Salford may not have any representative at this year’s Snooker World Championship, but stars of the sport’s past once played here on a weekly basis.
The iconic John Virgo, still involved as a commentator, was born and bred in Salford, while former three-time world champion John Spencer and two-time champ Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins regularly played on these streets 50 years ago.
Spencer, who died in 2006, was a regular visitor to Swinton Poolhall in his latter years, and current owner Dave Spencer, John’s uncle, remembers the days where all these players used to ply their trade regularly in Salford.
He said: “They (Virgo, Spencer, Higgins) all used to play here. Not at the poolhall as it had only just opened but at Potters in Lower Broughton, where the McDonalds now is.
“They were real good days. For these top players, it was always for the money, even in Potters. It was a late night snooker den where all the players used to come for a late night Friday gamble.
“I remember the players all used to gamble, John for example would only take the yellow, he would let the opponent take every other colour, it was his way of making money, because he would always win!”
The Snooker World Championship’s was first held in 1927, but for the last 44 years has been held at the Crucible theatre in Sheffield, where Spencer was the first winner in 1977.
This was after he had already won the championship twice, in 1969 and 1971, and his uncle still gets the excitement of the tournament every year.
He explained: “The world championship always attracts interest, everybody becomes a Ronnie O’Sullivan!
“It’s a great time of year, when we are open we sell an awful amount of cues and see much more interest, especially if there’s been a good final.
“There’s great history involved with it, I remember as a kid the games were always well spirited and fun and the crowd were always involved, John would often speak to them during the game.
“They were good days, very different to now. John only won £4,000 when he won in 1977 and now the prizes are much bigger due to Barry Hearn and his leadership of the sport.”
— Snooker Memories (@SnookerMemories) January 4, 2016
Salford snooker has not seen the success of the past in previous years, but has a number of upcoming players that could turn professional in the coming years.
Spencer sees the star of the future in action in his club in Swinton, which opens again next month following lockdown, and hopes that one day one of these players can replicate the success of his uncle.
He said: “We sponsored Peter Devlin who was on the tour last year, as well as Josh Thomond and Kayden Brierley, who both came through the junior academy here.
“For all we know this story may be produced again in future years, we could have a future world champion currently playing at the poolhall.”
There may not have been any players from the Salford snooker scene star recently, but hopefully in the future the city can again thrive on the table, like it did 50 years ago.