Time to embrace the Shootout?

In certain quarters, the Snooker Shootout suffers a harsh critique. Naysayers deride this annual fun (but serious) event with steadfast loyalty. Others, accept the funky format for what it is. Here is my take on the four day festival of fright…

The pros : What’s not to like? It’s fast, furious & fan friendly. As a competitor, you pitch up in the arena secretly hoping that the next 10 minutes skip past devoid of outrageous incident or embarrassment. Players thinking, “Please present me with an easy six or seven red cherry tree around the pink spot” comes the whisper from the back of your bonce. Needless to say, this rarely transpires. In truth, the first five minutes are about as comfortable as it gets. That little devil on your shoulder provides ample excuse should malfunction ensue, which it does…a lot! “not enough time to execute my regular technique or shot selection” or “who smeared the bikini wax on this slick baize anyhow? are just some of the thoughts of a player quickly vanquished.

The truth is, fifteen seconds a poke is plenty time for players of pro standard. It’s not until part two kicks in, that your cue, arms & brain feel like total strangers caught in a snooker maelstrom. The chief problem being that every shot played in under ten seconds is accompanied by those blasted beeps! In a regular tournament, a player’s subconscious tends to think something along the lines of… “nice and sweet on delivery” or “just make sure I’m high on the black” or “I’ll use green, brown & blue as cover on that red” before & during a shot. All of these thoughts, along with your elbow, go out the window during the second half of a Shootout match. It’s a distinctly unnerving feeling to think “was that the third beep, or was it the fourth” just as you’re preparing to strike the cue ball.

Further consideration, and perhaps most pertinent of all, is the look on pretty much every face in the crowd. It’s humbling to see the joy & laughter out there for every second of every match. Whether it’s a top player, young man or lady competing, the punters are happy to watch and support all in equal measure. Let them have a few beers and blow off some working week steam. Let them invent a silly, but respectful chant about their favourite player. Give them license to let their hair down I say! It’s not a premier event in terms of prize money. Furthermore , it’s only on once a year.

Once upon a time, we were all newly fledging teenagers. Imagine someone informing you that you’re being invited to play against a top pro, in a big event, live on the telly. How would you have reacted at that age? You would be over the moon, and rightly so.

The cons : Yes, it’s unconventional. Yes, it’s not snooker as we know it. Some people are so busy typing & screaming from the rooftops that the Shootout isn’t proper snooker, or moaning about it carrying ranking points. I could easily understand the negativity if we had five or six Shootouts every season. That would be ludicrous, but we don’t. This isn’t akin to 20/20 cricket flooding the calendar, causing a split among the snooker faithful. No player, or viewer for that, need participate. Here’s an example, and I could list plenty… Like most of you, I enjoy my music. I’m not especially partial to watching The Eurovision Song Contest every year, so I tend not to watch it. Something else I don’t do is whinge about people who do tune in.

Often, it’s the case that people who bleat constantly that they refuse to watch are, in all likelihood, glued to watching The Shootout, and so they should be. There’s no such thing as a snooker snob for my money. I just wish some people would quit pretending they are one!

I’m a fan myself. Some events I like more than others, but I’ll watch any format. I certainly don’t feel the need to portray the purist as a form of self congratulatory claptrap.

Often, players are accused of complaining. At least when they do complain, which isn’t as often as some people make out, there is usually good reason. To the bah humbug division, I say… get over yourselves for goodness sake!

Another small point worth remembering : Whoever wins the Shootout it won’t be by accident. Think about the tons by Ricky & Gouldy in round one this year under that pressure, in one 10 minute frame, in a noisy cauldron, for a few quid and ranking points to boot. The balls don’t go in the pockets by themselves.

The verdict : Enjoy it for what it is… an annual four days of something a bit different. For the players, many unheralded or unheard of, it’s a chance of some financial reward, a few ranking points, and vital (if brief) main arena exposure. For the true snooker fans who pay their money? well, they get to feel they are an integral part of a professional tournament.

Surely we can’t deny them that? Not once a year!

Yours in snooker


Snooker’s return to The Guild Hall – and a look back in time

Ranking event snooker makes a return next week albeit qualifying only, to the venue I would call the grand old lady of snooker auditoriums. The Guild Hall in Preston will be sure to hold a myriad of memories by players of a certain vintage. As I’m one of them (just) I thought I’d pen a few of my personal recalls purely for nostalgia. As I’ll be writing this strictly on memory, you’ll have to excuse if one or two of the dates are a touch off.

The venue itself is quite old school in style, ideally situated in the heart of the city which can’t be said for a lot of modern venues. The playing arena I’d go as far as saying is as good as anywhere in terms of both the player and punter experience. Usually an eight table set up (four on either side) with more than enough seating and the added plus of a walkway around the top with easy access to view your match of choice. In taking a vantage point up the back, you would comfortably see three tables in action. On the playing side, the tables always seemed to run beautifully there. Perhaps the fact we only ever played there in winter or early springtime helped. 

With the UK Championship at that time firmly ensconced throughout the 80’s in the fair city of Preston, you wouldn’t have picked many venues ahead of it to make your TV debut, as I did in the november of 1990. Now some of these opposition names I’m about to divulge might be giving away my age, but with JV and Dennis mentioning it the odd time just recently, I’m fair game. Anyhow, my first match on screen back then was against the South African Silvino Francisco (see, I did warn you) in the last 16, which was always the start of the TV stages back then. I have a few vague recollections of the match, the obvious one being winning 9-4 and making a nice century in the fourth frame I think it was? Times were very different back then, in that the young whipper snappers of recent years just weren’t around in those days (on screen at least). As I was still a teenager, there wasn’t anyone to bounce around any preconceived ideas in regard to playing in front of the cameras etc. It was very much a case of venturing into the great unknown. Not a terrible thing now I come to think of it. 

