Interview with Graeme Dott (part 2 of 3)

by Roland Cox

(continued from part 1)

Let’s move on to your book Frame of Mind which I highly recommend to all snooker fans. It’s a fascinating insight into your playing career covering a lot of the big matches people will remember, as well as explaining in candid detail your upbringing in a rough Glasgow council estate, and also the reasons surrounding your slump in form in which you went from provisional World Number One to outside the top 32. So firstly what made you write the book?

I’ve been asked a few times to write a book. The first time was after I got to the World final in 2004, and somebody contacted me and asked if I’d write a book and I kind of laughed at them and said sorry but I haven’t won anything! I was then asked again by the same person in 2006, and even though I’d won the World (Championships) I still didn’t like the idea of it, I felt as if I hadn’t done enough to warrant writing a book. But then when I was asked again after I reached the final in 2010 I thought for a bit, and thought I’ve actually done a fair bit now.

You now had a story to tell?

Yes I felt as if I had something worth telling. I felt I’d done enough in snooker terms in reaching three World finals that no player could think “What’s he writing a book for?”, and enough has happened off the table as well so why not?

How has the reaction been to the book?

I don’t really know yet, it’s still a bit early. I know there have been a couple of reviews from snooker sites like Snooker Scene Blog and Snookerbacker, and the reviews were quite good, but it’s a bit early to say in terms of sales.

I hope people like it but there’s not much I can do about that because what’s in the book is me and if they don’t like it then they don’t like me! (laughs)

I know that in a lot of autobiographies they let another guy write it and it ends up sounding nothing like them, so I wanted to make sure it comes across as me.

In the opening chapter you mention a teacher at school who scoffed when you said you were going to be a professional snooker player. Thereafter there seemed to be a recurring theme of being driven to prove people wrong. For example you have several digs at the media in not giving you due respect, and said that when you first entered the top 16 it felt like it was you and your manager Alex Lambie against the world. And I’m sure the readers of this interview remember the piece on the BBC about 10 years ago with you in a field of cows holding a sign saying “My name is Graeme Dott” talking about how you were in the top 16 yet you felt no one knew who you were. So do you actively seek things to wind you up and spur you on, and secondly do you feel now that you are finally getting the respect you deserve or are there still some people who need to be proven wrong?

My Name Is Graeme Dott!

It probably did help me and it helped my career, the fact that I’ve had so much bad press and not been treated the way you should be treated. It definitely has spurred me on and I’ve played well because of that. You get people who think you’re being paranoid but I’m not being paranoid! Things happened to me when I won the World title that wouldn’t have happened to any other World Champion and it was hard to accept.

I think the whole thing was that people just didn’t rate me among the press and tv commentators. I got the feeling that they didn’t think I should be in the top 16 and they thought I would disappear within a year. And then when I didn’t a lot of them were too stubborn to admit that they were possibly wrong, and it would keep going on as if they still didn’t think I should be in the top 16.

But I do now have more respect from the commentators and the press than I did about 8 years ago, but there’s no doubt it spurred me on at the time.

You describe your upbringing in the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow, which is eye opening to those of us who had a more regular childhood and goes some way to explaining your gritty attitude on the snooker table. Since your success in snooker have you gone back to that area at all and if so, what sort of reception did you get?

I’ve been back to my old school a couple of times to present prizes, and I’ve seen that the area is obviously still pretty bad. At the school I got a great reception and I think it’s nice for the kids to see that you can come out of an estate like that and do well. I think a lot of the kids that are stuck there maybe think they can’t do anything and that all these people that they see on tv must’ve been brought up with a silver spoon in their mouth. So it’s good for them to see that you don’t need money in order to be successful.

You describe your rise to the top from junior and amateur competitions followed by the many qualifying events at the Norbeck Hotel in Blackpool after first turning professional, and then you had early success reaching the final of the Scottish Masters in 1999 where you beat John Parrott, Paul Hunter and Ken Doherty who were all top players and household names back then. You faced Stephen Hendry in the final and found yourself 8-0 down after the first session. Can you remember back to how you were feeling at that moment in time and what did you take from that experience?

I probably learned a lot but at the time I was completely devastated. I just completely froze and couldn’t really deal with it. I had played really well up to the final but Stephen was by far and away a better player than I was at the time and I started to throw away the match, once I went 3-0, 4-0 down I started to panic a wee bit. I’ve probably learned a lot from that match but at the time I was completely devastated and never took a lot from it because of that.

