close-up : Ian Doyle : A man to turn the tables

Snooker's governing body is heading for a fight as Hendry's manager becomes the revolutionary. Clive Everton reports
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ian Doyle needs no persuading by Bob Hoskins that "It's good to talk", but for a year or so now the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association has not warmed to much of what he has been saying.

"Why is it that snooker, one of Britain's top TV sports, is so amateurishly run?" is the recurrent theme of the manager of Stephen Hendry, the world No 1, Nigel Bond (5), Ken Doherty (7), Darren Morgan (9), Alain Robidoux (14), Mark Williams (16), Joe Swail (17), Gary Wilkinson (19), Dennis Taylor (26), Martin Clark (33) and Fergal O'Brien (36).

With the addition of Billy Snaddon (35), who is managed by Doyle's son Lee, this gives him 12 votes in the WPBSA's electorate of 49. Only players ranked in the top 40 in the last two seasons plus sitting board members have voting rights in a membership of more than 700. Soundings this week indicate there is enough concern about the current board to make it likely that it will be reshaped at the AGM on 19 December.

Doyle opposes the re-election of John Spencer, its chairman for almost seven years, and another long-serving board member, Bill Oliver, and supports the election of Rex Williams, the founder/chairman of the WPBSA in 1969 who held office for 13 of the next 18 years. There are other candidates but these look to be the three key seats. Bizarrely, if appropriately to snooker, there is a blackballing system which means that a candidate's "yes" votes must exceed his "no" votes before his "yes" votes count.

Doyle, 57, can lobby with the best of them but this week he has been viewing angrily from afar the Grand Prix at Bournemouth, the second of the season's 10 world ranking events, which has been played in front of sparse audiences. "The ticket booking forms and posters weren't ready until less than a month before the tournament," said Doyle. "I then received a fax from the WPBSA marketing department apologising for picturing Mark Williams as a right-hander when he is a left-hander. This was wrong in the tournament programmes as well.

"There's nothing wrong with snooker as a game. There are more players in more countries than ever before. What happens on the table is fine. Our TV audiences are still the envy of most sports and the BBC have not signed up for a new five-year deal worth a reported pounds 40m unless they think the game has a lot to offer."

However, there is no sponsor for the Grand Prix or for the next BBC tournament, the UK Championship at Preston from 15 November to 1 December.

"The underlying problem is that the WPBSA do not have a proper management structure," said Doyle. "Some of the executives do some good work but there is no chief executive, so what happens is that the association is run on a day-to-day basis by a board whose experience of business is not up to what is required."

Doyle's indefatigable road manager, John Carroll, welded to his mobile phone, misses nothing of the backstage comings, goings and bendings of ears in Bournemouth, while the press room has been favoured with Doyle's customary bombardment of requests for score updates.

Once, at the Thailand Open, the person who took his call for news of four first-round matches, in which none of his players were involved, asked why his neo-Glasweigan growl had been reduced to a whisper. "I don't want to wake Irene," he confided. It was 6am British time.

Doyle trained to be an accountant but became general manager of a client's firm at the age of 23. A few years later he started his own ironmongery distribution company and diversified into property and leisure around Stirling.

He became involved with snooker when the Scottish Amateur Association approached him for sponsorship in 1983, and remained enthusiastically involved until he resigned two years later to concentrate on managing Hendry. It was Hendry's parents who requested this.

Gradually, his stable grew. Doyle is a martinet in matters of personal discipline, and a few fell by the wayside. John Higgins, the highly dedicated and self-motivated world No 2, did not like the constraints placed upon him and left two years ago. Doyle threatened to nail to his desk the credit cards of another former client, Mike Hallett, who went on an epic spending spree (including 72 shirts) after winning the 1989 Hong Kong Open.

On the other hand, there are players in his stable grateful that his meticulous attendance to their affairs has put them on a sound footing. There is something in the charge that he does not want to run just his own business but everyone else's, not so much to earn more but to show that he could do it better. A workaholic himself, he expects that everyone else should be the same - an approach which does not endear him to some of the more laid-back of his management brethren.

Painstaking almost to a fault in his attention to detail, he has acerbic responses to some of the actions of the WPBSA. "Let's take the German Open. The players in the last round of qualifying at Blackpool thought they were going to Germany if they won.

When they came off, they found there was going to be another round at Preston on 14 November, the day before the UK starts and only two days after anyone involved in the final of the World Cup [starting on Tuesday] gets back from Bangkok.

"The WPBSA then tell me that they have looked at 67 venues but have come up with the British Army base at Osnabruck, which was last in the news when the IRA tried to blow it up.

"I got Sweater Shop [whose clothing Doyle's group of players endorses] to sponsor the International Open. The first year it was in Bournemouth and the second year it was supposed to be there as well, but somehow we ended up in Swindon."

Sweater Shop have now withdrawn from sponsoring this ranking event and only one non-tobacco sponsor, Liverpool Victoria, remains on the British circuit.

Doyle feels that the cumulative effect of all these episodes is doing the game little good in the public's eyes. "Because John Spencer and Bill Oliver are due for re-election they are in the firing line," he said.

"But others who have been on the WPBSA board for many years must also take responsibility. This is not Doyle v Spencer as such. It is about changing the way the WPBSA is run before the marvellous opportunity snooker still has is squandered."

The irresistible rise of Ian Doyle

1940 Born Glasgow. Attended Whitehill School.

1958 Joined Alexander Russell Ltd as trainee accountant.

1962 General manager Alexander Russell Ltd hardware division.

1967 Formed Doyle Cruden, wholesale ironmongers with lifelong friend Jim Marley, later diversifying into property and leisure.

1984 Met Stephen Hendry.

1985 Began to manage Stephen Hendry.

1988 Developed Cuemasters Limited as a player management group.

1989 Achieved long-held ambition to promote a major Scottish snooker tournament, the Regal Scottish Masters, now one of the leading events on the circuit.

1990 Stephen Hendry becomes world champion and world No1 for first time.

Comments