This next part will surprise more than a few given the snooker climate of today….Having come through the Silvino match I was now through to play Jimmy White in the quarter-finals. I mentioned that you might be surprised because up until the night before the match with Jimmy, I had never even met him, or in fact even been in the same room as him up until this point. Actually, I think the only time I seen him in the flesh prior to this was when I watched him play Alex Higgins in the Langs Supreme Scottish Masters in Glasgow when I was about 15. You can imagine how I felt when the great man came over to me in the hotel reception the night before our match, shook my hand and said typically “Hi Alan, my name’s Jimmy. Pleased to meet you”. I honestly couldn’t believe he knew I even played the game, far less my name. It was quite a thrill I can tell you.

It was also the year of perhaps the greatest UK Championship final of them all, when Stephen Hendry defeated Steve Davis 16-15 in an incredible final. Yes, the very match that the 7times potted THAT blue with the rest into the green pocket at 15-14 behind. After rolling in a 70 or 80 odd in the decider it’s fair to say that would be the critical tipping point of Stephen truly assuming the mantle of the world’s best player. Getting away from The Guild Hall for a moment, and on a similar theme to the Jimmy story, I actually met Stephen for the first time just six months prior to that tournament. It was at Pontins Prestatyn in Wales, where I was playing in The Home International amateur team event with my mates. The word was that Stephen was appearing in the eight man Pontins Professional event, but having won the first of his world titles just two days earlier he’d have been forgiven for opting out. Anyway, as myself and the lads stood in the bar one night I felt a tap on the shoulder, and turned round to find the new world champion shaking my hand and saying well done for winning the Scottish Amateur championship a few weeks earlier. Taken aback, as again I wouldn’t think he’d even know my name, I mumbled something like “aye cheers, well done yourself for winning the Worlds last week”. It was a very cool thing for him to do, and not something I’ll forget in a hurry. With the lads winning the HI series that week for the first time ever, it was a decent couple of weeks for snooker in Scotland. Needless to say, Stephen won the Pontins event as well. Hungry much?

Some of you will be aware that the World Championship qualifying also used to be held at The Guild Hall in the early 90’s. I for one would love to see it return there one day, as I know just how good an atmosphere it created. That brings me to a match I played there in the ’92 Worlds. My opponent was none other than Alex Higgins. A quirk of that match was that Alex was out to continue what he was calling in the press as the ‘ten year cycle’ having won it in ’72 and ’82. I imagine he was the only one who remotely thought he had any chance of keeping the run going, but still. I recall going into the match feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension, and with good reason. We’ve all heard stories of his colourful adventures let’s say, so there’s little point in me going into them. His form then was patchy let’s say, although you never did know what he could produce given his unquestioned talent. In the end, I came through the match with a decent victory but it really was an education seeing him play up close. The consistency in his game was gone but it was obvious through some flashes of genius what he was once capable of. What I did get was the full package of sharing the table with one of true legends of our sport – the smart suit, the obligatory gold watch and bracelet, the snappy shirt and waistcoat, the quick walk around the table and the trademark twitching before, during and after each shot. We sometimes hear the saying that they were hanging from the rafters…that certainly applied to playing Alex in The Guild Hall.

Having mentioned a couple of match wins, it’s only fair that I throw in a defeat there that sticks in the memory. I’m not sure of the year but I’d guess mid 90’s, and not for the first time it was Mr Hendry administering the pain. To be perfectly honest the reasons I remember it was that it was the semi-finals and he gubbed me 9-1. My main recall is starting the 7pm night session 7-1 down, two big breaks by Stephen and 15 minutes later I was in the car and heading back north. I swear I was home in time for News at Ten, followed by the snooker highlights (or lowlights) on BBC. Needless to say, I didn’t tune in.

As ever, thanks for taking the time to read, and let’s hope The Guild Hall sees lots more snooker in the years ahead.

Yours in snooker



A travellers guide to the snooker galaxy

When I decided to start writing my blog, I never thought I’d be doing the old Judith Chalmers bit. The more i thought of it though, i reckoned why not? It’s not like I haven’t been around the snooker block more than a few times. And besides, young players aren’t exactly given the copybook guide to managing time, finances, what, where, and when to book hotels / flights / entry fees etc. The main objective will be giving a few pointers to any newbies on tour, and at the same time, give snooker fans some idea of the logistical problems faced by every player regardless of ranking. 

First off, snooker players constantly face the question of when should I book not only my return flight, but often the outbound flight too. Remember, this isn’t a week in Majorca when your return flight is cast in stone, and you can start mentally packing away the flip flops a day or so before flying home. Unlike I’d guess 99.9% of travelers, a snooker player rarely knows when he or she will be returning home. The obvious downside is that thanks to sometimes hefty changing fees, you can be considerably out of pocket once the necessary change is made. As is usually the case, booking your flight asap will secure the cheapest price whether you fly economy or business class, and some good early deals can be found for both. That’s why we hear players complain on social media when draws and formats are released at such short notice, and I don’t blame them. It can be very frustrating (and costly)! In an ideal world we’d have draws and formats put out a month or two in advance. Players would then be able to save quite a bit of hard earned I can tell you. 

