Neal Foulds
Neal Foulds gives his verdict on the best players never to win the World Championship

Neal Foulds names the best players to never win the World Snooker Championship

Ahead of this year's World Snooker Championship, Neal Foulds is discussing the best players who never became world champion at the Crucible.


I’ve spent a fair amount of time chewing over this column, particularly the last name and fifth player on the list, which I was especially torn over.

The truth is, there have been great players, truly great ones, that have never been world champion, despite destiny promising it was only a matter of time. We’ll get to him a little later.

For now, Ali Carter kicks us off, just edging out another fine player I want to give an honourable mention to.



Ali’s story is one of triumph over adversity, overcoming two battles with cancer and Crohn's disease to reach a couple of Masters finals, the most recent coming in January of this year.

It’s testament to his resilience and that fact he is a brilliant snooker player that Ali has been able to re-establish himself in the top 16 of the rankings, win last year’s German Masters, and continue to contend at major tournaments in his mid-forties, despite everything that has been thrown at him in life.


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And he’s not done yet. He heads to the Crucible this year as a live contender and it’s by no means out of the question that he could still become world champion.

If that doesn’t prove to be the case, Ali can count himself unfortunate to have reached two World Championship finals and bumped into a peak Ronnie O’Sullivan on both occasions, in 2008 and 2012.

When on-song, we know O’Sullivan is a very, very hard man to beat, but particularly around that time when he had turned his game around and really was at the peak of his powers.



Few could live with O’Sullivan back then, nor now, but he has been Ali’s nemesis throughout their careers, as demonstrated by that Masters final in January when Ali made the early running but was unable to resist The Rocket’s inevitable explosion in the evening session.

Those two Crucible finals in particular, Ali came up against his worst opponent at the worst time, and you can certainly make a fair argument that had it been anyone else standing in his way, he would be a world champion by now.

Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ali Carter before the Masters final
Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ali Carter before this year's Masters final

I can’t move on without talking about Doug Mountjoy, a player very much from my era and a very fine one at that.

The modern game is undoubtably stronger and to that end, I had to go for Ali, but Doug really was something special and the way he rebuilt his game late in his career is something he deserves so much respect for.

He won all the big ones, including the Masters, and contested a World Championship final in 1981 when very much like Ali, Doug bumped into the wrong man at the wrong time. This time it was the great Steve Davis who was winning his maiden world title that night, and we all know how that story played out.

Doug Mountjoy
Doug Mountjoy in action at the Crucible

A few years later, it looked like Doug was finished, his game apparently falling apart as a new breed of players began to take snooker to new heights.

But he enlisted the help renowned coach Frank Callan and began rebuilding his game. It didn’t work at first, but Doug persisted and in the 1988 UK Championship, it all came together.

Facing none other than Stephen Hendry, who was by now already making his mark, Doug played a brilliant match to win 16-12, at one stage making three centuries in a row, a feat unheard of back then.

A real legend of the game, Doug would have been a worthy world champion.


Everyone was tipping Ding Junhui to be a world champion from the moment he burst onto the scene, the big hope of Chinese snooker carrying the dreams of a nation on his shoulders.

And he has gone on to win almost everything in the sport: the UK Championship three times; the Masters; numerous prestigious tournaments all around the world. But never the big one.

Ding has done so much for the sport, particularly in the Far East where snooker has grown tremendously. Even now, later in his career, he’s still flying the flag and competing for major titles.

He contested yet another UK Championship final as recently as December, his second in the last two years, and his liking for the biggest stage means he still has a chance to become world champion one day.

It’s been a wonderful career. His first World Championship semi-final came 13 years ago now, and in 2016 he reached the final having had to fight his way through qualifying to even reach the Crucible.

He endured a terrible start that to that match, trailing Mark Selby – himself almost unbeatable at the Crucible around that time – 6-0 before fighting tooth and nail thereafter until eventually losing 18-14.

Ding Junhui wins his third UK Championship
Ding Junhui winning his third UK Championship in 2019

It was a valiant comeback, but the damage was done in that first session and though he reached another semi-final 12 months later, his promised date with destiny has never arrived.

What a beautiful player to watch. A lovely break-builder with sublime control of the cue ball, Ding plays the game in a classic way. His long potting is good, but not out of this world, similarly his safety game, but few in the history of the game have made breaks like Ding.


Matthew Stevens might seem like an odd choice to some, one ranking event win to his name significantly less than some others who have enjoyed more illustrious careers without ever becoming world champion.

But Matthew’s career is all about the World Championship and, sadly, the two finals he lost from positions of great dominance.

At his best, the Welshman was as good as anyone in the game, with all the tools and a real liking for the longer format. In multi-session matches and big events, he was an outstanding operator.

If you think back to the main body of his career, he was mixing with and beating the likes of Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams – genuine all-time greats – and his win at the Masters in 2000 came at the expense of Ken Doherty.

He beat Hendry in the final of the UK Championship three years later, but the one he always wanted to win, the one every snooker player wants to win, is the World Championship and few men have come closer without doing it.

In 2000, Matthew sauntered into his first final where he established a 10-6 overnight lead over fellow Welshman Williams, still leading 13-11 going into the final session only to lose 18-16.

More Crucible heartbreak for Matthew Stevens in 2005
More Crucible heartbreak for Matthew Stevens in 2005

And then five years later he would suffer the same fate, this time to Shaun Murphy having again led 10-6 going into the 17th and final day. Again, Matthew held a lead at the start of the final session, but it wasn’t quite enough.

