At the recent qualifiers for the World Championships held at the EIS in Sheffield, I got chatting to Dominic Dale who had just won through to the main event against Michael Holt 10-6 from 6-3 behind. I was with Matt from Prosnookerblog and Paddy from Snooker Island at the time and we were ribbing Dominic about how long it had taken him to qualify for the Crucible since the last time which was in 2004. I could see he would be easy to interview and there were a lot of things which have intrigued me about him over the years and I wanted to know more, so I asked him if he would agree to be interviewed and the very next day this is the result. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed asking the questions.
I’m here with Dominic Dale who has just qualified for the Crucible for the first time since 2004 so the first thing to say is congratulations on that.
The first question is why has it taken you so long?
I know! There’s a lot of pressure in the qualifying rounds to get to the Crucible because it’s double ranking points, so if you win your first match to get to the Crucible (if you’re in the top 32 you just play one match) you’re on something like 2900 ranking points but if you lose your first match you’re only on 1150 and that can mean you drop down the ranking list a lot of places.
I think those of us in the top 32 put ourselves under so much pressure to qualify that it stifles your natural ability sometimes and you’re too tense. And you’re playing someone who’s already played a match and the pressure’s off them and the strength in depth of snooker these days means there aren’t any easy matches and if you don’t play your A game or near it you can come unstuck as I have for 6 or 7 years in a row now.
I remember I lost 10-8 to (Ian) McCulloch and 10-9 to Liu Chuang from 9-5 down.
That was when he became one of the few 17 year olds to qualify.
Yes and he did well at the Crucible, I think he lost 10-5 to Ronnie. But it’s just been hard and I haven’t performed well enough, and it didn’t look like I would this time but luckily I pulled through and played very well yesterday evening and thank goodness because it’s great to be back at the Crucible. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever get there again!
You beat Michael Holt, how did that match go?
I didn’t start off great. I felt I should’ve won the first frame, I had a golden chance and let it slip and Michael was better under pressure and potted a couple of good balls when he lost position whereas I missed mine. He won the next one by clearing up to win on the black which hurt me a bit because you never settle down until you win that first frame.
After that it was a strange match because I got it back to 2-2 and I was looking good at the interval and then afterwards Michael will tell you himself, he had a lot of flukes! I remember at least 5 flukes and I didn’t have any and I missed a couple of chances, but I think 5-4 either way would be a fair reflection; it was a bit harsh to be 6-3 down.
I thought that was it and it was going to be tough so I did something a little unprofessional and I watched 3 consecutive episodes of Friends on E4. The last one finished at 6:30pm and I was playing at 7pm! But I’d played the match for 3 or 4 hours in the morning and I didn’t need to hit any more balls. I knew what I had to do come the evening session so I just sorted my hair out and brushed my teeth and put my clothes on and came down here for quarter to seven.
Everything was mental then, I knew what I had to do and I missed a couple in the first frame and Michael did too, it was a bit tense but luckily for me I won it. That set me up because I knew if somebody’s 6-3 up on you like Michael was, he’s never going to settle down until he wins his first frame of the evening session just to win a frame and get things going, and he never did get things going. I kept winning frame after frame and it got harder and harder for him.
There was a key frame at 6-5 wasn’t there?
Huge. I was sat in my chair thinking at 7-5 I was still in the match and if I win this next one it’s 7-6 at the interval which I would’ve been happy with because he needs 3 frames but I only need 4. But then he gave me one last chance and I made a great 65 clearance to win by a point. There was one red hanging on the near jaw which neither of us really thought was potable, and during the break I looked at it a few times and it was a millimetre off the cushion, and I tracked the path and thought if it just misses the near jaw will it fall over the fall of the slate? And I thought “I reckon this will just drop in dead weight”.
So I played the yellow off the last but one red and I landed on this red and was able to just drop it in and the blue was about 6 inches from the cushion on the baulk line and I had a lovely angle on it to run it in and come round the angles and finish on the yellow on its spot and all the colours. It was a very big pressure pot, a difficult pot but the angle was there and I knew if I knocked it in I’d be on the yellow and luckily I hit a good shot and the blue went in clean and I cleared up, and that as you say was a massive turning point.
I was up where the public are watching and there were a few players talking amongst themselves and they were saying “Holty’s gone” and you could see him shaking his head. Is it tough when you see him like that, do you know you’ve got to keep applying the pressure or are you not really aware of it?
You never really know what Michael’s thinking because he’s always very demonstrative, he’s all arms and legs flailing everywhere. He can make a 50 break and he’ll show his emotion 5 times so that’s how he is as a person, and it’s very hard to read into his character. The only tell-tale signs are perhaps when he misses key shots, that’s when you know what he’s feeling. But by his actions and how he is, you can’t really read anything into it.
