Snooker: Archer's novel approach may bring some colour

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The Independent Online
Fresh from resuscitating the Tory party in Blackpool, Jeffrey Archer has turned to breathing new life into the game of snooker as president of the sport's governing body. Rupert Cornwell reports on a pairing that may not be as odd as it sounds.

The last time a member of the peerage is believed to have held a comparable job was when Lord Alverston, best known as the judge who sentenced Harvey Crippen to death in 1910, took the helm of the Billiards Association Control Council, a forerunner of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.

Yesterday, however, in the august surrounds of the Palace of Westminster, Lord Archer was not donning any black cap. Rather, like Toad discovering the motor car, he proclaimed his latest public passion to the world . "I love the game," he said, claiming he had first wielded a cue as a lad at the Weston-super-Mare YMCA.

And if yesterday's performance was any guide, he could be just the tonic needed to lift the sport from its present doldrums. Not that the audiences aren't there - 12 million watched on television as Ken Doherty beat Stephen Hendry for the 1997 Embassy World Championship, more than watched the Wimbledon final. But sponsors are getting as hard to find as those flawed superstars who once caught the nation's imagination.

"The strength of the game in the past was its characters," Lord Archer declared, "the game needs them, and we'll have to build on that." But it may be easier to find new backers to replace the discredited tobacco companies, than replacements for the ravaged Alex Higgins and that eternally anguished, eternal runner-up Jimmy White.

"My son asked me what a gentleman was," he went on, "I told him about the time Jimmy White told the referee he'd touched the cue ball, when no one, not even the TV cameras, picked it up. That's what being a gentleman means."

So what will the Archer therapy consist of? Clearly, if nothing else, a higher public profile, and, maybe, an end to the cultural snobbery to which snooker has fallen victim since its heyday in the Eighties. With his appointment, he said, "I suspect there'll be a lot of people who come out of the woodwork and say they love the game." And as for that "beer and fags" albatross around snooker's neck, "Look, I don't drink beer and I don't smoke - so that gets rid of that problem."

Then there is the Archer energy, the bubbling enthusiasm of a man who has all the gravitas of a supercharged puppy dog. Snooker, one suspects, won't know what's hit it. "I'll go to all the championships.... and The Crucible too. I could never get in, now I'll be there in the front row.

"I have some ideas," he insisted, but it would be a month or two before they're unveiled. But some clues could be gleaned. He does not favour dropping the black tie and waistcoat dress code. Nor, to judge from the answers of Rex Williams, the WPBSA chairman, and of Doherty himself, is there much likelihood of radical change, such as smaller pockets, to make harder a game which today's Steve Davis clones can render ridiculously, boringly, easy.