Excitement is building for the Ronnie O’Sullivan and Hossein Vafaei grudge match, but it isn’t the first fiery contest at a World Snooker Championship.
O’Sullivan and Vafaei will battle in an eagerly anticipated second-round showdown this weekend at the Crucible Theatre.
There has been a war of words between the pair this week, escalating a feud that began during the middle of last season.
Vafaei used to consider O’Sullivan as his hero but now thinks that he is only a “nice person when he’s asleep,” while the Rocket has warned the Iranian and others not to “rattle my cage”.
There is usually a certain degree of decorum within the snooker world so many, including John Higgins, believe this kind of needle can be good for the game.
That’s not to say there haven’t ever been grudge matches and fiery contests at the World Snooker Championship in the past.
Let’s remember a few of the memorable ones.
Quinten Hann vs Andy Hicks
Perhaps not the two biggest names the sport had to offer at the time, but their bust-up has gone down in the annals as the stuff of legend.
At the 2004 World Championship, bad-boy seed Quinten Hann faced former semi-finalist Andy Hicks in the opening round.
After a salty affair ended 10-4 in favour of the latter, a result that meant Hann had to endure the qualifiers for the entirety of the following campaign, Hicks supposedly quipped, “that’s you outside of the top 16.”
Hann, never shy of expressing himself both on and off the baize, reportedly retorted with, “you’re short and bald and always will be, and I’ll fight you in the street for 50 grand any time you like.”
The Australian didn’t quite get his wish, but he did end up brawling Mark King inside the ring for a charity boxing bout instead – beating the stand-in before being disgracefully banned from the sport for match-fixing.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Stephen Hendry
Ronnie O’Sullivan features prominently in this list of snooker squabbles at the World Championship, and to be fair there were a few other cases that could have easily been included as well – #shoulderbarge anyone?
For this one it’s 2002 when O’Sullivan was bidding to become the first player to break the Curse of the Crucible – the hoodoo that no first-time champion had returned the following year to successfully complete the double.
In the 2002 semi-finals he faced Stephen Hendry but somewhat foolishly jibed that he didn’t have a lot of respect for the seven-time Crucible king, and that he wanted to send him back to “his sad little life” in Scotland.
The bravado didn’t quite work, and Hendry recorded a 17-13 victory before responding to the controversy a year later by saying, “Ronnie has been in the Priory being treated for depression. Why would I want his life?”
Realising his lack of judgement O’Sullivan eventually apologised, and two years later he thumped Hendry 17-4 at the same stage – albeit under much friendlier circumstances.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Peter Ebdon
Ronnie O’Sullivan once said of Peter Ebdon: “He looks like a psycho, plays like an amateur, and has no class around the table.”
It’s fair to say that the pair were polar opposites, and any match between them inevitably represented a clash in styles.
The Englishmen had already encountered each other twice in the World Snooker Championship before their infamous 2005 quarter-final grudge match.
Ebdon denied the “Rocket” in a close last-four battle in 1996 before O’Sullivan gained his revenge en route to securing his maiden world title in 2001.
Four years later, O’Sullivan was the reigning champion again and a big favourite to defend his crown.
When he led Ebdon 8-2 all seemed well, only for his countryman to launch a sterling comeback with the aid of a few classic mind games.
The 2002 champion utilised his powers of patience to frustrate the then world number one, and at one point he compiled a break of 12 that took more than five minutes to complete.
O’Sullivan, bemused and bewildered, succumbed to a monumental meltdown that had him periodically staring at his nemesis in a state of delirious confusion.
While he didn’t comment much on the incident after eventually losing 13-11, O’Sullivan later said, “World Snooker should create an award for him titled ‘The best worst slow break in the history of the game’. Ebbo would be proud of that.”
O’Sullivan did gain his revenge in Sheffield seven years later by hammering Ebdon in the first round en route to a fourth World Championship success.
Anthony McGill vs Jamie Clarke
The most recent grudge match at a World Snooker Championship transpired at the 2020 edition.
Trailing 8-2 in their second-round clash, Anthony McGill became incensed at debutant Jamie Clarke’s standing position while the Scot was down on his shot.
The former Indian Open champion made his feelings clear to both Clarke and referee Jan Verhaas, who was tasked with the unenviable job of calming the escalating situation.
“The rule clearly states you have to avoid being in the eye-line of the player,” Verhaas told Clarke in the arena.
“If he is playing in that direction then I would like you to be in your chair and sit down.”
At one stage, McGill got right up in Clarke’s face and actually stormed off after the Welshman at the end of a frame – calling out his opponent’s name to presumably to have further words backstage away from the cameras.
McGill’s scare tactics seemingly worked, and the Glaswegian mounted an incredible comeback to ultimately take victory in a decider.
Alex Higgins vs…Colin Randle?
The last mention on this list isn’t so much a grudge match, but given how it’s arguably the most controversial thing ever to happen at the World Snooker Championship, it can’t really be ignored.
By 1990, the once-great Alex Higgins had fully succumbed to the grips of alcohol and controversy, becoming a shadow of the player who captured the 1972 and 1982 world titles.
A decade of making the front and back pages as a result of his antics off the baize had taken its toll on the “Hurricane”, with the perfect storm culminating at the 1990 World Championship.
Only weeks after threatening to have fellow Northern Irishman Dennis Taylor shot, Higgins lost his last 32 Crucible clash against Steve James.
Higgins subsequently got steamed inside the arena on a few extra vodkas before undergoing what transpired to be an infamous press conference.
A clearly inebriated Higgins rambled that he wasn’t playing snooker any more, which was certainly set in stone when it became apparent that he had, in fact, just punched official Colin Randle in the stomach.
Higgins was banned for a whole season and only played at the Crucible Theatre once more, losing to Ken Doherty at the same hurdle in 1994.
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Featured photo credit: WST
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O’Sullivan’s spat with Alain Robidoux in 1996 was another example of a game that developed into a grudge match in the way McGill/Clarke did. The Rocket had also been involved in grudge matches at the Crucible with Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby in the past.
Yeah Ronnie’s had a fair few!
Alex Higgins was involved in several others including Cliff Thorburn and a showdown with referee John Williams. Another Northern Irishman Dennis Taylor became embroiled in a slightly heated dispute with Len Ganley over the miss rule.