At the top level in snooker even with John Higgins when he rubs his eyes and things, maybe there’s a bit of negativity there but it never affects the way he plays. You mustn’t think you’ve got somebody when you see that happening.
Do you watch the players on TV and look out for signs of their weaknesses? For example when Ding first came on the scene he just seemed like he was so laid back and nothing would faze him, and then suddenly his head started to drop and you knew you’d got him if his head dropped.
Yes Ding has got a reputation for not being good when he’s trailing in a match a few frames behind, although he’s better now. But playing at top level snooker you’re not always going to be ahead in a match, no way, so you have to be good when you’re struggling. But as with any sport you’re not going to find any players at the top level who are mentally weak, that show their emotions when they really have gone psychologically. It’s not really the case anymore.
Tony Drago is one that stands out though isn’t he?
Yes but he’s not a top player any more. Tony always did wear his heart on his sleeve but Tony will tell you himself he’s hyperactive. But if you give him a chance he’s dangerous and he’ll soon sort himself out and get his act back together.
What does it mean to play at the Crucible and how far do you think you can go?
I was practicing at my club, the Köö 15 Reds in Vienna about a week ago, and I was hitting the ball so well in practice I thought if I can just keep this form going for another month and a half I could win the World Championships. I know what level the top players in the world are playing at, the top 4, and I was playing as well as that.
I had an unusual problem with my cue recently. When I lost to Jimmy (White in the China Open qualifying round) I went back to Vienna and went to change my tip and noticed the edge was fraying. I should’ve read the warning signs because that can sometimes mean that the ferrule’s loose and it’s chipping into the wood and moving all the time and causing a problem with the tip. So I pulled it and with a bit of pressure I was able to pull the ferrule off!
Anyway I’m pretty good at woodwork so I was able to cut a couple of millimetres off the wood, reseat the ferrule and finish the timber into the ferrule and did a great job so that solved that problem.
So I came here (the World qualifiers) quite confident because I didn’t play well against Jimmy, and Jimmy didn’t play anything like he can but I still lost 5-2 and now I can think that just maybe it had something to do with my tip and the loose ferrule and it was causing me to miss pots. You know, just looking for something to take from it.
So are you a one cue man then?
How long have you got?! All the players that know me know I go through a lot of cues…
Stuart Bingham: (cameo) No, really?
(laughs) I’ve gone through 2 or 3 cues a season before!
So the fact this ferrule was loose, worst case you’d have other cues to fall back on?
Well no not this time. About 7 or 8 months ago I went down to London to Hunt and Osbourne – I know Robert Osbourne very well – and he let me have free run of his workshop and I was able to go into some cue lockers and have a look at about 200 one piece ashwood and ebony cues that were 99% made up. And I looked through them all and I’m very fussy about the grain pattern in the ash, it’s got to be very regular with the arrows on the front of the cue. And I found this one piece of ash and it was sensational, I knew it was one in a thousand, it was that good.
So it was appearance that counted more than how it felt?
Oh no I had put aside about 8 to 10 cues which were good in terms of rigidity in the shaft which I look for in a cue, and I know more about cues than most with my experience as a billiards collector and historian of cues for the last 20 years so I know about cues and why they play how they do and things like that and I know what I like in a cue as a player. There are cues that suit certain styles of play as well. I’m an all-round player so I don’t like a springy cue, I like a rigid cue.
As far as my experience goes I find with a lighter cue it’s easier to feel the shot but a heavier cue it’s easier for slow rollers.
The heavier cue suits players with a good touch because they don’t need to apply much pressure to play the shots and they can play shots with much more effortless ease because of the weight of the cue. But you can feel the strike more with a lighter cue, that’s definitely true.
So I found this cue and I thought “Please be stiff” and it was perfect! I literally bunched the others in my hands and put them back because I knew there was no way I’d beat this one and I’ve had it ever since. And for somebody like me who was forever changing cues to put my hand my heart and say I’ll never change cues again is a big thing.
Are there any seeds at the Crucible you would prefer to avoid?
Well if you look at John Higgins and what he’s done since he came back from suspension, I think he’s lost one match which was in a PTC final against Michael Holt. He pulled out of Berlin of course after the sad death of his father John Snr, which was terrible news, but he’s won two ranking events since he’s come back so you don’t want to come up against John.
