UK Championship memories including Ronnie O'Sullivan's 147 maximum break against Mark Selby

UK Championship memories
UK Championship memories

Ben Coley, Neal Foulds, Richard Mann and Chris Hammer nominate their favourite UK Championship memories ahead of the start of the 2019 event which gets under way on Tuesday.

Ben recounts the special moment when the Ronnie O'Sullivan v Mark Selby rivalry was born, Neal reflects on his own battle with Steve Davis, Richard picks out the time Matthew Stevens reached his career high while Chris retells the the peak of John Virgo's career.

Ronnie sees off Selby with 147 special (2007)

Ben Coley

If every hero needs a villain, then every great sportsman needs their equal and opposite: someone who achieves similar things in a totally different way. As in tennis, Rafael's Nadal's brawn brings out Roger Federer's brilliance, in snooker, Ronnie O'Sullivan's virtuosity is best stretched by the scrupulousness of Mark Selby.

Theirs is a rivalry which at first was bitter, but now is imbued with a mutual respect, the kind which is inevitable when you are forcibly held in front of greatness. For O'Sullivan, this has meant standing to the side, idly chalking up, while Selby plots a path to check mate; Selby, on the other hand, has so often been made to sit and face the sort of breathtaking snooker which makes for a cleaner kill.

In the 2007 UK Championship semi-final, where this rivalry was born, O'Sullivan tried his best to avoid watching as Selby searched for a potential Triple Crown breakthrough. The Leicester man led 3-0, 4-1 and 6-3, and O'Sullivan confessed afterwards that during the worst of the punishment he wanted to hide behind a towel - an act forbidden by World Snooker.

Instead, O'Sullivan found focus in a spoon he'd taken into the arena, counting the spots and embracing the scrap he'd been forced to fight. In the years to come, countless opponents would be forced into throwing in the towel faced with Selby's match-playing and match-winning capabilities, but here, in Telford, O'Sullivan left it on the table.

At 8-8, Selby now having forced parity in a prescient display of defiance, this was a real test of O'Sullivan's mettle, and the answer was among the most resounding of his career.

The man they call The Rocket shifted the paradigm.

This had been a match of rigour, each restricting the other to a half-century here or there, but after Selby had missed a straight red from distance to leave O'Sullivan a chance, he took it in a way only he could. O'Sullivan didn't just win the match with its first century. No, he taught that young grasshopper a lesson in the power of art over science with an effortless 147.

Ronnie O'Sullivan 147 (MAXIMUM) v Mark Selby UK Championship 2007

From the very first pot - a thin, missable red from distance - O'Sullivan signalled his intent, breaking open the bunch and falling into position on the black. The second pot of what would be 36 was knife-edge stuff: had either the right or left jaw rejected it, the break would have been over before it had begun, and Selby would have been into his first major final.

Instead, the ball dropped, and once that black had been re-spotted, O'Sullivan fixed his focus on accessing all available routes back to it.

After the fourth black, O'Sullivan brazenly left himself on the problem red, forcing it in along the rail, death or glory. From there he set about gently manoeuvring the remaining cluster of reds until content with their positions. As the 10th red followed the ninth black, this was no longer about who would win the match.

The one time O'Sullivan overran slightly, he simply beckoned the cue ball back to his behest and then took care of the two reds which had tried to sneak away to middle. Black to yellow was almost perfect, and the rest came easily.

In went the pink, down went the black, and Ronnie was back, celebrating with a clench of the fist which signalled not just the end of a majestic break, but the survival of a serious examination.

Selby shook his hand and raised a smile, knowing he'd taken the greatest player in the game to his limits. This was a break made of O'Sullivan's god-given gift, make no mistake, but without a villainous Selby having dragged him through the dirt, it would have merely been another brilliant break. It was the presence of the antimatter which made it matter more.


Top dog Davis too strong (1987)

Neal Foulds

Playing Steve Davis in the 1887 UK Championship final was a big thing for me - I was playing the best snooker of my life.

The final was over two days back then - the best-of-31 frames - but that was changed a few years ago.

The tournament has changed quite a lot since those days - the early rounds were over two sessions and the final over four.

I guess playing Steve there was not too dissimilar to playing him in a World final and in the end he was just too strong for me, as so many other players found in that period of time.

It was a great event and it still is, it's just a little bit different now.

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Stevens touches greatness in unfulfilled career (2003)

Richard Mann

Wales has a rich history of producing champion snooker players, many of whom who are listed on an impressive UK Championship roll of honour.

Doug Mountjoy was runner-up in the inaugural UK Championship back in 1977 and would go one better 12 months later, while in 1982 Terry Griffiths was crowned champion before Mountjoy triumphed for a second time in 1988.