So what can be done? Well, for a start, be as organised and disciplined as you can. For example, before playing in let’s say a qualifying match for China, and providing the final venue dates are confirmed, have a look at the various flight options before qualifying even starts. Try to get the lowdown on the best deals so that upon qualifying you’re ready to strike while the iron is still hot. Bear in mind that the other players have similar flights to book also, so don’t delay. With PR activities having to be attended in Asia and the like, and always the day before play starts, be aware of the dates and arrive in plenty of time to attend (usually 24 hours). Another thing, don’t be lazy and put off joining the various airline travel clubs. If you’re going to be doing a fair bit of travel, get yourself in there. After all, it’s free, and in my experience if there are any good deals or free upgrades being handed out, you can be sure that their own members will get first refusal on any good offers. Again, don’t put it off. You might as well start building up those air miles as they might just come in handy somewhere along the line.

Another recommendation is to avoid using a travel company to take care of your flight bookings. It’s fair enough if money is tight and the cost of them booking it for you comes off your prize money, but avoid this if finances allow. If you do use a travel agency, check the change restrictions on whichever fare you buy. I’ve seen players desperate to get home, but the ticket they have (although reasonably priced) is non-changeable until a certain date.  This is something the agent may not verbally tell you when booking, but can be found in the small print, so do ask the question. The solution, if you’ll excuse the pun, is to fly solo on these matters, where booking it by yourself online means you have a level of control of your change options when that time inevitably comes along. Also, it’s likely that the flight you now want to catch home after a match loss, will be within the next 20 hours or less. So, depending on the time of day back home, you mightn’t even have time to make that ‘office hours only’ phone call to the agency, whether it’s changeable or not. Basically, do it yourself online, you’ll learn the travel ropes quicker, and at least you then have a fair amount of control over your return flight. Oh, and do ask advice of the other players who know the drill. They’ll be only too happy to advise, once they’ve gotten their own flight sorted that is.

I know it’s obvious to say that the ‘get in early’ mantra for flights applies to hotels also, but there are ways of making sure you get the best deal possible. When travelling to continental Europe etc, where you will have to pay your own hotel, do your homework. I’ll give you a good and current example – take the PH Classic in Furth. Even although the tournament is in late august, I’ve already booked a good hotel with air-con (a must at that event with minimum 25c temperatures) with free cancellation right up until the day of arrival. Another plus to this is you can then pay only on departure, so losing early means only paying for the nights stayed, rather than the amount of nights booked. So, do ask the relevant people at World Snooker if the event dates and venue are cast in stone, even if it’s still many months away. If it is, shop around on Booking.com or the like. If you know your travel dates, which are fairly standard for those events, it’s worth booking early. Not only will you and your roomy save a few bob in the long run, you may even be fortunate to get that free cancellation up until the day of arrival, which takes the pressure off. For flights to this type of event, the main problem is that you are rarely able to cancel without some financial penalty. Again, check that the event is cast in stone if you are booking flights well in advance. 

One piece of good news for UK players is the latest change to the China visa rules. Down the years we’ve been given various options of both visa duration and prices when filling in the application forms. In short, you used to get a 6 month single entry visa for say £80, or a 12 month double entry visa for around £140. The bother with this, aside from not really knowing which visa will suit best, is having to regularly re-apply every time you happen to qualify, where leaving your passport with the visa people for a week or two sometimes isn’t an option, especially if there’s a Euro event to attend that week, and your passport is required for entry. Anyway, the good news is that in the Edinburgh visa office at least (I assume others are the same) we are now granted a 2 year unlimited entry visa as standard for £151. A right result you might say, considering it saves time, hassle, travel and money. Maybe the visa people have calculated that most people only visit China once, so might as well offer a longer duration, but a bigger price as standard? Either way, I didn’t argue. I just said thanks very much. Like I say, I assume and hope the other UK offices now offer players the same visa deal. As for countries outside of the UK?, I’m afraid you’ll have to find that one out for yourself.

I know most of this is standard stuff, if a tad mind-numbing of almost Crucible almanac proportions. As you know, I’m trying to give non-players and fans out there a bit of an insight into life on the snooker tour. With snooker Q-School happening right now, if it helps any of the youngsters in any way then it’s been worthwhile. And besides, it’s taken up quite a chunk of my summer holiday flying time……now that’s what us snooker players call proper mind-numbing.

Have a great summer. Thanks for reading. And I’ll try to come up with a few new blog topics as the new season gets under way. With more than a few changes on the horizon there will be plenty to talk about – The Home Series events, some new tournament destinations, ranking cut off dates, some new faces on tour and whisper it quietly – the Shootout gaining ranking status which caused a minor kerfuffle on social media. It’s all go, so crash helmets at the ready. One thing is certain, it’s going to be entertaining!

Yours in snooker    

Alan McManus 


The Crucible – behind the curtains from a players eye view.

Watching the US Masters golf from Augusta recently, we are always given a sense of the history surrounding that tournament. Same venue every year and all that. Being the massive golf fan that i am, it’s far and away my (and plenty others) favourite event of the sporting year. The drive up Magnolia Lane, Amen corner, the drama of the back nine on sunday. It’s always a xerox of what happened on the same grounds 12 months previous, the only change being the faces under the baseball caps, and we golf nuts just can’t get enough.

The Crucible, similarly, has never lost that sense of history either. Sure, it’s nowhere near as glamorous as the pristine, Persian rug like fairways of the Deep South. What it has in spades though, is something I’m a fan of in general – very little change. Now in my 25th year of playing at the Crucible, i find comfort in knowing every metaphorical blade of grass behind it’s famous doors.

