Caledonia dreaming pays off for John Rae

By Keir MurrayBBC Scotland
John Rae holds the new Scottish Professional Championship trophy
John Rae holds the new Scottish Professional Championship trophy

In golf, the Scottish Open is staged in the week preceding The Open.

John Rae is trying something similar with snooker, organising the Scottish Professional Snooker Championship immediately before the glamour of the World Championship at the Crucible.

Rae has been harbouring the notion of running a pro event for Scotland's snooker stars for a long time - he won the tournament the last time it was staged 22 years ago.

Top prospect Anthony McGill, from Glasgow, whom he manages, has reignited his passion for the sport and so he took it upon himself to stage a new event in his Lucky Break snooker club in Clydebank.

The finals run from 11-14 April and feature Stephen Hendry, Graeme Dott, Stephen Maguire, John Higgins, Jamie Burnett, Alan McManus, James McBain and Anthony McGill.

"It was last held in 1989, so I've been the reigning champion for quite a long time," joked Rae.

"Unfortunately, I didn't receive the trophy when I won it. The last it was seen it was with Stephen Hendry and his manager Ian Doyle but they can't get their hands on it. It's a mystery, really.

"I've had to go out and buy a nice new trophy so we have a new tournament and a new trophy. We'll start from there."

Rae's last comment is revealing. His dream is to build the event to the point where it attracts the broadcasters.

"You need to walk before you run. I wanted to stage it here in Clydebank, a 200-seat venue, to gauge the level of interest and just to see how it all goes," he said.

"We've got three world champions and a UK champion competing. What better field could you have?

"Hopefully next year we can make it bigger and get television involved; that's what we're aiming for."

Rae is at a loss to explain what led to the tournament's demise in the late 1980s.

He recalled: "Stephen Hendry was the champion for the three years before I won it. He pulled out the 1989 one but we continued to play it.

"I was on the form of my life. I had a 147 in it and a 143.

"I really don't know what happened after that. It just kind of fell away. I finished up in '91 and it never got revamped but it's always been in my head to re-start it.

"I think being involved with Anthony I've got an extra buzz back - because he's a great talent - so why not bring it back?

"We've got so many good players now in this country. It's great for snooker."

Rae's enthusiasm is infectious. He is fortunate to have the backing of player of the calibre of Higgins, Dott, Hendry and Maguire, but his commitment to the tournament led others to a return to the table.

"There has been very good interest all round," said Rae, speaking at his club while young prospect McGill put in some practice.

"Murdo MacLeod came in out of the blue. He hasn't held a cue for 30 years. Billy Snaddon's playing in it, and Paul McPhillips too.

"At least they are picking up their cue again, which is good for the game. They will all be battling hard to get to the final stages."

And the re-launch of the tournament has also found the backing of World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn, who told BBC Scotland: "We need local and national events to stimulate young players, to give them the opportunity. I hope the Welsh and Irish people do the same.

"Scotland has led the way, I am very happy to see it and I am very happy that all the top players are supporting it as well."

Twelve qualifiers, Rae included, competed to reach the preliminary stage, with McPhillips, Mark Boyle and Richy McDonald progressing.

The champ's reign was ended in a 5-1 hammering by Stevie Wylie.

At the preliminary stage, Burnett, McManus, Marcus Campbell, McBain and McGill were lying in wait, having been given a bye.

McPhillips lost 5-3 to Burnett, Boyle was beaten by McManus 5-1, McBain got the better of Marcus Campbell, winning 5-3, and McGill beat McDonald 5-1.

Stephen Hendry poses with the Scottish Professional trophy in 1986
Stephen Hendry poses with the Scottish Professional trophy in 1986

Higgins, Dott, Hendry and Maguire were given a bye into the last eight.

Hendry and McManus meet in the first quarter-final on Monday 11 April, then Higgins and Burnett meet in the evening session. On Tuesday Dott and McBain go head to head then Maguire takes on McGill.

"The wonderful thing about it is that none of these world-famous players were worried about the money on offer," said Rae, before indicating the pot would be around £12,000.

"The whole thing is, it's not about the prize money. It's about bringing the Scottish Professional Championship back to where it belongs.

"I'm so grateful to all the players for their support."

The quarter-finals and semis will be played to the best of nine frames, while Thursday's final is the best of 11.

Rae makes no secret of who he hopes will walk away with the shiny new trophy.

"There are a lot of good players so it's hard to call," he said.

"John Higgins is the favourite as he is the number one in the world. But I would love Anthony to come through. I think he's got the talent."

McGill has been a pro for eight months and is looking forward to playing in his home club.

"All the qualifying for the tournaments is in Sheffield and there are a lot in Europe as well so for a tournament to be just down the road is a nice break," he said.

"It's a fantastic table it's going to be played on but I don't imagine I will have any advantage because I am used to playing on it.

"The top players are used to the top tables."

McGill, a modest young man, eventually admitted that he had notched a 147 in the Clydebank club while playing Higgins in a practice match. That, though, is not the highlight of his short career to date.

He said: "I qualified for the last 32 of the German Masters. Also, I beat Stephen Hendry and Stephen Maguire so those two stand out as things I'm proud of."

If he can get past Maguire, McGill will face Dott or McBain in the last four. A victory for the rising star would make Rae's commendable efforts all the more worthwhile.

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