FORMER WORLD CHAMPION Ken Doherty believes snooker’s ‘foreign legion’ are here to stay.
This season’s major ranking finals have been dominated by non-UK players with only John Higgins at the Wuxi Classic and Mark Selby in the UK Championship providing British finalists.
From the first six ranking events, China’s Ding Junhui has won three titles, Australian Neil Robertson two and Marco Fu of Hong Kong (pictured) the other. In addition, Chinese professional Xiao Guodong and Adiyta Mehta of India have appeared in major finals.
Doherty, one of three players, along with Robertson and Canada’s Cliff Thorburn, to win the World Championship, believes the growth in tournaments has helped players from different parts of the globe make inroads into the traditionally British circuit.
“We have a lot more representation from overseas and now there are Asian PTCs where Asian players can play the top players, and they’re not as intimidated as they once were,” Doherty told Inside Snooker.
“It’s a sign of things to come. There will be more players emerging from Asia and particularly mainland China for sure. But isn’t that great? It’s a world game. It’s the way it should be.
“We had the Canadian players years ago and we used to have a lot more Australian players when I turned pro. For the game to go forward it needs a lot more representation from across the world and I’d like to see a few players come from mainland Europe, particularly Germany. Although snooker is very popular there we haven’t seen any young lads come through other than Patrick Einsle, and he hasn’t really broken through.”
When Doherty, the 1997 world champion, was starting out on the road to the top, he moved away from his native Dublin to live in Essex where he practised and competed in pro-am events to sharpen his game.
He acknowledges that with the qualifying system still based in the UK, it is hard for non-Brits to spend so much time away from home – but believes it is worth it.
“It’s not easy,” Doherty said. “The hardest thing for me was the homesickness, being away from family and friends – and I was only an hour away on a plane.
“When your loved ones aren’t there you miss them terribly. These are the barriers and hurdles these guys have to face, particularly the Chinese. But if there’s a good group of them together it’s not too bad. When I came over there were four or five Irish players in the club at Ilford Snooker Centre. Eugene Hughes was the professional there and he was looking after us. We were having good fun, good banter and there were plenty of Irish around.
“It’s probably the same with the Chinese lads. They stick together so are with people with their own language and sense of humour. They’re all helping each other with the difficulties of being away from their families.
“The qualifiers are still all over here in England and it does make it difficult for them but I think if you’re good enough and determined enough then you can overcome those barriers. It depends on your own psyche, basically. It depends on how much you really want it.
“When I came over the other lads that were with me wanted it but they weren’t prepared to make the sacrifices I was prepared to make. The lads from overseas will have to make the same sacrifices if they really have that desire and hunger to make it to the top.”
Does Doherty see a time where the Brits are in the minority on the professional circuit?
He said: “Not for the foreseeable future. It’s good that there are more overseas players but most are still British and it will take a long time to change that. The majority of the players will still come from the UK and Ireland.”
Ding lost yesterday in the Dafabet Masters but Fu is through to the quarter-finals and world no.1 Robertson takes on Mark Allen in the first round this afternoon.
Doherty, twice a Masters finalist and at Alexandra Palace as part of the BBC commentary team, admires the Melbourne man for the steel he has shown in rising to the very top of the game and sympathises with Robertson that he does not enjoy a higher profile in his native land.
He said: “It’s a shame that Neil doesn’t get more coverage back home. It’ll take a lot of self-promotion on his part to change it, plus he has to keep winning.
“Eddie Charlton had a big following but he went on the road and built up that following. Neil will have to participate in a lot of things back in Australia to command those type of headlines because they’re so taken up with cricket, Aussie Rules football, rugby and outdoor sports in general.
“Snooker is not a hugely popular game in Australia. I struggle to find clubs in Melbourne when I go there. There’s one, the Brunswick, but other than that it’s hard to find a decent club. So Neil is fighting a tough battle but as long as he keeps winning people will take notice.”
Photographs by Monique Limbos.