May 4, 2016
As I sat watching the 2016 Snooker World Championship Final (congratulations to Mark Selby – and Leicester City Football Club – what a time to be a Leicesterunian!), I thought back to my first visit to the World Championships with my dad, Alec Hickson, in 1973 (when I was 10 and my dad was 43 and the final was the best of 75 frames, played out over five days: Ray Reardon beat Eddie Charlton 38-32). In 1973 the tournament was sponsored by Park Drive, and it took place at the City Exhibition Hall in Manchester.
It was a crazy affair. No one was told to turn off their mobile phone (possibly because they hadn’t been invented) and only a few frames of the final were televised. My dad took me along in the early days of the tournament, Round 1, when there were loads of tables on the go, separated by partitions, and you could wander freely from table to table, just hanging around and watching before moving on to wherever the most shouts were coming from. And if you wanted a player’s autograph you just went up and asked; not at the end of the match, not even at the end of a frame as the referee re-racked, but as a player sat glumly sipping a pint and sucking a Park Drive, whilst his opponent did all the work at the table. Here’s the autographs I got in 1973.
There’s Jackie Rea and Pat Houlihan (Pat won 9-2, but went on to lose 16-3 in the second round to Alex Higgins), Dennis Taylor and Cliff Thorburn (Thorburn won 9-8), John Dunning and David Taylor (Taylor – known as the Silver Fox many years before Phillip Schofield claimed the title – won 9-4), Jim Meadowcroft (who had a walkover since his opponent Kingsley Kennerley withdrew), Maurice Parkin and Warren Simpson (Simpson won 9-3), Bernard Bennett and David Greaves (Greaves won 9-8, before losing 16-1 to 59 year old Fred Davis), and Geoff Thompson and Graham Miles (Miles won 9-5). I collected autographs from 14 of the 16 players in the first round. The only ones I missed out on were Perrie Mans and Ron Gross. Maybe next year.
In 1974 the tournament was held at Belle Vue in Manchester. How lucky was I, at the ages of 10 and 11, to have the World Championship so close to home two years in a row! (In 1976 it went to Australia). More autograph pestering was in order.
And this time Perrie Mans was there. Also some of the big hitters; Fred Davis, Rex Williams, John Pulman, Eddie Charlton, John Spencer, Ray Reardon!
And, down at the bottom, another Charlton (not Eddie) was there as a spectator: Bobby Charlton!
But here, in close-up, is the star autograph:
“Best wishes & good luck, to Simon Hickson from Alex Higgins”.
I was only 11. I blew it really, my once in a lifetime meeting with The Hurricane. He took time to talk to me. I remember him asking my name, and then I remember him saying “Hickson, it’s a bit like Higgins isn’t it”. And all I said back was “No”.
Things changed once it moved to Sheffield. We’d still go, me and my dad. I’d race home from school, he’d race home from Trafford Park where he worked at GEC, and we’d do the drive over Snake Pass to The Crucible. But you couldn’t get to the players anymore. The Crucible wasn’t some vast exhibition centre where you could come and go. The Crucible was a Theatre! But still, in the earlier sessions, there was a partition, and two tables in action. My dad (phoning to book tickets? Or applying by post? or Pigeon? This is a long time before computers) would always try and get us seats that straddled the partition, giving us the chance to watch two matches at once.
A little aside on the business of getting tickets: My dad once went to see a round robin match; six players taking it in turn to play each other. He got tickets for a match featuring John Spencer (three times World Champion; 69,71, and the first to win at The Crucible in 1977). He phoned up for the tickets and was told to pick them up at an address in Radcliffe. He drove out to the address and found himself at John Spencer’s house.
As I got older I started to play snooker more, and by the time I was at university, between 1980 and 1983, I was on a snooker team captained by my dad; Potters ‘B’, named after Potters Snooker Club above the Rialto in Salford, and ‘B’ for not being the ‘A’ team. I was away at Manchester University, but I’d see my dad once a week for our match. My dad was a strict but fair captain; three losses in a row and you’d lose your place, until the next team member lost three in a row. I spent a lot of time on the bench.
Along with the Salford District Snooker League weekly games were the individual handicap tournaments and the doubles tournaments (in which I’d team up with my dad). In the 1982/83 season my dad made it to the semi-finals of the Individuals tournament, and for this he got a trophy. The trophies were presented at an end of season bash, where there’d be a bit of entertainment hosted by the unusually haired Mick Miller.
And the trophies would be presented by… well, this was a special year. A young lad turned up to present the trophies, same age as me. 21 years old, a year on from losing 15-16 to Alex Higgins in the 1982 World Championship semi-final.
Yes. Jimmy White.
Jimmy White with my dad.
This was May 1983. Three months later, in early August 1983, at the age of 54, my dad died of a heart attack.
If you can, please sponsor me. In memory of a snooker legend.