Graeme celebrates his 147 break (picture Janie Watkins)

An early sign of your temperament came when you talked about your 147 against David Roe in the 1999 British Open held in Plymouth. You were 4-3 behind when you made the maximum break, and then you held yourself together to win the deciding frame which is what most players would have failed to do. Can you describe your emotions during that deciding frame?

I was actually pretty good in that frame, I remember it. I’d made the 147 and obviously you’re still on an emotional high and your legs are like jelly and everything that goes with it, but I went to the toilet and thought to myself that if I didn’t win the next frame then getting the 147 isn’t going to be that good, but if I can win it then that night it would be a good celebration to win the match and have made a 147. So when I came back out I had completely forgotten about the 147. I was actually OK and played a good frame to win.

You describe your progression to the World final in 2004 beating along the way John Higgins in round 2 (and I have to say I loved the paragraph on the BBC pundits take on your 5-3 first session lead!), and then you had a classic encounter with Matthew Stevens which you edged 17-15 before facing Ronnie in the final.
I remember watching the final and being so impressed when you opened up a 5-0 lead because, no disrespect, I think we all expected Ronnie to trounce you because he was playing so well that year. But then unfortunately from that point on you only won a further 3 frames to his 18, so what were you thinking at 5-0? Were you aware of the standard you’d played at to freeze him out and did you think you could you sustain it?

A lot of people have asked how I felt at 5-0 but I honest didn’t feel anything, I just felt the same as if it was the first or second round. All I thought was that I’d won the session so the worst I could possibly be was 5-3. Of course I wanted to win the next 3 to make it 8-0 but that’s all I was thinking, just win one more and it’ll be at worst 6-2 and things like that. I wasn’t thinking I was going to win the World because it’s first to 18. If it was first to 6 I might have been feeling quite confident!

We all knew how good Ronnie played that year. He keeps saying he’s not played well for 15 years or something like that but I can’t imagine how he can’t count 2004 because that’s the best I’ve ever seen anybody play. He just played phenomenally well and he was a much much better player than I was at that time.

Had you watched any of his previous matches? Did you know what to expect?

You can generally tell, you’re always watching snooker but he absolutely trounced Stephen Hendry in the semis with a session to spare, he just wasn’t missing anything! I knew I had to play out of my skin just to stay close to him.

The thing which I did take out of that, which I didn’t take out of the Stephen Hendry final was that it was a game with Ronnie. At the end of the first day it was 9-7 so at one point it was a game. People would’ve thought I would have been beat after the first day. At 9-7 I thought “I’ve just given a guy who is playing like God, a game!”. So although after that he trounced me and in the end I lost 18-8, it was a lot closer than the scoreline suggests. I mean I was never going to win, he was far too good for me and I’m not embarrassed to admit that, but the game should’ve been about 18-12. He stole so many frames but he played unbelievable.

We all remember your semi-final against Ronnie in 2006, and obviously the cameras and television people were focussed on his mental breakdown and all the nonsense about tips. I loved reading your take on the match and how you and Del Hill devised a plan to beat Ronnie. All questions I would have about this match are answered in the book but looking back on it now, how much satisfaction do you take from it? It must be one to tell the grandchildren?

Yes I take massive satisfaction from it, it’s one of my best ever wins. Where I take the most satisfaction from it and where a lot of people don’t look at it the way I look at it, is that it was the way I played, that made Ronnie give up. People always look at it the other way round, like that was the year that Ronnie didn’t really care, when that’s not the case. That’s why I get annoyed when people like Clive (Everton in reference to a comment in Frame of Mind in which Graeme saw a documentary featuring Clive commenting on the match) said something like I didn’t win, Ronnie threw the match away. And that hurts, because that wasn’t the case.

In the latest edition of Snooker Scene Magazine, Clive has actually reviewed Frame of Mind and he does clarify his position on the match and gives you due respect so hopefully that has now been put to bed. I’ve watched your career from a snooker fan’s perspective and I’ve seen your televised interviews and read your book so I have a fair idea of your character. I should add that when you were World Champion you behaved like a true ambassador for the sport and it’s something you should be given a lot of credit for, especially when you read what was going on in your personal life at the time. But you seemed to let it bother you a lot that some saw the 2006 final as a turn off. I personally have it down as the best final of the last few years because the raw element of two boxers clinging on to each other and slugging it out for the biggest prize in the sport and not giving an inch was gripping viewing and a refreshing alternative to the barrage of century breaks we’d come to expect from World Finals. It was obvious Peter Ebdon was more to blame for the style of the match than you were, he definitely slowed it down, but you did what you had to do to win which is what you explain in the book. So aside from the personal issues you went through in the following two seasons, how much did the reaction to the 2006 final from certain sections of the media and public contribute to your dive in form? You had reached the pinnacle and yet a lot of the talk at the time was of snooker dying?

