression, depending on who you ask.

One thing is for certain: the crowd, who paid £24 a head to watch his quarter-final against Stephen Hendry, were short changed.

O’Sullivan was trailing 4-1 but leading 24-0 in the sixth frame when he missed a red and conceded the match.

I don’t know what was wrong with him. I suspect the pressure Hendry was applying, mixed with a seriously bad mood, saw him throw in the towel.

It was unprofessional and disciplinary action may well be taken.

I just think it’s a shame that Ronnie can’t beat his personal demons with the effortless ease in which he dismisses his opponents.



Paul Hunter was a worthy winner of the BBC's Helen Rollason Award, which recognises bravery against the odds in sport.

Paul sadly died of cancer in October. He had played on despite being in constant pain.

The award was collected by his widow, Lindsey, last night.

Many are still hoping the Saga Insurance Masters trophy is renamed in his honour before the Wembley event gets underway next month.



Ronnie O’Sullivan had a dodgy cushion to thank for avoiding a third successive opening round defeat at York in the Maplin UK Championship today.

The Rocket looked set to lose 9-7 to Ricky Walden but the world no.36 got a bad bounce off a side cushion leading 56-0 in the next frame.

O’Sullivan won the frame on the black and finished off with a 108 to win 9-8 – but admitted he had been lucky.

He said: “Ricky played a good brown, hit it right, but I looked at the cue ball and it came off the cushion at three times the speed it should have done,

“I knew he was out of position. I’m disappointed for him. I told him it was only a cushion that had cost him and that he deserved to win.

“It’s one of the worst tables I’ve played on. A bad table got me through to the next round, which isn’t the way you want to win.”

O'Sullivan was beaten 9-6 by Stephen Maguire in 2004 and 9-8 by Mark King at the same stage last year.



Irregular betting patterns were reported by two Irish bookmakers in the Joe Perry v Michael Judge match at the Maplin UK Championship.

According to the Racing Post, Celtic Bookmakers and Paddy Power contacted the WPBSA after what they regarded as suspiciously high amounts were placed on Perry to win 9-0 or 9-1.

A 9-0 win was 80/1 and a 9-1 victory a 40/1 shot with both firms.

“We took around EURO 2,250 on the 9-0 and 9-1 outcomes in doubles with the correct scores in the James Wattana-Mike Dunn match,” said Ivan Yates, the Celtic managing director.

“These bets were foiled in the end because after Perry won, Wattana lost. However, we would not have paid out even if Wattana had won and we will be making further investigations into the circumstances surrounding this gamble on Perry.

“We are registered with IBAS [Irish Bookmakers Association] and would have referred all bets on this match to them. If they had decided we had to pay out we would have, but serious questions need to be asked about this game regardless of the Wattana result.”

Paddy Power said they had punters betting on 9-0 or 9-1 with Perry doubled with Black Jack Ketchum to win the 2007 World Hurdle and Teofilo to win the 2,000 Guineas.

“We saw some unusual activity on the Perry-Judge match and it has left us with liabilities of around EURO40,000 going on to Cheltenham and Newmarket,” said Paddy Power’s John Hartnett.

“As we have seen unusual betting patterns in previous games involving one of these players, we have made the decision to no longer offer betting on matches involving this player for the foreseeable future. However, we intend honouring all bets taken on this match.”

In fact, Judge missed his scheduled flight the night before the match, which began at 2.30pm on the opening day, because high winds in Dublin caused the cancellation of his plane.

There were worries the first flight of the morning would also be cancelled, which could have caused judge to arrive late and be docked frames.

It is not unreasonable to assume word got round in Ireland about Judge’s travel problems, although as it transpired he arrived in York in good time.

Placed 39th in the provisional rankings, with the UK Championship carrying a higher points tariff than all ranking events with the exception of the 888.com World Championship, he would have been expected to give the match his all.

Perry played superbly, making a century and five half century breaks.

The WPBSA insisted they had followed proper procedure. A spokesman told the Racing Post: “We have an agreement with the Association of British Bookmakers whereby we are contacted confidentially if and when irregular betting patterns are detected.

“In such cases, the match in question is carefully monitored by out most senior officials and a thorough assessment of the players’ performance is made.

“In past incidents where players have been judged guilty of match fixing or intention to match fix, which are extremely rare, we have taken a particularly stringent line.”

In fact, no player has ever been found guilty of match fixing. Peter Francisco was banned for five years in 1995 for not giving of his best in losing 10-2 to Jimmy White at the Crucible.

Quinten Hann resigned his WPBSA membership shortly before being banned for eight years last February after being found guilty of intention to throw a match in the 2005 China Open following an investigation by The Sun.

As previously reported in Snooker Scene, the WPBSA did not break sweat to investigate whether there was anything untoward in a Billiards match between Peter Gilchrist and Mike Russell at the 1999 Lindrum Masters.

It is unclear who the “most senior officials” were watching the Perry-Judge match or indeed whether they watched it in its entirety.



John Parrott was disappointed but not bitterly by his 9-1 defeat to Mark Selby in the first round of the Maplin UK Championship in York today.

He started the press conference by pretending he was only going to give one word answers but this quickly gave way to a realistic assessment of what proved to be the 1991 UK champion's heaviest defeat since he was beaten 18-3 by Steve Davis in the 1989 World Championship final.

“Early on in the match I threw a couple of frames away. It gave Mark a boost and from 4-1 to 9-1 he was exemplary,” said Parrott, who came from 8-5 down to edge Dave Gilbert 9-8 in the final qualifying round last month.

“To be 4-1 down was very harsh but after that I had no complaints. I didn’t get a shot. I’ve been practising hard but you can’t pot any balls if you can’t see any.

“In a way, qualifying was a false dawn. You keep playing because you occasionally get a good result and a decent performance but I’ve come here and it was another level up again."



Maplin Electronics are to sponsor the UK Championship for the next three years in a deal announced today.

The agreement means that the big four BBC televised events - the World and UK Championships, Grand Prix and Masters - are all sponsored.

"We are very pleased to welcome Maplin Electronics on board. This emphasises our determination to attract diverse business sectors to our sport," said Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of World Snooker.

"We have now achieved our stated aim of attracting a headline sponsor for each of our four major BBC events."

The new deal, brokered by IMG, World Snooker's sponsorship agents, can only be good news for the sport.

The World Championship is sponsored by 888.com in a deal than runs out in 2010 while the Masters will be backed by Saga Insurance until 2009.

The Grand Prix is being sponsored by Royal London Watches until 2008.

“This is a unique opportunity to increase our brand profile to a wider audience using one of sport’s most successful and established competitions," said David O'Reilly, marketing director of Maplin.

The UK Championship gets underway at the Barbican Centre in York next Monday with Ding Jun Hui defending the title he won with a 10-6 defeat of six-times champion Steve Davis 12 months ago.

A total of 47 players will be competing for prize money of more than £552,000.


As we approach Christmas, there is much to report from the world of snooker. Here are the main stories of interest plus where you can read more about them:

- Ronnie O’Sullivan bids for a third successive Betfred Premier League title in Manchester this weekend. All the news and results can be found at http://www.premierleaguesnooker.com/

- The Asian Games is underway in Doha, Qatar. This is a huge sporting spectacle and includes cue sports. The snooker final will be shown on Eurosport a week today. Janie Watkins is out there for globalsnookercentre and will be providing results, stories and pictures of one of the biggest sporting events seen outside of the Olympics. Follow the action here www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk/files/Asian-Games/2006_doha_asian_games.htm

- I expect a sponsor for the UK Championship to be announced imminently. Watch this space.

- The tournament itself gets underway at the Barbican Centre in York on Monday. You can follow live scoring on http://www.worldsnooker.com/

- The Malta Cup has been officially launched by Snooker Promotions Malta, World Snooker and the Maltese Tourism Authority. It’s a popular stop-off on the circuit and everyone is always made to feel most welcome. Read the launch story here http://www.worldsnooker.com/tournament_news(id18312)-58.htm and book tickets here www.maltacup.org

- The China Open has been renamed the Beijing Open. With the popularity of snooker so high in China, this suggests the way is being paved for a further event in another Chinese city in the near future.

- A day has been taken off the Welsh Open. It now runs from February 12-18 at the Newport Centre.

- Shaun Murphy has spoken of the importance of snooker’s young brigade. Read all about it here http://www.sportinglife.com/snooker/news/

- The third event of the season in the Pontin’s International Open Series has begun at Prestatyn. Follow the scores here www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk/files/Pontins/06-7PIOS/06-7PIOS3.htm

- Jimmy Michie, the world no.60, is planning to run the Great North Run for the NET Patient Foundation, a charity which Paul Hunter helped to set up.

- Willie Thorne is buying a house in Bulgaria. They must be proud.



Today marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the World Professional Snooker Championship.

The very first frame in World Championship history was won 97-23 by Melbourne Inman against Tom Newman on November 29, 1926.

