An exclusive interview with Stephen Hendry

Stephen Hendry is fully embracing the World Seniors Tour – he was today confirmed to play in the World Seniors UK Championship next October – and he very kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me. Many thanks to Jason Francis who relayed those questions to him and recorded the interview. Here it is:

And here is Stephen doing some filming today for the World Seniors Tour promotion.

An interview with Jason Francis, Chairman of the WORLD SENIORS SNOOKER TOUR

I have known Jason Francis for many years, attending and taking pictures at a number of his events, from one night exhibitions to mini exhibition tournaments to actual ranking World Seniors tournaments. What was obvious to me from the start is that he’s a hard-core snooker fan who put his heart and soul into his snooker endeavours. He’s also a very hard worker. Jason is surrounded by an extremely loyal team and I have no doubts that their loyalty largely feeds on Jason’s own enthusiasm, working ethics and positivity.

I asked Jason if he would agree to answer a few questions, and here is the result.

Thank you Jason!

How/why was the “Snooker Legends”  idea and concept born?

I can’t remember exactly when I first had the idea for a Legends Tour. Many people have asked me, and it would be great to create some symbolic ‘light bulb’ moment. However, the truth, as far as I can remember, was I’d been bored watching Peter Ebdon and Graeme Dott on TV take an hour over a frame – and the children’s theatre company I ran,  and owned, was beginning to feel the bite of the recession. I was looking at ways to use our position and contacts with the theatres to try out another type of show.

Snooker Legends was one idea I had and recreating the Sunday night darts game show Bullseye was another. (I actually produced the Bullseye theatre tour as well, in 2010: it sunk faster than the imaginary speedboat they offered on it for the 101 or more in six darts!)

How/why did the Snooker Legends idea evolve into the World Seniors Tour?

I think since 2010 I’d been solving the snooker governing body a major problem, in that players who had been great servants to the game had fallen off tour and unless they got regular punditry work they were relying on coaching or exhibitions – neither of which could be described as providing a full-time income.  We were designed to be a vehicle for Alex Higgins, we all know what happened but out of it came the Legends tour and came 20-30 theatre exhibitions a year that  eventually, in 2017, evolved into a chance to resurrect the World Seniors tour.

Why the distinctive format?

I’m from a theatre background and to put it bluntly once you exceed a certain number of hours in a theatre, or dare to go near midnight then the charges become very large. To me a show should be 2 and a half hours with an interval – that’s old school theatre no matter what the subject. We’ve done various formats over the years with legends but all designed to deliver that time of show. We are in the entertainment business, so the respotted black gives me moments of drama but also helps me with the length of the shows.

The World Seniors tour offers serious competitive snooker, mixed with entertainment, glamour and conviviality. Did your background in theatre help/inspire you in achieving this? 

As above really but yes they are all key elements. People only have so much disposable income, we need to make sure if they choose to spend their money with us they have a really good time!

How is the WPBSA involved? What is your role exactly?

World Seniors Snooker Ltd is a separate company owned by myself and the WPBSA – it has been separated from Snooker Legends on purpose. Many people say one of the strengths of the Snooker Legends brand is me, myself and the relationship I’ve built with the players, however it’s also a huge weakness. Indeed without me the World Seniors Tour still has to function – the company has made commitments to its legends and all over 40’s amateur players globally. What we need to see is it not rely so heavily on me – one person cannot control every aspect, and fulfil every role, of a global cue sports tour. Of course there are things that I am integral too but as this grows then the tour needs to stand on its own two feet and not be reliant on Snooker Legends or Jason Francis.

Why and how do you collaborate with National Federations? 

Our tour is propped up by the amateur players all following the dream to win a qualifier and get to the final stage events to take on a legend. The National Federations are largely voluntary, yet a body like the EASB puts on over 100 events a year. It’s crazy to me that we shouldn’t be working together and encouraging their players to enter our events, especially as some of them carry a place at the World professional championships.

What are your “dreams” about that tour and its future?

I’d like to see £50,000 for our world champion within the next 5 years and a minimum 25k for the other ranking events, of which I’d like to get to 10. Aside from the ranking events I want to bring back pot black as a one-off special and also provide some other events purely for the amateurs – very much like the top 16 shootout we’ve got going to Norbreck Castle next year.

Jason has a book coming out on July 12, 2018 and you can pre-order it here on amazon

The book “presentation” by the editor says this

Jason Francis is the man who created the Snooker Legends Tour and who’s been at Ronnie O’Sullivan’s side on tour for the past 6 years. This is his story, sharing tales on the road with ‘the Rocket’ and some of the game’s greatest ever snooker legends like Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry.

From his initial idea, to meeting and staging the last ever snooker show with Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins to taking over the World Seniors Tour, Jason reveals what he learnt about the players themselves and also the sport as it developed over the years under the guidance of Barry Hearn.

Jason grew up watching snooker on a TV that needed two shillings for the meter. He was fascinated by their characters, the bitter rivalries and their seemingly rock star lifestyles. Jason wanted to be a snooker player, he wasn’t good enough but years later found a way to get involved with the sport he loved.

Through his tour, Jason was at the centre of it all, able to bring the former players together again to renew old rivalries and create new memories. He struggled against those in the game who didn’t want him to succeed but never gave up. This is his story, a snooker fan’s story.

And Jason commented

This book still tells the stories but it’s really my journey from the first idea to the recent announcement of the tour.

An interview with Jimmy White

Earlier this month, Jimmy, the reigning Seniors UK Champion was in Ireland to play Ronnie O’Sullivan in three exhibitions. He was interviewed by Conor Sharkey.

There are a couple of inaccuracies in this article, notably the fact the Stephen Hendry retired well before Steve Davis did, but Jimmy’s quotes are very interesting all the same.

Here it is from the Donegal News

Two things attracted my attention.

Jimmy states this is his last year as a pro. Now, what does that mean? I would be very surprised if he was willing to retire, he’s the type you have to scrape off the table! So what then? Is he possibly determined to concentrate on the Seniors Tour exclusively? Is he expecting the invitational tour cards to disappear now that the Seniors Tour is growing and seniors players are offered their own set of tournaments to play in?

Jimmy’s assessment of the current players isn’t exactly all positive. In fact it’s pretty damning in some aspects. He’s questioning their motivation and desire, including when talking about Ding and Trump. He states that most current players’ game is incomplete, some aspects are poor or missing and they don’t cope with longer formats well. The last bit of course isn’t helped by the fact that the “standard” format nowadays is the best of 7. He’s clearly not impressed with what he perceives as being most players mentality. I think he’s a bit too harsh actually. Many do struggle badly financially and that’s hard to put that off your mind when bills await to be paid. Rookies face a top 64 player in first round more often than not and get nothing for their efforts if they lose, even if they played well, gave their more experienced opponent a good game and entertained the audience. I’m not sure that this system is a great “motivator”.

Great interview with Stephen Hendry

A bit by chance, I stumbled upon this great interview by Stephen Hendry. It was recorded at the Crucible during the last World Championship

Amongst other things Stephen talks about the book he has coming. This book is available for pre-order on amazon: here is the link

He also touches on various subjects like the decline of snooker, at least when it comes to getting young people to play in the UK, why Barry Hearn’s plans to clamp on slow play aren’t quite right or realistic, and why we shouldn’t expect a return to competition on the main tour, although he definitely wants to play on the Seniors tour.