I don’t think my dip in form had anything to do with critics from that match. I was disappointed with the critics but again I think that was just because it was me. Personally, I thought the Mark Selby v John Higgins final the following year was virtually the same match as my match with Peter Ebdon. The same type of story was being told throughout the match. John went way ahead the same as I did and then Mark came back. Mark played pretty bad to start with the same as Ebdon did, and then he came back the same way that Ebdon came back and then it became that the two of them couldn’t pot a ball. And they beat us for the longest frame and they beat us for the longest final but nothing was said after that final! And yet the bile that myself and Peter Ebdon put up with after our final was because it was me. We were easier targets to criticise whereas it was hard to criticise John Higgins. I just think that some of the criticism was way over the top considering I’d just won the World title and all people wanted to talk about was how it was the worst World Final. I’m not trying to say it was a good final. Personally I thought it was an awful final, but we’re not trying to make it an awful final! It wasn’t on purpose. That was the thing that annoyed me.

Well I thought it was a good final but the scheduling didn’t help, the fact you were starting at 3pm and didn’t play the allotted frames and then it went very late on the first day. But by the time we were midway through the second day I was very much into it and couldn’t take my eyes off it and I think it’s a shame a lot of people couldn’t see it the same way. 

It seems to bother you when some people label you as a “grinder” when this is only one facet of your game which is better described as “gritty”. It’s obvious you can play fast attacking snooker but in trying to prove that you can play this way do you feel the unfair criticism we just talked about forced you into going for more shots and changed your natural game?

No. I explained that in the book, why I started attacking more. But it does annoy me that snooker players get pigeonholed into what type of player they are and no matter how much they then change their game it always goes back to that same pigeonhole.

It does annoy me that snooker players get pigeonholed into what type of player they are and no matter how much they then change their game it always goes back to that same pigeonhole

Fergal O’Brien will always be a slow player. If he changed his game and started going for everything he would still be tagged as a slow player. And with me no matter what I’ve done, I will always be tagged as a grinder. And if a game took a long time, oh that’ll be Graeme going tactical, when it wasn’t anything to do with it!

There are players playing right now who I think are incredibly negative, and the commentators and press think they’re attacking players.

Personally I have Fergal O’Brien down as a slow attacking player. How would you bracket yourself because I would have you down as one of the best match players?

Yes there’s certainly nothing wrong in being seen as a match player. I would consider that the way I’m playing just now I’m an attacking match player. If there’s a shot on then 9 times out of 10 I’ll have a go at it.

There’s things that a lot of people don’t notice, like how you play a safety shot can determine if you’re an attacking player or not. I mean Neil Robertson never opens the pack up on a safety. Neil Robertson is quite a tight player. But the commentators seem to think he attacks everything when he doesn’t! Neil Robertson is quite a negative player. He’ll take his time over shots he didn’t used to. He used to be an attacking player, but he isn’t now. Now he doesn’t open the pack from a safety shot, he’ll clip reds and play a lot of negative safeties similar to Mark Selby. But they both seem to be tagged as being attacking when they’re not.

So you see Mark Selby as a negative player?

(laughs) I think without any shadow of a doubt! I think THE most!

You’re talking to a Mark Selby fan here! (laughs)

I think Mark Selby is a phenomenal player. But he’s definitely the most negative player in the top 16. I am actually a Mark Selby fan myself and I’m not having a go at him, he is my main tip outside John Higgins to win the World. He’s got all the game needed to win it, his game suits the Crucible. But I just think if you look down to the amount of re-racks Mark Selby has, I’ll bet you he’s had ten times more than any other player! After his matches he’ll always say that the balls went a bit scrappy there, but it’s Mark that makes the balls go scrappy by his shot selection. I’ve played him often enough and he’s definitely got a negative streak which he finds hard to stop but I don’t know why he needs to do it because he’s a phenomenal player and if he opens up I think he’ll win a lot more tournaments.

You mentioned that you’ve got nothing against a shot clock in snooker. Do you say this because you want to prove you’re not a slow player or do you actually prefer the scenario of being forced to think on your feet?

