By
Jason
·

len ganley, one of a kind

Early life…

Leonard ‘Len’ Ganley was born on April 27th 1943, in Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. He came from a large family and was one of 11 children.

In his formative years Len was a chimney sweep, but that all changed in 1971, aged 28, when he upped sticks and moved to Burton-upon-Trent in England.

Initially Len worked as a milkman and then a bus driver and also spent time in the British army before leaving due to the threat of having to serve in Belfast. Len’s real passion was for snooker though, and he was often to be found in his local YMCA, and farther afield, honing his clearly talented cue action and knocking in the odd century here and there.

Len the player.

A player and a friend of Alex…

Len was a close friend, travelling partner and confidant of the enigma that was Alex Higgins. In the 40 years they were friends they travelled the world, often together, played together and lived together. Len was 6 years older than Alex and it was while still living in N.Ireland that Len met Alex at the local YMCA where they would play together. Len was a better player than Alex then and “gave him a 75 point start in snooker and 35 at billiards and beat him comfortably”.

He said of his own game “I played snooker to a good standard myself in Northern Ireland, before coming to Burton-on-Trent, where I won several individual titles, one of which was the Derby and Midlands Individuals.”

Len held Alex in the highest regard and when interviewed in the mid nineties Len said “Alex was the greatest cueist that ever lived. He did things with the cueball nobody else has ever done. He’s just a different class and so is Ronnie. If Ronnie would learn to co-ordinate his playing with his temperament he could be the greatest player that ever lived.” How prophetic was this comment?!

Alex and Len were good friends.

Becoming a referee…

In 1976 Len got the chance to play against Ray Reardon, for a frame in an exhibition evening. He recalls the story as follows. 

“I got to play Ray Reardon one night, Ray was on a 105 break after potting the black and had perfect position on the yellow.The audience erupted so I put my finger over my lips to hush them and it went deadly quiet. All of a sudden, Ray said with a grin on his face: ‘If this had been the world championships, they’d still have been clapping 15 minutes later’ – and this wee voice at the back says: ‘Yes, but have you seen the size of the bastard referee?!’ “At that time I was about 26 stone. Ray turned round and looked at me and laughed. I started laughing, the audience laughed and in the interval Ray asked if I’d thought about taking up refereeing.” The rest is history.

Len refereeing Taylor vs Knowles in 1982.

Rising the ranks…

Len took up Ray Reardon’s suggestion and not only learnt how to become a snooker referee, but rose the ranks very quickly, when snooker was, some would say, at the height of its popularity in the 1980’s. 

A perfect blend of efficiency around the table, coupled with an air of authority, not only kept the players happy, but also kept the sometime rowdy crowds under control. An example of Len’s ability to control the crowd was when Ray Reardon was playing Cliff Wilson in the UK championships, and there were a couple of drunk people in the audience being loud. 

“There were two drunks in the back of the stand. I asked Ray if he minded me going up to have a word and forgot I had a mic on me! 

“I went up and asked for the best of order in the game but warned them: ‘If you don’t stop it – pick a window ‘cos you’re going through it’! And I had the mic on! “For months everyone on the circuit called me ‘Pick a Window Ganley’!”

Len once commented “If a player asks, ‘Who reffed?’ afterwards that’s good,” he said, “because it means you have been out of his road all night. Someone who wants the limelight, players just don’t want to know about.”

Ray inspired Len’s refereeing career.

Len Ganley – Big match referee…

In total Len refereed four world championship finals at the Crucible, Sheffield. He also officiated many other finals. He personally regarded the 1983 UK championship final at the Guildhall, Preston, his most memorable. Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, came from 0-7 down to beat the dominating force of the time, Steve Davis, 16-15. Len recalled that “Alex was 7-0 down after the first session and during the interval I was interviewed by BBC Radio. The interviewer said: ‘Well, it looks like being another runaway for Steve Davis’ and I replied: ‘Hang on a minute, are we talking about the same game?’ “He made the point that Steve was 7-0 up and I said: ‘Let’s wait for the evening session’. “That evening Alex won seven out of the eight frames to trail 8-7 and went on to win it.”

Len became even more of a household name in later years, when he could be seen picking out the balls for Ronnie O’Sullivan as he knocked in his incredible 5 minutes 8 seconds 147 break at the Crucible in 1997. He was also in charge when Hendry knocked in his 147 a few years earlier in 1995. Len hugged both players after their respective achievements, which just shows the affinity he had with the players.