They were in no hurry back then. The match took seven days to complete as it was played in two frame spells after a Billiards session on each day.

Inman eventually won 8-5 but was beaten 8-3 in the quarter-finals by Tom Carpenter, who in turn lost the last two frames of his semi-final against Tom Dennis to be denied a final place 12-10.

Joe Davis was untroubled in defeating Joe Brady 10-5 and Albert Cope 16-7 to reach the final and breezed into a 7-0 lead over Dennis on the first day of their 31 frames final, played on May 9, 1927.

At the end of day two, he was 12-4 ahead and on winning the first four frames of the third day had achieved a winning lead.

The dead frames were nevertheless played out, so the final result was 20-11, misleadingly close for what was effectively a walkover.

The trophy Davis won was bought using half the entry fees and is the same one presented at the Crucible today.

80 years ago, the modern circuit we are so used to today would have been unimaginable – these were the days before a television service had been introduced.

But snooker owes those early pioneers a great debt of gratitude.

Happy birthday to the World Championship!



Dennis Taylor, the 1985 world champion, has become a father for the fourth time.

Taylor, 57, is now the proud father of baby Amber, his first daughter.

The Northern Irishman retired from professional snooker in 2000 but remains a popular member of the circuit as a BBC TV commentator.

He is also much in demand as an after dinner speaker and appeared on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing last year.

Taylor and wife Louise have a two year-old son and he has two sons from a previous marriage.


The WPBSA AGM was held today in Sheffield.

Sir Rodney Walker, the chairman, was re-elected to the board 43-0.

Sir David Richards was re-elected 42-1.

Peter Ebdon survived 27-17.

Lee Doyle, co-opted earlier this year, was elected 34-8.

Hamish McInnes, also co-opted, was elected 29-13.

However, Brandon Parker, seeking election, failed in his bid as he polled 22 votes for and 21 against and there was not a free place on the seven man board, which also includes Jim McMahon and Mike Dunn.


If you live in the UK or parts of Europe that can receive the BBC, here is the TV schedule for the UK Championship. In addition, every ball of the televised phase will be transmitted on the BBC's digital service and there is also extensive coverage on Eurosport.

Nobody wanted to go Christmas shopping anyway, did they?

December 9
BBC One, 1305-1630
BBC Two, 1800-1930, 0000-0200

December 10
BBC Two, 1330-1430, 1645-1900, 2245-2330

December 11
BBC Two, 1330-1715, 2315-0100

December 12
BBC Two 1330-1715, 1900-2000, 2315-0200

December 13
BBC Two, 1400-1715, 1900-2000, 2315-0000

December 14
BBC Two, 1330-1715, 1900-2000, 2315-0000

December 15
BBC Two, 1330-1715, 1900-2000, 2300-2330

December 16
BBC One, 1420-1630
BBC Two, 1630-1730, 2100-2230

December 17
BBC Two, 1430-1730, 2000-2300



How are major sports marketed?

At a big golf event, Tiger Woods can be expected to undertake promotional engagements. Similarly in tennis, Roger Federer is put up for the media.

How is World Snooker to launch the Saga Insurance Masters – the game’s most prestigious invitation event?

The answer is to put a table up at Liverpool Street Station a week on Thursday and have Jimmy White on standby in case anyone fancies a game.

The point is to shift tickets for the tournament, which are presumably not selling very well.

What an embarrassment for the sport that White has been reduced to little more than a Big Issue seller hawking his wares in a public space.

And to launch one event in the middle of another (the UK Championship is on at the time) defies any logic.



There has been no sponsor as yet announced for the UK Championship, which starts on December 4.

It seems unlikely now that there will be one announced at such short notice, which is of course disappointing given the prestige attached to the tournament.

However, sponsorship is a complex area often misunderstood. The truth is this: World Snooker could get someone, anyone, to chuck in a few thousand and have the tournament on the cheap.

They’ve done this in the past but I think they are right to instead look for a backer investing serious money. There is a prize fund for the event in excess of £500,000 to cover, plus ancillary costs. Putting these events on is not an inexpensive affair.

They have already secured a five year deal with 888.com to sponsor the World Championship and three years deals with Saga Insurance for the Masters and Royal London Watches for the Grand Prix.

These deals run into the millions and help to underpin the financial stability of the sport. It means three of the BBC’s four tournaments have some kind of identity and security.

The agreements only came about after much negotiation. Snooker isn’t regarded as a trendy sport or one blue chip firms want to get involved with, despite its high profile on television and viewing figures most other sports look at with envy.

Snooker suffers from an unbelievably patronising cultural snobbery. It’s looked down on because working class people like it.

Actually, the demographic of people who come to snooker and watch it on TV is wide ranging. This is a sport enjoyed by Ronnie Wood and Martin Amis alike. Footballers have tables in their houses but so does Tony Blair at Chequers.

However, chief executives and managing directors tend to prefer the middle class atmosphere of golf tournaments and rugby union matches, where corporate hospitality often takes preference over the actual sporting event.

Also, snooker is no longer enjoying the honeymoon it did with the British TV public it did in the 1980s. This is natural: nobody is on honeymoon forever.

Against this backdrop, and considering snooker was tainted for some by its long association with tobacco companies, World Snooker can only be commended for attracting three significant sponsors.

IMG/TWI is the governing body’s agents in this, though Nicky Fuller of World Snooker also played a very important role.

The challenge now is to secure sponsors for the smaller events and build the circuit back up again.

Everyone wishes the UK Championship had a sponsor but the fact that it doesn’t – as of yet – shouldn’t be taken as a sign the game is in some sort of crisis.



I was pleased to read on worldsnooker.com that two new referees will be used at the UK Championship in York next month and that they are non-British.

Refereeing, like any aspect of the circuit, needs constant renewal and it’s a positive sign that the WPBSA have looked beyond British shores for this.

Thus, Oliver Martel of Belgium and Jean-Pierre van Vlerken of Holland will don their white gloves at the Barbican Centre.

In fact, 12 new referees are being used on the world ranking event circuit this season. Good luck to them all. It’s a tough job demanding many hours of constant concentration.

It also tends to be the case that referees are only noticed if they make a mistake.

Mercifully, snooker isn’t like football. The players don’t ritually abuse the officials and generally have complete confidence in the game’s leading refs.

The top two at the moment are Eirian Williams and Jan Verhaas – both excellent referees with the full respect of the sport’s stars.

The next tier includes the likes of Johan Oomen, Alan Chamberlain, Michaela Tabb, Pete Williamson and Colin Humphries.

Again, they each have experience and are respected by snooker players from one end of the ranking list to the other.

Of course, the telegenic Tabb was fast-tracked through the ranks a few years ago. There was much talk about this at the time but very few would question her credentials now.

Snooker needs new refs to augment all of the above, not least because a number of top officials have departed in recent years.

Lawrie Annandale was rightly considered as one of the very best but did not accept what was a relatively low financial offer to continue.

Paul Collier, who refereed the 2004 world final, also quit because it was not financially viable to carry on, though he still takes charge of the Betfred Premier League.

Stuart Bennett, another safe pair of hands, similarly gave up refereeing for financial reasons.

Colin Brinded, one of the most experienced and well regarded officials on the circuit, sadly died a year ago.

John Williams, who has refereed more world finals than anyone else, retired in 2002.

John Newton, another referee with a lifelong love of, and commitment to, snooker retired after taking charge of the 2000 Crucible final.

Going further back, Len Ganley and John Street, two stalwarts of the 1980s and 90s, have also left the scene.

That’s why the WPBSA have been working to find new refs, a number of whom were blooded at the recent Saga Masters qualifying event in Sheffield.

“It’s imperative that we get more referees coming through the ranks,” said Mike Ganley, the WPBSA’s tournament director.

“These guys have been in the system and assessed for about two years now. They’ve officiated at PIOS events and the next stage was the Masters which obviously featured Main Tour players.

“The next level is to elevate them to the main tour and Oliver and Jean-Pierre will get their opportunity in York.”

Of course, some may say that had the WPBSA treated some of their more experienced referees better there wouldn’t be such a need for new faces but that isn’t the fault of the newcomers and they deserve support.



The BBC's Culture Show is inviting people to vote for their leading living icon: people who have enriched the cultural landscape of Britain.

Among those nominated are Paul McCartney, Alan Bennett and David Bowie.

Another nominee is Sir David Attenborough, who has, through his various natural history programmes, brought the natural world into our living rooms.

However, not many people realise the debt snooker owes to Attenborough. As the first controller of BBC2 in the 1960s he wanted programmes that would showcase a new invention, colour television.

Snooker, with its many colours, fitted the bill and Attenborough commissioned Pot Black in 1969, which introduced the viewing public to the game and its players and paved the way for regular televised snooker and the professional circuit as we know it today.

In his autobiography, Life on Air, Attenborough says he "is as proud of Pot Black as I am of Civilisation" - a reference to the groundbreaking history programme presented by Kenneth Clark.

Reason enough, surely, to vote for him by following the link below.




