PSB Interview: The Big Neal Foulds Interview: Part Two

Following on from part one of my interview with former world number three Neal Foulds, click below to read part two in which we discuss the current tour structure, the pecking order at the top of the game and also where he thinks that the new live streaming will come into its own this season…

Click here to read part one.

PSB: As we all know, Barry Hearn is now back in the game and making his presence known. What do you think of the changes that have come in during the past 18 months?

Neal Foulds: I think that the changes are all good really, I’ve noticed a little bit of dissent recently, the comments from O’Sullivan and Maguire that have been reported and without going into it, the expressions that they have used are a little bit dramatic for people playing snooker.

But I think that Barry is a shrewd cookie. He knows what he is doing and he is looking at what he has got worldwide. He has got all of the PTCs, he is taking tournaments around the world and I think that maybe at the end of this season he has got plans on jettisoning the ones that are no good and keeping the ones that are.

Take Poland, that was a success and maybe that will turn into a fully fledged ranking tournament. Maybe Killarney in Ireland will be a full ranking tournament and then the PTCs will disappear, but at the moment he is putting things out there, seeing which ones are popular and which ones are not.

Barry Hearn

You can be sure of one thing, anything that is not successful Barry will kick into touch so I think that the players at least owe him a bit of time and nobody has got to play in these events. I think that he has got players off their backsides playing matches again and they are finding out where snooker is popular and where it’s not.

Germany has been a massive success; other places in Europe clearly are doing very well. The Australian experience I suppose was a success, there was a lot of support in that so I think that we could have the death of the PTCs and big tournaments in more of the places that five years ago nobody even knew that they liked snooker in.

PSB: I think that one thing is that obviously they have got this contract for the Academy in Sheffield. To me they don’t bring anything to the sport as to be successful they have to promote the game to the fans which they can’t do as there are no fans in there but again they are making the best of a bad situation with the contract…

NF: Well that’s it, he had no choice but to use the Academy. I am sure that it is a nice enough venue but it is probably more suited to the secondary tour like a results factory really to see who will be on the tour next year.

I don’t think that you are selling the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump and Mark Williams and all of these exciting players very well by playing in front of nobody. Crondon Park was a success in its own way but that was a one off.


It has not worked out well but listen, Barry will not persist with something…he won’t be too concerned what players say about it as that has never been a worry, he will do the right thing for the game and anyone that criticises Barry for what he has done to snooker must have forgotten what it was like before.

PSB: It’s not that long since it was six events is it?

NF: No, I think he is doing a good job and I think that the players do owe the game a little bit. The top players are thinking about their own cause and I think that they should be promoting the game and most do to be fair.

There are the odd few here and there that have their own interests at heart and I don’t actually include O’Sullivan in that because he is a great entertainer and what he says does create interest in the game.

He actually gives the game a lot more and we accept a few rash remarks that he hasn’t thought about in the same way that we accepted Alex Higgins for what he was for what he brought to the game. People stop to watch Ronnie play so I think that we can allow him the odd indiscretion.

PSB: Interesting on the subject of Alex Higgins there is a good book out on him at the moment, I don’t know if you have read any of it but it’s interesting for me as someone who wasn’t around during his era…

NF: Yeah, my big breakthrough was beating Alex Higgins in Sheffield, 10-9 in the first round back in 1984 when I was a first season qualifier and I beat him the year after he had won the UK and it was my biggest win ever.

I must admit he was the most charismatic bloke the game ever had, but I couldn’t sit here and tell you that I always found him engaging company because he could be quite hostile at times to be around, most people would tell you that. But we forgave him for his sins because he helped to put snooker on the map.

PSB: Moving on to the state of the game now, obviously at the UK Championship final you had Higgins and Williams, as it was ten years ago. Those two are still at the top of the tree, how much longer do you think that will be the case, obviously Selby has got to number one…

NF: I think that both Higgins and Williams, while they are both playing some of the best snooker of their lives and have been for the past two years, are getting dangerously close to an age where players do start to reach a slight decline and usually once you see a player approach 40, though those two are not there yet, then you have seen a player at his best.

