Gary Wilson first turned professional ten years ago at times of trouble and strife for snooker. He was 18 and the world under 21 champion, a great prospect but still raw and thrown right in at the deep end.
It’s worth pointing out that new pros have traditionally received very little help or guidance outside of being pointed towards their first qualifying match. This is one of the many things WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson has been working to change.
Wilson had ranking eight tournaments to play in that season and only six the season after. He was relegated and it looked as if the game may have lost a genuine talent.
He still played amateur snooker and began life as a taxi driver. Then snooker started to sort itself out. Barry Hearn came on board and playing opportunities increased. Wilson returned to the pro circuit this season and has done very well, reaching a European Tour semi-final, Asian Tour quarter-final and the last 16 of the Indian Open. Tonight he plays Marco Fu live on Eurosport in the Players Championship finals.
It’s been a long road back for the 28 year-old but he has embraced the new era in exactly the way any player should: with hard work and dedication. The chance to play regularly and meet some of the bigger names below the radar in the PTC events has helped him sharpen his game. This season he has made a maximum and beaten Peter Ebdon, Mark King, Mark Davis, Jimmy White, Dominic Dale, Ricky Walden, Robert Milkins and the man he plays tonight in Preston, Hong Kong’s Fu.
This is now very much on the radar snooker, a live televised match of the sort all players dream to be involved in.
Wilson hails from Wallsend in the north east of England, an area with a strong cue sports pedigree. It has produced many a fine billiards player. In snooker, Mike Dunn and Jonathan Birch have been mainstays of the circuit at various times.
Playing professional snooker is a precarious business. It’s cut-throat. Standards are high. The financial rewards are there but first comes a not inconsiderate financial outlay.
Wilson has given it another go after his first spell on the tour failed to live up to his expectations. Now older, wiser and with more life experience under his belt, he will hope the meter will run and run on a playing career which looked to have stalled.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.