You possibly don’t want to play Robertson at the Crucible because he’s the reigning champion and a great player. Hendry’s dangerous at the Crucible because of his record and of course is the best player that’s ever played the game. Ronnie is a bit of an unknown quantity, as he’d tell you himself he’s been up and down this season and hasn’t played in a lot of events.
How would you feel if you drew him?
It’s tough because he has massive crowd support and if Ronnie’s playing well, he can be quite intimidating. He can reel off say 4 frames with big breaks and you don’t really get a shot and you can be caught out by watching his cue action and when he does make a mistake you could be thinking “Oh goodness me it’s my shot now”! But that wouldn’t happen in the Worlds, it’s too big a match.
I would like to avoid those players but then again I’ve played Robertson twice this year and beaten him twice and I’ve beaten Selby this season so I’m not going to be frightened of anybody but there are certainly players there that are so great that no matter who you are or how good your attitude is, you’re going to have a damn hard match to beat them.
When did you first realise you could have a career as a snooker player?
That’s easy to answer because I used to work in a police headquarters when I was 19 and was playing in amateur tournaments and didn’t really have any ambitions to be a professional player; I lost that a couple of years earlier when I decided to get a job. But I happened to win the Welsh Amateur at the age of 19 and I qualified to play for Wales in the World Amateur in Thailand the same year. I lost in the final to Noppadon Noppachorn who played fantastic snooker and beat me 11-9.
But all through the tournament I’d played above myself and played to a standard I’d never played at before, and they had just opened up the professional game and anybody could have a go for a sum of about £2000.
This was in 1992?
I started in ’92 but the game had gone open the previous year. I gave it a go and there were 834 pros I think and I finished the season ranked about 126 and provisionally 99 or something like that, I had a great first season. So when I had that good season and beat some good players and played some good stuff, I thought I could possibly earn some money at the game but you don’t think you can do it for 20 years. It goes so quickly though; you get so used to the routine of a snooker season they just go by one by one so quickly.
How old were you when you first started playing and who were your main influences?
I started playing when I was about 6 and a half on a small table that my parents had bought for my brothers and I just liked the game more than them. I was fascinated by the pretty balls and I was watching the snooker on the television and that’s when I fell in love with the game.
I watched Griffiths win the World Championships and actually he is my favourite player. My parents bought me a waistcoat which looked just like his, handmade to look like his, made of blue velvet, and it even had a pocket watch and those frills that you used to button to your shirts!
I remember them!
Yes Doug Mountjoy used to wear them as well.
So you mum used to dress you up, is this where you got your taste for extravagant clothes?
Oh no I just wanted to look like the professionals did!
Terry Griffiths was your influence?
He was and it’s amazing to think that all these years later I’d end up living quite near him and practicing with him when I was an amateur, and when I was a young pro he was still on tour. It’s a weird feeling. And watching the snooker programmes with David Vine and thinking “I’ve worked with him” and it’s just strange how my life has worked out in that respect.
You’re widely regarded as the best player never to be in the top 16, so why haven’t you ever been in the top 16?
Yes, it’s easy to answer that one: consistency. When I won my first ranking event when I was 25, the Grand Prix and I beat Higgins in the final 9-6.
You played very well in that tournament.
I did and when you’re in the final you’ve got nothing to lose, but you’re also frightened to death of looking an idiot playing somebody who’s so good they can beat you 9-1 or 9-2; probably not 9-0 because you’re bound to win a frame I suppose, but you can be very much humbled by someone like John who’s been there and done it and I’d never been in a final before. I was 54 in the world at the time, Terry had just retired so it moved me up to 53 which was in October ’97. Maybe I won a tournament too soon, maybe it’d have been better for me if I’d worked myself up the rankings to the 30s and then won a tournament. It was like I’d done something ahead of myself and I felt pressure to perform at that sort of level all the time. I put pressure on myself and had the wrong attitude almost as if I felt I didn’t belong with the elite yet and had done something too soon.
This was about the time the big 4 were starting to dominate the game.
Yes John was world number 2 at the time and Hendry was still number 1 and then you had Stevens coming through and Mark Williams and there was no doubt about it, they were consistently better than me, yet I’d just won a ranking event so it was a weird feeling and I didn’t deal with it well and it took me years before it sunk to the back of my mind and I could start anew.
But inconsistency is the reason (for not reaching the top 16). Clive Everton said in commentary that I was a world beater on my day and he was absolutely right because I know I am, I’ve proved that I am. I can play to the highest level possible and I can play to a very poor standard that doesn’t get past top 48 players. I’ve won lots of matches early on in a season and lost 5 or 6 straight first rounders. I’ve been up to 12 and 13, 14, 15 during the course of a season a few times but never finished at the end of the World Championships in the 16.