It looks as if Liu Song and Marco Fu will not be part of the 48-man line-up for next month’s UK Championship as both players are already committed to playing in the Asian games in Doha, Qatar.

Fu was seeded through to York but Liu won three matches to qualify, coming from 8-6 down to beat Drew Henry 9-8 in the last round.

The Chinese authorities are forcing Ding Jun Hui to miss the Betfred Premier League play-offs for the Games so are unlikely to show leniency towards his compatriot.

Should Liu receive ranking points and prize money if he doesn’t take his part in the final stages draw?

And should Henry feel miffed that he has been beaten in the final qualifying round by a player who was never going to go to York?



Play in the final qualifying round of the UK Championship began today at 9am – surely the earliest ever start for ranking event matches – because the Pontin’s holiday camp in Prestatyn was hosting a huge dance event.

It was feared that noise from the Ultimate After Party – a 52-hour rave for some 1,500 young people – was putting players off.

Matches were taken off at 12pm and the second session started half an hour late at 4.30pm to accommodate the final afternoon’s dance events.

A WPBSA spokesman told me: “We’d been told we’d be OK but the bass was coming through the building.

“We had a meeting with the organisers and decided to start at 9am and finish at 12pm, which was when their finale started.”

Talk about a clash of cultures. In one part of the camp, a live set by DJ Sammy; in another, Fergal O’Brien and Joe Delaney playing a best of 17.

According to the BCA website, dance organisers had “hired the entire Pontin’s complex and is turning it into the largest entertainment site in the UK.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. The WPBSA once scheduled the World Billiards Championship over four days at the same North Wales venue but had to hastily cram it all into three days when they realised the Tidy Weekender rave was taking place there.

This was billed as “dirty smut action with lustful ladies and super studs” – the rave that is, not the billiards.

The irony is that the WPBSA chose to take the Saga Masters qualifying tournament to the new World Snooker Academy in Sheffield the day after the Malta Cup qualifiers – causing a trek up north for all and sundry.

Had they played the UK Championship in Prestatyn after the Malta qualifiers and then gone to Sheffield for the Masters this week – rather than make everyone go to Yorkshire and then come back – there wouldn’t have been a problem.

Still, the players would then have had to miss the “craziest party in the UK” – not my words, but the words of Fatman Scoop.

What he thinks about the York line-up is as yet unclear.



All is right with the world again: Michael Holt's diary has returned after an all too long absence to worldsnooker.com.

Holty is a much liked member of the game's playing cast and gets on well with the journalists because he doesn't take himself too seriously.

He's also a very good player and dedicated to the game, hence his participation in various smaller events, including August's German Open pro-am, which he ended up winning.

I'm pleased to read he is off to Dubai this week to coach some of their up-and-coming players.

However, I found this paragraph somewhat amusing:

"They want their players to improve by practising with us. One of the main differences is that over there if a player is 40 or 50 points down in a frame, you can see he virtually gives up. In the professional game, you know that if you are that far behind you are still in the frame, and they can learn from us in how to recover those kind of situations."

This, you'll recall, from a player who conceded the deciding frame of his China Open encounter with Joe Perry last season despite trailing only 19-0.

You can read the full entry here http://www.worldsnooker.com/news_editorial-18292.htm



Judd Trump, a 9-0 winner over Patrick Einsle in the first qualifying round of the UK Championship, again expended minimal mental energy in cruising to a 9-2 second round victory today over David Roe, who thus lost his opening match in a ranking event for the first time since the 2005 World Championship.

A 39 clearance gave Trump the opening frame and one of 67 made it 2-0 but the match was still very much in the balance at 3-2 to this prodigiously talented Bristol teenager.

However, Trump’s 137 total clearance in the sixth was the catalyst for his run of six successive frames which carried him to victory and a final qualifying round tussle with Rod Lawler.

Mark Allen, beaten 9-8 by Steve Davis in the last 32 of last season’s UK Championship, overturned a 4-2 deficit to beat James Leadbetter 9-5.

Allen’s 90 made it 4-4 but he lost the first on the resumption when Leadbetter cleared green to black.

However, Allen outpointed him 415-36 in the remaining five frames as breaks of 45, 37, 40, 76, 63, and 52 helped him reach the final qualifying round.

It would clearly do the event a lot of good if Trump and Allen made it through to York.


The first two ranking events of the season were won by non-British players. China’s Ding Jun Hui captured the Northern Ireland Trophy and Neil Robertson of Australia the Royal London Watches Grand Prix.

In the current UK Championship qualifiers, all three Chinese players – Liu Song, Liang Wenbo and Tian Pengfei – won their matches in the first qualifying round, as did the two Thais, Issara Kachaiwong and Passakorn Suwannawat.

New Zealand veteran Dene O’Kane won his first match in a ranking event for five years in beating Matthew Couch. The 43 year-old has returned to the main tour this season. He missed the first two ranking events and was a first round loser in the Malta Cup but is now back to winning ways.

Last season, Hong Kong’s Marco Fu became only the second Asian player to reach the Crucible semi-finals.

Tony Drago and Alex Borg (Malta), James Wattana (Thailand), Mohammed Shehab (UAE), Roy Stolk (Holland), Shokat Ali (Pakistan), Patrick Einsle (Germany) and Robin Hull (Finland) are meanwhile flying the flags of their respective countries.

Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien, Michael Judge, Joe Delaney and David Morris represent the Republic of Ireland on the main tour.

This is all to the good. It is, after all, the ‘World’ Snooker tour. Despite this, it is so British dominated – not least having all the qualifiers played in the UK – that is has been historically difficult for players from overseas to make an impact.

Only Doherty, who lives less than an hour from the UK, and Canadian Cliff Thorburn have won the World Championship from an otherwise Brit-heavy roll of honour.

Ding, Robertson and the other non-British players have made huge sacrifices to pursue their snooker careers.

Imagine a player from, say, Essex being told they would have to move to China to play professional snooker. How many of them would want to make that step?

Yet Ding and co have said goodbye to their families and moved to a country where, for some, they have an entirely different language to learn and different culture to adjust to.

Credit to them. They all take the game seriously. Ronnie O’Sullivan told me at Aberdeen that Kachaiwong has to be scraped off the table at the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield, such is his love for the game.

Snooker’s future lies in its ability to expand globally. There’s been plenty of ranking events staged outside the UK – Belgium, Holland, France, Malta, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, Germany, Dubai, China, Thailand, Hong Kong – but, sadly, almost all of them have fallen by the wayside.

Ding’s success should consolidate China as a permanent stopping off point for the circuit. Perhaps Robertson’s emergence will kick-start interest in Australia.

Eurosport’s extensive coverage of the main tour has seen interest in countries such as Germany, Poland and Romania soar to unprecedented levels. Worldsnooker.com, the governing body’s website, even has 14 registered users in the Vatican City.

Let’s hope that snooker’s non-British stars continue to improve. The more nations represented on the circuit, the more secure snooker’s future appears to be.



Ding Jun Hui will not play in the semi-finals of the Betfred Premier League on December 2-3 because the Chinese Snooker authorities insist he must compete for his country in the Asian Games in Doha.

As a result, the League organisers, Matchroom, have announced that the fifth placed player will take Ding's place and that 50% of the prize money they earn will go to the Hunter Foundation, set up by Paul Hunter's widow, Lindsey.

The Matchroom press release reads:

Following news that Ding Jung-hui of China will not now be able to compete in the Play-Offs of the 2006 Betfred Premier League Snooker, promoters Matchroom Sport and sponsors Betfred have decided to allow the fifth placed player at the conclusion of the League to assume Ding’s place in the semi-finals.

The provisional World No.4 from Shanghai had already qualified for the big money stages of the League following a string of impressive performances but following news that Ding’s home country of China has now insisted that he must represent them in the forthcoming Asian Games in Doha where he will be taking part in the snooker disciplines, the agreed changes have now been put in place.

The Betfred Premier League Snooker Play-Offs, which are already a sell-out, take place on the 2/3 December at the Forum Centre, Wythenshawe, Manchester, will now feature the fifth placed player who will take Ding’s place.

With Ronnie O’Sullivan already qualified, the affected players are Stephen Hendry, Jimmy White, Graeme Dott, Ken Doherty and Steve Davis who are all in with a chance of qualifying.

As a tribute to the late Paul Hunter, Betfred and Matchroom Sport and all the players concerned have agreed that 50% of all prize money won by the replacement player in the play-offs will go to the Hunter Foundation, a new charity set up by Paul’s wife Lindsey to help disabled and underprivileged youngsters play snooker.

Commented Fred Done, Chairman of Betfred, “The loss of Paul Hunter was a tragic blow for snooker and Ding’s absence represents a fantastic opportunity to do something positive in Paul’s name.

“The fifth placed player will effectively be playing for Paul and that will be a massive incentive for them to do well in the play-offs.”

Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn said, “With £50,000 for the champion, £25,000 for the runner-up and £12,500 for the beaten semi-finalists as well as any £1,000 century break bonuses hopefully the charity will get off to a flying start.”

In addition Ding Jun-hui has agreed to make an undisclosed donation to the fund.



Sean Storey tonight made a great comeback to beat Paul Wykes 9-7 and reach the second qualifying round of the UK Championship at Pontin's, Prestatyn.

After falling 6-2 adrift, the Grimsby man was so disgusted with himself that he packed his suitcase and put it in his car ready for the expected drive home at the end of the night.

It spurred him on to win seven of the evening's eight frames and keep his hopes of appearing in the final stages at York next month alive.

“I’ll have to go and unpack the car now,” Storey told me. “I did it out of frustration. I hadn’t given up. In fact, I was desperate to win but I was telling myself that I had a long drive home in prospect if things didn’t improve. It was the kick up the backside I needed.

“I lost a frame early on that really hurt and I couldn’t put it out of my mind. My concentration went and even though Paul wasn’t playing great, he went well ahead.

“But the good thing about these longer matches is that you have time to pull things round and that’s what I was able to do.

“I played well in the second session and am really pleased with the way I came back. I grew up with Paul. We’ve practised together and I know what a tough opponent he is so to beat him like this is a real boost.”


Judd Trump, snooker’s youngest professional, needed only 97 minutes to complete a 9-0 whitewash of Germany's Patrick Einsle in the first qualifying round of the UK Championship at Pontin's in Prestatyn today.

Trump, 17, compiled breaks of 61, 70, 76, 74 and 103 to build an 8-0 first session lead and required only six minutes to win the ninth frame with a run of 78 when they returned.

The Bristol potter, ranked 71st in the world, fell short of the record for the fastest ever best of 17 frames match.

That was set by Malta’s Tony Drago, who beat Joe O’Boye 9-0 in the 1990 UK Championship in just 81 minutes.

Trump needs to beat David Roe and Rod Lawler to qualify for the final stages of the tournament, which will be held at the Barbican Centre, York next month.


Steve Davis played some sublime snooker in reaching the UK Championship final last season.

The sport leans heavily – often too heavily – on nostalgia but Davis’s run to the final captured the imagination. It was 25 years since he won the first of his six UK titles and to beat Stephen Maguire, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry was a sterling effort.

Against Maguire, he made a 145 total clearance, his highest break since he constructed the first televised 147 in 1982, in recovering from 8-6 down. It was incredible and set the tone for the week.

In the end, Davis came unstuck 10-6 against Ding Jun Hui – hardly a disgrace but disappointing for the grand old man of snooker and his many fans nonetheless.

“It was a thrill to play such good snooker,” the 49 year-old recalls now. “In getting to the final I played some of the best stuff of my career.

"It doesn’t surprise me when I play well. In fact I find it very frustrating when I don’t but the standard is so high these days that you need a few factors to come together to get to a final.

“I under achieved a bit against Ding. It was a great tournament for me but that was the missing piece in the jigsaw. Perhaps I wanted it a bit too much. It’s been 11 years since I won my last ranking title and I was so close to getting my hands on the trophy.

“It would be wonderful to get a tailwind behind me and have another long run in the tournament.”

Davis’s great run last year – it was his 100th final – was reminiscent of Doug Mountjoy’s heroics in the 1988 UK Championship.

Mountjoy won the title in 1978 but, ten years on, his best days were presumed to be behind him.

Down to 24th in the rankings, he wasn’t given any real chance in Preston but ended up beating Hendry 16-12 in the final. Mountjoy even knocked in three successive centuries in the process.

In case anyone mistakenly assumed this was some sort of fluke he then went and won the next ranking tournament, the Mercantile Classic.

Davis still has the class to perform at the highest level and a Mountjoy-style performance at York next month would be universally popular.



When snooker isn't on the TV, people assume there is nothing happening.

Actually, there's plenty going on this month, not least in Jordan where the IBSF World Amateur Championship continues until Wednesday.

It features players from countries as diverse as France, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Libya, none of which are usually noted as being snooker hot spots.

Sport, of course, brings people and cultures together like nothing else and it is proof of snooker's global appeal that so many nations are being represented.

Meanwhile, Matthew Couch, the world no.69 from Scunthorpe, has won the Swiss Open, beating Dave Harold 4-3 in the final.

Switzerland is another emerging snooker nation and an example of how Eurosport's blanket coverage has helped to popularise the game in Europe.

Couch has a good record on the continent. Seven years ago he won the German Open and was runner-up in the Austrian Open in 2000.

He'll certainly be match fit for the UK Championship qualifiers, which start at Pontin's, Prestatyn tomorrow (Nov 14).

It's a big week for the 64 players involved, particularly Jimmy White who currently occupies 51st place on the provisional rankings and is already out of the Malta Cup.

He may yet qualify for the final stages of the Betfred Premier League, which pitches up in Glasgow on Thursday.

There is a major question mark here as to whether Ding Jun Hui will play in the semi-finals or travel to Doha for the Asian Games.

It would be a huge disappointment for everyone involved if he missed out on the semis but if the Chinese authorities order their citizens to do something there isn't usually any discussion.


PAT HOULIHAN: 1929-2006

Pat Houlihan, a professional from 1971 to 1993, has died at the age of 77.

Houlihan beat John Spencer 11-3 to win the 1965 English Amateur Championship but was blocked from turning professional for several more years.

By the time he did, he was well past his best but won a match at the Crucible in 1978, beating Jim Meadowcroft 9-6, and played at Sheffield again in 1979, reaching a career highest ranking of 18th.

Among the players Houlihan beat during his professional career were John Virgo, Joe Johnson, Tony Meo and David Taylor.

His great friend Jimmy White today paid tribute, saying: "He was one of the greatest who ever played.

"He didn't fulfill his potential and it's hard to say why but he had such an influence on my game.

"If anyone has any footage of him playing I would like to buy it and show it, because the way he played was phenomenal."



The November issue of Snooker Scene is out now and includes:

- a tribute to Paul Hunter
- full report of Neil Roberton's capture of the Grand Prix
- report of the Irish Professional Championship
- 80 years of the World Championship
- all the other news, reports, results and comment from the last month



I spent a couple of hours today watching highlights of the 1985 world final.

This wasn't for fun: I'm reviewing a new DVD featuring the entire final frame between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis.

It's not great stuff: Taylor's highest break is 22, Davis's 25.

By this decider they were each so desperate not to lose that they became engaged in a lengthy safety battle on the reds that seemed to go on forever.

However, once it came down to the colours it was absolutely gripping, even though I obviously knew who was going to win.

Much has been written about the black ball finish but the brown, blue and pink Taylor potted to take the Championship down to the very last ball were all unbelievable pots given the circumstances.



Jimmy White's miserable season has gone from bad to worse at Pontin's in Prestatyn today after he was beaten 5-3 from 3-1 up by Andrew Higginson in the third qualifying round of the Malta Cup.

White failed to reach the final stages of the Northern Ireland Trophy and Royal London Watches Grand Prix earlier this season and has slipped to 51st in the provisional rankings.

He stated before the start of the season that his aim was to return to the elite top 16. If he drops just 14 more places he will be off the tour.



Congratulations to Neil Robertson for becoming the first ever Australian to win a ranking title at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen.

Well done also to Jamie Cope for his run in the tournament. There wasn't a great deal of finesse in the way they went about the final but it was entertaining and there were many high quality moments.

Robertson's a fine player, a fearless potter and engagingly sportsmanlike as well. I was pleased for him and pleased as well for Brandon Parker, who is now managing Neil having previously looked after Paul Hunter.



Neil Robertson became the first Australian in 16 years to reach a ranking tournament final by beating Bearsden’s Alan McManus 6-2 in the semi-finals of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen today.

Robertson, the world no.13, clinched victory by doubling the black the full length of the table at the end of the eighth frame and faces Stoke’s Jamie Cope, a 6-3 winner over Mark King, in Sunday’s best of 17 frames final.

“It means a lot to reach the final but it would mean a lot more to win the tournament. That’s why I’m here,” said the 24 year-old Melbourne left-hander.

McManus won the first two frames but the turning point came in the fourth when Robertson got the two snookers he needed on the blue before clearing up to force a re-spotted black, which he potted to level at 2-2.

A break of 79 gave Robertson the fifth, McManus failed to pot a ball in the next and he went in-off the yellow in the seventh, from which Robertson cleared to the pink to lead 5-2 before his grandstand finish a frame later.

“That’s probably the first frame I’ve ever won when I’ve needed two snookers on the blue. It was a massive steal,” said Robertson of his Houdini act in the fourth.

Robertson only took to the green baize game because it was so hot on one Melbourne day that he ventured into an air conditioned snooker club to cool down.

He turned professional in 2000 but found it hard being so far from home at such a young age. It was difficult to adjust to the realities of the pro game, where talented newcomers, hardened veterans and useful journeymen made life in the qualifiers a frustrating affair.