A basic geography behind the scenes goes something like this….. As most players will enter through stage door, you are met at the security desk by the lovely Lynne, and Gary Wilkinson, a top player himself over the late 80s and 90s. A player, and his guests will be issued their relevant security passes which must be worn at all times. Players are generally allowed two access all areas guest passes which gain entry to the coveted Champions Lounge – more about that later. As you venture through the swing doors there are two options, hang a right which leads behind the stage and comm boxes and you’ll find the practise room. Not much has changed there down the years, save for there now being three practise tables. There used to be just two, with the other space being used as the main studio. I have to say it was a lot of fun with the studio in earshot of your practise time. There was always a story or an interview with a match winner, the odd celebrity visitor, or simply listening to the master, the one and only David Vine deliver his sermon in those famous headmaster like dulcet tones. With the studio moving across Crucible Square to the winter gardens ten or so years ago, it’s actually better from a playing perspective. Three tables are ample, and it’s very quiet in there most of the time. You see, snooker players are a pernickety bunch – four walls, in a dark room with no distraction is the ultimate nirvana for players to prepare quietly. And obviously as the tournament unfolds and the body count drops, it’s easy to get at least two or three hours a day if needed. 

With practise done and dusted, it’s back along the corridor, past stage door and you come to the dressing room area. Whether it’s deliberate having four of them, which suits the snooker perfectly I’m not so sure. But anyhow, the refurb of a few years ago has made them a tad bigger, nicely fitted out, with the major boon being the dispensing of the strange single bed with the burst springs that used to adorn them. I always thought they looked like something out of Cool Hand Luke. I could have mentioned Shawshank Redemption, but as every male in history has watched it at least 1,000 times (snooker blogger’s even more), i won’t bother. Even though I just did.

Personally, i never like to spend much time in the dressing room. It feels a bit cold and soulless to me. Some players will sit and read the newspaper at the interval, others will have a snooker debrief with friends. I tend to hit the practise room in an attempt to stay loose, hit a few balls, and pass the 15 minute interval as quick as possible. One thing I do miss about the dressing room is the pre-match snooker tunes that used to hum out from the little speaker above the door. Yes, The Entertainer, the Pot Black theme tune, and To the Unknown Man by Vangelis were all in there. Mind you, those tunes were at times a sharp reminder of the impending doom that might lie beyond that famous walk on. Maybe one day they’ll bring back those haunting tunes? In fact no, hold that idea – it was way too nerve wracking.

From the dressing rooms, and heading farther away from stage door, you’ll slip past the tournament office and eventually come to the press room. It’s by far the largest room backstage. I’ve always enjoyed spending time there. It’s good to watch a few frames on the big screens and scoreboards. There are always plenty of friendly faces among the press pack in the Crucible who enjoy a good light hearted natter about the day’s events. It’s the one place backstage that feels strangely removed from the tournament. Everywhere else just feels a bit serious and tense, especially when you have a match to prepare for. One of the time honoured traditions of the Crucible is to be found in the corridor just outside the press room. Basically every newspaper story on the championship is printed off and pinned to the wall. It’s quite a sight, and a good read too come the end of 17 days i can tell you.

Upstairs you would find a series of rooms, mainly used by the tv crews for interviews, make up, dressing rooms and the like. The one place for players guests to relax with a nice drink and a sandwich, as mentioned earlier, is the Champions Lounge. There’s always a relaxed atmosphere in there with the matches being shown live, and invariably you’ll find one or two players killing time in between practise times. It’s not a big room, so when the commentary teams are in there pre-match, you’ll usually hear Dennis, Willie, JV and the rest ribbing one another about anything from football to dodgy golf handicaps, although it does appear that JV is the self appointed h’cap convener. The rule of thumb seems to be – if you play off 14, the big fella will promptly reduce it to 12. What a shrewdy!

All in all, it’s just a fabulous place to play. Even with Vangelis on in the background.


Who is my all time Champion of Champions?

As snooker debates go, this one is surely top of pile. It’s obviously not that difficult to come up with the appropriate cast list, but as ever, arguments will start when it comes to who should get star billing.

Having been on tour for 25 years i’ve decided to put together my own list of who’s the best from that time. During that quarter of a century there have been so many great players that including them all just isn’t possible. What i’ve done is pick four players from three separate era’s down the years. I consider myself better placed than most to judge, having played all of them numerous times down the years. That’s not to say i’ll be anywhere near right though. Rather like the ‘who’s the best football team’ one that we’ve all been involved in, there’s no definitive answer. It’s just a bit of fun, and being anywhere on the list is an incredible achievement alone.

The three era’s i’ll call ’80s and 90s’, ‘The New Breed’ and ‘The Last Decade’.

Please excuse my not using christian names, but you all know who they are……Davis, Hendry, Parrott, White – Higgins, Hunter, O’Sullivan, Williams – Ding Junhui, Murphy, Robertson and Selby. Now that i’ve  written them down, it’s not too shabby a 12 man team is it?

How do i even begin creating a ranking list from that lot i’m now asking myself? Well, with great difficulty I suppose. But here goes…..

Number 12 – John Parrott. Trust me when i say that my big mate JP was one of the toughest, and best players i’ve ever shared a table with. You simply don’t win the World and UK Championship in the same year, as he did in ’91, without being a true class act. He was the consummate pro, a fantastic long potter, and anything JP didn’t know about snooker at the very highest level just ain’t worth knowing. To lead a rampant Jimmy White 7-0 in his world final victory, winning most of those frames in one visit, and conceding only 80 points in the session tells you all you need to know about his quality and character. If snooker had been fought in the trenches, you’d go a long way to find a better ally. Being a big unit, he was an intimidating figure whose game hardly ever dropped below what I’d call a B-plus standard, and very rarely lost to players ranked below him. One of my abiding memories of the big fella come match time, was the intro used by our then MC Alan Hughes, stating “always in at the business end of tournaments” when ushering JP into the arena. He wasn’t wrong!