Don’t mess with ‘Pick a window Ganley’.

Other claims to fame…

Len ‘ball crusher’ Ganley, was a name that was bestowed upon him after appearing in a television advert for Carling Black Label lager, in 1984. Len was seen ‘crushing’ a ball to apparent dust with a single gloved hand. This was a direct nod to his no nonsense, but fun, style of refereeing. 

In 1985 Len was made the subject of a song by a band named Half Man Half Biscuit, named ‘The Len Ganley Stance’. On the Album sleeve he was bizarrely titled ‘The Godfather of punk’.

Charity work…

Len worked tirelessly on behalf of many charities including those for children with muscular dystrophy and spina bifida.

He did this throughout his career, and used his fame and notoriety to help him raise even more money. Dennis Taylor said the following, “During the world championship anyone who came anywhere near the Crucible Theatre and saw Len had to give him a tenner. He used to raise a lot of money for the powered wheelchairs, our snooker golf society used to supply a lot of powered wheelchairs for the handicapped children and Len was at the forefront.”

Len also organised charity golf days that would see the rich and famous on the greens. He was in his element announcing Hollywood stars like Jack Lemmon onto the 1st tee. 

In 2000 Len was appointed an MBE in the new years honours, for his charity work along with services to snooker. 

RIP Len…

Len Ganley sadly died on 28th August 2011, aged 68, after suffering for many years with diabetes and other ailments. He left behind his wife and six children. His eldest son, Michael became the tournament director of world snooker in 2001.

Len would have loved this Whirlwind ball marker

19 COMMENTS

  • Pav
    Reply

    Great blog! Len seemed a lovely bloke. May his soul rest in peace

    April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Cheers Pav.

      April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Andy Lambley
    Reply

    Great memories of a great character in snooker, good referee and always a nice bloke when you got to meet him at tournaments. I still have the half man, half biscuit album!

    April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Nice one Andy. Do you ever play it?

      April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Keith Watson
    Reply

    What an amazing referee and took the game to new heights with the way he control a match with his gentleman style approach to the game. Only 2 referees have the same style as him when reffing a game and they are Jan Verhaas and Michaela Tabb, both ref same way as amazing Len

    April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Thanks for that Keith.

      April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Petermaguire
    Reply

    New len for a lot of years and his boys Mike is a very close friend and I miss len still he loved the game sadly missed and Dennis is Wright he would say give me a tenner you never refused him a true gent and his sons are the same rip len x

    April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Thanks for that Peter.

      April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Mark
    Reply

    Another great article about one of snookers many great characters.

    April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Cheers Mark.

      April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Baz
    Reply

    Lovely, he was as much a part of the beautiful snooker experience that I loved growing up as the players themselves.

    April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Thanks Baz.

      April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Richard
    Reply

    Great read! Always nice to get to see the background of the snooker community ( players, referees, those behind the scenes) ….I think that’s something which has set snooker apart from other sports over the years and why the general public can relate to our heroes.

    April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Thanks Richard.

      April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Malc
    Reply

    Lovely story of a different time in snooker compared to todays showbiz and walk on music. Nice one.

    April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Thanks a lot Malc.

      April 14, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Andy Jackson
    Reply

    Great article I’ve been friends with Lens nephew for over 30 years so I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him on numerous occasions. What Len didn’t know about snooker wasn’t worth knowing he literally lived and breathed the game. A great man who’s still sorely missed by all. R.I.P big man.

    May 1, 2020 at 6 months ago
    • Jason
      Reply

      Thanks for reading Andy.

      May 8, 2020 at 6 months ago
  • Tracey Heath
    Reply

    Loved reading your article. I was privileged to have known Len as a friend as well as other referees for many years whilst following the English circuit in the 80’s and 90’s. I was lucky enough to win a competition to see Pot Black 1985 being filmed in 1984, through this competition and referee John Williams my snooker journey commenced. Len was a true gentleman, a big softie with a massive heart. Your article brought back lovely memories of when Len told me the story of how he started out in refereeing. Will never forget him and the wonderful memories I have. Greatly missed, but truly fondly remembered.

    July 9, 2020 at 6 months ago
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