English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Amateur Billiard Player : January 1997

The Amateur Billiard Player : January 1997

Historical Pot Pourri

Photo of Peter Ainsworth (2k)

by Peter Ainsworth

Well, the season is upon us again with the local Leagues in full swing and TV giving its usual
saturation coverage to snooker.

Willie Smith, who said of Snooker when Billiards professionals first
started to play the game: “If they’ll stand for this, they’ll stand for
anything,” admitted that he had watched much of the television
coverage of the 1980 Embassy World Professional Championship.

Had he enjoyed it?

“I’d have enjoyed it a lot more if they changed the rules.”

“Which rules”

“All of them.”

A fine judge of a game, Smith.

Photo of Willie Smith (8k)

Willie Smith

Originating from Darlington he is widely regarded as one of the greatest
players that billiards has ever seen. Ignoring both top-of-the-table and
nursery cannons, he dominated the professional game throughout the
1920’s with his all-round play. However, due to continuing disputes with
the BA&CC, he entered (and won) the Championship only twice during
this period. His highest break was against Tom Newman in Manchester in November 1928. The hall
used for the match had a seating capacity of 500 and was scarcely half full for the first three days,
but on the fourth afternoon when Smith went to the table with 800+ unfinished, there wasn’t a
vacant seat. He played out both sessions to take his break to an unbeaten 2,250. The following day
there were as many spectators turned away as gained admission to the hall. Smith added almost
another 500 to his overnight score, finally breaking down at 2,743. This is still a record for all-round

Willie Smith is often portrayed as a bit of a “grumbler”, but he possessed a sharp wit and a dry
sense of humour. The following conversation between Smith and a member of the Press at another
of his matches against Tom Newman in 1922, is a good example of this. Just before the start of the
game Smith, who was seated near the reporter, advised him that he had just put a new tip on his

“I shan’t do any good with it.” predicted Smith.
So, to prove this, he made a break of 260 at his first visit.
“I told you so” he said as he sat down. “I’d have got that one with a good old hard tip on”.

On the subject of good tips…. Having recently been introduced to the slowest table in the world, I
am inclined to take Ivan Stevenage’s tip from the last issue, and take a bucket and sponge along to
my matches. A local supplier in Cleveland seems to have cornered the market in 40oz cloth, which
could easily double as a sheepskin rug, and these are now appearing in every club in the area. As
I’m just about old enough to remember the days when tables were brushed, ironed and presented in
immaculate condition prior to the start of any ordinary League match, such unwelcome trends are
disturbing. But I’m comforted by the fact that conditions have been a lot worse in earlier times.

In his book published in 1927, Charles Roberts recounts his first visit to Australia in 1876 where he
was engaged to play one of the local amateurs at a mining camp outside Ballarat.

He writes that,

“the table was illuminated by three oil lamps which were
leaking badly, as the condition of the cloth plainly
indicated. But the oil did not make a big difference
either way as the cloth was already in such a terrible
slate that a few drops of oil on it were the merest trifle
and not worth speaking about. Soon after the
commencement of the game one of the oil lamps almost
went out, and another followed to suit before the finish.

We struggled on amid the encircling gloom and to the
best of my recollection I managed to lose by about 400
points, a result which did not surprise me in the least.”

Perhaps we’re not too badly off after all!

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