Before I start: this is not a criticism of Tubberlad whom I consider one of the most valuable contributors on this site (and others). I always read his posts with interest and he's been giving us much food for thoughts
I can't make any sense of this kind of list and for several reasons:
- we are somehow comparing people who played in different eras, under different conditions: balls evolved, cloth evolved, the organisation of the game and the competitions changed, the economical environment changed and with it the players focus (it's completely different to have to live mainly from exhibitions and to be able to make a living as a pro sportsman). I don't think we can make these comparisons or ratings meaningful
- for the older players most of us have never actually seen them play. We have to rely on footage's availability and of course these would be "highlights" not necessarily reflecting their "ordinary" game. It's hardly a reliable basis for judgement.
So here is a list of player I do consider the greatest in our beloved game and why, in no particular order of merit, just chronologically.
Joe Davis: he's the one who got the balls rolling. If it wasn't for him, snooker wouldn't be a pro sport today. He was obviously a great player, in snooker and in billiards; whatever the quality of the competition it takes something to be a 15 times World Champ, to hold the title for 20 years, to be the first official maximum man at 54 ...
Ray Reardon: 6 times World Champion, brilliant tactician and able to "pass" his knowledge to others as well. But for me the most remarkable thing about Ray was his decision at 35 to quit a stable job for a career in snooker in a time the sport was all but flourishing. Not only did he succeed in it (and how!) but his longevity was remarkable also. He was still the World Number One at 50.
Alex Higgins: I can't bring myself to like the man but it won't stop me to recognise his contribution to the sport and his ability at the table. Alex aggressive style of play, this flamboyance did bring the audience to what still was at the time a rather domestic pub game. Alex was not the best of breakbuilders IMO, but he was a tremendous potter, an excellent tactician and he was fearless. His charisma at the table changed the media/public perception of snooker forever.
Steve Davis: the first "true pro". Steve was the first to apply his considerable intelligence to study the game systematically, the physics of collisions ... His approach of the game was relentless and almost scientific. Not the most talented maybe he developed remarkable skills through a systematic style of play. Success followed of course. Steve with 82 pro titles has won more than anyone else. But Davis also had the intelligence and the vision to associate himself with Barry Hearn and with him to promote an innovative approach to the "media in a changing society. They were first to bring snooker to China; Steve got involved in adds and interviews more than anyone before him...
Stephen Hendry: of course he's a 7 times World Champion but you all know I take this number with a pinch of salt when compared to other "numbers". For me the most important contribution buy Stephen is that he changed the game fundamentally. He took advantage of evolving conditions (the introduction of the thin cloth was work in progress in the late 80th/early 90th) to introduce a style of play that has become the norm nowadays: the "one visit snooker". It was a revolution and one the public loved and players of today all copied. Apart from his considerable abilities, Stephen was, still is, a relentless worker, pursuing his only goal, be the winner, day after day, tournament after tournament, for 25 years + now...
Ronnie O'Sullivan: he somehow encapsulated the best of Steve Davis and the best of Stephen Hendry to develop a "touch" game that is to me, the best ever played. He isn't consistent at it and he can produce it only in spells but when he does it's magic. Marco Fu commented after being on the receiving end of Ronnie's maxi in the WC in 2003 "It was like watching God playing ...". But above all, Ronnie has elevated snooker to an art form. Ronnie is "different" as a person and if he often struggles with words, he's able to express his emotions through his game like no one else: pain, frustration, anger, joy, relish at the challenge, triumph, bliss ... even arousal
it's all there for the audience to share, and by somehow "making a gift" of his emotions, his soul, to the audience he is, in my view, the most captivating player of the modern era.
So that's my list.
There are other players I greatly admire but I wouldn't put them in the same bracket: John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ken Doherty, Jimmy White ...
There are also players often found on such lists and I defo wouldn't put there.
Paul Hunter: Paul's death was one of the saddest thing snooker had to face and I liked to watch him. But his record, in particular in the WC, doesn't award for being put on an all times great list. Of course he was still young and had he lived healthy he may have done it ... but it will forever remain speculations. And it's with a very uneasy feeling I'm writing this, but I can't help to think his death has elevated his status in peoples minds to a level he would never have achieved had he lived.
Matthew Stevens: how anyone can see Matt as an all times great is beyond me. Oh sure he had, maybe still has, buckets of talent. But what a waste! Matthew sad record is that he has lost more important matches while having held a strong lead than anyone else. And that includes 2 WC finals. Knowing that in the last 21 years only in 4 occasions the player in the lead after 2 sessions lost and Matthew did in twice in two occurrences ... says something and not about greatness. I will never brand any player a "bottler" because I think none of us, unable to play the game to a standard even close to the pros and never exposed to the high pressure of pro competition, has a right to say so. And then as an icing on the cake comes Matthew refusal to use the rest when obviously it's the sensible thing to do. That, coming from a pro, is infuriating me.
end of rant.