Number 11 – Paul Hunter. I just had to include the late great Paul Hunter in this list. I’m not certain we’ve ever witnessed a more natural scorer in amongst the balls as Paul was. Winning the Masters three times in four years, all by a 10-9 scoreline, was a remarkable feat given the competition at the time. I always thought that one of his greatest assets was his ability to play a deciding frame as if it was the first in a session, which massively contributed to that trio of Masters titles. Perhaps not as intimidating a figure as some on this list, he more than made up for it in other areas. He looked the part, while seeming to exude a quiet confidence in his ability to handle any artillery any of the big guns could throw at him. Generally he did, and some. For me, there’s little doubt he’d have lifted at least one World Championship long ago, had he not been taken from us at such a young age. We hear all too often that we’ll never see his or her like again. In Paul’s case we might, but there won’t be many of them. The boy was some player.

Number 10 – Jimmy White. It’s not difficult to figure out why James Warren White is probably the most popular player in the history of the game. One of the nicest guy’s you could wish to meet, i feel fortunate to have even played against him somewhere around his prime. As natural ability goes, Ronnie, and only Ronnie, stands above him for me. When you played against Jimmy, you had to get your head around the fact that if he played anything like his best game, you were in a world of trouble. I tried not to watch him too much when he was at the table, which wasn’t easy, the way he hit the ball was different to other players, and it was as if he knew that you knew? It’s kind of difficult to describe, but just the way he went about it could easily make you feel inferior. There’s no question that if it hadn’t been for a certain Scotsman, Jimmy would have been a multiple world champion. A nice story i can tell you from the players lounge one time, was of a group of people talking about who’s the best player ever. Jimmy’s dad Tommy, a wonderful gentleman, was sitting head down, reading his paper. The discussion went on for maybe 15 minutes before Tommy, not one to brag about his son, looked across and said “Mind you, my Jimmy’s not a bad player”. That was the end of that conversation let me tell you.

Number 9 – Ding Junhui. You could argue that Asia’s best ever player’s transition from amateur to bona fide top player happened faster than any other player in the history of the game. Ding progressed from relative obscurity, to title contender in what seemed the blink of an eye. All the more remarkable given that he pretty much achieved this without having regular quality opposition to practise against as a kid. Even when he did make the breakthrough, it can’t have been easy spending so much time far from home, never mind the fact he was still a teenager with the obvious language barrier to overcome. Winning the 2005 China Open alone, having just turned 18, ranks up there with any single tournament win I can think of. Ding is also custodian of one of the very best techniques you’ll ever see. It’s very textbook, but he still manages to flow when in amongst the balls and scoring, which isn’t as easy as he makes it look. His winning of 5 main ranking events in a single season a couple of years ago, a run of success that we witness once in a decade at most, sits comfortably alongside anything witnessed in the modern era. The one blip on his cv, and the reason I don’t have him as highly ranked as the peers of his own era, is his Crucible record. Just one semi-final appearance in a decade as a top 8 player, is perhaps a poor return for a man of his talent. At still just 28 though, there’s more than ample time left to put the record straight. You wouldn’t put it past him to do just that.

Number 8 – Shaun Murphy. Until just a few years ago, I’m not sure I’d have included Shaun in this list. He’d probably admit himself that since his famous Crucible triumph in ’05, he spent too many years failing to produce the results that his talent had promised. The famed silky, but powerful cue action was always there, and was well capable of turning any player over on a given day. The issue, it seemed to me at least, was a combined lack of control and consistency. Once upon a time, even being the top player that he is, Shaun would more often than not, be second favourite when playing against a fellow top 8 player. Those days however, are consigned to the past. Technique is not really something shared on the tour between players, but I’d bet he’s made not only a few technical, but also tactical changes to his game in recent years, which have given him the desired control I mentioned before. Shaun, like the seven guys above him on this list, have all managed to win the career triple crown of World, UK and Masters titles. Yes, i have him propping up the top 8 right now, which I’m sure he won’t mind, but at 34, I have a feeling he’s far from done with lifting a few more of the ‘big 3’. Shaun is a fine ambassador for our sport, very professional on and off the table, and having ‘that’ technique will ensure he’ll be around the higher echelons of the rankings for many a long day to come.

Number 7 – Neil Robertson. If you wanted to put together the idendikit modern snooker player, look no farther than the big Aussie. For a guy so tall and slim, his frame when down on the shot is incredibly compact. The smooth, and piston like cue action means that he very rarely performs below a certain standard. Add to that, as good a potting eye as you’ll ever witness, a bullet proof temperament, and one of the fiercest competitors on the tour, you come up with quite a package. There won’t be many top players who’ve put in the hard yards during the early years as much as Neil. Coming from down under to a tour, which at the time was mainly UK based can’t have been easy, so much so that I’m sure there were times he was on the verge of packing up and returning home. The way he stuck at it and kept the faith speaks volumes for his determination. Century breaks for a pro come easily enough, but to make 103 competitive centuries in a single season (as he did in 13/14) is almost beyond belief. Bear in mind there are lots of very good pro’s who haven’t made even close to a hundred tons in a 20 year career, and you get an idea of the magnitude of that particular achievement. The fact that Neil triumphed in all of his first six ranking finals tells you that he’s a born winner. A ‘triple crown’ champion, there’s little doubt that he’ll add to his collection of titles sooner rather than later.