Would this be extra pressure in the last qualifying round to get to the Crucible because it’s also for your top 16 place and that plays with your mind?
Yes maybe. The best I’ve ever finished a season was 19 and I think that was after the World Championships when I lost to Joe Swail in the quarter-finals, so I needed an extra match or two to get in the 16 and it was a big ask, that would’ve meant getting to the final.
But it’s down to inconsistency and I know why that is, it’s because I’ve got a lot of other outside interests, and I look at snooker as a job. Obviously now I’m 39 I treat snooker very seriously as a job which is why I’ve done well this season. I’ve got a good outlook now and am able to enjoy my life and it not just be snooker snooker snooker, because that would be too intense for somebody that’s 39 years old and it’s not really natural.
The two ranking events that you won: watching you in the finals you played as if you were under no pressure, bouncing around the table potting everything you looked at, and you think “Why hasn’t this guy won more?” so do you feel pressure in a ranking final because in Shanghai you could see Ryan Day was feeling it but you just looked like you knew you were going to win.
Yes. I played so well in that event, I beat Mark Selby 6-3 in the semis and potted some great pinks I remember to win frames. I was 3-1 up at the interval and it took 3 hours or something like that for 4 frames. (laughs)
Anyway I played Ryan in the final and the funny thing about that match is I was practicing with Ryan the day before we flew out to Shanghai and I was 6-3 down and won 9-8. And then in the final I was 6-2 down, and luckily for me I pinched the last frame with a 94 I think to end the session at 6-3.
So I came back in the evening with a lot of work to do. Ryan had never won a ranking event, he’d lost in one or two finals but I obviously had to play very well then to try and pull the match round. And a bit like my match with Michael Holt here, if you can start well and put the pressure on somebody, maybe they can’t get that first frame on the board and get things rolling. And it’s televised as well which is a good situation for me. Anyway in the first frame I played a great safety shot and put Ryan under big pressure and he completely mishit his safety and left me plumb in amongst the balls, reds everywhere and I made a 143 off it. And that made it 6-4 and throughout the session Ryan never looked himself, although I don’t think I missed many pots in those 7 frames.
You were very good.
But you don’t know you’re going to play like that no matter how good you feel. I was just so relaxed in my mind, so in control of my emotions and Ryan didn’t create any pressure on me so I never had to cope with anything big. All I had to do was cope with my performance. I wasn’t under any pressure to make big clearances at vital times. I don’t think Ryan scored more than about 70 points in those 7 frames combined. Very unusual, I don’t know what was going through Ryan’s mind but everything was wrong for him that night.
You also won PTC event 6. How do you rate that? Do you call it half a ranking title or…?
Yeah massive. That is a ranking event as far as I’m concerned with the players I’ve had to beat and the standard I’ve had to play at. I beat Matthew (Stevens) in that one, I beat Selby, Robertson and had an incredible match in the final against Martin Gould and needed 3 snookers in the final frame.
We were following that on live scoring on Snooker Island and there were people saying “Congratulations Martin Gould” and then suddenly you came back so how did that happen?
Well I almost got him in a great snooker but he thought he could just see the thinnest of edges on a red. Now the pink and black were pretty much together around the pink spot area. He tried to clip the red and he told me a few weeks later in one of the later PTCs that the white ran off. He went straight into the black and gave me 7 points, and left me a free ball so just in that one shot I could win.
I took the free ball, not sure if I got a colour off it but I snookered him again and he missed so then I could win. I remember making a very very good bottle clearance. The first red was horrible but I knocked it in, landed on the pink or black and screwed up for the yellow. I played a great positional shot, knowledge and intuition on how to hit the ball and screw back the way I had to to come past the brown to leave myself on the yellow which was on its spot so brown was off its spot. And it just worked out like a dream. Then I played a bad green to brown with the rest, potted a great brown in the black pocket, the blue was over the middle pocket and I cleared up. It was amazing. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a ranking event final frame that’s been won from 3 snookers needed so it was bizarre.
As a player I’ve got to look at it as a ranking event because there are ranking points at stake, but I played so many top 16 players to win which is what you had to do in any ranking event.
I won pro-ams in Kilarney two years in a row and they felt like ranking events too because there were top 16 players in those, players like Paul Hunter, and Ronnie and Ryan, Gerard Greene, Dave Harold. So even winning those were like ranking events even though they were amateur events because as a player you’ve really achieved something in winning. But the PTC was massive.
I remember arriving here (the EIS, Sheffield) for the first one and I saw the trophies, these lovely silver salvers and I thought “I’d love to win one of those”. And to win the 6th one which was the final British one with one of those silver salvers was fantastic because all the EPTC events had the ruling association of that country provide their own trophy so they weren’t the same. So it meant an awful lot to me in winning that.
