Writer Luke G. Williams explains what inspired him to write a biography of Patsy Houlihan, arguably the greatest hustler of all time, and one of the great lost snooker talents.
By Luke G. Williams
The first time I ever saw the name Patsy Houlihan mentioned was in Jimmy White’s 1998 autobiography ‘Behind the White Ball’. The Whirlwind named him as one of the three greatest snooker players he had ever seen.
Quite a compliment – even more so when you realise that by the time the teenage White was playing with Houlihan at the Pot Black snooker club in Battersea in the mid-1970s Patsy was already past his best.
His wondrous peak came in the amateur snooker ranks in the 1950s and 60s, and on the hustling and money-match scene during the same time, when professional snooker was all but dead.
Houlihan – along with other talented amateurs of the era such as Cliff Wilson, Marcus Owen and Ron Gross – might have helped reinvigorate the professional game if he’d been allowed to turn pro, but his reputation for hustling saw him dismissed as ‘not the right sort’ and the closed shop of the pro game froze him out.
Houlihan’s amateur accomplishments speak for themselves though – he won seven London titles in all, as well as the national amateur title in 1965, when he beat Gary Owen, Ray Reardon and John Spencer among others on an imperious march to the title.
Intrigued by Houlihan since I first read White’s autobiography, I’ve spent the last two-and-a half decades tracking down the full story of Patsy’s career, a story which is now told in my book ‘The Natural – the Story of Patsy Houlihan, the Greatest Snooker Player You Never Saw’, which was published on 3 April by Pitch Publishing.
Sadly, no extended video footage of Houlihan in action has survived, and his name is still largely unknown outside of specialist snooker circles.
Nevertheless many sound judges who saw the Deptford dynamo in action on the green baize concur with Jimmy White’s view that he was one of the most talented cue men to ever draw breath.
Steve Davis, like White, only saw Houlihan in action in the 1970s, 80s and 90s when he finally joined the pro circuit, and told me: “Patsy was a very talented player – I’ve seen clips of Joe Davis, Fred Davis and John Pulman play and he was in their league easily I would have thought.
“He was fast and fluent. Ahead of his time in style. He wasn’t a defensive player [and] I got the feeling that he was professional standard in his mentality and his outlook about how to play the game of snooker compared to run of the mill amateurs of the time.” Davis referred to Houlihan as a “folklore hero”.
The young Tony Meo – like White – idolised Houlihan. Meo hardly ever gives interviews these days, but when it came to speaking about Patsy he made an exception, telling me: “Patsy was just so natural.”
“He used to get down, take one look and then bang! The balls used to go in the pockets like rockets! There’s no doubt about it – if he had been born in a different kind of era and had different guidance he would have made it right to the top.”
Then there’s the testimony of Bill King, father of current pro Mark, to consider. Bill has been in and around the snooker scene for decades and seen every post-war world champion in action at one point or another, save for Joe Davis.
He also saw Houlihan when he was at his peak and in Bill’s estimation, Patsy was the greatest snooker player of them all.
“Houlihan was the best snooker player I’ve ever seen,” King told me. “He made everybody else look silly, honestly. I’ve never seen another player like him and I’ve seen all the great players.
“Davis was a calculating player, A good tactician. I don’t think he ever played Houlihan. I don’t think Davis would have beat Houlihan.
“I think Trump is maybe the next best, maybe Trump would beat Houlihan. Or Hendry. But Houlihan had it all and could play billiards an’ all. He was an amazing character.”
We can’t watch Houlihan – who died in 2006 – play snooker, like White, Davis, Meo and King were lucky enough to do, but my hope is that through my book, I can make sure his considerable contribution to the game of snooker is never forgotten.
In that spirit, I thought that readers of this website might be interested in my countdown of seven essential matches from Houlihan’s career.
Keep your eyes peeled to SnookerHQ in the coming days for that article…
‘The Natural’ is published by Pitch Publishing and available now. For more details visit: https://www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/natural-0
Featured photo credit: Jean Rafferty and Mary Rafferty
I cant believe i took money off this man on the snooker table my mate peter virgin was a manager at the new world snooker hall in deptford it was a quiet night early hours of the morning and one man was playing snooker all by himself so i asked him if i could join him we had a few hours i too a few quid of him and he left i went back to the counter and my mate peter said you know who that was its patsy houlihan i replied who ? Never heard the name before my only meeting with the man
I’m sorry but Bill King is talking nonsense in saying only Trump or Hendry could maybe beat Houlihan. O’Sullivan is the best ever and would’ve clearly beaten him like all of today’s top players. They score at a level that players before 1990 can’t live with.
I’m sorry that Patsy didn’t have a the opportunity to showcase his talent in his prime within a tournament structure similar to what we have now, but those advocating him as the best ever are being overly romantic and not understanding that greatness is measured by achievements and the standard of a particular era has to factored in when assessing the pantheon.
The reason Bill refuses to acknowledge O’Sullivan as the best is because him and Mark King have never got along since their junior days.