I just think that slow players kind of kill the game to be honest. I don’t think there’s any reason to play slow. I played in the Premier League with a shot clock and there were lots of games where players only took one time out. If I’m playing well I don’t think having a shot clock would make any difference whatsoever. I can easily play with a shot clock. I think it would stop the players that deliberately take such a long time to play a shot.

You mentioned an incident in the 2006 World Championships with referee Alan Chamberlain in your match against Neil Robertson at a crucial stage. I won’t go into it because it’s covered in the book but in 2009 you faced Mark Selby with the same referee and you stopped the cue ball from travelling into the pocket with your hand, Mark picked it up and put it in the D and was called a foul. What was your take on that situation and did you consider potting the white with your next turn?

Well that would’ve been the clever thing to do but at the time I was arguing the case for Mark because he’d been punished for something that I’d done. So I’m arguing with Alan Chamberlain that it wasn’t right but I never thought about potting the white. But I actually think if I’d potted the white then Alan Chamberlain being Alan Chamberlain would’ve called a foul on me for a deliberate foul and would’ve made me play again! I just think he think he would’ve done something. I mean the whole rule is just stupid. You could tell the only person who enjoyed that was Alan Chamberlain. He loved it because he knew the rule and nobody else knew it and it put him in the limelight. But if I’d thought of potting the white then I’d have done that but the only thing I thought at the time was if there was a pot on then I wouldn’t have gone for it but as it happened the reds were all scrappy anyway so there was only a safety shot I could play.

I laugh because I remember the smirk on his face at the time and I think you’re probably right.

Another referee would maybe have let it go and said to me after the frame it was a foul and not to do it again. It’s not as if I’d done it in disgust, I just think he could’ve let the rule go. He must’ve known what I was doing but he couldn’t wait for Mark to pick up the white and then he was like (quickly) “Foul!”.

(laughs) Your semi-final against Selby last year was a classic and a lesson to all in high quality hard match play snooker. You managed to stay on top after opening a small gap in the first session despite him throwing everything he had at you, so it’s no surprise that in the final you were completely exhausted. Also there was the fact your manager at the time Pat Mooney and your friend John Higgins were front page news on the first day of the final which must have affected you more than you let on in the book?

It didn’t affect the match, the only thing that it affected was when I got to bed. Because obviously you’re on a high from winning the match, but then also you know there’s a story coming out and I waited till 12am so I could see it online, and then I was talking to my dad and my mate so I didn’t get to bed until about 3am when otherwise I would’ve been in bed earlier had it not been for that. But other than that it didn’t affect the match.

The match was pretty bad because the two of us were pretty much dead on our feet and it was an incredibly boring game to play in. I absolutely hated it all the way through.

In the book you talk about the exhaustion factor affecting the finalists and advocate a day’s rest before the final. Do you see a day when this will happen and if someone came up with an alternative which would shorten the final to say best of 25 how would you feel about that?

I don’t like the idea of reducing the tournament. The World Championship Final should be longer. It should be first to 16 or first to 17 or 18 because the players like that and you don’t play it in any other tournament. As for ways around it I don’t see why we can’t start on the Thursday instead of starting on the Saturday. If they’re making you play the final on Sunday and Monday then just start two days earlier and they can give you a day off after the semi-final. That’s the only way you could make it half fair.

It’s so hard to play in a semi-final like that and then go straight into the final. If I played the final tomorrow then I would still be quite tired doing 3 o’clock, 8 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 8 o’clock, and then you try playing that AFTER you’ve had 15 days of playing snooker. It’s just a bit too hard I think.

I think the reason for the way it is, is because of television and the fact you get more people at home at the weekend so that’s when more people want to watch the snooker, so it would be a difficult one to not have any action on the Saturday. As a snooker fan I’d be against any reduction in format too because the yardstick is the World Championships and the format remaining consistent means every final is first to 18 and historically the final scores are like 18-16, 18-15 or whatever so to reduce it would take something away from it.

Yes I would never want it reduced but the way the standard is nowadays it was ok in the time during the 80’s with Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis and players like that because they were slaughtering people in the first round, second round, quarter-finals. I mean if you look at the match between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis in 1985, I think both of them won their semi-finals with a session to spare. So they were slaughtering people and it didn’t take as much out of you.

But even last year I’ve had to beat Ebdon, Maguire, Mark Allen and Mark Selby and then had to go and play in the final. It’s not like it was years ago.

In the final part of the interview Graeme takes on the miss rule as well as questions from the Islanders.

You can buy Graeme’s autobiography by clicking on the cover:

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