Are you looking forward to the PTC finals? (On the night this interview is published Dominic lost 4-1 to Matthew Stevens)
Yes. I’m seeded 7 so I’m automatically into the second round and I play the winner of Matthew Stevens and Gerard Greene. It’s an interesting one because I’ve played Matthew in two of these PTCs consecutively and managed to beat him twice. And Gerard this season I think I’ve played him 4 times and I’ve beat him 4 out of 4 so I’m confident but they are great players so heaven knows who will win that match. And there are ranking points available in those finals which take place next week.
There are a lot of players missing out aren’t there?
Some great players. Ronnie won’t be there, Ding, Robertson won’t be there, Ryan Day…
Higgins was suspended for the first few so he misses out too.
Yes even though he would have qualified he didn’t play in enough events.
How do you think the PTCs have gone down and do you think the criteria was right for selection to the final stages?
I think the criteria worked very well. It’s a very simple system to follow which is pretty much fool proof based on the prize money…
It’s just that some people (not me I hasten to add) think it’s not fair because there are some players who have won a PTC event and won’t be there because they didn’t play in enough events.
Yes well that was stipulated at the start so it’s up to the players to do that. I mean I’ve got no sympathies there because it’s up to the players if they want to enter enough events. It’s not something that was decided half way through, we all knew the format in that regard. One thing though, if you’re married with kids it’s not fair that you should be away weekend after weekend for months on end because that’s basically what happens. You’re playing for 3 or 4 sets of weekends. So that’s unfair and I’m a bit surprised that wasn’t thought about by the authorities.
I think next year there could be a few more PTCs which is bizarre. 18 is too many in my opinion. If you are going to have 18 of them, 6 in China at the moment I think is pencilled in, then they’re going to have to look at possibly, I think personally, to take say your best two thirds of results so that’s 12 out of 18 results.
Another opinion of mine is that the idea of these PTCs is to expand the game into Europe. That was the whole idea behind these PTCs. There were originally going to be eight in Europe and four in the UK. But then obviously with Pat Mooney’s suspension which stopped him from having any involvement with snooker, Brandon (Parker) had to take on two events, World Snooker had to take on an extra two events so it ended up being 6 in the UK and 6 in Europe, and then in the end one of the European events was moved to the UK at the South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester, so it ended up with 7 in the UK and 5 in Europe.
So that doesn’t make sense to me. If they want to expand the game in Europe and they want to have an extra 6 in China then have the 6 PTCs in China, have the 6 PTCs in Europe and forget the UK ones. You don’t need to expand the game in the UK it’s been here for donkey’s years. So I think 12 is enough so if you have 6 in Europe and 6 in China it’s job done, you’re expanding the game into other countries, you’ve got twelve events which is all the players want – I don’t think the players want 18, it’s too many – and you can take your best 8 or 9 results and that would be the perfect criteria. In my opinion.
What made you move to Vienna and how much effect did it have on your playing career with all the travelling involved?
Good question. I don’t mind travelling. I’ve always like driving, I must’ve done about 30,000 miles a year when I lived in the UK travelling to different events and practicing in different clubs.
It had crossed my mind moving to Europe at some point, I was considering it. But I was doing the TV studio work for the Welsh Open a few years ago and I met an Austrian girl there and I went to see her a few times in Vienna. I’d already sold my house in Wales at the time.
So it was love that took you to Vienna?
Yes and when I got there I thought “What a great place!” and I loved it so much I thought why not? I’ll move over here and if things don’t work out I can always move back to the UK. It’s no problem.
But I’m only really there six months of the year, especially now with all these competitions being away an awful lot so I’m only really there for half the year but that is my base now, Vienna. Right in the middle, near the opera house. It’s great because I love opera and ballet, I had training as an opera singer so it’s a great place, very clean country, beautiful buildings. It is a stunning city.
Do you speak any German?
Yes my German is reasonably good. I hope by the end of the year I’ll be nigh on fluent. There’s a slight different dialect in Vienna, some different pronunciations of words but I understand nearly everything I hear and speak reasonably well. It’s a very tough language grammatically. I can speak it and people understand me but I’ll probably make a lot of grammatical errors.
When you’re over in Vienna do you ever watch the snooker on Eurosport? Can you see the game taking off at all in Austria?
It’s big in Austria. It’s got a big following because of Eurosport. I think the first snooker table in Vienna was erected in 1989. Eurosport has popularised snooker in many cities in Europe, not just Vienna. It’s big in many parts of Germany, obviously Holland and Belgium it’s been popular for a long time too. And Poland and Russia, they all love snooker all because of Eurosport’s coverage.