Number 6 – Mark Selby. If there’s a true ‘Iron Man’ of the modern game, for me, it has to be Mark. I’m not certain any other player in the sport could have reeled in a rampant O’Sullivan from 10-5 behind in that World Final 18 months ago. In the form Ronnie was in at the time, Mark winning 13 of the last 17 frames to prevail 18-14 is up there with any single match performance in snooker history. Similar to Neil before him, he served a tough apprenticeship in his early years as a pro. I always think back to his World Final against John Higgins, when he nearly pulled off another Houdini act from almost nowhere. That match, perhaps above all others, gave him the belief that he could mix it with the very top players on a regular basis, he’s been doing just that ever since. I couldn’t pay Mark a much higher compliment than comparing him in many ways to John, in that he scores incredibly heavy, also possessing the same all round game, the heart of a lion, and a deep mental understanding of what it takes to win at the very top level. If there’s one player I’d choose above all others to win the deciding frame of any match, he’d be my pick any day of the week. In the nicest possible sense, he’s just an absolute animal of a competitor! Like plenty others on this list, Mark is a very likeable guy away from the table, a fine ambassador who enjoys a laugh and a joke, always sharing a friendly word with players and fans alike. We’re very fortunate to have him.

Number 5 – Mark Williams. There’s no doubt in my mind that Mark fully deserves his place in my top 5. On his very best days (and there were lots of them), you’d struggle to find a more streetwise or savvy match player. My mates and I have a saying back home that certain players are a ‘take on’. If there’s one player on my list who fits that bill, it’s the big Welshman. What I mean by that is that it’s not immediately obvious as to where some of his great strengths lie. We all know of his freakish potting ability, and velvet touch in and around the black spot. No, I’m talking about some of the hidden finer points of the game at the very highest level. It’s wasnt until you played against him that you quickly realised how clever he is in all match situations. Of course he can score heavily with the best of them, but it’s to his credit that he didn’t mind grafting out the tight frames when the need arose, and at this, he’s a master. Add in that conveyer belt calm walk around the table, which helps with composure, and you have one heck of a player. Of his many tournament victories, top of the pile has to be during that golden 2002/03 season when he became the third, and last player after Davis and Hendry, to win snooker’s ‘triple crown’ in a single season. Not a bad little club to be part of is it? After a few lean years around the turn of the last decade, due to mainly in my view, a lack of tournaments to keep the sharpness up, it’s been impressive to see Mark back where he belongs and competing for prizes again. One thing you can bank on, if he gets in position to win, he’ll know exactly how to get the job done.

Number 4 – Steve Davis. Ahh The Nugget. Without fear of contradiction, my favourite player of all time. If I’d been told that snooker on the PlayStation was designed around his game, I’d have believed it. His list of achievements is as long as your arm, if your name is Mr Tickle that is. If only the younger players of today got a chance to play him in his prime. Dear oh dear he was scary good, and remember, we are talking 30 years ago. Just how do you win a World Final 18-3, and another 18-6, and have them rendered almost forgotten? I’ll tell you why – it’s because he was so far ahead of the rest that it seemed pre-ordained that he would win, and 9 times out of 10 it seemed, he did. Could any other player in history have lost that black ball World Final, only to treat it as a “friend” as he now calls it? I was fortunate to play Steve in my first ranking final in Thailand, and I couldn’t have played much better. The result? – He thumped me 9-3, and I was lucky to get three. I thought going into the match that I kind of knew a bit about the game, I was wrong! If I’d missed a few school days here and there while growing up, this more than compensated. If anyone has ever looked like he was born to play snooker and be a champion, it’s the big man, as I call him. Words really don’t do him justice, so I’ll end with just one……Legend.

Number 3 – John Higgins. I’ve known Fiz, as I’ve always called him, since he was about 14. A little known fact is that we both attended the same primary school, although he was a few years younger. There’s little point in writing about his lengthy list of titles down the years, as we know all about them. Let me tell you a little about his early years as a player. John’s older brother (Jason) was in fact a better player back then, but when John started coming to play in the same Glasgow club as myself, it was quickly obvious that this was a lad with the snooker world at his feet. It takes most players 3, 5, or even 10 years to get close to a top standard. John’s transformation was complete, in my eyes at least, within a few months. I have a vivid memory of playing him on table 3 in the club when he was a junior. Now remember, just a few months previous to this, he was just a young lad who could play a bit. Anyway, his scoring went something like – 90, 100, 100, 80, 100, 100! I thought “bleedin heck” (or words to that effect). This wasn’t just a decent player having a good day either. The technique etc, was the very same then, as you’ve all seen down the years. I said to myself that very day, “this boy is going to be a multiple world champion”. Put simply, there just didn’t look to be any other outcome. A short time after, at the ’91 Mita World Masters, where a World U-16s was taking place alongside the main event, I was talking to Stephen Hendry who said something like….”That junior tournament between O’Sullivan and Williams will be a good event”. I told him there’s a young lad in the club that I can’t see anyone beating. Naturally, he was surprised. Anyway, John went like a knife through butter to lift the title at a canter. I wasn’t surprised then, and I’m not surprised now, that he’s still lifting titles 25 years on. With that ability, natural snooker brain, and methuselah sized bottle, there was only ever going to be one outcome. I’m so glad that my wee mate proved me right.

