THE WORLD CUP next week marks the start of the new televised snooker season and is a rare chance for players to represent their countries rather than themselves.
It’s an eclectic line-up. Some nations could have had three or four really strong teams, others have had a rather smaller pool to draw from.
Kurt Maflin and his wife Anita will represent Norway, in what is surely a rare instance in any sport of a married couple competing together.
China, as hosts, has been given two teams, but the Chinese Billiards and Snooker Association have chosen two teenagers for the second team rather than the next two players from the ranking list. This list has been used to form the other teams, apart from when the country in question does not have two professionals.
In total, 24 teams will take part in Wuxi in the latest staging of a competition which began in 1979.
The old World Team Cup was part of the BBC’s portfolio of events. Younger views may not believe this but in the mid 1980s the BBC broadcast six tournaments nationally: the World Championship, UK Championship, Masters, Grand Prix, Pot Black and the World Team Cup.
The first staging in 1979 featured six teams and somehow finished a day ahead of schedule. It was won by the holy Welsh trinity of Ray Reardon, Doug Mountjoy and Terry Griffiths, who retained the title a year later.
England of course had several world class players to choose from and Steve Davis was part of four winning teams in the 1980s, the best of them in 1988 and 1989 when he was joined by Jimmy White and Neal Foulds.
There was a win in 1982 for another celebrated trio, the Canadian triumvirate of Cliff Thorburn, Kirk Stevens and Bill Werbeniuk, who reached three other finals.
But the all-Irish line-up of Dennis Taylor, Alex Higgins and Eugene Hughes were the team to beat. They won three successive titles from 1985 to 1987 before it was decided Northern Ireland and the Republic should have separate teams, presumably to give everyone else a chance.
The notable snooker nation missing from this roll of honour was Scotland. Stephen Hendry turned professional in 1985 and soon became a big tournament winner but it would be several more years before the likes of Alan McManus and John Higgins emerged.
There was at this time a ‘Rest of the World’ team – the rest of the world being quite a large area to draw from. In 1988, the team of Silvino Francisco (South Africa), Dene O’Kane (New Zealand) and Tony Drago (Malta) reached the final, losing 9-8 on a re-spotted black to England.
The last staging of the World Team Cup came in 1990 and it was its most notorious too. Taylor was Northern Ireland captain but Alex Higgins tried to call the shots. An argument erupted in which Higgins let fly a volley of vile abuse, including the infamous threat to have Taylor shot if he returned to Northern Ireland. He was banned for a season for this and other offences.
This last team event was won by the Canadian side of Thorburn, Alain Robidoux and Bob Chaperon but it was six years until the World Cup returned. It was held in Bangkok, Thailand and was the best World Cup of them all.
This was an expanded event with more teams and longer matches. The three-man teams were augmented by a reserve although the Canadian reserve in fact didn’t arrive in Thailand until Canada had been eliminated due to various visa problems.
Scotland were by now snooker’s dominant force and the ‘dream team’ of Hendry, Higgins and McManus were victorious over Ireland, who had won a thrilling victory over England in the semi-finals.
The problem was that the event cost so much that it did not take place again but in 1999 ITV became interested in snooker again and broadcast the Nations Cup, a competition for teams from the home nations first held in a freezing cold Newcastle in the middle of January.
Snooker is one of the most individual of all sports but most players would have played for league teams in their early days and there was a genuine competitiveness to the matches with national pride at stake.
Wales had the experienced Darren Morgan, Dominic Dale, who’d won a ranking title the previous season, and two of the best players in the world, Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens. They beat Scotland in the final.
The Welsh lost in the final the following year to England before Scotland won in 2001, the event renamed the World Cup.
This final was notable for the referee telling Fergal O’Brien at a sensitive moment to hurry up because the TV coverage was shortly coming to an end. In fact, it came to an end permanently because ITV didn’t show the event again.
It was ten years before the World Cup returned. The 2011 event featured two-man teams, was played in Thailand and won by the Chinese pairing of Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo.
As in 2011, there will be alternate shot doubles in this year’s edition, not always the most attractive form of snooker because of its stop-start nature. Indeed, it’s hard for players to settle into a rhythm when they are just playing one frame at a time.
But at least there’s no pressure of world rankings and, for once, they will have a team mate to ease the load.
England’s team features the last two winners of the world title, Mark Selby and Stuart Bingham, while Wales are represented by Williams and the Indian Open champion Michael White.
Scotland have the experienced duo of John Higgins and Stephen Maguire going into bat for them while the Republic of Ireland once again call on Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien, who were part of the team which lost to Scotland in 1996.
The top prize works out at around £65,000 each, so if the event is something of a novelty it will be one taken seriously.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.