By Andrew Smith
Leo Scullion made his long awaited return to the Crucible this week following his battle with lung cancer.
Leo is one of snooker’s most popular referees and returned on Monday to officiate the first round match between Ding Junhui and Zhou Yuelong. The 59-year-old has presided over several major finals and has his eye on refereeing a future world final after missing out in 2015 due to illness.
“I refereed my first match the other day, it was really good, it was a good match as well. I got a tremendous reception from the crowd and my fellow referees, its good to be back,” said Leo. “I feel as though its come full circle now, after the Crucible two years ago I became unwell. Now that I’m back at the Crucible again I feel as though I can move on from here and get back to refereeing.
“The reception was fabulous, Rob Walker always gives us a tremendous introduction anyway, and the Crucible crowd always receive us very well. It was a major achievement to be back refereeing here again when obviously things looked very bleak for a while, it was a special moment.
“The World Championship at the Crucible is the pinnacle for the players, there’s nowhere like the Crucible for playing snooker. It’s the same for us referees, we work hard to progress as much as we can, so to be chosen to referee at the home of snooker is fantastic.”
Leo, who is on the mend following a battle with lung cancer, added: “My wife and daughters have kept me wrapped up in cotton wool looking after me. The medics are fantastic, the work they do is tremendous and you really appreciate it when you’re at the sharp end.
“A lot of people aren’t sure how to deal with the cancer thing, they don’t know whether to ask you about it. I’ve always felt that I can talk about it, the players have been tremendous. I’ve had fantastic support from the whole snooker family, on social media people have been wishing me well.”
The Scot made his Crucible debut in 2010 and has plenty of memories from his time in Sheffield.
“I remember my very first time at the Crucible, my first match was Tom Ford against Mark Allen, I was refereeing that earlier than I was supposed too because it was the year that the ash cloud delayed some people arriving at the Crucible.
“I’ve refereed two semi-finals here and they were just fantastic. The one table set-up at the Crucible is brilliant.”
Leo has been an avid snooker fan all his life and has followed the highs and lows of the World Snooker Championship during it’s 40 years at the Crucible Theatre.
“Everybody remembers the 1985 final, we were all sitting up until who-knows what time to watch that and what a tremendous final it was. Stephen Hendry getting his seventh world title, obviously that’s a milestone and a record still to be beaten, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins are close, close enough to make Stephen a bit twitchy.
“There’s so many memorable matches and one off shots, Cliff Thorburn’s fluke to get the 147, Cliff recreated the yellow he potted at the 40th anniversary celebration.”
Leo has taken charge of the UK Championship and Welsh Open finals, and following a return to good health he has his sights set on refereeing a Crucible final in the future.
“From now on health wise things are good, I get a check-up every so often and I’ll just continue to referee and do as much work as I can.
“Doing the final would be the ultimate wouldn’t it, it’s every players dream to play in a world final and it would be a dream to referee one. If the chance comes along I’m certainly not going to say no thank you. I’m gonna grab it with both hands but that’s a decision that’s out of my hands.”