Number 2 – Ronnie O’Sullivan. This was a tough one to call, but I have Ronnie just pipped for top spot by the thickness of the baulk line. I’ve said in the past how I rate him as the most naturally gifted sportsman competing today, and time hasn’t served to change my mind. You can keep your Federer, Woods etc, for me, they don’t hold a candle in the talent department. Consider that he more or less decided to be good left handed because, well….because he could, and you get the picture. That left handed fifteenth red to the green pocket against Ding in the Welsh Open final last year on the way to sealing the title with a maximum, is by my reckoning, the best single shot in snooker history. If anyone else had tried it with their wrong hand, they’d most likely still be there trying to pull it off, and it was nearly 2 years ago. Forgetting for a moment, the titles that Ronnie has won, and I’ll give you my sole reason for not having him at number one – In my opinion, there’s one area where his record could, and probably should be better. It’s simply that for me, given his talent, he hasn’t won enough of the wars he’s been involved in. That may sound strange, given he’s won plenty of battles. I’m talking about those long nitty gritty matches that he’s lost down the years at the Crucible after leading in most of them. The one’s that spring to mind are against Hendry, Ebdon, Higgins, Selby and Bingham. But look, it’s only because of his ability that you could find any failing in those defeats. I for one, hope you all get to see plenty more of him in the years to come, there’s no doubting his presence adds a great deal to our sport in general. I’ll finish again with just one word…..Genius.

Number 1 – Stephen Hendry. And so to the great man. Yes, there’s no doubt I’m a wee bit biased in having Stephen as my number one, but all that’s really needed is a look at his numbers to confirm that he’s the top dog. Some of the things he achieved, and the nature of them, are barely believable. In sport, the sands of time sometimes have a way of clouding our judgement when looking back at a career. In this case, I still remember it very clearly. People should understand that Stephen came from a country that until he arrived, had little or no pedigree in the snooker world. He is the one, and sole reason that Higgins, Dott and Maguire etc came through the ranks. Not only that, can anyone else lay claim to having singlehandedly changed the way snooker is played as much as Stephen? Not for me! His accumulation, and hunger for titles simply can’t be matched. Can anyone really imagine that a player will ever again come along, and win The Masters at their first five attempts? Or be 8-2 up in a big tv final (against Ronnie), only to be clawed back to 8-8, and respond by drilling in a long red and rolling in a maximum in the decider? There’s not a chance in hell, is the short answer. Again, I could give you umpteen examples of those kind of things that Stephen made par for his own course, but I’d like to finish by telling you a story that typified his career, and which few people witnessed, I’m fortunate to be one of them. I watched Stephen play an exhibition frame in front of a sizeable crowd, and against a good player and pal of mine. Anyway, Stephen was 34 behind with one red on. He slapped the red down the rail, only for the cue ball to finish tight on the side cushion. My pal got up from his chair in excitement only for Stephen to hear the chair squeak. He got up off the shot and said to my pal “What are you standing up for?). As the guy sheepishly sat down, Stephen smashed the black in off it’s spot, the cue ball bent round top side of the pink spot, came off the cushion just below the middle bag, and came to rest plum on the yellow about a foot away. After the clearance, he gave the guy a knowing look of sympathy as a reward for his cheek. I couldn’t help think at the time “imagine pulling off things like that in a match?”. That’s why when Stephen was doing such things again, and again, and again in the biggest of matches, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Those are just a few of the reasons why I have the great Scot as my all time Champion of Champions.


Total Clearance…..with Scott Donaldson

22 questions – 15 on life, 6 on snooker, and one for the cue ball! 

Any unusual interests or hobbies away from snooker? I wouldn’t say I have any ‘unusual’ interests, more of the normal stuff that most people do. I try to swim as much as I can, it helps me to relax after picking my head on the table each day. Haha

You’re the Invisible Man for a day. Where would you go / what would you do? I would probably go back 30/40 years and have a look to see what my parents were up to when they were my age, and see how it compares with me (I.e. If there’s anything I do similar, genes kind of thing)

You can be a pro for a season at any other sport. Which one, and why? That’s a great question. Perhaps tennis, simply because from the way I see it is that it’s the hardest season physically for any sports professional. I’d like to see if that is actually the case.

Which personal possession would you hate to lose? My iPad. I’ve had it about four years, and I never seem to be off it when I’m at home…quite sad actually. Well, I’m not always on it!!

What are your three biggest pet hates? Hmm. People trying to tell me what’s correct when they have no experience of what it is they’re telling me about. Bad manners…there’s no need for it, we’re not on the planet forever. Looking at your watch on a long haul flight and seeing you have another 9 hours to go, even though it feels like you’ve been on the aircraft for your whole life. Haha

You can travel back or forward in time for a day – when and why? That has to be to travel forward maybe 100 years or more & see how far we’ve got as a species, or if we’re already at a point of no more. I guess that Apple will have brought out IOS 976 by then though. Lol

Stadium concert or intimate gig? – and who would it be?
Stadium concert. Coldplay. Seen it on TV and it looks awesome.

You’re allowed three songs on a long haul flight – which ones?
I’ve got no idea, but why only three? More time to pass than three songs. Haha. I’d go with just what’s on the plane or iPod and shuffle it.

What would be your perfect 24 hours with unlimited travel, and with whom?
I’d go up to the highlands, I know that you’ve been a few times & seen some nice places. I’d be with my parents.

Where would be your ideal holiday destination?
Scotland. Also known as ‘peace & quiet’. Haha

You can have dinner with any four people in history – who and why?
My family, who else? Haha. I’m not too wired up to all the history stuff, so I’m not sure to be honest. 

Your three favourite tv programmes?
Only Fools & Horses, Doctor Who & Celebrity Juice.   

What car do you drive? – and which car would you like to own? I drive a Corsa. I’d maybe like to have an Audi, very smooth cars. As long as it gets you to your destination though.

Which movie have you seen more than any other? I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, so I’ve probably seen one of them more than any other.

You get to sink a few beers with anyone – who and why? I don’t really drink at all, not my thing. It would be with someone funny though.


