Snooker: D-day looms for Williams

Clive Everton feels the end of snooker's civil war may be near
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The Independent Online
SNOOKER'S BITTER and protracted civil war, which has already seen the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association chairman, Rex Williams, cling precariously to power at two Annual Meetings and one Extraordinary Meeting, seems to be heading for its climax.

Steve Davis, who has won six world titles, and another former champion, Dennis Taylor, lead the requisitionists of another EGM of the WPBSA calling for the removal of Williams and his staunch ally, Bob Close, from its seven-man board. The latest possible date for the meeting is early December. It was Davis, Taylor and the world No 50, Jason Ferguson who, last Monday morning at the Heathrow Hilton, were outvoted 4-3 as Williams, supported by Close, Jim McMahon and Ray Reardon, sacked Peter Middleton from the post of chief executive, to which he had been appointed only on 1 June.

It was eerily reminiscent of the outbreak of civil war on 1 December, 1997 when Williams, with three of his then six-man board against it, pushed through the dismissal of Jim McKenzie, whom he had warmly welcomed as chief executive only five months earlier. McKenzie's action for breach of contract was settled in his favour three days before it was due in the High Court.

For the moment Middleton is keeping his powder dry but this 59-year-old City high flyer, a former chief executive of Thomas Cook and Lloyd's of London, has already said: "I hope to have an opportunity to explain to the membership that I had things to say that certain board members didn't like."

Since last November Middleton has been chairman of the Football League. Barry Hearn, whose management of Davis helped raise snooker's profile immeasurably in the '80s, met him through sitting, as Leyton Orient's chairman, on one of the League committees. Hearn asked him if he could spare any time to help put WPBSA in better order. He brought Williams and Middleton together at the Crucible in April. Middleton was appointed on a part-time, two days a week basis.

Their relationship was soon in trouble. McKenzie had not shared Williams's high opinion of Martyn Blake, the company secretary, and Terry Crabb, the development manager. Nor, two years later, did Middleton. He negotiated their resignations. From that moment it was clear that Williams wanted Middleton out. The next scheduled board meeting was 19 August but late on Friday, 7 August faxes were dispatched to convene one for last Monday morning. The meeting was called without Middleton's knowledge. Williams had been expected to remain in Australia but flew back on the Saturday and returned to Australia after the meeting. Blake has been given his job back.

Contemplating the run up to the EGM, Hearn said: "There is bound to be scare-mongering again from the Williams side that I want to take the game over or Ian Doyle [the game's leading manager] does or we both do. I do not want this or anything remotely like it. The purpose of the scaremongering would be to take the edge of the real issue, which is mismanagement."

Despite eminently satisfactory viewing figures, the circuit has only one non-tobacco sponsor, Liverpool Victoria. Tobacco sponsorship, on which snooker heavily depends, must end by 2003. Only the Embassy World Championship has an extension to 2006. Thailand, one of the most enthusiastic of snooker nations, has refused to promote WPBSA events while the Williams regime remains. WPBSA's relations are at an all- time low with the International Billiards and Snooker Federation, the assembly of national associations, who are even refusing WPBSA's pounds 30,000 annual subsidy.