Len Ganley, snooker’s most famous referee of the 1980s and 90s, has died at home in Northern Ireland at the age of 68.
He suffered from diabetes and his health had deteriorated in recent weeks, until he passed away on Sunday afternoon. He leaves behind wife Rosaline and six children, including World Snooker’s tournament director Mike Ganley.
Born in Lurgan in 1943, Ganley, who had ten brothers and sisters, moved to Burton in England in 1971. He intially worked as a milkman and bus driver.
A keen snooker player with a top break of 136 (missing the black for a 143), he first pulled the white gloves on at a Ray Reardon exhibition, when the referee didn’t show up. Reardon suggested that Ganley should pursue a career as a referee,and he took that advice.
He rose swiftly through the ranks to become one of the sport’s top officials, just as snooker became massively popular in the UK in the early 1980s. The likes of Steve Davis, Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor were household names, and Ganley spent as much time on television as most of the top stars.
On four occasions he refereed the World Championship final at the Crucible, including 1990 when Stephen Hendry became the youngest champion. He named his most memorable match as the 1983 UK Championship final when his favourite player, Higgins, came from 7-0 down to beat Davis 16-15. He also officiated Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record 5-minute 20-second 147 maximum in 1997. “He never took a breath – I actually burst a blood vessel refereeing that match!” he joked.
Perhaps Ganley’s best-remembered moment was the Carling Black Label advert when he turned a cue ball to sand with a squeeze of his gloved fist…earning the nickname ‘Ball-Crusher’. The larger-than-life character was also the subject of a song by the band Half Man Half Biscuit called The Len Ganley Stance. Their album sleeve notes bizarrely described him as the ‘godfather of punk’.
Ganley retired from snooker in 1999 but was still closely linked to the sport and a familiar presence backstage on the circuit. He started a coaching course in Northern Ireland to encourage grass roots development in snooker.
He worked relentlessly for charities to raise money for children with muscular dystrophy and spina bifida, and was renowned for collecting ‘tenners’ from all and sundry each year at Sheffield. He also organised charity golf days, and raised millions of pounds over four decades.
In 1994 Ganley was awarded the MBE for his charity work as well as services to snooker.
Six-times World Champion Steve Davis said: “Len did a very good job of being a referee and a personality at the same time. A referee is supposed to be unseen and he liked the limelight, but he still managed to do the job properly. He was a great character off the table, but in the arena he was an excellent referee. He knew the game as a player, having made century breaks himself, so when he was in charge of your match it was nice to know how well he understood the game.”
The funeral will take place this Wednesday (August 31) at St Paul’s Chapel in Lurgan at 10am.