Top sixteen of all time?




Who are the top 16 Snooker players of all time is a question that gets asked in my local club from time to time usually followed by a lengthy debate, not about the top four or five particularly but more specifically the six to ten group.

Most people agree in one order or another on the top two of recent times, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis.

The next two are usually Ray Reardon and Joe Davis.

Then it gets “interesting”, to quote Mr Steve Davis himself.

I tend to favour John Spencer due to his three world championship victories other people say Alex Higgins, as he should have, won another two or three world championships but mainly due to his off the table personality and the conflict it seemed to attract. He could not capitalise on his ability. Then we get to Jimmy White who has done everything but win the world championship appearing in six finals and at some point in his career beating the biggest names in the game, more than once.

At this point in the discussion the older members usually interject, saying, “we must take a backward glance at around this point and reflect on the record of Fred Davis so long overshadowed by his brother Joe”.

Coming back into the modern era we must consider how to rank the one world championship winners, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ken Doherty, Terry Griffiths Dennis Taylor, Joe Johnson, John Parrott, Mark Williams, John Higgins, Cliff Thorburn, Horace Lindrum, Walter Donaldson and John Pullman who won the Championship on a challenge basis several times.

The comment that usually stops the debate and usually means that all enjoyment of the subject matter disappears is that “you can’t compare eras”. I say “why not, It doesn’t hurt to remember the great players of the past and consider their relative skills, it can only enhance your appreciation of the game.

Forging deeper into the subject for a moment.

There are those who argue that the best player ever to pick up a cue was Joe Davis due to the fact that he set all the meaningful records and won 15 world championships. If we adopt this way of thinking it stands to reason that Steve Davis was better than Stephen Hendry due to his setting of targets such as 6 world championships and 6 UK championships along with the televised 147 break which was a world record at the time. If we compare Masters victories at Wembley, Hendry is way out in front but in Ireland Steve Davis is unsurpassed? I feel that this type of discussion often degenerates into what type of player you enjoy watching the most which divides the group into two, those who admire dash and demonstrable natural ability and those who recognise the subtler qualities of tenacity, application and consistency. These two groups seldom agree about the relative merits of players like Terry Griffiths or Jimmy White or Cliff Thorburn and Ronnie O’Sullivan for example. One more point on the Steve Davis versus Stephen Hendry debate, Steve Davis has won one more U.K. Championship than Stephen Hendry while Stephen Hendry has won one more World Championship than Steve Davis. What can you make of this statistic?

I must say that I recall an interview where Jimmy White said that once Terry Griffiths made up his mind to take on a specific shot he would go for it as quick as he would himself. I took Jimmy to mean that although their respective styles were contrasting their shot selection and Snooker playing brains were more in tune, high praise indeed coming from someone in the know as fluent and natural as Jimmy.

Personally I feel that the game as a spectator sport benefits greatly from having players with contrasting styles playing each other.

If you have a view or perhaps an anecdote about a player from the past, please feel free to e-mail it to me, I will gladly publish any that I feel are interesting or perhaps, humorous.

David Smith
A keen observer of Snooker and Pool and collector of Cues and Books