Many thought years ago in Ray Reardon’s era people that a snooker player was at his peak in his mid-30’s but of course that was laughed at when Jimmy White came along and Stephen Hendry. I am starting to think though that it may be the time when you are at your time of being the most well-rounded, but unfortunately it can go and at the moment John Higgins hasn’t made the best start to the new season.

Tough Season Ahead? John Higgins

Last year was very stressful for Higgins in a number of ways, with extreme lows and in amongst it some great highs and I think that this season is going to be a tough one for him to just gather himself together and think about the game again because a lot has gone on during the last 12 months for him.

As far as Mark is concerned, as long as he can prove that he has got over losing the Shanghai final where…he lost his rag let’s be honest, he has not been quite the same player since in my opinion.

Until both players play in the UK Championship which they have both played well in, the jury is out as to whether they are still the same players. I suspect though that they will be at their best by then.

PSB: How long do you think it will be until Mark Selby makes a breakthrough and wins a UK or a World Championship; obviously he has won the Masters twice and Shanghai…

NF: I’ve always felt that Selby is the model professional really in a lot of ways, he probably fits that bill along with Shaun Murphy, though even more so in Selby’s case. Murphy was always a natural really, at 15 he turned pro, he has the Rolls Royce cue action which is the cliché that everyone uses I know.

Model Professional – Mark Selby

But with Selby he had a ridiculously wayward cue action and he had talent but he has rebuilt all of that. He is very hard-working and he probably should have won more ranking events. I don’t know how he has not done better at Sheffield since he reached the final as he loves the game and it hurts him when he loses.

If he keeps doing the right thing I would be amazed if his day didn’t come. He showed signs in that Shanghai final of missing the odd very important ball but I’ve got no real worries about him. He’s hard-working, he’s a good pro, he seems to enjoy himself enough, he’s a bit of a wise-cracker as we all know and is someone that I admire a lot of the relatively newer players. He’s not a youngster but he is from the era after the Higgins, Williams and O’Sullivan.

PSB: Is there anyone else at the moment that you are tipping to make a breakthrough, be it in the top 16 or lower down such as Jack Lisowski or Michael White or anyone else you have an eye on?

NF: Well, not really, obviously Michael White you could talk about for a long time, he has struggled to live up to the hype, he was only a kid when he won the world amateur wasn’t he? He hasn’t quite fulfilled his potential yet at this time.

Jack Lisowski, what a great kid he is. We all know that he went through health issues at a time when we had lost one or two snooker players through illness and he has overcome his so I don’t think that he is going to take anything for granted in life. He has got a lovely mother and father who are good snooker people so I would really like to see him come through.

Lightning Lisowski – One To Watch

He’s a good kid and a really good player so he would be a real prospect in the Judd Trump mould and we all know how long it has taken him to hit the heights. Nothing comes quickly when you have got players in qualifiers who are very tough to beat who are looking to know you off your perch a little bit you know.

PSB: Did it surprise you a little how long it took Judd to come again after he made it to the Crucible for the first time back in 2007?

NF: Yeah it took him a while but winning the China Open just gave him that confidence there and he turned into a person at Sheffield who was just brimming with confidence. He’ll be fine.

A lot of people made reference to the fact that this summer after Sheffield he bought a flash car and people were saying hang on a minute, he has not got a few quid behind him, is he still going to be as driven as he was? I think he’ll be absolutely fine.

PSB: I think like someone said at the time, if you can’t enjoy yourself after making the world final then when can you enjoy yourself?

NF: Well that’s absolutely right, I agree with that so hopefully he’ll just stay very confident, he’s a nice kid and his dad is a nice guy. He has got the right people behind him and that’s what you have got to look at sometimes.

Judd Trump

PSB: Yeah I like his dad, I got to know him a bit at the Crucible this year, he’s a nice guy isn’t he?

NF: Yeah, he’s got people around him who have their feet on the ground.

PSB: Moving on to your commentary career, how long have you been doing that now?

