Spencer And Scullion: The Semi-Final Referees
Referee Rob Spencer is making his one-table debut at the Crucible this year, taking charge of the semi-final between Luca Brecel and Si Jiahui.
By Tomos Wyn Jones
Spencer, who started refereeing in 2011 and has worked at WST events since 2013, is making his fourth appearance as referee at the Cazoo World Championship and is still enjoying it as much as the first time.
He said: “All the World Championships aren’t the same, it’s a special event every year. It’s a long stint, what people don’t see is the referees are here for the qualifiers, we’re here for a week and a half before the event itself starts. But it’s a very special event.”
Spencer made his debut in 2020, when crowds were limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. “The first match I did here, there was a third of the capacity in the Crucible, but after that there was no crowds after that until the final,” he recalls. “It was weird because it didn’t feel like the Crucible because the crowd optimises the venue, so the best way to describe it is the scenario was surreal.
“I was fortunate to referee on my debut with a crowd, but there were some referees, like Tatiana (Woollaston) who didn’t officiate in front of a crowd, Marcel (Eckardt) in the final didn’t have a full house, so it was a bit sad for them more than anything.”
Spencer’s ambition at the start of his career was to become a professional snooker player, and although he had some natural ability, he didn’t quite make the grade to break through the professional ranks.
He added: “I started playing when I was 14 and I had a bit of natural ability, I could pot balls and played to a decent standard. I practised with some players that went into the professional game, but I went and got a job and didn’t play as much after.
“I played to a reasonable standard for the majority of my life, ending up captaining my local team. One of the responsibilities of the captain was to understand the rules, so that’s where the start of my refereeing career has come from.”
To take charge of a Sheffield semi-final is another milestone for Spencer, who has refereed several ranking event finals.
He said: “I’m confident enough now, I’ve done many matches in front of big crowds, refereed at the Masters, the German Masters final. The people who make the decisions as to who referees the semi-finals and final wouldn’t put me in that position if they didn’t think I could do it.
“I like to go under the radar, which a referee should do in my opinion. If someone says next year ‘who refereed the semi-finals last year?’ and no one knows, then I’ve done my job right. My ultimate ambition is to referee a world final, which I think every referee aspires to do.
“I also enjoy the tournament management side of it, which I have been more involved with this year, because there are lots of new skills to learn, putting the jigsaw together and providing the best possible opportunities for the players when they’re out on the baize.”
Scotland’s Leo Scullion is in charge of the other semi-final between Mark Selby and Mark Allen. The man from Glasgow has had a highly successful career as a top-level snooker referee and is enjoying it more than ever at this year’s championship.
“I’m thoroughly enjoying it, I had a tremendous first round match between Shaun Murphy and Si Jiahui, great player and has got a big future in the gam,” said Scullion. “He’s only 20 years of age, looks as he’s going to be right at home at the Crucible in the years to come.
“It’s always great to referee matches like that with all the high quality and free flowing snooker on show.”
Scullion made his TV debut 22 years ago at the Scottish Masters. “I was full of nerves!” he recalls. “But I learned so much and you have to learn very quickly because you go in there knowing the rules, but then there’s this big audience and TV cameras you have to negotiate – but I thoroughly enjoyed it. You build up your confidence, but for me the pressure comes from the desire to do a good job.
“You always want to do a good job and make it as easy as possible for the players, so if I only have to help them with the rest or counting the score, then my job is made a lot easier, and experience is incredibly valuable.”
In 2014, the Glaswegian was diagnosed with lung cancer, but thankfully has made a full recovery. He said: “I had great support from everybody in the snooker world. The medical staff were fabulous. We take the medics for granted when we are in good health, but you see their value when you’re at the sharp end and realise just how good these people are.”
Five years later, Scullion took charge of his first world final as he was appointed to referee the 2019 contest between Judd Trump and John Higgins.
He said: “It’s without doubt the highlight of my career in snooker, for any referee the pinnacle is to referee the world final. It was a great occasion and a phenomenal final, it was absolutely brilliant and loved every second of it.
“The crowd were going wild at the 147 attempts from both players. I’ve never asked John if he hadn’t waited so long to get down to play the black that he might possibly have achieved the 147 in the final, but it didn’t happen and who knows – on another day John could have made history.
“There’s nothing to beat a one-table set-up, I’ve been fortunate enough to referee a few semi-finals. The excitement is fantastic.”