By Fin Ruane
This weekend the snooker roadshow moves on to Furth in Germany for another European Tour event. This tournament, however, is of special significance and is one always well supported by the majority of the players involved as it’s named in honour of the dearly missed Paul Hunter.
Without going into too much detail of Paul’s astonishing talent or career that won him multiple titles, including his three outstanding Masters wins, I’d like to remember Paul this weekend as the one of the most gracious and friendliest people you could ever wish to meet.
The first time I saw Paul Hunter play was in the Ilford Snooker Club when he played Ken Doherty in a pro-am. It was 1991 and Ken was enjoying his first season on the pro tour. Ken played Paul, who had traveled down from Leeds with his dad Alan, in the first round that sat morning. Ken if I remember correctly was giving Paul a 14 start as most top players were giving amateurs those days, and eventually won 3-1 but not without a scare or two from this young thirteen year-old lad.
It wasn’t really the manner in which Ken won but the way in which Paul took his defeat. He was very gracious when chatting to Ken after and listened to every word of advice Ken passed onto him. You just knew that he couldn’t wait to get back on a table to put those words of advice to practice. To his further credit he hung around the club for a few hours to watch several other matches that day.
Something told me that I’d see and hear a lot more of this exciting prospect from Leeds.
Over the following seasons I’d see Paul at the tournaments I traveled to with Ken. Some were in the UK, some abroad, but he was always smiling, had time for his fans and was never without his best mate Mathew Stevens at his side.
If you ask me, I thought most of his fellow pros were a tad jealous as his good looks and natural charm. Along with his talent on the table, this made him a big favourite with all the female fans at home and abroad.
Above all the fantastic memories Paul has left the one that sticks with me was that Saturday afternoon in May 2003 when he lost his World Championship semi-final to Ken.
We all know Paul had a huge lead at 15-9 and had a blue to win at 16-15 ahead only to eventually lose the match 17-16.
But my abiding memory of that match was how Paul conducted himself after the game. He came to the dressing room to congratulate Ken again and wished him all the best for the final. Not many players would have done that especially after what had just happened. It was a mark of the man who Paul Hunter was. Sadly that was the closest he ever got to becoming world champion.
In April 2005 Paul announced that he was suffering from a rare form of cancer that was to eventually take his life just eighteen months later.
The Paul Hunter Foundation that was set up soon after his death to give disadvantaged children places to socialise and play sport grows from strength to strength each year and, along with this weekend’s Paul Hunter Classic, Paul’s memory is kept alive not just for those of us who knew him but for the many out there who benefit from the charity in his honour.
Almost seven years after his passing, the legacy he left behind is a true mark of the man and the champion that he was.
Rest in Peace, Paul.