History of Snooker: The Professional Era
October 13, 2015 14:18
This article is the second part of my look at the History of Snooker, if you haven't read part one then in that article I look at How Snooker was Invented.
In this second article I am going to look more closely at the development of the game of snooker into the professional sport as we know it today. Players in the current 2015/16 season will compete for a total prize fund of around £8 million making the higher reaches of the game very lucrative.
The Early Years
The professional game has grown from very humble beginnings when in 1927 the legendary Joe Davis helped to establish the Professional World Championships.
Joe Davis would have had very selfish reasons for developing the Professional World Championships as at the time he was no doubt the greatest player in the world. He went on to win the fledgling Championships on no fewer than 15 occasions. In fact he held the title solely from the first Championship in 1927 right through to 1946 (due to WWII there were no Championships held between 1941 and 1945 ). An incredible feat that will never ever be repeated.
Part of the reason that Joe Davis managed to win so many titles was the way that the early tournaments were structured. In 1927 the first event was a knockout tournament but only consisted of 10 players as there were so few players that considered themselves 'professionals'.
Joe Davis beat Tom Dennis 20-11 in the inaugural final and picked up £6 and 10 Shillings for winning. At this time the standard was not very high with the highest break of the tournament being just 60.
In 1928, 1931, 1932 and 1934 there was a knockout tournament but the previous years winner, in all cases, Joe Davis, received a bye through to the final.
Joe Davis retired in 1946 and over the next couple of decades snooker both grew and then declined in popularity, plus there were disputes over who was to be officially recognised as the World Champion when the games promoters had a falling out!
At their peak the early years were producing crowds of 1200 people twice per day for a fortnight to watch a very long World Championship final. Some of these World finals in the late 1940's were played over 100 frames or more.
In 1952 there was a dispute with the Billiard Association and Control Club (the promoters of the World Championships), this meant that Horace Lindrum and Clark McConachy (both from Australia) were the only official entrants. Lindrum won this match 94 frames to 49 and unofficially became the first overseas winner of the World Snooker Championships. This is still under dispute even today as the majority of players decided to play in the independent World Professional Matchplay Championships.
From 1953 the World Professional Matchplay became recognised as the official world title and this was the era of Joe Davis's brother Fred, Fred went on to win 7 world titles with five of them back-to-back between 1952 and 1956.
Sadly snooker then had a huge decline in popularity, there would have been a number of causes but the dispute over an official world champion probably didn't help. This meant that the World Championships didn't take place at all between 1958 and the re-vitalised Championships in 1964.
In 1964 the championships was kind of re-instated as a series of head-to-head challenge matches. there were two in 1964 and John Pullman won both of them. Pullman then won the three challenge matches held in 1965. He then finished up with further wins in 1966 and 1968 (no matches were held in 1967).
It wasn't until 1969 and the advent of tobacco sponsorship that the World Championships that we know today was really born. It was in 1969 that the tournament reverted back to a more open entry knockout format. Even here the matches were still hugely lengthy with the final being contested as a best-of 73 frames affair.
Some of the real greats of the game were playing at this time with John Spencer, Alex Higgins and Ray Reardon all winning titles between 1969 and 1977 in this new-look tournament. The championships also moved around venues including two trips to Australia in 1971 and 1975 respectively.
Snooker as We Know It
In 1976 snooker took on a new major sponsor for the World Championships and was known as the Embassy World Snooker Championships. However, in 1977 snooker make its biggest decision in terms of the professional World Championships. It moved to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, a venue where it has remained right up until the present day. Whilst snooker had been broadcast on the BBC before this change of venue, with new players, new sponsors and more money meant that finally snooker was taking off as a professional game.
The 1980's was what many regard as the 'Golden Era' of snooker with so many personalities of the game like Alex Higgins, Steve Davis, Cliff Thorburn, Dennis Taylor and Willie Thorne all playing at this time.
Steve Davis managed 6 world titles during this era but it was into the 90's that many people say the greatest ever player plied his trade. Stephen Hendry won 7 world snooker titles in a illustrious career and brought about a new brand of snooker that was more aggressive and more about winning frames in one visit. His break-building revolutionised snooker.
In this years World Championship the defending Champion Stuart Bingham will battle with 31 other players to get his hands on the trophy again, the same trophy that was first awarded in 1927. With it the winner will also receive a cheque for £330,000 - the highest ever paid out.
Professional Snooker in the 1980's and through to today was not just about the World Championships, there are around 30 professional tournaments this season and plenty of opportunities for those 128 players with professional tour cards to try and earn a livig from this great sport.
The World Championships is what started it and Barry Hearn and World Snooker are those responsible for the games current resurgence and development. More TV, newer sponsors and more tournaments makes each season very exciting. I wonder how often these players think back to the humble beginnings of the professional game, or if the modern player doesn't really think that far back?