Johnson helps legends return to centre stage in Bradford

FORMER world champion Joe Johnson is on a mission – to bring back the snooker characters who have "been thrown on the scrapheap".

For the 1986 world champion is one of the organisers behind the World Seniors Championhip, being hosted in his hometown at the Cue Gardens this weekend.

Johnson, 57, arrived at the Crucible Theatre in 1986 having never won a match in Sheffield but as a 150-1 outsider shocked the sport by ousting snooker legend Steve Davis 18-12 in the final.

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Twelve months later he returned to the Crucible and defied expectations once more by reaching the final, only for Davis to gain his revenge with an 18-14 win.

Since those halycon days, one of Bradford's greatest sporting sons has been involved in the game, coaching and commentating, but has now gone one step further by organising the first Seniors Championship for snooker players, featuring cue legends like Davis, Jimmy White and Cliff Thorburn.

"I have been doing exhibitions and lots of people say to me 'what's happened to the characters? Where have they all gone?'," said Johnson. "Well the Seniors makes sense to bring the characters back. Providing you get TV, which we have secured, it's a way for them to get back on the box.

"Once they drop off the main tour it's difficult to keep any involvement with the sport. It's like being thrown on the scrapheap.

"Ideally, i would like to do this two or three times a year. But this is the first one and we are just going to see how this one goes.

"It's great to have all my old pals back under one roof, it's going to be a great weekend with some terrific players."

The World Seniors Qualifying event will be held today and tomorrow with veteran stars like Tony Knowles, Tony Drago, Mike Hallett, David Taylor, Dave Harold, Nigel Bond and Joe Swail taking to the green baize.

The winner will then progress to the finals in November at the city's Cedar Court Hotel.

"In the main tournament we have Steve Davis – who did tremendously well in reaching the quarter-finals of the World Championship, beating John Higgins – Dennis Taylor, who is still playing made a 130 break in an exhibition recently, John Parrott, Ken Doherty and Jimmy White," said 57-year-old Johnson, who is running the tournament along with World Snooker.

"I miss playing, that's one of the reasons why I said yes to the Seniors.

"Once you stop playing in tournaments there's a big void in your life. I enjoyed not playing for the first year, but after a while you wonder what's happened to my life?"

Eighties pin-up Knowles proved that he's still got the golden touch at last year's World Championship when he won a Six-Red tournament, and hopes he can come out on top again in Bradford.

"I don't play that often these days but you never lose it and hopefully I can qualify for the main event," said Knowles.

"Some of the guys are still competitive on the pro circuit, like Dave Harold, Nigel Bond and Joe Swail so they will be tough to beat. The quality of snooker will be high but no doubt there will also be a bit of fun and banter.

"This seniors event is a fantastic idea, I was speaking to Joe (Johnson) about it and we both felt that the time was right to promote the game and let the fans enjoy watching some of the legends in action."

Tickets for the knockout event have been selling well, but Johnson is hoping Yorkshire fans will make the groundbreaking tournament a sell-out.

"This week's been busy with people coming for tickets," he

said. "There's enough people coming for it to be a success but what we want is for it to be a sell-out."

n Tickets can be purchased in person or by telephone from Cue Gardens, Stadium Road, Bradford (01274 607990) for today and tomorrow.