Snooker is a wonderful sport with legends and sacred arenas, supporters without malice and an atmosphere to warm the cockles. East London has a relationship with billiards and snooker that is often underappreciated, but it is a rich association sewn into the seams of this area.
In 1974 Barry Hearn, an accountant who had grown up on a Dagenham Council estate, bought a snooker hall in Romford, Greater London. The same year, the BBC began coverage on colour television which resulted in waves of people queuing to play snooker. Hearn later invested in Luciana Billiard Halls which formed the foundations for his future career as a sports promoter.
It was at Romford Snooker Club that Hearn discovered an uncut diamond, a quiet lad from Plumstead potting balls with unique self-possession. The lad was Steve Davis, who went on to dominate the boom of the 1980s with six world-championship titles.
Under his management, Hearn had created a winning machine in Davis – leading to the nickname ‘Romford Robot’. Davis’ success put Romford Snooker Hall on the map and the club became a hallowed place in the snooker world, and it remains an important institution for the game.
Essex in particular has an impressive roster of players, including former world champion Stuart Bingham and two-time Welsh Open winner Ali Carter. One of the greatest players in the game’s history is Ronnie O’Sullivan, a true enigma and a spellbinding sportsman.
O’Sullivan is a major attraction for the sport, famed for his fast potting and all-round ability. In 1997, the Chigwell-based ‘Rocket’ powered home a maximum break of 147 in five minutes and 20 seconds – it is the fastest televised break in history and is unlikely to be beaten. A 147 is one of the true exciting spectacles in sport.
Snooker is a sport full of character, with family values but a ferocious competitive element that makes it fascinating to watch. Matches often provide a roller-coaster of tactical exchanges, frames can be long and unpredictable – both physically and psychologically. An example of the excitement this game offers is perfectly demonstrated in the 2015 Masters quarter-final between Judd Trump and Neil Robertson; two players with flair and finesse in abundance.
Cue sports are enjoyed socially all around, and tables in pubs and clubs have provided entertainment since the late 19th century. Upton Park Snooker Centre stands as a significant venue in the area, opened by ex-pro’s Jimmy White and Tony Drago in 1985.
Part of the reason snooker is adored because it remains in touch with the fan/average club player. Former world champions Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon have practiced in East London. World Snooker launched an initiative to increase participation across all levels and the concept is to encourage involvement in snooker, designed to encourage boys and girls alike, and to offer a real alternative to mainstream sports offered in physical education. The World Championships begin next month and it promises to be an enthralling tournament with a feast of talent on display.