On Snooker Island we also get a lot of hits from Finland and Norway.
Yes it very popular there. Vienna is land-locked with about 6 or 7 different countries so it’s very cosmopolitan and there are a lot of people from different countries there who love snooker.
Do you get recognised in the street?
Sometimes but not often.
If you bleached your hair maybe they would remember you from Shanghai!
Haha yes that was a crazy thing. I had black hair with a mixture of blonde and I really needed a haircut and I had a feeling if I cut my hair there would be too much black left and not enough blonde so I’d look a bit stupid like a tabby cat! So I knew I either had to have it dyed to my natural colour black/dark brown or go peroxide. And I don’t know why but I decided to go peroxide.
The funniest thing was Ryan had won his first match I think, and he disappeared for a day and a half and I don’t know where he went. And all of a sudden I’d peroxided my hair and I was in the tournament office and Ryan walked in and saw me and stared for a second because he didn’t recognise me then he suddenly put his hands up to his eyes and was going “Oh god!” in complete shock! And then I went in the practice room and Steve saw me and he went “Bloody hell!” he couldn’t believe it either!
But that’s the sort of thing I do. When I look back on my career I’ll think to do something like that during a tournament and wear the bright pink fluorescent shirt – no one does that sort of thing these days and it was a dangerous thing to do! It’s a strictly business attitude you should have and that sort of fun thing you could probably get away with in the 80s when you had 3 or 4 chances to win a frame. Now you’ve got to be 100% serious so the days when you do the sort of thing I did there and drinking brandy alexanders in the hotel bar every night, those days were gone. I was lucky to win that!
I tell you what it sticks in the memory though. It was one of those iconic snooker moments!
(laughs) yeah and singing My Way! I mean I was just having a ball out there and it just shows that when I play in a lot of ranking events, first round particularly with the ranking points situation where you get half the allocated points if you lose, I probably put too much pressure on myself and I’m too uptight whereas there it was just like a holiday and I was having so much fun and winning match after match after match so maybe I should learn a lesson there.
Bleach your hair for the Crucible!
(laughs) No matter how much you tell yourself to relax and never forget the beauty of the game of snooker and it is only a game, it never works out like that. You put pressure on yourself and it’s not just me like that it’s everybody.
What is the most valuable item in your snooker memorabilia collection and secondly what is your favourite item?
I don’t collect anything anymore. I sold my collection 3 or 4 years ago before moving to Vienna. But I’ve had valuable items in terms of scoreboards. You know cabinet scoreboards which can fetch £6-7,000 but not two or three at a time, just one at a time. The most valuable snooker cue in terms of playable snooker cue I had was a Burroughes and Watts “Ye Olde Ash Cue” and they go for anything from £600 to £800 on eBay. They’re very desirable because Steve (Davis) won all his World Championships with one and he still uses it now. They are rare cues and they were made from what Burroughes and Watts used to describe as 50 year old ash from His Majesty’s ship yards, so they were the flagship cue in their range even though it wasn’t the most expensive cue.
I used to have a 1780’s / 1790’s Gillow mace which were the things you used to push the balls around the table at billiards.
I’ve seen historical pictures of them being used.
Yes you used to have one end over your shoulder and push (gestures movement of using mace).
I had a Gillow mace and in terms of furniture makes they were up there with Hepplewhite, Chippendale and Sheraton, and the mace I had would have been worth about £1500 but I didn’t sell it, I did swaps for things of similar value.
Did you collect things from snooker players of past eras like Joe Davis or Alex Higgins?
Oh yes. I’ve still got 3 books by Joe Davis all signed by him but they’re not worth a massive amount because Joe was a prolific signer. I’ve had Fred Lindrum autographs and I’ve had Walter Lindrum autographs and I’ve had photographs signed by them as well and they sold for like £1000 – £1200 each.
I had a solid silver salver which had an inscription to a promoter Bill Camkin who ran the international billiards tournament in 1931 which was such a big success they didn’t even hold the world championships in billiards that year because it couldn’t have lived up to the international championship Bill Camkin promoted. I got that through a distant relative of Bill’s about 7 or 8 years ago and it was a wonderful thing to have, it had the signatures of the four main players engraved into it and I loved that! But I sold it on because when I moved to Vienna I decided to sell everything.
You know when you grow up you go through different phases and get different tastes and different interests? Well I had all the knowledge but I didn’t really have the affinity for billiards anymore and I just thought I’d rather get rid of it (the collection) now, I’d rather have the money!