The event had now become a ranking event and following an 11-year wait, the Welsh were back in the winners' enclosure when Mark Williams beat fellow countryman Matthew Stevens in the 1999 final.

Williams would lift the trophy again in 2002 and 12 months later, Stevens claimed his first ranking title in a career that appeared destined for greatness but sadly failed to reach the heights many had predicted following that 10-8 defeat of Stephen Hendry.

Through the late 1990's Stevens had burst onto the scene to such effect that it appeared inevitable that he would go right to the top of the sport and a thrilling victory at the 2000 Masters, having already finished runner-up in a couple of UK Championship finals, seemed sure to open the floodgates for the Carmarthen-born potter.

Stevens finished that season by reaching the final of the World Championship but though he went on to repeat the feat in 2005, as well making four more Crucible semi-finals, he would never achieve greatness.

His UK Championship win in York 2003 would prove to be the pinnacle of a career that still feels somewhat unfulfilled with the unfortunate irony being that his victory in York in fact came to signal the beginning of Stevens' demise as a major force in snooker.

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While Stevens went on to reach his second World Championship final a year later, his defeat to Shaun Murphy was a bruising one in a match where he led 10-6 before eventually losing 18-16 in heartbreaking fashion.

Winning the Northern Ireland Trophy in 2005 has been Stevens' only notable success since, a long barren spell seeing him catapult down the rankings, but his run to the last four of last season's International Championship was a welcome reminder of his talents and nights like he enjoyed in York back in 2003.

The final itself was a memorable one, Stevens trailing five-time UK Championship winner Hendry 4-0 before reeling off breaks of 66, 50, 137, 99 and 76 to win five frames on the bounce to lead 5-4.

Though Hendry rallied to inch 7-5 in front, Stevens was too strong, his deadly long potting, impressive break building and cool temperament - for so long the template for his rapid rise through the ranks - allowing him to wrestle back control in brilliant fashion and prevail 10-8.

It was to be Stevens' crowning moment, his one and only ranking-title success and the pinnacle of a career that would not long after crash and burn in dramatic fashion.

Stevens' would never become that all-time great that so many expected, unable to join the likes of contemporaries Hendry, O'Sullivan and John Higgins, but on one late November night in York he did indeed touch greatness with a performance of such quality that we are still left wondering just what went wrong.

Matthew Stevens in action in the 2005 World Championship final
Matthew Stevens in action in the 2005 World Championship final


Virgo’s best day was also his worst (1979)

Chris Hammer

“Where’s the cue ball going?”

The origins of John Virgo’s iconic catchphrase could ironically date back to the 1979 UK Championship, during the playing peak of a career most remembered for trick shots, impressions, commentary and Big Break.

Virgo was enjoying a superb year having reached the semi-finals at the World Championship - where he beat two great Canadians he’d later mimic so well in Cliff Thorburn and Bill Werbeniuk - and he’d go one step further in Preston after gaining revenge over Denis Taylor for his Crucible heartbreak six months earlier.

Reigning world champion Terry Griffiths stood in the Salford potter’s way of what was then a non-ranking title but he rose to the occasion and established an 11-7 lead after the first day of a best-of-27 frames final.

Virgo woke up the next morning in his hotel room and began reading the back pages of the newspaper, presumably revelling in the written praise about his performance so far and how he stood on the brink of a first big trophy ahead of the third and final session, which he thought was starting at 2pm.

But all of a sudden his face turned as ashen white as Steve Davis’ would in 1985.

Virgo received a phone call asking him where on earth he was because the start time was actually 1pm, so it could be broadcast live on BBC’s Grandstand.

He rushed to the Guild Hall but turned up 20 minutes late and was subsequently forfeited two frames - an unprecedented punishment and particularly cruel when you consider the speed of play during that era of the game.

Rattled and still out of breath, Virgo would then lose the first two real frames of the session as Griffiths levelled the match at 11-11 but during the mid-session interval, the Welsh legend sportingly - albeit presumptuously - offered him half the prize money should he go on and win.

“You haven’t won it yet,” was Virgo’s reply and you’d assume the deal was now off the table.

‘JV’ may have been tempted to sheepishly reopen negotiations when Griffiths moved 13-12 ahead but instead he forced a decider before clinching the title in dramatic fashion.

But did anyone other than those inside Preston’s Guild Hall actually see where the final balls were going?

Sadly not. An ill-timed strike of BBC staff prompted the cameramen to leave the arena during that deciding frame, meaning millions missed his finest moment of glory.

No wonder he describes the achievement as "the best day of my snooker life… and my worst day."

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