The Trailblazers of Snooker
This is a post by Elliott West from https://greenbaize1972.com/
“Snooker is a game of simple shots, played to perfection “ (Joe Davis)
Snooker has completely transformed since its infancy, when it was first played in the foothills of India. The snooker revolution has been a constantly turning wheel that has evolved into the modern sport that it is today. To really understand how this occurred we need to take a closer look at the players that were instrumental in growing the sport.
In this piece I would like to roll back the years and concentrate on a few of the key figures that helped ignite the spark of snooker, and discuss why a few key figures were so instrumental, maybe even crucial, in making this happen. The players in question are Joe Davis, and his brother Fred, Walter and Horace Lindrum and Sidney Smith. These pioneers from the early years were the trailblazers for the game and established snooker as a brand. Moving it from the smoke filled billiard halls into to the clarity of an established game with recognised tournaments in arena’s around the globe.
The Early Years
As the second world war approached, snooker was moving away from a game only played by the richest in society, and was expanding into to the working classes. Gone were the days when elephants were slaughtered en masse for raw materials that provided ivory for balls (approximately 15,000 a year at one stage in Great Britain alone). The game itself was advancing and players moved from playing random matches to concentrating on technique and hard hours of practice to achieve more in the game.
Ivory snooker balls.
During this period various newsreels were produced to showcase players, filming them as they practiced and lined up various shots. The aim was not only to display the excellence in this cue sport but to also make the general public aware of snooker.
The main established tournament had been around since 1927, The world championships, which Joe Davis helped set up. As this predated the era of television coverage, the matches were played behind closed doors that few saw, unless, of course, they were lucky enough to have a ticket.
The Key Players:
Joe Davis was the catalyst that moved snooker from a gentry pastime to a more mainstream game that everyone played and loved. His hard work, on and off the table, meant that the concept of becoming a professional player could become a reality. Davis may have hailed from a working class background but his distinguished accent leant an air of grace to snooker.
Joe Davis plays a swerve shot.
Joe has been credited as one of the greats of snooker, with a swathe of world championship titles, fifteen in all, and rightly so. The key to Joe’s success was, in my opinion, his mastery of billiards and snooker at an early age, using elements of both games in whichever he happened to be playing throughout his career. His driving force was the desire to popularise the sport and his longevity, playing well into his latter years, helped him achieve this. He, above all others, saw the potential for snooker and was able to market it with a success that drew in thousands to watch matches, sending the previously more popular game of billiards into the shadows.
Nicknamed the “Sultan of Snooker”, the lad from Whitewell, Derbyshire, was the first person to brand snooker, giving it a winning goal with the introduction of prize money for the champion along with the physical reward of a trophy. Davis was definitely a forerunner to Barry Hearn, who used his business acumen and vast experience of the game as a player to pull snooker from the fringes to the main stage. Joe even wrote a book, “How I Play Snooker” which was used by many future players to help them achieve a better technique. Or at least try to!
Even Joe’s death would be remembered for something snooker related. The story recalls that the pink that his brother Fred missed at the World Championships led to him having a massive heart attack whilst watching the match. Dubbed the ”pink that killed Joe Davis”, he died shortly afterwards in 1978.
Fred Davis, the brother of Joe, was the second wind in Joe’s sail. Rather than being lost in his brother’s shadow, Fred worked in partnership with him to help define a brand of snooker that was successful and victorious. At his side throughout the Leicester Square (Thurston’s hall) years Fred went on to pick up the mantle when his brother fell away from the professional game. I believe he was just as successful in his snooker career as Joe was. Victorious in both billiards and snooker, Fred won every world championship between 1948 and 1956 as well as the Australian version in 1960. Once Joe’s rival, Fred moved on to dominate the sport in the post war years, but he would also go on to experience the decline of the game, with snooker suffering from a fall in popularity for a decade or so.
However, this slump wasn’t going to last for long, and Fred helped galvanise the cue sport’s popularity once again. With the dawn of colour television in 1969, the inception of Pot Black and a will to bring the World Championship back under the media spotlight, Rex Williams recruited Fred to help make this happen. The blueprint that was laid down has altered very little since and not only did it save the future of snooker but it did the same for Fred’s career. The world championships are synonymous with the former steel city of Sheffield and Fred was instrumental in making it a success.
Fred Davis was also one of the original players from Pot Black and helped turn the programme into a household name. In a period of his career that could be described as a ‘second wind’, Fred just kept on going, playing professional snooker until 1993. His legacy can be boiled down to true grit and persistence in an era when snooker was experiencing a sink or swim moment.
Fred Davis in the Pot Black studio.
The game surely wouldn’t have survived in its current form had it not been for players like Fred and so the world of snooker has a lot to thank him for. Fred sadly passed away in 1998, aged 84.
Walter and Horace Lindrum
Before the likes of Eddie Charlton and Neil Robertson graced the snooker stage, Australia’s greatest player was Walter Lindrum. Walter came from prime cue stock as the majority of his family had been involved in billiards or snooker.
Walter Lindrum playing billiards.
Lindrum dominated the Australian professional circuit, winning the professional billiards title from 1933 until his retirement in 1950. Although Walter never crossed over to the world of snooker, I use him as an example of being a trailblazer because he laid the foundations for the thirst and enjoyment for snooker in Australia for future generations.
The strong historical ties that Australia has with the United Kingdom meant that as billiards petered out as a major cue sport, snooker emerged as a fitting replacement. Walter made the long journey to London and played Joe Davis at the legendary Thurston Hall in Leicester Square. Perhaps not obvious to a layman but the meeting of the two players was the start of the fusion of the United Kingdom and Australia as cue partners.
Walter was key to this snooker journey because he showcased the prequel to snooker, billiards, in countries far and wide. If Walter hadn’t laid the seeds of inspiration in countries such as South Africa, we may never have seen Perrie Mans pick up a cue. Through him, another family member, Horace would grace the baize after he travelled from his Australian home in 1935.
Horace went on to be the second best player in the world. He reached three world snooker finals, and was defeated by Joe Davis. He did win the 1952 World Championship after only he and Clarke McConachy, from New Zealand, entered due to a dispute between the players and the governing body.
The Lindrum’s were instrumental in helping make the game of snooker what it is today, and helped inspire future generations of snooker players across the globe.
Perhaps the lesser known of these trailblazers. Sidney Smith was nevertheless a key component of the snooker revolution. Like Joe and Fred Davis, he switched between the games of billiards and snooker. Smith was a world billiards champion and rubbed shoulders with Joe Davis in the world championship final in 1938. Sadly he lost but he did set the record of making a total clearance of 133 in the 1936 Daily Mail Gold Cup.
Sidney Smith cue
Always a runner-up, Sidney is notable because he educated a growing audience on the technical side of the game. Prominent in news reels of the era, Smith showcased how to improve your game, promoting the technical side of the game and how it was key to becoming successful. The slightest mistake could lead to losing a match and Sidney was eager to show that hard work and devotion to snooker would produce results and vital wins.
The players I’ve covered in this piece were key to cementing the future of snooker. Had any of these trailblazers failed to work tirelessly to develop the game, snooker may have never turned into a mainstream sport. Some say that Pot Black was the catalyst for the resurgence of a game of dwindling appeal. But without the likes of Joe and Fred Davis in the background the game would have just been a sum of its parts, and those parts wouldn’t have been enough.