Settling in Cambridge with some other Australian players eventually allayed the homesickness and Robertson’s game, based around his fearless long potting, began to reap dividends.

Not unusually for an Australian sports star, Robertson does not lack for confidence but does not exude the arrogant streak that turned so many in the game off his compatriot Quinten Hann, who was recently banned for eight years after being found guilty of the intention to fix a match in the 2005 China Open.

Neither does Robertson’s attacking, exciting approach bear any relation to the dour, methodical style of Eddie Charlton, Australia ’s most successful player. Charlton, who died in November 2004, was once as high as third in the rankings and three times the World Championship runner-up but never won a ranking title.

The last Australian to appear in a ranking tournament final was Warren King, beaten 10-6 by Steve James in the 1990 Mercantile Classic. Snooker down under does not have a high profile but Robertson is hoping to change this.

“If I win the tournament I’ve no doubt snooker will start getting in the papers back home,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of support but need to win a title to get the press coverage.”

McManus, 35, was appearing in his 26th ranking event semi-final but is still searching for a third title. “I’m a little bit disappointed but things just didn’t go my way and you have to accept that,” he said.

Cope, 21, compiled a 147 maximum break earlier in the tournament and grew in confidence as the week progressed to reach the first major final of his short career. He trailed King 2-1 but produced an inspired spell of scoring as breaks of 96, 58, 74 and 60 carried him into a 5-2 lead before he clinched victory two frames later.

It was the 15th match Cope had played in the Grand Prix following the controversial round robin format employed in the Prestatyn qualifiers and early stages in Aberdeen.

“I felt really settled in the balls in every frame. I just needed a chance to score and I did,” he said.


Be honest. Nobody successfully predicted that Alan McManus, Neil Robertson, Mark King and Jamie Cope would contest the semi-finals of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix.

Robertson beat title favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan while King beat defending champion John Higgins for only the second time in 13 meetings.

Cope, an outstanding young prospect, edged Joe Perry and McManus won a dreadful encounter with Ian McCulloch.

Of the four, only McManus has previously won a ranking title – two in fact – but has not lifted any silverware in ten years.

Many snooker watchers would prefer the final to feature two big names duelling it out – as happened when O’Sullivan faced Ding Jun Hui in the Northern Ireland trophy two months ago – but it doesn’t hurt to have a tournament fought for by more unfamiliar names.


Jimmy White faces a testing month which could ultimately have a huge bearing on his professional future.

The 44 year-old will be in Prestatyn on Thursday for the Malta Cup qualifiers where he’ll have to beat Andrew Higginson, Jamie Jones or Shokat Ali to face David Gray in the final qualifying round.

Failure to advance to the final stages in Portomaso would put even more pressure on White for the UK Championship qualifiers, which start on November 14.

White will have to beat one of Mark Joyce, Jeff Cundy or Robin Hull to reach York, where only victories over Nigel Bond and Neil Robertson would see him make the televised phase.

These matches are vitally important for White. He will be 51st in the provisional rankings when the list is issued after the Royal London Watches Grand Prix and will be off the circuit altogether if he slips lower than 64th by the end of the season.

At least the Whirlwind doesn’t have to go to the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield for the Masters qualifiers, which start on November 4. He has, as expected, been given a wildcard for Wembley.



Neil Robertson’s 5-1 defeat of Ronnie O’Sullivan this afternoon was an accomplished, highly ruthless performance from one of snooker’s most promising prospects.

The 24 year-old can clearly do it on the big stage and will surely win a major tournament sooner rather than later.

He missed an easy black in the third frame but was otherwise flawless.

He said: “I’m very happy with the way I played. I’ve scored heavier before but to play that way against someone like Ronnie is harder to do so this is my best performance so far.

“Even after Ronnie cleared up to win the third frame I kept my composure because I knew I was playing well and that I was creating chances for myself.

“I knew before the match that I was one of the few players who could beat him when he’s playing well. When I get in, if I’m concentrating and my positional play is good, I’ll definitely score.”

Typically for an Australian, Robertson is supremely confident.

I suggested to him he had landed a pre-Ashes blow. “I won 5-1 but I think we’ll win 5-0. At least Ronnie’s got one of the board for the English guys,” was his reply.


Snooker days can often be long. The nights tend to be longer.

Last night felt especially long as Alan McManus duelled with Mark Selby and Stephen Lee took on Mark King.

McManus won 5-1 but the match still didn’t finish until gone 10.30pm.

The pressroom is an entertaining place to be but often suffers a lull as people tire of the same old stories and jokes. Luckily, John Higgins leant me his Sopranos DVDs, which passed a couple of hours until the snooker was finally over.

The taxi driver who took Phil Yates and myself back to our hotel casually revealed that his previous profession was as lion tamer in a circus.

“I was bitten a couple of times,” he said, as if it were nothing much to worry about.

It made me realise sitting in a snooker pressroom may not always be thrill a minute but at least it isn’t dangerous.



Why do snooker journalists love Ronnie O'Sullivan?

His press conference today should explain. Whatever anyone thinks of Ronnie, two things are indisputable: he's a genius at the table and often irresistably entertaining off it.

He's in a good mood here and we got the feeling he could have talked for days.

Here are the edited highlights of what he said:

“My potting hasn’t been that great for a few years and I had to hide behind playing a bit of safety.

“But that wasn’t ever going to work for me. I won tournaments but I came away thinking it had all been a waste of time because I didn’t enjoy it.

“OK, I’d got a trophy but I’m not in it for trophies and money, I’m in it for the love. The beauty of the game means more to me.

“I’ve been working for that. The characters in snooker can be intense and you can catch it off them. It’s like a lurgy that goes round if you hang about with them too much.

“You get cloned. You become them without knowing it. I have to be careful that it doesn’t happen because I don’t want to be like that.

“I want to be Billy the Kid. I love the rawness of this game and that’s how I want to play.”

A year ago, O’Sullivan said he was so bored with snooker that he’d rather be at home gardening than take on John Higgins in the Grand Prix final at Preston.

But he rediscovered his enthusiasm after travelling to America in the summer to play on a new big money pool circuit.

He said: “What I learned from the pool was how to enjoy playing and I’ve taken that philosophy to my snooker.

“You can get intense about things and copy what other people do. I’ve gone back to my roots and experimenting a bit.

“I won’t stop being aggressive. For me, to be great at your sport you need to be like that.

“If you look at all the greats – Steve Davis, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Phil Taylor – they’re all aggressive. They know how to play a defensive game and so do I but I don’t intend on having many matches like that.

“When I was 16 playing qualifiers at Blackpool I was going through them all with effortless ease and that’s how I need to play.

“I can do that. I can win without feeling like I’ve had to work for it. That’s how I like to play.”


It's hard to believe that Alan McManus, so consistent throughoutb his career, is now out of the elite top 16, let alone down to 52nd in the provisional rankings.

If he continues to struggle the Glaswegian could even be off the tour at the end of the season.

But McManus himself insists he isn't having sleepless nights about his provisional standing.

He told me: “The rankings don’t really worry me. I’ve always been a bit of a believer that it’s only numbers. The snooker balls don’t know the number you are just as a horse doesn’t know what price it’s running at.

“I suppose you don’t want a decent ranking position and it’s better from a money point of view but then there’s a lot of pressure on the top players.

“Being where I am isn’t that much of a problem. If you can get some matches under your belt it’s not that difficult to climb back up.

“Being further down the rankings you have to play more matches, which is a good thing.

“What’s terrible is that we have to go two or three months without playing. You end up stop-starting and get rusty when you want to be competitive all the time.”



Had the BBC had a camera in the pressroom today the resultant footage would have resembled a farce of Brian Rix proportions.

Professor Stephen Hawking would have struggled to work out the various machinations of the round robin groups.

We huddled round computers studying the group tables tossing out different scenarios with little real clue what was going on.

In short, there are too many variables in this system and it makes it far too confusing for people to follow.

An example: we were told that Stephen Maguire, who played his last match on Monday, had been eliminated regardless of what happened in the rest of the group.

Then, the officials changed their mind and told us he would be out if Joe Perry won a frame against Ding Jun Hui.

We were puzzled by this and asked for a re-check. The result: Maguire was out after all.

The TV commentators struggled to keep up, as did the viewers no doubt, and quite what the paying public made of it all I’ve no idea. Presumably, they didn’t understand the varying importance of frames won here and there and what they meant in terms of group standings. How could they?

So, in a sense, almost every match here meant nothing from an audience point of view. It was merely a succession of players playing each other, with the results unclear until the very end.

Mark King had booked his flight home, assuming he was out. In fact, because Shaun Murphy lost to Ali Carter, King qualified alongside Ryan Day from group B on frame difference ahead of Murphy.

Steve Davis, a professional since 1978, has seen more tournament snooker than any other player, is better qualified than most to comment on all of this.

This is what he said: “I think it’s a bit messy. Not to say it isn’t fun for the players and spectators but it’s messy in that certain players have produced good standards and not got through and other players have sneaked through.

