This coming week sees the second main ranking event of the new season take place in Bendigo, Australia, and as the UK and European based tour players begin the long journey Down Under to compete in the third staging of this event many snooker fans out there might think Australia is now another country that has only suddenly caught the snooker bug under the new world order created by Barry Hearn.
Nothing could be further from the truth.Australia has a rich history not only in snooker but in the game of billiards too.
The snooker history books tell us that it was in fact an Irishman Henry Upton Allcock who was responsible for taking the games of snooker and billiards to Australia. Allcock, a billiard table manufacturer, emigrated in the mid 18th century and it was not long before he was continuing his trade in his new homeland.
The demand for his product was high and in order to stimulate further interest in the game he brought over some of the UK’s leading professional billiards players to play exhibition matches. It’s believed English professional Frank Smith arrived in 1887 and introduced the game of snooker to Australia.
One Australian family name that took to these new sports was Lindrum. Fred Lindrum became Australian professional billiards champion at the turn of the century, he was eventually succeeded as champion in 1910 by his son Fred Jnr, who in turn was succeeded by his nephew Horace Lindrum in 1935. Fred Senior was also father to Walter Lindrum, perhaps the greatest billiards player the world has ever seen.
A family mainly of billiard players it was Horace who was the best of the snooker playing Lindrum family. He was first seen playing in the UK when he met Joe Davis in the final of the 1936 World Snooker Championship. At one stage he led Davis 27-24 but Davis’ class showed in the end as he come roaring back to win 31-27.
Lindrum lost two more finals to Davis but in 1952 he finally succeeded in becoming world champion when he beat Clark McConachy in only a two-man championship. The record books will show Lindrum as winning the title but, as leading players staged a boycott of the tournament that year, to this day Lindrum is not regarded as a credible world champion among many circles.
As Lindrum’s snooker career was ending another name was beginning to emerge on the snooker scene in Australia. ‘Steady’ Eddie Charlton gave up being a part-time player and working in the mines to become a professional snooker player in 1963. The following year he won the Australian Professional Championship and in 1968 was invited to come to the UK and challenge John Pulman for the world title in which Pulman won 39-34. Charlton went on to play in two further world finals in ’73 and ’75 to Ray Reardon – the second by the odd frame in a best of 61 frame final.
The following years saw many of the top names travel to play challenge matches in Oz and snooker clubs such as the famous City Tattersall Club in Sydney became the location for many snooker exhibition nights featuring the likes of Dennis Taylor, John Spencer, Ray Reardon and the ‘Hurricane’ Alex Higgins.
Over the next decade several more talented Australian amateur players turned professional. Players such as Warren King and John Campbell did well enough to be ranked in the top 32 and make regular appearances in ranking tournaments, including several at the World Championship at the Crucible Theatre.
Both of these players represented their homeland with great dignity and pride. The same, however, could not be said of the next Australian that was to turn pro.
Quinten Hann appeared on the professional scene in 1995 quietly working his way up the rankings. Glimpses of his carefree attitude toward snooker began to appear in 1999 when a broken wrist suffered whilst motorcycle racing kept him out of several events and again the following year a broken foot suffered when parachuting resulted this time in him playing in the UK Championship wearing no shoes.
His volatile temperament in matches towards both his opponents and the audience brought him to the wider public’s attention over the following years and earned him several rebukes from the governing body.
Smashing the pack open off the break and challenging opponent’s to ‘step outside’ during matches featured in several of Hann’s encounters. Somewhat impressively, he was still able to reach as high as 14 in the world rankings but a subsequent lengthy ban from snooker for match fixing, on top of an acquittal on a rape charge, has seen Hann disappear from the limelight.
His flamboyant play and good looks should have made him a snooker idol and many thought he was the future of Australian snooker. Australians didn’t have long to wait until their next hero, though.
Neil Robertson tried and failed at his first two attempts on the pro tour but a change of attitude towards his lifestyle and more time for practice brought him success at the 2003 World Under 21 Championship. Winning this title brought him a wild card place onto the pro tour and this time he made sure to make the most of it.
His first tournament win as a professional player came the folliwing season when he beat Dominic Dale 6-5 in the Masters Qualifying event and with it a place at the 2004 Masters.
The left-hander continued to climb the rankings and earned his first ranking win at the 2006 Grand Prix. More success was to follow the now popular Aussie but his crowning moment in snooker came in 2010 at the Crucible when he beat Graeme Dott 18-13 to become the first Aussie in the modern era to win the Worlds.
Robertson has since gone from strength to strength and after winning the first ranking event of this season in Wuxi and enjoying a good lead at the top of the world rankings he is undoubtedly a very strong favourite to win on home soil in Bendigo this week.
I believe Australian snooker has a strong future, and with upcoming players like Shaun Dalitz and Vinnie Calabrese, along with the current world number one Neil, it’s vital that the contract is extended to host the Australian Open for the foreseeable future. Yes, many of the top 16 have opted out of travelling but this in turn has given players such as previous winners Stuart Bingham and Barry Hawkins a chance to shine and claim that all important first ranking title and breakthrough towards the snooker elite.
Australian snooker has come a long way from the days of Lindrum and Charlton. Let’s hope there’s more to come.
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The draw for the 2013 Australian Open can be viewed by clicking here.