Speaking of billiards, have you tried your hand at 3 cushion?
Well in Vienna it’s a very popular game, they call it carambolage and I’ve tried it but it’s very difficult because the cushions are very different to snooker cushions, and the tables are lightning fast because they have built in heaters and the balls run on forever. I’ve watched it on Eurosport a few times and I like watching it. It’s a great game. I have tried it a little bit, we had a sports open day in Vienna and I played for about an hour just for fun.
Did you make any runs?
I had 4 consecutive 3 cushion cannons.
That’s pretty good!
It’s alright. I’ve got knowledge of the angles but if you see the way the cushions play they’re very different and it catches you out because they come off in different ways to what you expect they will. They play a bit like 9-ball pool cushions, they slide more. It’s a different type of cushion rail to snooker, it doesn’t have a sort of nose to it, it’s more a diamond shaped cut so the balls come off so differently. But I think if I decided to go over to the game it would only take me a few days to get the hang of the cushions and I might make runs of 8, 10, 12 cannons but it’s a difficult game, my goodness!
Do any matches stick in your head as being particularly satisfying or devastating?
I don’t think I’ve ever said this before in an interview because I’ve not been asked but matches that stick with me… I’ve always loved China so to actually win the final in Shanghai from 6-2 down was massive. The way I played in the evening session, great satisfaction. If somebody said which is the tournament of the two ranking events I’ve won that I liked the most then it’s Shanghai. Of course you had everything with the blonde hair and bright pink shirts and the way I played in the last session to come back, and playing in China, it was just heaven for me really.
The most devastating loss I ever had was as far back as 1994 or 95. I was 9-4 up on Gerard Greene in the World Championships at the interval.
Which round was this?
It was either the last qualifying round for the Crucible or the penultimate qualifying round. But I was 9-4 up and the miss rule was in its infancy and different referees had different interpretations of it. The referee was John Williams and I thought he was overly harsh with miss rule. But the problem was Gerard had won 5 frames in a row and it was 9-9 and I was 25 up on the yellow and I messed it up completely. I had the chance but I was paralysed with fear and anxiety. Gerard had missed the pot and fluked a snooker on me and I was bridging over the blue and the yellow was behind me so it wasn’t in my sight and I missed it by a fraction one way then missed it by a fraction the other side, third time I went in off in the middle pocket and Gerard cleared up.
That was a devastating blow and it must’ve had a big big impact on my whole attitude towards snooker because it took me a long time to get over that. It had a profound effect on the way I thought of snooker as a sport. Through that match I thought about the cue I used, I thought about technique and was I right to play the way I did? I played with a raw natural style, as natural as say a Joe Swail or Matthew Stevens or Selby, but it just wasn’t text book. So it altered the whole way I thought about snooker and I’ve never really been a natural player since, I’ve become more of a technical player.
In other words when I’m cueing I’m half looking at the table and balls and pockets, but half of me thinks of the bridge hand and the arms and the back hand and striking the ball. But there’s pressure on so many players these days and standards are so high that even the natural players think about their cue action. It’s very difficult to play shots naturally and never think of your cue action.
I think you’re a natural player; you flow around the table when you’re playing well and never seem to get too bogged down.
Yes well I try not to but sometimes I do bog myself down but I never play well when I do that to myself. But the good thing is all those things I want to do with my game, slow myself down a little bit, you do all these things anyway as you get older with experience so it’s alright to do it now but if I was in my 20s… it’s not a good thing to be a fast player and then become a slow player. It’s much better to be a slower player and try to speed your game up.
There’s been a lot of proof of that over the years like Ebdon. People will say that he was a better player when he was in his late amateur days and early pro days because he was a faster more fluent player with a lot of flair. He’s completely tempered that and that’s just a classic example of the way professional players think. They analyse the game and try and work out the best way that suits them.
Graeme Dott seems to have sped up since his World title.
And so has Mark Selby. I don’t know whether it suits Mark to try to speed his game up but he seems to have gone back to his old self again which is better for him in my opinion.
I wonder if he was affected by the BBC always showing a clock when he exceeded one minute thinking time on certain shots and people started to call him a slow player.
Yes that’s only for some shots obviously when you’re in a particularly difficult situation, I mean nobody wants to spend a minute on every shot obviously. Pressure makes you play slowly sometimes and if you’re a fast player sometimes it makes you play a bit quicker than you want, it depends on who you are and the way you think.
If you look at someone like Graeme, Graeme is a natural player. He sort of lurches into the shot, he’s got a very unusual style but one of his biggest strengths is his mental attitude. He’s a fantastic fighter. As most of the Scottish players are. There aren’t many fast attacking Scottish players, they all seem to be very solid all round players that are very tough to beat.