“Players may welcome the change but would prefer a best of nine match so they know where they stand.

“If it wasn’t a ranking event it would be absolutely fantastic. But because we don’t have that many ranking events players are very aware of their position and what the points mean.

“It’s a long-winded way to get down to 16 players. It’s a pity it couldn’t have been the Masters instead.

“There are players going home who have played very well. There are all these anomalies and waiting on other results. If it continues there will be bad feeling somewhere down the line for whatever reason, maybe a player not trying as hard as he should or the possibility of two players seeing who they would play in the next round if they won and not wanting to win.

“It’s been good fun to play in but the trouble is it’s a ranking event. If we had 12 a year it wouldn’t be so bad but there are limited chances for players and some of them will be going home cursing whoever made the change.”


Jamie Cope recorded the 54th maximum break in snooker history and only the fourth in Scotland in his match last night against Michael Holt.

The match was on an outside table but TV cameras managed to get there in time to watch the last black go in.

He said: “This has got to be the best moment of my career so far, it felt so good to see that black go in.

“I decided to go for it from the start. When I was on 64 there was a red in baulk, I came round the table and dropped on the black. Apart from that I was never out of position.

“I held myself together really well. I had a good chance in China but missed the last red on 112. Tonight I didn’t feel like missing.

“I try to make maximums a lot in practice so that helps. Now I have to have a think about what to spend the money on.”

Cope is a prodigiously talented break-builder with over 100 maximums to his name in practice. He became the first player to record a 155 – snooker’s highest possible break – in a witnessed practice match last year.

He was on for his first pro 147 in last season’s China Open but broke down on 112.

Maximums may seem ten-a-penny due to their frequency these days. Indeed, there were only eight recorded in the 1980s but 26 in the 1990s. So far in this decade there have been 20.

However, it is still a significant achievement and Cope’s £24,000 – providing nobody equals his feat – is well deserved.

In 2004, Jamie Burnett recorded the first professional 148. How long will it be before a player makes more than 147 in a TV match?



If there have been a few moans and groans about the new round robin format at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix, one player you won’t hear complaining is Ronnie O’Sullivan.

With three wins from three under his belt, Ronnie is sitting pretty at the top of group C and all in favour of the new format.

He believes it is fast, exciting and just what’s required to give the sport a shot in the arm on television.

It will be interesting to see whether TV viewing figures have gone up or whether the same people are tuning in as did last year when it was a knockout event.

If they have, the organisers can claim it as a success, despite the various complaints.


John Higgins has been named Highland Spring Player of the Year for season 2005/6 by the Snooker Writers' Association.

The 31 year old won two major tournaments during the campaign – the GrandPrix and Saga Masters – and finished runner up in two others.

Higgins is currently defending his title in front of his home fans at theRoyal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen.Graeme Dott wins the Highland Spring Achievement of the Year award, for his magnificent success in the 888.com World Championship.

Dott, who had never previously won a major tournament, defeated Peter Ebdon 18-14 to lift the game’s ultimate prize after an epic final at the CrucibleTheatre in Sheffield.

The Wheels In Motion/Paul Hunter Newcomer of the Year accolade goes to Michael White, who won the World Grand Prix, the game’s leading amateur event, in his home country of Wales at the age of just 14.

This award was re-named last week in honour of the late Paul Hunter, who won it himself in 1998.

Richard Balani’s contribution to the game is recognised with the Highland Spring Special Award. Balani’s efforts have made Malta one of the leading venues for major tournament snooker for many years.



Mark Williams has pulled out of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix because of a broken wrist.

Ridiculously, this means that Stuart Bingham has been eliminated - even though he beat Williams on Satuday.

This is because, according to the rules, a match involving any player who withdraws is declared null and void.

So Bingham and Robin Hull - who beat the Welshman 3-1 tonight - have effectively been penalised through no fault of their own.

This is what Williams said: “My wrist is really hurting. I can’t play properly and I didn’t want to make it worse so I’ve decided to pull out and rest it before the next tournament.

“Every time I played a shot with a bit of pace I got a lot of pain. I’ve never pulled out of a tournament before and it’s not very nice.

“Even if I’d won my decision would have been the same. Maybe I should never have come here but I wanted to give it a go. But it’s no good.”


Oh dear.

Stephen Hendry was so appalled by the table on which he lost 3-2 to Andy Hicks today that he launched into an angry tirade against playing conditions.

Hendry was clearly annoyed by a number of bad bounces off cushions and suspect contacts.

Here's what he said: “It was the worst table I’ve ever played on in my life. I’ll get disciplined for saying it but we’ve been complaining about this for two years and nothing has ever changed.

“You can’t play any positional shot or any safety shot. They’re verging on unplayable.

“The players keep being asked to say what's wrong with the tables but they still don’t get any better.

“They are very difficult to play snooker on. I turned pro at 16 and never remember ever having a bad bounce off a cushion.

“We’re not supposed to say anything because I’ll get pulled up for disciplinary action now, but something has to be done.

“It’s diabolical. It’s verging on a farce out there. It looks like sour grapes because I’ve lost but the tables ruin the enjoyment for the players."


The attendances here have been truly dreadful – far too many empty seats considering all the top players in action.

Why is this?

Aberdeen is one of the more remote parts of Scotland but the crowds for the six ranking events staged at the Exhibition and Conference Centre from 1997 to 2002 were excellent. It was even known for 10am sessions to be virtually sold out.

Next month's Betfred Premier League night at the venue is also sold out.

The new round robin format was supposed to engender additional excitement and interest but it is yet to catch on.

As far as I can see World Snooker have promoted the event, in partnership with one of the local newspapers, pretty well, but still the people are yet to turn out in large numbers.

Everyone hopes the crowds increase as the week goes on because it looks bad on the television to see snooker’s top stars plying their trade in front of largely empty banks of seats.



I'm pleased that World Snooker have chosen to honour Paul Hunter with a new scholarship award for gifted youngsters but very surprised they didn't also make the gesture of renaming the Masters trophy after him - something many top players had called for.


After three sessions of play, the first day’s action here at the Royal London Watches Grand Prix has been fast and one player in particular has been furious.

Graeme Dott, no fan of the new round robin format before lay began, is even less enamoured with it now after suffering a 3-0 defeat to ding Jun Hui, who out-pointed the reigning 888.com world champion 296-2.

“I wish I could play all of my matches today so I could go home tomorrow,” Dott said. “I said to people before the tournament that the matches were too short but it was actually worse than I thought it would be. It’s horrible. You’ll get freaky results and I don’t see why that would be good viewing.”

Dott’s defeat to Ding was not unexpected given that the Chinese teenager had won the last ranking event, the Northern Ireland Trophy in Belfast.

Mark Williams was another top player to lose 3-0, beaten by Stuart Bingham. Shaun Murphy, the Crucible champion last year, was whitewashed by Ryan Day.

This format is certainly controversial but it’s far too early to say whether it is a good thing or not.



The Royal London Watches Grand Prix gets underway at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre tomorrow some nine weeks after the last ranking event, the Northern Ireland Trophy, ended.

Therefore, there isn't much form to go on, apart from the Betfred Premier League Sky has been showing on Thursday nights.

Predicting a winner in Aberdeen will be even tougher given the new round robin format which means 120 best of five frame matches over the first four days.

Opinion among the players is divided over the new system. Here are two opposing views:

John Higgins: “I’m for it if it promotes the game. If it goes well I’ll applaud it, but if it doesn’t work then we’ll have to look at something else.

“I suppose the good thing is that you’re guaranteed five matches and if you lose your first one there’s still time to rectify things, but they are much shorter than usual so it’ll be tough.”

Graeme Dott: “I’m not in favour of the new format. The matches are too short and it’s a bit of a lottery. It’s like a penalty shootout. I’m sure it’ll be exciting for the fans and probably to play in, but I’d prefer to have a normal tournament.

“It doesn’t help that I’m in the toughest group, but in every group it’s any two players who could go through because the matches are so short that anyone can beat anyone.”

There are 30 matches tomorrow on six tables.

Can it work?


Will it work?

We'll have to wait and see.



There has never been a snooker occasion as sad as today's gathering at Leeds Parish Church where the sport said goodbye to Paul Hunter, who died of cancer on October 9.

A host of well known names attended the funeral: Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorne, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ken Doherty, Shaun Murphy, Graeme Dott, Peter Ebdon, Graeme Dott, Joe Johnson, John Virgo, Anthony Hamilton, Barry Hawkins, Neil Robertson, Tony Knowles and John Parrott among them.

Matthew Stevens, a friend of Paul's since childhood, was one of the pall bearers.

Paul's father, Alan, was in tears as he told of how his son has said to him that he had been "dealt a bad card."

Anthony Roberts, Paul's cousin, spoke eloquently of the 27 year-old three-times Masters champion and Lindsey, Paul's widow, read a specially written poem.