You can make one rule change in snooker – what would it be? I don’t have a clue, I don’t think there’s any rules that need to be changed that I can think of. Although, the one when O’Sullivan touched the red with his cue against Higgins springs to mind.                                                                      

Who’s the biggest nightmare to share a room with at tournaments? Ah, I’m not going to make that known to keep my reputation. Haha 

What’s the best wind up you’ve seen or heard on the snooker tour? I’ve heard a lot of wind ups, but I’ve got a memory like a goldfish. I remember a guy playing for the England national team at Pontins and opening his case and pulling out a broomstick, his mates had nicked his cue. Haha

The best and worst aspect of being a snooker pro? The best aspect is the fact we’re playing a sport as a job. It’s the best job I can think of. The worse aspect is simply the time & cost it takes to get to tournaments.

You can play one match at any snooker, or non-snooker venue in the world – where and why? Maybe at one of the major PDC darts tournaments to see how the players can actually concentrate on what they’re doing.

Which tournament do you most enjoy playing in / being at? The Paul Hunter Classic in Fürth, Germany. I think most players will agree with me on that one.
And finally – name your all time top 5 snooker players (in order)? 1 – O’Sullivan, 2 – Higgins, 3 – Hendry, 4 – Davis, 5 – M. Williams


My thanks to Scott for his time. Top man.


Total Clearance…..with Michael Holt

22 questions – 15 on life, 6 on snooker, and one for the cue ball! 

Any unusual interests or hobbies away from snooker? Got to admit Im really normal!! My biggest interest is health and fitness. I suppose trying to squat as heavy a weight as possible could be seen as strange to some?

You’re the Invisible Man for a day. Where would you go / what would you do? Go to the white house and listen to private conversations Barack Obama has with other world leaders.  

You can be a pro for a season at any other sport. Which one, and why? I love football but it would have to be a top tennis or golfer. You basically go around the world following the sun. Perfect!

Which personal possession would you hate to lose? A snoopy teddy my dad brought to the hospital when I was born.

What are your three biggest pet hates? False, insincere people. People who abuse their bodies. People who don’t support their local football team i.e. Man Utd fans from London or Liverpool fans from Derby!! (Munraj Pal)

You can travel back or forward in time for a day – when and why? I would travel back and speak to my 14 year old self and tell me 3 things – 1. Read the poem “if” by Rudyard Kipling. 2. To trust myself and my insticts and that I am more capable than I think. 3. The numbers for the euro millions!!

Stadium concert or intimate gig? – and who would it be? Intimate gig. Stone Roses would headline, The Beatles and The Smiths. Best gig ever!!!

You’re allowed three songs on a long haul flight – which ones? How soon is now. The Smiths – I am the resurrection. Stone Roses.The Beatles – In my life.

What would be your perfect 24 hours with unlimited travel, and with whom? Wake up early in Bora Bora and have breakfast in our chalet on stilts in the sea. Breakfast would include porridge (complex carbs)..poached eggs (quality protein)…finished off with pancakes, bacon and maple syrup (naughtiness)  Wow!! Go for a gym session at muscle beach in L.A. Spend the rest of the day on the beach in Thailand eating Thai food. Go for dinner in Rome. Finish the day off clubbing in Ibiza at Space nightclub.All with the my girlfriend. Good day to be fair.

Where would be your ideal holiday destination? Depends what kind of holiday it was going to be? I can’t pick one. I love travelling and seeing new places. Been Ibiza many times, love it. Love Thailand, going again after xmas. Never been to Italy so looking forward to going one day.

You can have dinner with any four people in history – who and why? Jesus…..I’m not convinced he’s the son of God but would like to ask how he convinced everyone he was!!! Scarlett Johansson….because she’s beautiful. Albert Einstein…got to meet big Al!! Henry 8th…..to pick his brains and see what he was really like.

Your three favourite tv programmes? Most cooking programs, love Rick Stein. Question Time. Match of the day…….obviously!

What car do you drive? – and which car would you like to own? VW golf. Not really a car person, if I won the lottery I’d be content with a range rover and a vintage VW camper van.

Which movie have you seen more than any other? Got to be the Rocky films, the first four are brilliant. 

You get to sink a few beers with anyone – who and why? Got to be Ozzy Osbourne! That would be a mad one!!!

You can make one rule change in snooker – what would it be? If I’m honest I don’t think anything needs to be changed. Maybe stop slow play? 

Who’s the biggest nightmare to share a room with at tournaments? Neil Robertson once stayed up till 3am playing computer games! He was sat there with his head set on talking to a screen whilst I try to get to sleep!!! Scary!!

What’s the best wind up you’ve seen or heard on the snooker tour? Tough one. My manager Dave told me that once Steve James was playing golf on a course where the 18th was over water. He was told he’d need his passport to get to the green so brought it along to the first tee. Brilliant!!

The best and worst aspect of being a snooker pro? The best part of being a snooker player is that Im doing something Ive dreamed of since I was a boy. Its not easy at times but I am truly blessed. The worst is the ups and downs you go through as a professional sportsman. The rollercoaster of emotions can be awful.

You can play one match at any snooker, or non-snooker venue in the world – where and why? Got to be somewhere in Vegas? MGM grand or Caesar’s palace?

Which tournament do you most enjoy playing in / being at? Got to be the World Championship. I probably shouldn’t feel like that because my record is terrible but The Crucible is such a special place to play. 

And finally – name your all time top 5 snooker players (in order)?
My 5 are my 5 all time greats, not who’s played the best standard of snooker. 

1. Steve Davis 2. Stephen Hendry 3. John Higgins 4. Jimmy White 5. Paul Hunter 


My thanks to Michael for his time. Good lad.