Darts – Snooker & Notts

Both snooker and darts have lit up the start of the sporting year with record wins for Ronnie O’Sullivan and an emerging talent in 16-year-old Luke Littler with both superstars of their genres gripping the nation in recent finals.

Both sports actually have long connection back to the city of Nottingham with the Heart of the Midlands Nightclub (now even more famously known as Rock City) playing venue to the first ever PDO World Championship in 1978. That was won by Welshman Leighton Rees who beat John Lowe 11-7 in the final.

Snooker has also had its World Championship played in the city, these days more famously hosted at the Crucible in Sheffield, the Lounge Hall on Shakespeare Street hosting the 1929 final between local player Tom Dennis who was beaten by the great Joe Davis, winner of the first fifteen successive championships. Derbyshire born Davis also beating Dennis in the 1931 final again at Lounge Hall.

Davis would play Tom Newman in a best of 49 frames final in 1936 with two legs, in both Nottingham and Kettering, the last occasion the final would be in our city, it would often be played in London but ventured to Birmingham, Manchester, Blackpool, even Jersey, before settling in Sheffield in 1977.

Though not as popular as the main city and county sports of football, rugby and cricket, or even ice hockey for that matter, the area of Nottinghamshire has still produced some well-known sporting professionals from the world of snooker and darts. We take a look at some of the lesser lights in these individual sports.

Jason Ferguson

Once a professional snooker competitor, whose career spanned 14 years, Ferguson is now an authoritative figure in the game as the chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), the governing body of the popular cue sport.

Born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, Ferguson turned professional in 1990 and reached the last 16 of a few ranking events without ever going beyond that stage. Two years after turning pro, he qualified for the World Championships, losing in the first round, and progressed to the last 16 of the UK Championship. He reached his highest ever ranking position of 28 during the 1993/94 season. He retired from playing in 2004, having been elected to the WPBSA in December 1998.

Ferguson became chairman three years later, and was then re-elected to the position in July 2010. He is due to continue in the prestigious role until at least 2026. In between, he has been elected as the mayor of the civil parish of Ollerton and Boughton in the Newark and Sherwood district. Though never a major contender on the main professional snooker circuit, Ferguson was runner-up in two minor events in 1994 and 1999, and the winner of the pro-am Pontins Autumn Open in 1988. His main claim to fame came in 1989 when he was runner-up to Ireland’s Ken Doherty (a future World Champion), in the final of the World Amateur Under-21 Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Gary Wilkinson

A competent snooker professional from Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Wilkinson reached as high as number five in the world rankings. Having turned professional in 1987, he climbed to this mark in only four seasons. Along the way he beat the legendary Irishman Alex Higgins to win a non-ranking invitation event. His one major title came in 1991 when he won the World Matchplay beating Steve Davis 18-11 in the final. He had earlier defeated John Parrott in the quarter-final and Jimmy White in the semis.

One of his best career performances came in the 1989 UK Championship when he beat Parrott, having led 8-1, White, whitewashed 9-0, and then narrowly getting defeated by the world number one Davis, after a misjudgement on the scores, in the semi-final. He did manage to come runner-up in both the British Open and the Scottish Masters in 1991 and 1992 respectively. There were ten appearances at the World Snooker Championships, reaching the quarter-finals a couple of times, and during the 1991 competition he came close to a maximum 147 break missing the final yellow in his first round match, and the chance to claim a bonus of £100,000!

He later joined the WPBSA board helping out with tournament directorial duties.

Danny Fowler

Born in Worksop, Fowler is a former professional snooker player who, like Ferguson, never really hit the dizzy heights of the sport. Despite playing from a young age, he did not turn professional until the age of 27, having worked as a miner and a local government waste collector prior to that. His pro career started off promisingly with three whitewash wins in the qualifying rounds of the International Open tournament, and also a couple of ten-nil victories in the 1985 World Snooker Championship qualifying stages.

He ended his debut season ranked number 55 in the world. His best ranking tournament performances came at the 1989 Grand Prix and the Dubai Classic in the same year, where he reached the semi-final stages in both events. He had victories over big names such as Mike Hallett, Joe Johnson, and Alain Robidoux, along the way. He had a career-high ranking of 28, but was positioned over the 100 mark when he retired during the 1996/97 season. He later became a courier for a maggot-selling company!

Aden Kirk

Nicknamed the ‘Captain’ Kirk began his professional darts career in 2010, and four years later he qualified for the UK Open final stages, where he won his first two matches to reach the third round. Facing the legendary world champion Phil Taylor he caused a major upset by winning nine legs to seven on his first television appearance. He then went on to beat another big name, Peter Wright, before succumbing to defeat in the fifth round. Kirk earned £5000 from his efforts.

Born in Nottingham, Kirk grew up in Eastwood, and he followed up his UK Open efforts by winning two of the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) Development Tour events in 2015 and 2016. He qualified for the 2019 World Championships before taking a break from the sport in early 2020. He came back to capture a PDC Challenge Tour title earlier this month. Apart from his arrows prowess, Kirk has also written a children’s book, ‘Rusty the Old Bicycle’

Tom Dennis

Born in 1882 in Nottingham, Dennis reached the final of the World Snooker Championships four times between 1927 and 1931. Each time he was defeated by the legendary and then unbeatable Joe Davis. Played at the Lounge Hall in Nottingham, Dennis came close in 1931, losing just 25 frames to 21. He led 14-10 and 19-16, before Davis reeled off nine of the next 11 frames. He reached the last four on two occasions after that, before retiring as a professional in 1936.

Dennis was successful in winning the BPA Professional Championship (Billiards Professionals Association) on three occasions between 1923 and 1929.

Dan Dawson

Looking to follow in the footsteps of the iconic tones and words of darts commentator Sid Waddell, Dawson, from Kirkby-in-Ashfield, first started to commentate at a big professional event on ITV in early 2014. He eventually went to work with Sky Sports and the PDC.

Having started out on the minor events, Dawson has worked on various media channels and was recently commentating at the PDC World Darts Championship won by Luke Humphries. One of his earlier jobs was as a journalist for a radio station in Birmingham.

Two of the most successful of the Nottingham-born green baize potters, Anthony Hamilton and Michael Holt, have been featured in a previous article (Nottingham Potters). Hamilton, a veteran of 33 years, won his first major snooker professional title at the age of 45 in 2017 after 26 years on the circuit. Nicknamed ‘The Sheriff of Pottingham’ he is currently number 49 in the world rankings. Holt fell off the professional tour in 2022 and had a career-high ranking of 20. His main claim to fame came in 2020 when he captured the Snooker Shoot Out title, a frenetic limited time one frame event.

*Article provided by Hitesh Darji (Historical Correspondent)

*Main image @BBCsnooker Tom Dennis (left) with the great Jo Davis.

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