Sir Rodney Walker gave an excellent speech on behalf of World Snooker but even he couldn't get through it without breaking down.

It was a very sad occasion but good to see so many people - some 1,200 - paying their respects.



You won't meet many nicer snooker players than John Higgins, who begins the defence of his Royal London Watches Grand Prix title in Aberdeen on Saturday.

Despite being one of the most successful players in snooker history, he remains modest about his achievements and is sensibly always looking to the future, rather than resting on his laurels.

I spoke to him today and this is what he said:

“The first match I ever saw live was Jimmy White v Alex Higgins in the 1985 Scottish Masters. The atmosphere was amazing. The place was completely packed. Jimmy thrashed Alex 5-0 in about 40 minutes and then they came out to do four exhibition frames because it was over so quick.

“I was in awe of them. It’s funny, because I’ve never seen myself as being like them, but I’ve been doing quite a few exhibitions recently and have realised how well thought of snooker players are.

“Lots of people come up to get autographs and you realise that you are a role model to a lot of the kids.

“I have two boys of my own so it’s nice to know that there are young kids looking up to me.

“I don’t think of myself as a big star or spend much time going back over tournaments I’ve won.

“You’re too much in the bubble of going to tournaments and playing matches and there isn’t much time to reflect.

“I guess I have done in quieter moments on my own, but I’ve always been the type of player who is looking to the next tournament, even if I’ve won the last one.

“I’ve got all my trophies at home but they’re not on show. They’re on a lounge room that we very rarely go in, maybe only if we’ve got people staying over.

“Some players win one tournament and it goes to their head a bit. Then, they don’t win another one. I’m not really like that.”



The following was announced today:

"The Snooker Writers' Association has joined the tributes to Paul Hunter, by re-naming its Newcomer of the Year award in his honour.

"Paul won the award in 1998, and it is currently sponsored by his management company Wheels In Motion.

"The re-naming reflects the huge respect and affection which Paul enjoyed among those who cover the game.

"He provided many great stories on and off the table over the years, and carried out his media responsibilities with grace and good humour in both victory and defeat.

"Paul lost his battle with cancer last week at the age of 27. The first Wheels In Motion Paul Hunter Newcomer of the Year will be announced, together with the other SWA award winners for this year, during next week's Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen."



The following matches in the Royal London Watches Grand Prix will be played on the two television tables at the Aberdeen this weekend. Good to see Judd Trump and Issara Kachaiwong getting their TV debuts.

Coverage is live on the BBC, plus their interactive service and Eurosport.

John Higgins v James Wattana
Shaun Murphy v Ryan Day
Graeme Dott v Ding Jun Hui
Mark Williams v Stuart Bingham
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Steve Davis
Ken Doherty v Nigel Bond
Stephen Hendry v Mark Selby
Stephen Maguire v Mark Allen
Shaun Murphy v Mark King
Graeme Dott v Joe Perry

Ken Doherty v Paul S. Davison
Neil Robertson v Judd Trump
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Michael Holt
John Higgins v Issara Kachaiwong
Mark Williams v Stephen Lee
Stephen Hendry v Andy Hicks
John Higgins v Dominc Dale
Ken Doherty v Judd Trump
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Jamie Cope
Mark Williams v Robin Hull



You can view BBC Grandstand's tribute to Paul Hunter - who would have been 28 today - on the BBC website here (click on video) http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/snooker/default.stm



Tony Drago will play all three of his Malta Cup qualifying matches in his home country.

Drago, down to 52nd in the world rankings, is required to come into each event in the last 80 stage.

But he is Malta's top sportsman and to have a snooker tournament there without him is unthinkable.

It would have been too much to cross fingers and hope he came through the Prestatyn qualifiers.

It means the Malta Cup, staged at the magnificent Hilton Conference Centre in Portomaso, will now start a day earlier than planned, on January 28.

Drago would have to play every day for eight days if he reached the final. John Parrott and Michael Holt are guaranteed to be Malta-bound as they are seeded to play Drago in the last 64 and last 48 respectively.

You can view the qualifying draw on Global Snooker Centre here: http://www.globalsnookercentre.co.uk/files/Results/res06-7/06-7Malta.htm


World Snooker have announced that, for the first time, there will be three wildcards for the Wembley Masters.

Quite rightly, Ding Jun Hui has been given a place, having won three world ranking events in the last 18 months.

Jimmy White, the darling of Wembley, is also given one. The third is going to the winner of the qualifying event.

This means that, for the first time, there are 19 players in the tournament.

Ding and White were the two obvious choices for wildcards, which have a dual function: to boost audience interest and reward achievement.

Otherwise, the Masters has always been a tournament for the elite and should remain so.

The only reason there was ever a qualifying event in the past was because the previous sponsors - B&H - understandably wanted to boost name penetration prior to the event.

Of course, the same could be said of SAGA, who have encouragingly signed on for three more years, but there is an established way players qualify for the Masters: they do well enough to become part of the top 16.

Last year, of the 78 players eligible to take part in the qualifying tournament, only 48 did. The widely held view is that it is only being staged to appease the voting membership, with the AGM just around the corner.

Whoever wins will, of course, have every right to enjoy their time at Wembley - with the tournament now being held at the Arena after the Conference Centre was earmarked for demolition as part of the stadium redevelopment - but are unlikely to do much for ticket sales.



I thought you'd be interested in what people have been saying about Paul:

“I’m absolutely devastated by the news. He’s got a young family and he had a fantastic future in front of him.

“It’s everyone’s worst nightmare and puts everything into perspective.

“On the circuit, no-one had a bad word to say about Paul. He was like Jimmy White in that respect. He loved snooker, he loved life and he’ll be sadly missed by everyone.

“Paul was just a really nice guy and a great player. When he first emerged on the scene, he had the ability you always thought would eventually result in him becoming a world champion.

“Sadly he never got the chance to fulfil that goal. But his record, especially in the Masters at Wembley, spoke for itself.

“Before he was taken ill, Paul was in the top four in the world and maybe even had his best days to come.

“Every player on the circuit was pulling for Paul to come through because he was just a genuinely nice guy who never fell out with anyone. He just wanted to play the game.

“My thoughts are with his wife, daughter and family on what is a sad day and one I've never experienced during my time in the game.”

“It’s so, so sad. I’m totally gutted. It’s beyond human comprehension. I can’t get my head around it.“He was a tiger on the snooker table, but off it you couldn’t have met a nicer fellow.

“He was a bit of a Jack the lad but he was never nasty to anybody, arrogant or rude like these pop stars and some sports people.

“He was a really, really nice kid. He had a lovely family. You couldn’t intimidate him. Nothing could put him off. As soon as he got beaten, or he won, he was back to Paul Hunter and that's a very hard quality to have.

“I can’t tell you how special he was. He was a credit to life. He will be in my heart for the rest of my life. It’s a very, very sad day for Snooker and sport in general.”

“The times I spent with Paul, we always had a good laugh. He was just a lovely man. He’ll be sorely missed by everyone.”

“He was fantastic. The Masters is a massive tournament and he won it three times. I think it was just a matter of when he won the world title, not if.”

“It’s a great loss to the sport but more importantly than that it's a great loss to his family.

“Paul played the game with a smile on his face. He was a bright and bubbly character and I never heard him complain. He was always such a happy person. We’re all going to miss him.”

“He was one of the nicest young men you could meet. He was totally devoted to his family and my heart goes out to them

“He was a terrific professional and one of the main characters on the circuit. He’ll be missed by everybody.”

“I met Paul for the first time on the junior circuit. In fact, he won the first ever junior tournament I played in, which was in Leicester," he said.

“He began playing before me, so he had established himself as the best. Paul had a reason to be cocky and arrogant but he was never like that. He was just a normal lad which makes this all the more difficult.

“I’ve lost a friend. He was such a great lad, he had everything. When he was diagnosed with cancer it was a massive shock.

“He was a player like he was a person. He was honest, down-to-earth and a fighter. Some of his performances in matches, when he came back from deficits, showed that. I just can’t believe he’s gone.”

“I’m devastated for his family. It’s a massive shock.

“His talent was frightening. We didn’t get to see it all. I’ve never seen anyone from the age of nine, when I first met him, who was that good at that age. He blew me away when I first saw him.

“He’ll be missed by everybody. He wasn’t big headed at all. He was just a normal lad.”

“Deep down I think we all thought he was going to beat the disease. He was one of the best-looking snooker players we ever had and had a heart like a lion.

“He lit up the stage when he played, was a very flamboyant player and there will be a big hole in everybody’s hearts for the next year or so.”

“Paul was a man who had everything going for him - an outstanding talent, good looks, fame, riches, charm and a beautiful wife.

“This shows us just how quickly life can change. It’s a bitter blow for snooker, but most importantly for his family, and our thoughts are with them.”

DAVID MANNING, Communications Manager, Travis Perkins
“I had the pleasure of working with Paul when we donated the UK Championship table to York RI Snooker Club after the event in 2004.

