Top 10 Crucible Debuts

This year Martin Gould, Ricky Walden, Andrew Higginson and Rory McLeod will be making their debuts at the Crucible and though it will be quite a challenge, here are some of the most memorable debut performances at the Sheffield Theatre…

John Spencer – 1977

Ok so it was the first World Championship to be staged at the Crucible, but still, the late John Spencer came through to win his third world title and so cannot be overlooked here.

He started off his campaign with a 13-9 victory over John Virgo in the last 16 before easily seeing off the then five times world champion and world number one Ray Reardon 13-6 in the quarter-finals. His semi-final was a real battle though, coming through 18-16 against old rival John Pulman to book himself a place in the final where he would face Canadian star Cliff Thorburn. Though Cliff actually led 15-11 at one point, Spencer was not to be denied and he recovered to eventually take a 25-21 victory, cementing his place among the all-time greats in the process.

What most people will remember this victory for however is that in taking the title he became the first man to win the tournament with a two-piece cue. Previously he had used the same cue dating back to when he was a 15-year-old, but in 1974 it had been broken in four places during a car accident and though repaired, it was never quite the same since. Though now a two-piece cue is commonplace, back then it was something of a novelty and so this victory was another milestone in snooker’s history.

Terry Griffiths – 1979

As he told David Hendon in the April 2009 edition of Snooker Scene, Welshman Terry Griffiths qualified for the World Championship for the first time in 1979 and went to the Crucible with the modest aim of raising his own profile and as a result, his personal earnings via exhibition matches. What actually transpired however was a fairytale run to the ultimate prize and for the sport as a whole, a victory that would encourage a whole host of amateur players to turn professional and compete at the highest level.

In the first round he drew the 1978 finalist Perry Mans but he was not to be intimidated by the occasion and he ran out a 13-8 winner to earn a tie with 1972 champion Alex Higgins. Their subsequent quarter-final turned out to be a real thriller, Terry recovering a four frame deficit before coming through to seal a 13-12 victory with a 107 break in the deciding frame.

From there he overcame the three-time finalist Eddie Charlton in an absorbing semi-final and as he famously stated, “I’m in the final now you know!”  There he would meet Dennis Taylor, himself a future world champion of course, but not this year. It was tight early on as they were locked at 15-15, but from there Dennis won just one more frame and Terry completed an unlikely triumph, becoming the first qualifier to win at the venue, an achievement matched since only by Shaun Murphy in 2005.

Jim Wych – 1980

When I think of Canada and snooker, the most obvious names to spring to mind are those such as Cliff Thorburn, Kirk Stevens and Alain Robidoux, but another is 54-year-old Jim Wych who in 1980 reached the quarter-finals on his debut. In doing so he overcame the seven times world champion John Pulman, (ending his Crucible career in the process), before coming through 13-10 against the finalist from the previous year, Dennis Taylor.

Though his run was eventually ended by fellow Canadian and eventual champion Thorburn in the quarter-finals, it was an impressive run, particularly from an overseas player.

Silvino Francisco – 1982

Though the latter stages of his career and indeed the years following his retirement were marred by controversy, the debut of Silvino Francisco was a notable one as he defeated future champion Dennis Taylor 10-7 to move into the last 16. There he came up against the 1981 Junior Pot Black champion, 19-year-old Dean Reynolds and again took an excellent victory, this time by a 13-8 scoreline to move into the quarter-finals.

Ultimately though his run was to come to an end with a 13-8 loss to six times champion Ray Reardon in the next round, he had at least shown the potential that would eventually take him to the British Open title three years later.

Tony Drago – 1988

When the 22 year old Tony Drago from Malta made his Crucible debut back in 1988 I doubt that too many people knew what to expect, but they soon got a pretty good idea as his flamboyant style took him to the quarter-finals at the first attempt.

Not only did he progress to the second week but he also thrashed some top players along the way, dropping just two frames against Alex Higgins in the first round and then five in the last 16 to 1985 winner Dennis Taylor. In the end though he was given a hammering himself by Steve Davis in the quarter-finals who at the time was marching inexorably towards his fifth world crown.

