Features

2017 Highs and Lows – Part One

As 2017 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on what has been another enthralling year in snooker.

There have been many talking points over the course of the last twelve months both on and off the table.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at a few of the best bits from this calendar year, but today let’s focus on some of the low or controversial matters which have dominated the headlines.

The Lows

Betting Busts Bingham

Bingham won the 2017 Welsh Open. Photo credit: Monique Limbos.

Just over two years ago, Stuart Bingham was the talk of the snooker world for all the right reasons after his incredible World Championship success at the Crucible. The Englishman was widely hailed as a genuinely passionate man of both the sport and the people. His Cinderella performance in Sheffield endeared him to all and his unexpected rise to the top of the game in arguably the twilight years of his career will long represent one of the true fairytales of the game.

It’s a shame then that Bingham had to go and tarnish his seemingly squeaky-clean image and reputation. At the beginning of 2017, it had become clear that “Ballrun” – a nickname ironically attributed to him due to his luck on the baize – was under investigation for betting on the sport. By October, the 41 year-old was being punished with a six-month ban, three months of which will be suspended, and a £20,000 fine.

There had been no accusations laid on Bingham with regard actual match-fixing but the rules have clearly stated that no player can bet at all on the sport. With so many other high-profile cases surrounding other players, it’s practically unforgivable for anyone, through naivety or otherwise, to get caught up in this kind of affair – especially someone who earns enough from his success on the table to negate the need for some extra pocket money away from it.

Bingham will return in early 2018 and his career will likely continue similarly to how it had done before but, unfortunately, he can’t undo the past and this is something that will surely hang over him in some way, shape, or form for a long time.

Ronnie’s Numpties

Let me make it perfectly clear. Numpty is a great word. A great word! So there’s no attacking the use of the word here really, rather the person behind it. A good majority of people found this amusing and, in the beginning, I too could see the funny side. Of course, that was before it became a one-man self-absorbed cringe-fest.

What on earth was Ronnie thinking? Whether one agrees with him or not about his views concerning the number of players on the circuit isn’t important; he initially had his right to say that he felt that the tour is too big and that there are several players at the bottom end of the ladder who arguably don’t deserve to have professional status. To be fair, in some cases he has a point.

But the release of the Eurosport video in which he tries to tell us all about his “manifesto” – please! – of dealing with numpties and their families was not in the slightest bit funny. It was disrespectful. The fact that so many fans and followers of the game have failed to see that is also a touch worrying. Or maybe I’m just a big numpty.

Judd Stumped?

For a player who has reached five ranking event finals in 2017, the most of any player on the circuit, it may seem a little strange to be criticising Judd Trump. However, the 28 year-old has for a long-time been labelled as a potential great of the sport and so far he is failing to live up to his potential when it comes to the major championships.

It wasn’t all bad for Trump as he claimed a pair of ranking victories. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

The Englishman went into the World Championship not only as one of the pre-tournament favourites with the bookies, but also in his own mind as he so brashly gloated about his chances prior to the outset of the two-week marathon of the mind. Well, it was more like a painful trip to the dentist as Trump bowed out in the last 32 in a woeful performance against Rory McLeod.

Things didn’t get much better for Trump in the next Triple Crown event at the UK Championship, losing again at the last 32 stage having a week earlier petulantly smashed up the balls in an angry concession against Stuart Carrington in the Northern Ireland Open. His 2011 UK success remains his only triumph in a BBC major, a poor return for someone of his ability.

The former world number one has demonstrated time and time again in the support events what he is capable of, and there’s no doubt that there are occasions when it’s impossible for almost every other player to live with him. But until he brings that pedigree to the likes of the Worlds, UK, or Masters, his potential will go disappointingly unfulfilled.

Irish Struggles Prolong

This time last year, Josh Boileau was featured in “The Highs” part of this annual review following his triumph in the European Under-21 Championship. Unfortunately for the Kildare cueist, his debut stint as a professional has been a chastening battle.

In 2017, the Irishman has landed only four victories, meaning he requires a monumental effort during the remainder of this campaign if he is to have any hope of surviving the cut and guaranteeing his return to the tour for next season. Obviously, any young player’s first attempt in the big-time is nearly always going to prove to be a difficult experience and plenty of competitors in the past have shown how it is possible to return for a second crack as a much-improved prospect. Just look at Neil Robertson.

However, what is perhaps a little concerning is that Boileau has been heralded back at home for years as the budding star who can put the Irish tricolour back on the snooker map. Not many others seem prepared in Ireland to give being professional a proper go so Boileau definitely has to be applauded for that. But if we take a look back at the last decade, there is a string of fancied players from the country who have ultimately failed to have a positive impact on the pro scene – and sadly Boileau looks set to mirror this trend for the time being at least.

David Morris, Brendan O’Donoghue, Vincent Muldoon, and David Hogan have all come and gone despite three of them being multiple national amateur champions and widely regarded as among the best ever players to come out of Ireland. Where’s the next Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien, or even Michael Judge, who reached a more than respectable career-high of no.24 in the world rankings?

Whether it’s the lack of monetary support, a lack of personal ambition and drive, or a combination of the two, something continues to be wrong for a country that should be producing more players of elite level, rather than just simply be satisfied by competing well in events like the Home Internationals.

WPBSA and IBSF Split

Who knew that the World Games would provide one of the main talking points of the year in snooker? Yet, as Kyren Wilson was being awarded his gold medal for beating Ali Carter in Poland, behind the scenes there was trouble developing between two of the sport’s major governing bodies. The tensions escalated quickly and, by the end of it, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association was distancing itself completely from the International Billiards and Snooker Federation.

The ramifications were huge, with the WPBSA withdrawing the tour cards they typically presented to winners of IBSF World Championships, resulting in an unscheduled change of venue for the latter’s signature competition in 2017 and an uncertain future for what has been traditionally the biggest non-professional organisation in the sport.

Angry accusations were volleyed at each other, meaning it seems unlikely that there could be a truce anytime soon. The WPBSA has since helped to initiate a new World Snooker Federation, which has already aligned itself with many important national governing bodies – such as in England, Scotland, Australia, and Thailand. With the new Challenge Tour set to be inaugurated from next season, it will be very intriguing to see how the foundations of amateur snooker are affected and which entity will end up gaining the most control.

At this point in time, it appears as though the WPBSA is holding a lot of the aces.

Part Two will be published tomorrow when we’ll be looking at some of the high points from 2017.

Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.

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