Who is David Gilbert? The ‘Angry Farmer’ aiming to fulfil huge snooker talent

The well-liked 42-year-old is trying to reach a first World Championship final by beating Kyren Wilson at the Crucible

Luke Baker
Saturday 04 May 2024 14:30 BST
David Gilbert faces Kyren Wilson in the World Snooker Championship semi-finals
David Gilbert faces Kyren Wilson in the World Snooker Championship semi-finals (Getty Images)

If David Gilbert continues his remarkable run at the 2024 World Snooker Championship all the way to the title, not only would he go down as one of the most surprising winners in the tournament’s history but there would be few more popular champions.

The man hilariously nicknamed ‘The Angry Farmer’ due to regularly working on his family’s farm in Staffordshire and having a reputation for on-table petulance earlier during his career, is well-liked by almost all of his fellow professionals and the media who cover the sport.

“I really hope so,” said reigning world champion Luca Brecel when asked if Gilbert could go on to win the world title this year after stunningly being beaten by him in round one. “I just like Dave, he’s a bit like me, he’s very down to earth, says it how it is and doesn’t take himself too seriously which is fantastic. I really love him, he’s a good guy.”

Stephen Maguire was similarly effusive in expressing his respect and affection for Gilbert ahead of their quarter-final – with the pair having competed since coming up together as juniors three decades ago – and the 42-year-old’s reputation as one of snooker’s nearly men who has never quite been able to fulfil his abundant talent also makes him an easy player to root for.

Make no mistake, Gilbert – who co-owns Potters Snooker and Pool Club in Swadlincote, Derbyshire – is as naturally talented as almost any player out there. His languid, silky-smooth cue action is the envy of most of the tour, he’s spellbinding to watch in full flow and, when he’s in rhythm, his break-building and scoring are truly world-class.

His six century breaks are the most at this year’s Worlds heading into the semi-final stage and he sits 18th on the all-time century list, above plenty of far more decorated players, including Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon

Gilbert has a Rolls Royce of a cue action (Getty Images)

Yet the silverware hasn’t matched the talent. By his own admission, following an impressive junior career, he spent most of his 20s enjoying the trappings of life rather than knuckling down on the practice table but began to take things more seriously in the following decade and turned his results around.

He became widely regarded as the best player to never win a ranking event after losing four ranking finals, including three in 14 months from 2018 to 2019. The 2018 World Open final was the most agonising of those as he squandered a 9-5 lead against Mark Williams to lose 10-9, while the 2019 German Masters showpiece saw him slip to a 9-7 defeat from 7-5 ahead against this week’s semi-final opponent Kyren Wilson.

During that period, Gilbert also memorably shook off a mediocre record that had seen him previously win just one match at the Crucible Theatre to reach the 2019 World Championship semi-final, where he led John Higgins 11-6 and 16-15 before going down 17-16 in an all-time epic. His tearful interview with MC Rob Walker that followed that heartbreaking defeat only endeared him further to the public.

He is also a two-time Masters semi-finalist and reached a high of No 10 in the world before finally breaking his duck by winning the Championship League in 2021, although the best-of-five tournament is probably the least prestigious of all snooker ranking events.

Gilbert is one of snooker’s most likeable players (Getty Images)

No one is in any doubt that he should have won more titles but the self-confidence and mental strength that defines many of the very top players has often deserted him.

“If I had [semi-final opponent] Kyren [Wilson]’s belief I’d probably have 10 tournaments to my name,” admitted Gilbert ahead of their best-of-33 Crucible clash. “I can’t fault the kid, he’s done great things, he’s won tournaments, he turns up to these things here to win it. I admire that.”

And when those comments were put to world No 12 Wilson, the 32-year-old concurred with his opponent.

“I think that’s fair to say,” he acknowledged. “He’s got it all, Dave. He’s got one of the smoothest, nicest cue actions on tour but there’s always little bits and bobs with certain players that they have as an asset. You can’t be greedy and have them all.”

Gilbert’s run at this year’s World Championship past Brecel, Robert Milkins and Maguire – having seen off David Lilley and Xiao Guodong in qualifying – has come as something of a surprise, with the 42-year-old enduring a pretty torrid season that has seen him reach just one quarter-final, at the Northern Ireland Open.

But something has clicked for the likeable Englishman at the Crucible and he credits old friend and fellow player Andy Lee for helping him get out of the funk over the past few weeks by hitting the gym, the practice table and eating healthy food together.

If Wilson, and then Stuart Bingham or Jak Jones, can be dispatched in Sheffield, Gilbert will shed his ‘nearly man’ reputation in the most spectacular style.

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