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Masters of the Baize by Luke Williams & Paul Gadsby

Release date: 14th April, 2005
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing

List Price: £15.99
Our Price: £11.19
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Masters of the Baize
By Luke Williams and Paul Gadsby
Mainstream Publishing price: £ 11.19 (saving 30% on rrp)

'The Crucible, Sheffield' means only one thing to sports fans; it's an arena which enjoys a sporting resonance similar to Old Trafford or Murrayfield, a location synonymous with unforgettable drama, a place which ultimately gave rise to Barry Hearn's comment about the sport he has done so much to popularise. "Snooker," said Hearn when the game had more pulling power than Brad Pitt, "is like Coronation Street with balls."

As the 2005 World Snooker Championship gets under way at one of sport's most atmospheric venues and this timely publication, which attempts to go further than a standard biography of one of the game's stars, captures something of snooker's history while mixing in essay-length profiles of the men who have lifted the world title.

Throughout, Luke Williams and Paul Gadsby are conscious of snooker's history and their book starts well by providing an historic perspective to billiards, the game from which snooker was ultimately to emerge. They glide through billiard's landmark dates, identifying literary references which stretch back to Shakespeare's day. Billiards is believed to have originated in France where it enjoyed continuous royal patronage, partly explaining Mary Queen of Scots' affinity for the game. Following her execution, her body was wrapped in the coarse green baize taken from her own billiard table.

Snooker, on the other hand, was a product of Empire. In 1875, in the officer's mess of the Devonshire Regiment in Jubbulpore, India, Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain, then a lowly subaltern, suggested adding yellow, green and pink balls to the existing 15 reds and one black used for billiards (the brown and green balls were added later) and devised a method of sequential potting. The new game's name also had military overtones: 'snooker' was a slang term used to describe first year cadets at the Royal Military Academy in London.

Following an all too brief history, the authors proceed with a series of well-researched profiles of the 21 players who have left their respective marks on the game.

Undoubtedly, the man to whom all professional snooker players should be grateful is the player who gets the ball rolling, Joe Davis, once entertainingly described by a national newspaper as "The Emperor of Pot." It was Davis's vision and persistence which led to the establishment of the world championship in 1927, a tournament he won on an astonishing 15 occasions. After receiving the inaugural world championship trophy (the one still in use today), Davis collected the winner's cheque, a princely £6.50.

Such was Davis's snooker proficiency that even as a teenager when playing for money, his opponents insisted he play left-handed. Almost inevitably, Davis honed his left-handed game which ensured he rarely had use for the rest. Yet despite this, as late as 1934, Davis suggested that billiards was the truer test of cuemanship, calling snooker "slapdash and agricultural".

A comprehensive series of familiar profiles follow and the authors finish by providing the reader with their version of snooker's top ten. In fairness, they acknowledge that the list is subjective (an admission missing from those annoying television programmes which desperately try to be credible, but offer titles such as 'The 100 best road signs'). As is the case with any other compilation of greats, it is probable that not everyone will agree with their opinion, but so what? Subjectivity is one of sport's greatest attractions, the force which drives us to support one player ahead of another, as most of us no doubt will during the forthcoming 'Crucible' fortnight.

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