But for a damaged cue tip, John Parrott may well have been counted among the elite group of players to have won snooker’s Triple Crown.
The popular Liverpudlian won the World Championship and UK Championship during an annus mirabilis in 1991. Though his career co-incided with the dominant years of Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, Parrott was unquestionably one of the great players of the 1980s and 1990s. He climbed to number two in the world and won a total of nine ranking events – only eight players in snooker history have won more.
Yet the Masters brings back mixed memories for the 51-year-old, now best known for his expert analysis of the sport from the BBC studio. He reached the final three times – in 1989, 1990 and 1992, but each time finished runner-up to Hendry. The great Scot in fact, was unbeaten at the Masters from his 1989 debut until the 1994 final.
“It was always one of the events I wanted to win,” Parrott reveals. “I won the other two Triple Crown tournaments but the Masters eluded me. Unfortunately I always ran into Stephen at his best.
“The one I fancied winning was 1990 because I beat him in the semis of the World Matchplay and the final of the European Open in Lyon that season. But I damaged my tip during the semi-final and decided to put a new tip on the final. That turned out to be a mistake because I couldn’t pot a ball the next day and lost 9-4. It taught me a lesson and after that I’d always keep a few old tips in my cue box.
“Stephen was always the benchmark in that era and it was no disgrace to lose to him. I beat him in a few other big matches but it would have been nice to win one of those three at the Masters. The other one I regret was losing to Mike Hallett in the semi-finals in 1988, I should have beaten him.”
Despite his series of near misses at snooker’s most prestigious invitation event, Parrott always relished the Masters and the chance to play at the renowned Wembley Conference Centre, which was knocked down in 2006.
“At the start of the season you’d look at the calendar and see a lot of very good events, but the three that stuck out were always the World, the UK and the Masters,” said the father of two. “It was your reward for being in the top 16 and you knew that from round one you were up against the cream of the crop.
“The old Conference Centre was an incredible venue. I played Jimmy White twice there – in 1989 and 1997, and both times beat him in the deciding frame. There were over 2,000 people crammed in, most of them partisan Londoners, and anyone whose played in that situation will have rarely experienced an atmosphere like it.
“On one of those occasions it was a Friday night and I beat him on the pink in the last frame. I thought I’d better stay inside and speak to the press for an hour, and let everyone go home before I showed my face outside the venue! It could get vociferous when Jimmy was playing, but it was never out of order, it was just people cheering him on and making the odd funny quip.
“I’d make Wembley the best venue I ever played at after the Crucible. Obviously the Crucible is the ultimate and everyone aspires to play there, but Wembley wasn’t far behind. the only thing you had to remember was that there was a flower arrangement on the set so you had to avoid falling over the Azaleas when you walked back to your chair.
“You can’t replicate Wembley but I really like Ally Pally, it’s unique in its own way and it does produce a terrific atmosphere. We’ve seen some cracking matches in the last few years.”
There’s only one John Parrott. Isn’t there?
Parrott is looking forward to Ronnie O’Sullivan’s return to the limelight at this year’s Dafabet Masters. He said: “It’s fantastic news for the sport that Ronnie’s coming back and the tournament always has that extra bit of spice in it when he plays. He has been out of the limelight for a while and it’s not that simple just to walk back in. He’ll have to gear himself up for it in practice. He’s not coming into a smaller event where he has the chance to work his way in against lower-ranked players, he’s straight back in against one of the top 16. It will be fascinating to see how he does.”
Parrott retired from the pro snooker in 2010 after 27 happy years on the circuit. However he decided to dust off the cue last season to play in the World Seniors Championship, and he proved that his technique has not deserted him by reaching the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Mark Williams.
And Parrott will be competing in the over-40s event again this month, at the Guild Hall in Preston on the weekend of January 30-31, alongside the likes of Jimmy White, Ken Doherty and Joe Johnson.
“It’s a fantastic event, I loved it last year and it was great to see everyone again,” he said. “I played pretty well and just missed out on the final. Obviously I don’t play anything like I used to, but my concentration levels are still just about good enough for best of threes. It’s great fun just to be involved and to see all the old faces.
“Looking at the list of entries there are some seriously good players there. I’ve got no aspirations to even dream of winning it, there are that many good players in it. It’s just nice to get the cue out for competition. I still practise a little bit now and then, especially when the weather is no good for golf. I enjoy a couple of hours practice, though there’s no way I could go back to playing six or seven hours a day like I used to. I still love the game.
“I’m delighted the seniors tournament will be staged in Preston for the first time because it has always been a hotbed for snooker. The first tournament I ever went to with my dad was the UK Championship at the Guild Hall. It was very special for me to win the UK title there 14 years later, I looked up and saw my dad applauding me, sitting in virtually the same seat. Sadly he’s no longer with us, but I’ll always remember the Guild Hall for that and I’ll always see his face there.”