NF: It’s about ten years, Sky gave me a breakthrough and I’ll always be grateful to them. I love working for Sky, I have great fun and I’ve had good times with the Beeb as well.

People say nice things but the one thing that I do think is important is that you must never forget how difficult the game is. Once you forget how difficult the game is then your comments aren’t going to be that realistic you know. If you think that the game becomes easier when you have not played for eight or nine years then that’s a myth and that’s when your commentary can somehow go a little bit haywire.

PSB: I think speaking from what I’ve heard, it helps in your case perhaps that you are from a slightly later generation than a number of the other commentators and that maybe people can relate to that…

NF: Yeah maybe, I was from a slightly later generation. Let’s be honest a few of the guys get stick in the commentary but I love all of their anecdotal stuff. I’m a snooker fan and I love hearing it and none of the guys take themselves that seriously.

They get stick a few of them but I guess getting stick at least people know you. If you sit on the fence and don’t say anything ever then people will soon get bored with you. You are there to offer an opinion and that’s what it’s all about and if you fail to do that then you are not really the job you are being asked to when you are asked to commentate and give your views on a match.

PSB: I think that what some have to bear in mind is that obviously you have to cater for different audiences, some of whom might not necessarily watch snooker 24/7 and tune in to all of the tournaments…

NF: Yeah absolutely, I completely agree with that.

PSB: On a related note, what do you think to the introduction of the live streaming?

NF: I think that it has been very good. All that people have wanted to do is watch snooker and I think that where it will come in handy is that final qualifier for Sheffield. That is the time when you see the highs and lows of the game really.

I remember playing in that match and I remember winning and feeling absolute elation once I had dropped outside of the 16, getting the chance to play at Sheffield again or being knocked out and not getting that chance. That is a match that you desperately want to win.

Live Streaming

The fact is to watch that, it is a real crunch game and it’s a bit like the football play-offs. It’s not quite as dramatic as that but to play at Sheffield is the way you want your season to end so to watch those matches on the streaming is what you want to see as a blood thirsty snooker fan!

PSB: Yeah last season the interest on Twitter when I was giving updates from there was incredible.

NF: I know and now people are going to have the chance to see them which has got to be good. I can remember one year I beat Chris Small of all people, it must have been the most awful match to watch 10-9 to qualify and we were the last off but we had got to the point where there was so much at stake.

I lost 10-9 one year as well and that is the utter highs and lows of the game to me really – that’s what it’s all about. You can watch that yourself and form your own opinion but the streaming will be very good for that.

PSB: Finally, how do you see the Premier League and the UK Championship tournaments shaping up in terms of a winner?

NF: As far as the Premier League is concerned I’m not sure whether the system is better or worse than it was last season, but what I do think about it is that it will be very interesting to see who makes the semi-finals because at the moment I haven’t got a clue.

I know it won’t be Jimmy White and I know it won’t be John Higgins, but getting seven or eight into four is going to be tough. If O’Sullivan gets through he will be the man to beat but I’ve had a feeling for Judd Trump to do well in that format so that’s what I think there.

In terms of the UK with a shorter format this year, best of 11’s at an early stage which has diluted it perhaps a little bit but I don’t know, that’s a tough one really. I think we will really find out who is playing well there.

I know that Neil Robertson would like to play well in it because it’s one tournament he has never really achieved an awful lot in isn’t it? I would stick to what I know and I would say that someone like Selby would be tough to beat and that it will be interesting to see how John Higgins plays because like I say he has not had a good season. This will be the real acid test for him as to whether he is able to play to that level or not anymore. I’m sure he is but I would just kind of like to see it right now because of everything that happened last year so they will be the players interesting me.

You don’t want to get too many big shocks and maybe this year there is more chance of that in the UK given that it is a slightly shorter frames, but most of the top players the last 20 years have done well in the UK Championship. I’m not really sure who will win it, but I expect it to be a leading player put it that way.


Thanks to Neal for his time and good luck to him at the upcoming World Seniors Championship which takes between the 5-6 November 2011 in Peterborough. Tickets are still available here.