Looking back, the only shame for Tony is that up until his last appearance at the Crucible back in 2005, this was actually the furthest that he ever got in the tournament.

Steve James – 1988

Tony Drago was not the only debutant to make a mark in 1988 however as the man who would put Stephen Hendry out of the tournament in 1991, Steve James, joined him in the last eight of the tournament.

His first match came against Rex Williams in which he not only won convincingly (10-6), but on the way became the first player to make the tournament high break on his debut with a terrific 140. In the second round he was to cause an even bigger upset when he defeated Joe Johnson, the man who had of course reached two successive finals in 1985/6 by a 13-9 scoreline.

In the quarter-finals he gave Cliff Thorburn a real challenge but eventually he could not do quite enough and slipped to a 13-11 defeat. Still, it was an excellent debut for a player whose biggest day was still to come.

Peter Ebdon – 1992

On the back of a superb amateur career, Peter Ebdon (sporting a pony-tail believe it or not) turned professional in 1991 and just a year later managed to qualify for the final stages of the World Championship at the Crucible.

Few could have predicted just what an impact he would make however as drawn against the six-times world champion and then world number 2 Steve Davis, he was a real outsider and would not have been expected to come through and win the match. Not only did he win the match though, he did it in emphatic style, emerging as a 10-4 winner and causing a huge shock in the process.

He did not stop there either as he destroyed Martin Clark 13-4 to move into the quarter-finals where he would finally come unstuck against the 1979 champion Terry Griffiths.  Though he could not emulate the achievement of Griffiths all those years ago, it was still an incredible debut and of course a decade later in 2002, he would finally get his hands on the famous old trophy.

Andy Hicks – 1995

The Cream of Devon, Andy Hicks actually turned professional back in 1991 but it was four years later on his first visit to the Crucible when he really made a name for himself.

Just like Peter Ebdon in 1992, Andy was drawn against Steve Davis in the first round and despite the former champion being past his peak, he had still reached the semi-finals in 1994 and was regarded as one of the favourites going into the tournament. Andy though was not going to roll over for him and eventually came through to record an excellent 10-7 win and progress to the last 16.

There he met another veteran in the form of Willie Thorne, but despite facing an opponent with far more experience, Andy was not afraid of the challenge and raced to a 13-7 victory to book a quarter-final with Peter Ebdon, a man very much on the up having just reached his second ranking event final in Dubai. Again though Andy continued to surprise, winning the match 13-8 and in doing so becoming the first man since Terry Griffiths to reach the semi-finals on his debut.

Eventually he was denied a shot at Stephen Hendry in the final by Nigel Bond, but he gave it a good go before going down 16-11.

Matthew Stevens – 1998

As it stands it looks as though Welshman Matthew Stevens is going to be remembered most for those two World Championship finals that he lost from a promising position, but it should also be noted that his debut in 1998 was an excellent one as he advanced to the quarter-finals.

Having qualified for the first time he was to meet Canadian Alain Robidoux who just twelve months previously had reached the semi-finals before bowing out to Irishman Ken Doherty. There was to be no repeat this time though as Stevens came through a 10-8 winner and booked a last 16 meeting with Mark King. It was another match but Matthew again managed to do enough and came through a 13-9 winner to move into the last 16 and keep the chance of an all-Welsh semi-final with Mark Williams alive.

It was not to be though as Matthew ran into the defending champion Ken Doherty who was not about to give up his trophy without a fight and eventually saw off the young debutant 13-10. Matthew was of course to return and set up that all-Welsh final with Williams in 2000, but his wait for the ultimate prize still goes on…

Patrick Wallace – 2001

Of the many debutants to have tried their hand at the Crucible this decade, Patrick Wallace has surely been one of the most impressive as he moved into the quarter-finals on his debut. Like Tony Drago before him, he did not waste much time either as he dismantled Scottish veteran Alan McManus 10-2 to move into the last 16 before overcoming Mark King 13-5.

Eventually though he ran into countryman Joe Swail and although it was a close match, succumbed to a 13-11 defeat as Swail made it to the semi-finals for the second year in succession.