Bygones: Yorkshire is a ‘global centre’ for snooker as UK Championship nears fifth decade

Ronnie O'Sullivan kisses the trophy after a 10-1 win over Ken Doherty, in the UK Championship snooker final at the Barbican Centre in York.
Ronnie O'Sullivan kisses the trophy after a 10-1 win over Ken Doherty, in the UK Championship snooker final at the Barbican Centre in York.
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When Patsy Fagan edged out Doug Mountjoy 12-9 at the Tower Circus in Blackpool back in 1977, few watching that UK Championship final could have envisaged what lay ahead for one of snooker’s most nomadic tournaments.

From Preston’s Guild Hall to the Bournemouth International Centre, to the York Barbican and back again after a spell at Telford’s International Centre.

China's Ding Junhui in action against England's Steve Davis during the Travis Perkins UK Championship Final at the Barbican Centre in York, Sunday December 18, 2005.

China's Ding Junhui in action against England's Steve Davis during the Travis Perkins UK Championship Final at the Barbican Centre in York, Sunday December 18, 2005.

Snooker’s second biggest tournament – part of the sport’s Triple Crown alongside the World Championship and the Masters – has certainly enjoyed varying backdrops as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this week in York.

During the Eighties and Nineties, it was synonymous with Preston, but since switching across the Pennines to York in 2001, the UK Championship has found a new home.

This week marks the 13th year the Barbican will host the UK finals – it was held in Telford between 2007-2010 – and snooker fans have witnessed some amazing scenes.

Ireland’s Ken Doherty lost back-to-back finals in the first two years at York, but that only tells half the story.

We know what fantastic support there is for snooker in the Yorkshire region, the county is very much a global centre for our sport.

Barry Hearn

In 2001 he was blown away 10-1 by Ronnie O’Sullivan – “I was lucky to win one frame” admits Doherty – as the Rocket turned on the style.

Yet 12 months later, Doherty – the 1997 world champion – returned to York, and was pipped 10-9 by Mark Williams in a thrilling final.

“In 2001 Ronnie O’Sullivan obliterated me 10-1 in about as good a performance as you could witness,” said Doherty in his autobiography Life in the Frame.

“He was simply awesome. Winning one frame felt like an achievement to me.

“A year later it was a completely different story.

“I was through to the final against Mark Williams, who was playing some of his best ever snooker, and he beat me 10-9 in the decider, a defeat I found really hard to take.”

That would be Doherty’s last appearance in a York final, but for O’Sullivan, he would go on to win five UK titles. Only Steve Davis, with six, has more UK honours.

Highlighting the longevity of O’Sullivan’s career, the 41-year-old has actually won the UK title at three different venues.

He lifted his first two trophies at Preston in 1993 and 1997 – beating Stephen Hendry 10-6 on both occasions – before thrashing Doherty 10-1 in York in 2001.

In Telford, Stephen Maguire was a 10-2 loser to O’Sullivan in 2007, before victory back in York came in 2014, when he beat Judd Trump 10-9.

O’Sullivan came close to equalling Davis’s record tally of six UK titles 12 months ago, only to lose 10-7 in the final to world No 1 Mark Selby.

Surprisingly, that was only Selby’s second UK triumph, his first coming in 2012 when he beat Shaun Murphy 10-6.

Selby’s only other final appearance in York came a year later, when Australian Neil Robertson won 10-7.

York is a popular venue with snooker players, and not just because of the city’s culture, rich history and great pre-Christmas shopping opportunities.

It provided major milestones in the rookie careers of both Ding Junhui and Trump over the last decade or so.

In 2005, a then 18-year-old Ding – who moved to Sheffield from China to pursue his dream of being a top professional – beat the legendary Steve Davis 10-6 in the final. He was the first player from outside of the UK and Ireland to win the trophy.

Six years later, in 2011, it was the turn of Bristol’s Trump to announce himself as a worthy champion.

After winning his first ranking title, the China Open, he reached the final of the World Championship – where he was beaten by John Higgins – before arriving in York with raised expectations.

He did not disappoint, some swashbuckling “sexy” snooker helping Trump to a 10-8 victory over Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen.

Of course, York is not alone when it comes to snooker tournaments in the county of Yorkshire.

The Crucible hosts the World Championship, and this year the English Open was relocated from Manchester to Barnsley.

“We know what fantastic support there is for snooker in the Yorkshire region, the county is very much a global centre for our sport,” said World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn.

Impressive ticket sales also help, with the semi-finals and final of this month’s Betway UK Championship sold out several months ago.

Running from tomorrow until December 10, organisers predict record ticket sales in York, and say demand has grown year on year since returning to Yorkshire in 2011.

The first round is played over three days from Tuesday to Thursday, before the BBC television coverage starts.

“Once again we are on course for record ticket sales and we’re thrilled to find that the enthusiasm for snooker of the fans in Yorkshire shows no signs of abating,” said a World Snooker spokesman.

“We’re seeing a quality of play on the tables now which has never been witnessed before, and that was evident in last year’s final. The Betway UK Championship is one of the events which every top player is determined to win and they will all be making sure they arrive in York in peak form.

“The value for money we can offer to see top class action can’t be matched by any other sport.

“And we’ll be delighted to see the Barbican packed out again with its own unique atmosphere.”

Tickets for the UK Championship, which runs from Tuesday to December 10 at York Barbican, are available via www.worldsnooker.com/tickets