Bernard Bennett

Monday 21 January 2002 01:00

Bernard Bennett, snooker player: born Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey 31 August 1931; married (three sons); died Southampton 12 January 2002.

By his own admission Bernard Bennett never claimed to be one of snooker's most gifted players. Indeed, in the 1986 and 1987 Embassy World Championship, Bennett, then a respected veteran, lost his first-round qualifying matches 10-0. He made his world championship début in 1969 but promptly lost 25-4 to Rex Williams, a player who also denied him the World Billiards title in 1971.

Bennett had to travel to Australia in 1974 for his first victory in snooker's blue riband tournament, returning home after an 8-2 win over Warren Simpson. His nemesis that year was none other than Alex Higgins, the world champion of 1972 and destined to go on and repeat his achievement at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in 1982.

He had to wait until 1989 for his next victory in the competition, defeating the television commentator and journalist Clive Everton 10-4 before losing to Fred Davis.

However, what Bennett may have lacked in ability he more than made up for in dedication and enthusiasm for the snooker. Duncan Moore, the resident coach at the Castle Snooker Club in Southampton, an establishment founded by Bennett in 1970, describes him as "one of the world's greatest triers".

Bennett's place in the annals of snooker history is guaranteed for two notable non-playing firsts. He was one of eight players who formed the Professional Billiards Players' Association in 1969 and 13 years later, then aged 52, he became a founder member of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.

The latter organisation is today still responsible for running what has become a multi-million-pound business – often not to the satisfaction of its many detractors. And, while plenty of politicking took place even in the formative years of the PBPA, early professionals such as Bennett couldn't have imagined how the sport would grow. His fellow professionals in 1969 included Williams, Ray Reardon, John Spencer and Fred Davis.

Born in Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey, Bennett was first attracted to the game by his elder brother John. That initial love never left him and he combined playing with his work as a carpenter. The family moved to Southampton in 1965 and started in the house-building trade. The same year Williams made a 147 break in an exhibition which was officially recognised as equalling Joe Davis's world record 147 in 1955.

Bennett wasn't a prodigious break builder though his son Steve believes his father's highest in competition was a not inconsiderable 143.

He joined Bitterne Conservative Club when he arrived on the South Coast and in 1967-68 became one of only two players to win the Southampton Billiards and Snooker Championship in the same year. In 1969 came the formation of the PBBA and it wasn't long before many of the game's leading lights were regulars at Bennett's Castle Club.

Alf Hobbs was its first manager and still plays billiards today at the age of 88. "Bernard staged regular pro-am tournaments at the Castle Club through the 1970s and 1980s," recalls Hobbs. "The events in 1975 and 1979, both won by Alex Higgins, were surely two of the best pro-am tournaments ever held. They each lasted three days and were played before a full house."

Bennett continued playing professionally beyond his 60th birthday but eventually retired on health grounds after a career spanning over 30 years.

Trevor Baxter

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