I was watching Jamie Burnett yesterday against Liang Wenbo and he seemed to start off very quickly but towards the end he slowed down a lot, and you kept thinking he’s going to miss here because he looked under pressure, but he kept on potting those balls and making centuries.
Jamie Burnett is an underestimated player. He can play fantastic snooker. I mean he’s got the highest recorded professional break.
Yes bizarre isn’t it? But he’s a very dangerous player and he’s an all-round player again. I think Jamie will tell you himself he’s certainly not a fast player, he’s more medium speed. He’s the same kind of speed for me as Alan McManus. He’s certainly not a fast player but he can play all the shots, he’s a good safety player, good tactician but he’s an attacking player also and has got a good balance.
In 2020 when you look back on this decade who will be the stand out players in your opinion?
There is one area that snooker fanatics and players themselves don’t know anything about yet and that is: how good can you be in your late 40s? We’ve only got Steve to go by and he was in a slightly different era so perhaps at his best he wasn’t as good as O’Sullivan and Hendry and John Higgins so it’ll be interesting when these guys are in their mid-40s just to see how good they are, see how confident they are and see if they can still win tournaments. As players we don’t know how long we can last at the very best of our form.
Do you think Higgins and O’Sullivan are that far ahead of the field that they will still be the top names in 10 years’ time? Do you see anybody coming up to challenge them?
I don’t see anybody coming through the game like you did when you had Paul Hunter coming through or Matthew Stevens, Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins. None of the Chinese guys for me are anywhere near that particular league. Possibly because they don’t play the right sort of game yet, because they learnt most of their game in China.
There’s a lot of do or die. They like to seem to test themselves with some strange shots.
Yes. And some of the Chinese don’t seem to possess a good touch and seem to crash long balls in, they don’t play with the same sort of finesse as British players do who have always practiced with each other and learned from watching the game on TV from their young days.
There is one Chinese player that I like the look of. I don’t know how old he is, I don’t think he’s much more than 16 but he’s a beautiful touch player, strikes the ball beautifully and has a fabulous technique and that’s a guy called Chen Zhe.
He played in a few PTCs and he’s a very good player. By the time he’s 20 I don’t see any reason why he can’t be something like Ding. He’s got that much potential. But of course a lot can go wrong, you don’t know what life will throw up, you could meet a lady, get married, have children.
Judd Trump a few years ago as a junior was supposed to be winning World titles now according to some people.
Yes but who says these kinds of things because it’s certainly not the snooker players. It’ll be the journalists and the public.
Yes they spot these kids who are 10 or 11 years old and making century breaks. Like at the moment a lot of people are talking about Luca Brecel.
Luca is a great player because he’s got an all-round game. He’s a fantastic break builder and hits the ball great. He’s got massive, massive potential. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and a good family background and good guidance from the players in Belgium that practice with him. So I don’t see any reason why he can’t be a champion.
As for Judd well, he’s an unbelievable scorer and break builder. I don’t know what he thinks of his performances as a professional so far. Maybe he’d have liked to have done a little bit better than he has, but he’s certainly dangerous and he’s very capable of winning some major matches. I don’t see enough of him to make any criticism as such but it’s possible he doesn’t have the best balance in his game in terms of his tactical play and safety play. But as a scorer and a potter and a good temperament he’s certainly got all that. So as long as he doesn’t put pressure on himself or allow other people to put pressure on him he’ll be ok.
So you think Chen Zhe is the name to look out for?
I do. I watched him in a few of the PTCs and he looks to be learning. His shot selection for someone of 16 is excellent. He plays many wrong shots but his thinking is good, I like the way he thinks. He shows me that he’s going to learn. Some players are so one dimensional in the way they play the game they’ll never learn. Some players are too selfish or know it all that they won’t listen to other people but Chen doesn’t strike me as someone like that so definitely I think he’s one to look out for.
And on that note I concluded the interview so we could both go and watch the final section of qualifiers try and reach the venue they all so desperately want to play at, The Crucible Theatre. Dominic is certainly a one off and has already stamped his own unique mark on the game he is so passionate about, and his enthusiam may yet lead him to further glory. He clearly still has the hunger to do well and if he can switch off and enjoy himself as he did in Shanghai, then his future could still have more fruits to bear.
I ended up leaving bleary eyed after an exhausting weekend before the conclusion of the last couple of matches but Dominic, ever the snooker fanatic, was still firmly engrossed in the action. Once a snooker fan always a snooker fan.