MARSHALL, Robert (Bob) James Percival
A Legend in Amateur Billiards
Billiards legend Robert (Bob) Marshall, died in his home town of Perth, Western Australia, on Monday 23rd February 2004. He was 93 years of age.
Marshall first saw the light of day in 1910 in the small mining town of Kalgoorie, which had also been the birthplace of Walter Lindrum. Like Walter, he would become one of the most dominant billiard players of his time, albeit in the ranks of the amateur players. He once said “I have been asked many times to turn professional, but have no intention of doing so. I have two ambitions in connection with the game, one of which is to visit England, the other to make a thousand break in championship play.” Although his first ambition was achieved in 1951, the latter remained unfulfilled, although he is credited with a personal best break of 1,056 in practice.
Comparisons with that other great Australian player were made throughout his career. In 1964, Fred Davis observed: “most noticeable about his style is his compactness, so like Walter Lindrum, and the shortness of his back-swing, hardly more than a couple of inches.” While ten years earlier, Lindrum himself had declared that Marshall was one of the greatest amateur players he had ever seen.
Marshall’s first line of work was as a hairdresser, but he subsequently opened a dry-cleaning outlet which led him to success as a businessman. He later entered the world of politics, winning the West Australia State elections and becoming a member of parliament. Physical fitness was always of importance to Marshall. When preparing for vital matches he went to bed at 9.00pm, getting up in time for morning exercises which often included a four-mile run. This regime, and his abstinence from smoking and drinking, were undoubtedly factors in sustaining his standard of play over such an incredible period.
His career was highlighted by winning the World Amateur Billiards Championship on four occasions (1936, 1938, 1951 and 1962), which is more than any other player. He was additionally runner-up three times (1952, 1954 and 1985).
Playing his great rival, Tom Cleary, in the final of the Australian Amateur Billiards Championship in 1953 Marshall compiled a break of 702, which was the highest ever made by an amateur in a championship match. This remained a record until 1984 when it was eventually bettered by Subhash Agrawal’s 716.
Using top-of-the-table techniques for his break-building, all his records were made under the “two-pot” rule, and those which still remain to be beaten under this limitation include: the highest aggregate in two hours play (1,876), also four hours (3,391), and a two-hour session average of 118.7.
Marshall’s billiards career was not only interrupted by the war, when he spent over 4 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, but also his decisions to retire from the game on several occasions, the first time in 1963 and again in 1970. After his first retirement, Marshall made a comeback in 1969 for a series of exhibitions against the late Clark McConachy, and regained his Australian title the same year, defending it successfully in 1970 before calling it a day again. He was once more tempted to make a return in 1985 when, at the age of 75, he won the Australian Championship and just failed to secure another World title when finishing runner-up to Geet Sethi, the Championship that year being held in New Delhi. Speaking at a later function, Marshall raised a laugh as he wryly commented “When the field was declared, the Indians were looking forward to meeting my son.” His last retirement came after winning his 21st Australian Billiards Championship in 1986 – the first of these victories having come fifty years earlier!
Even though he is known essentially as a Billiards player, Marshall also contested four Australian amateur snooker finals, was champion in 1956 and had a personal best break of 139. Not a bad record in itself, but almost a footnote compared to his other achievements.
In 1960 Robert Marshall was made a “Life Member” of the Western Australian Billiards Association, in recognition of the services he has rendered to billiards both in Australia and overseas. Three years later he was named Western Australia’s Sportsman of the Year, and finally, in 1980, national recognition came his way with the award of the “Medal of the Order of Australia” (OAM).