“He came with his wife Lindsey that day and it struck me just how approachable he was with everyone. He played a few games with the club’s top players... naturally he played them off the baize, but he did let them pot at least a couple of balls to save their complete embarrassment. A true gent, a great talent, sadly missed.”

MADELEINE HEGARTY, former teacher
“He came back nine years in a row. He always made time for us. He was never the celebrity, he was always the ex-pupil.

"It took a long time for him to start treating me as a friend rather than as his ex-teacher. Then a few years ago he gave me a big hug. He was just a lovely lad, a great example to the children.

“The children are all coming in at the moment saying 'Miss, did you see the news?' One little boy said to me 'I never thought he would die. I thought he would get better.'”

ANDY GEACH, the NET Patient Foundation
“Paul was an inspiration to us. We met him and his manager last year at the Pot Black tournament at the RAC club. He was adamant in wanting to help and to get things set up.

“He provided funds to build the website. Primarily it was his £14,000 which built the website and he was behind getting the charity set up.

“It was a great shame he could not be at the charity night. We did not realise it was going to take him so quickly. What he had was rare. What was rarer was that it was so aggressive.

“He was a great guy. He was there for us whenever we needed a celebrity figure to push us forward. He and his wife Lindsey were always there, ready to help. We will miss him greatly.”

KEVIN SINFIELD, Leeds Rhinos rugby league captain
“Paul was an iconic sporting figure for the city of Leeds across the world through his achievements in his sport.

“He achieved so much despite only being 27 and I am sure he would have gone on to be a true great in Snooker.

“It is a tragic loss of life and our thoughts are with his family at this time.”


The snooker world is today united in grief following the sad news from last night that Paul Hunter has died of cancer at the age of just 27.

Paul was the first snooker player I ever interviewed. It was at the 1998 Welsh Open that he would eventually win.

It's hard to believe, but back then he was shy and unsure of himself during interviews. Players aren't given media training and he didn't really know what he should say.

However, he soon matured into a first class professional on and off the table. He was unfailingly patient and polite in his dealings with the media.

His fellow players are deeply shocked. It will be an emotional atmosphere at the Grand Prix, which starts a week on Saturday.

Ken Doherty, who famously beat Paul 17-16 from 15-9 down in the 2003 Crucible semi-finals, today eloquently summed up the feelings of everyone in snooker.

He said: “It’s very sad for snooker and sport. We’ve lost a great character, a great player and a great friend.

“Everyone was dumbfounded when he was diagnosed with the disease last year. As he was someone so young we all thought that after chemo he’d come through it. I don’t think anyone can believe the news.

“Words can’t explain what his family and friends must be going through. They’re all in our thoughts and prayers.

“We called him the ‘Beckham of the Baize’ because he had the looks and he played up to that character.

“He was one of our characters and a fantastic player. He was a great champion but he was also very magnanimous in defeat.

“The last time I saw him was at the World Championship. He was so courageous. He’d been through the mill with chemotherapy but he just wanted to play.

“He missed snooker. He loved it so much and wanted to be around the snooker fraternity.

“He showed so much courage. Everyone was behind him.

“He had everything. He had the world at his feet and it’s just such a shame.”

There will be many other tributes and they will all be genuine.

Perhaps World Snooker could rename the Masters trophy after Paul - he did win it three times in four years.

There will be other ideas to remember him: perhaps a tournament in his honour, or the renaming of the Academy in Sheffield.

Such is the way he lit up the game, Paul Hunter simply cannot be forgotten.


PAUL HUNTER: 1978-2006

Paul Hunter, the three times Masters champion and one of the outstanding snooker players of the last decade, has died of cancer. He was just 27.

Hunter was diagnosed with dozens of neuro endocrine tumours of the inner lining of his stomach in March 2005. He fought the disease with bravery and good humour.

Remarkably, Hunter played in all but one tournament during the 2005/06 season, often in serious pain. He won only one match in all this time and fell from fifth in the rankings to 34th. In July, players voted to freeze his ranking at this position in the hope that he may be fit enough to return next season.

A prodigiously talented teenager, he enjoyed a successful junior career, winning the Pontin’s Star of the Future title among other trophies, before turning professional in 1995.

In his debut season, he reached the Welsh Open semi-finals in Newport while still only 17.

His first ranking title came at the 1998 Welsh Open when he was just 19. Hunter beat five members of the game’s top 16, including John Higgins 9-5 in the final, to secure the trophy.

He was shy and unassuming in interviews back then, often appearing akin to a rabbit caught in the headlights during press conferences.

Off table, he was not so reticent. Still a teenager, Hunter went through a phase of immaturity which included fines for a drunken streak at the qualifiers in Blackpool and a positive test for cannabis.

Success and its financial rewards, perhaps inevitably, went to his head and he spent two years in which carousing seemed to take precedence over practising. By his own admission he needed sorting out and Brandon Parker, a businessman from Preston who had previously managed Quinten Hann, agreed to look after him providing he put in the requisite effort.

By the time of his diagnosis, Hunter had won five major titles and joined the world’s top four following his association with Parker, who helped him believe in his own potential and make the necessary changes to his lifestyle to realise it.

Hunter’s career came to be defined by his performances at the Wembley Masters, where he won three extraordinary finals having been well behind on each occasion.

In 2001, he trailed Fergal O’Brien 6-2 after the first session but compiled four centuries in recovering to win 10-9. His revelation to the press afterwards that he had spent the interval with his girlfriend, Lindsey, in his hotel room where they “put plan B into operation” would cement his reputation as a tabloid favourite.

In fact, Hunter, in his cheerfully honest way, confided this information as an innocent aside, but it would follow him round his entire career.

A year later, he trailed Mark Williams 5-0 in their Wembley final but again came back to win 10-9. In 2004, he fought from 7-2 adrift to edge Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9 and win his third Masters title in four years.

The Wembley Conference Centre, which is being demolished as part of the stadium redevelopment, had a capacity of more than 2,700 and the pressure in those three deciders must have been immense.

Through his three victories, Hunter proved his bottle on the big stage, but his biggest disappointment was his collapse from 15-9 ahead against Ken Doherty in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Championship.

Doherty won nine frames of the ten played in the final session at the Crucible to win 17-16. Hunter put a brave face on this but was privately shattered.

Given his ability, it is surprising he didn’t win more titles. He did capture the 2002 Welsh and British Opens and was one of the favourites for every tournament he entered, but snooker’s standards rose so sharply in the mid 90s through to the present day that titles have generally been shared between a handful of top players, of which Hunter was one.

Off the table, snooker could not have asked for a better ambassador. There was always something to say about Paul, with his colourful life and love of a good time.

He was good looking and had flowing blonde hair, which led him to wear an Alice band for a spell – entirely innocuous but different and therefore interesting for media and fans alike.

In his later years, he developed from shy teenager to confident adult. He always made himself available for interviews and undertook countless promotional engagements.

These continued even after he became aware of his illness. Hunter flew to the China Open in March 2005 having just discovered the nature of his condition, but this did not stop him spending over half an hour after one match signing autographs for excited spectators in the arena.

Outside the venue, he was mobbed by adoring fans and again made himself available for autographs and pictures. He later revealed that he spent one of these nights in China crying down the phone to Lindsey, the enormity of his illness hitting home.

At the Crucible a few weeks later, he received a standing ovation on his entrance. He tried his hardest for the next year but, with negligible feeling in his hands and feet, as well as severe pain in his side, his game had deteriorated.

Hunter’s one success in this period was a 9-8 victory over Jamie Burnett in the last 32 of last season’s UK Championship in York, in which he had needed a snooker on the pink.

In truth, he probably shouldn’t have played at all, but at least the tournaments gave him something to look forward to in between the bouts of chemotherapy.

Hunter never publicly complained about his condition and his cheerful demeanour won him many more friends and admirers.

Despite his illness, he still made time to talk to people. He was naturally friendly and exuded a genuine warmth when dealing with others.

There were hopes he had beaten the cancer during the latter half of 2005 but it returned and various treatments ultimately failed to keep it at bay.

Just last month, a charity night – Paul Hunter’s Big Night Out – was held to raise money for the NET Patient Foundation, set up to help fellow neuro endocrine tumour sufferers. Around £36,000 was raised but, sadly, Hunter could not attend after being admitted to hospital with dehydration. In his last days he was moved into a hospice.

It is a horrible irony that a young man who loved life so much should be afflicted in this way.

For Lindsey, whom he married in 2004, and his wider family, it must be a devastating time and everyone’s thoughts will be with them.

Paul Hunter will be remembered not just as a fine snooker player, but as a charming and likeable person, whose good humour in the face of adversity will have inspired many.

All in snooker – from his fellow players, to officials, journalists and everyone else backstage at tournaments as well of course as his many, many fans – will miss him very much.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of his passing is that he has not lived to see his daughter, Evie Rose, born on Boxing Day 2005, grow up.

One day she will find out how special her father was.

Paul Hunter: October 14, 1978-October 9, 2006