It was a real shame and though he came again to reach another Crucible semi-final in 2012, his chance had gone. Matthew was a wonderful player, every inch a world champion, and a great lad with it.

I like him a lot and would’ve have dearly loved to have seen him win the World Championship.


The story of Paul Hunter is very different to the ones we’ve heard so far, or the one to come, and it stirs up so many emotions when I think of him winning three Masters titles, and then wonder what might have been.

Before cancer struck, Paul was moving rapidly up the rankings and was already making the Masters his own, wins at the Welsh Open and British Open also part of his CV.

His love of the big stage was obvious, his class undeniable.

He was desperately close to contesting a World Championship final in 2003, losing to Ken Doherty in the semi-finals from 15-9 in front, and with what we know now about Paul in big finals, you wouldn't have bet against him winning it.

Nevertheless, Paul’s character again shone through when he bounced back from that bitter blow to win the Masters the following year, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9 having at one stage trailed 7-2. It was a remarkable display.

Who beats O’Sullivan from 7-2 down in a Masters final, on his home turf and in front of his home crowd? Not very many is the answer.

But Paul was a snooker superstar in his own right, and the old Wembley Conference Centre loved him, as did its patrons. And he loved them, too.

It’s a bold statement to make, but I can honestly say that Paul was one of the best pressure players I’ve ever seen play the game. The Masters, as we know, has always been a pressure cooker, but Paul didn’t just handle it, he revelled in it, and was an even better player for it.

Paul Hunter right at home in the Wembley Conference centre
Paul Hunter right at home in the Wembley Conference Centre

He was an outstanding match-player with such a strong all-round game, and he loved a battle. He battled cancer with the same determination, and I was on commentary with the late Willie Thorne for his last ever match at the Crucible in 2006 when he lost to Neil Robertson.

We’d been told off the record that his diagnosis wasn’t good, but Paul was determined to get back to the Crucible one last time. And he did just that, pushing Robertson hard, just as you would expect. That was such a difficult match to commentate on and I will never forget it.

That was in the spring of 2006 and by October he was gone.

They called him the Beckham of the Baize because of his hairstyle and personality, almost footballer-like. Paul was a real breath of fresh air and everything snooker needed at that stage. What a huge hole he left in our sport.

But for his illness, he would have surely been world champion one day.

Remember that he was younger than the Class of 92, and with more Masters wins than John Higgins and Mark Williams have managed now.

Paul was only 27 when he died, and the chances are that he would still be playing to this day – what a career he could’ve enjoyed.

We’ll never know for sure if he’d have become a world champion, but deep down, I know, and I think snooker fans know, too.


It will surprise absolutely nobody that Jimmy White is at the top of my list.

Jimmy is synonymous with the Crucible, and even now, all these years on, people haven’t forgotten those six final defeats and just how close he came to fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming world champion.

Bumping into Stephen Hendry when he was almost unstoppable clearly cost him, but I’ve always believed that had he won one early, Jimmy would’ve won three of four – Hendry or no Hendry. He was that good.

So close for Jimmy White at the Crucible
So close for Jimmy White at the Crucible

I always think back to 1982 when he lost in the semi-finals to Alex Higgins having found himself within a frame of the final, before his opponent produced what many still believe to be the best clearance of all time to force a deciding frame which he eventually won.

Higgins went on to lift the trophy a couple of days later, beating Ray Reardon, but it needed a super-human effort from him to get past Jimmy who would’ve started that final as strong favourite.

Jimmy might disagree, but I’ve always wondered if even back then, he viewed that as a big opportunity missed. The dynamic of his whole World Championship story would’ve been so different had he won in 1982.

He would go on to reach six finals, so of course had plenty more chances, but Hendry bossed many of them, as was the way back then, and when John Parrott beat Jimmy in the 1991 final, few would’ve been able to live with him in a first session in which he raced into a 7-0 lead.

People will always remember that black off the spot Jimmy missed in the deciding frame of the 1994 final, but perhaps that came about not so much because of the magnitude of the moment, but because of all the scars he was carrying from his previous finals with Hendry.

That black, to my mind, was the result of those previous defeats to Hendry.

Jimmy would make the semi-finals a year later, but never another final, and I still come back to 1982 and that narrow loss to Higgins.

Did that match set the wheels in motion for what was to come? I strongly believe he should have won the tournament that year, from which point I think he would have become a multiple world champion.

Jimmy White is still the People's Champion
Jimmy White is still the People's Champion

White is still The People’s Champion for good reason and even now, years after he was one of the best players in the world, he’s still incredibly popular and handles all that comes with that very well.

He’s very good with his time, loves seeing families and young children coming to the snooker, and he makes a special effort for them. People might not always see that, but Jimmy is genuinely one of the good guys and snooker is lucky to have him.

He is the the greatest snooker player to never win the World Championship. He has to be. He was so close on so many occasions and won everything else in the game, including the Masters and the UK Championship. Just not the one he really wanted.

Another crack at reaching the Crucible failed this year with defeat in qualifying confirmed on Thursday, but Jimmy won’t give up. He won’t want to turn his back on the game and walk away. Snooker is Jimmy’s life and he wants it stay that way.

ALSO READ: Gary Wilson in conversation with Nick Metcalfe

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