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Len Ganley
"Alex was the greatest cueist that ever lived"
 real 14k

Half Man Half Biscuit
"The Len Ganley Stance"
 real 14k

banner Friday, 4 May, 2001, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
Take a look at me now

Former snooker referee Len Ganley became so well known he even had a song written about him. BBC Sport Online's Chris Charles caught up with him at his old stamping ground, The Crucible.

Back in the heady days of snooker, the referees were almost as popular as the players.

One in particular stood head and shoulders above the rest - literally.

Gentle giant Len Ganley was so popular, in fact, that in 1985 cult indie band Half Man Half Biscuit wrote a song about him - the Len Ganley Stance.

(Listen to the Len Ganley Stance by clicking left)

Since retiring a couple of years ago, Len has turned his hand to coaching youngsters - but he's still a regular in the press room, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting journalists to nab a 10 contribution for charity.

"I started up a coaching course in Northern Ireland with the Sports Council and the Northern Ireland Business and Snooker Association," he explains.

Ray Reardon
Suggestion: Ray Reardon
"It's coaching 10-14 year-olds, boys and girls. We do billiards, snooker, 8-ball, 9-ball and carrom, where they have no pockets on the table.

"I played snooker to a good standard myself in Northern Ireland, before coming to Burton-on-Trent, where I won several individual titles, one of which was the Derby and Midlands Individuals."

But it was a meeting with one of the game's best-loved players that got him into refereeing.

"I got to play Ray Reardon one night," Len recalls. "Ray was on a 105 break after potting the black and had perfect position on the yellow.

"The audience erupted so I put my finger over my lips to hush them and it went deadly quiet.

"All of a sudden, Ray said with a grin on his face: 'If this had been the world championships, they'd still have been clapping 15 minutes later' - and this wee voice at the back says: 'Yes, but have you seen the size of the b*****d referee?!'

"At that time I was about 26 stone. Ray turned round and looked at me and laughed. I started laughing, the audience laughed and in the interval Ray asked if I'd thought about taking up refereeing."

For the most part, his sizeable presence and genial manner ensured he never had any difficult moments with the players - well, almost.

"When Alex (Higgins) was really going downhill, at the end of his tether, he was a bit problematic," Len admits. "But it was never to the detriment of the game."

In fact, he is in no doubt that Higgins was the greatest player to grace the green baize.

"If I was to name the top four players ever, after Alex, they would be Ronnie O'Sullivan, Steve Davis, John Higgins and Stephen Hendry," he says.

Banter

"Alex was the greatest cueist that ever lived. He did things with the cueball nobody else has ever done.

"He's just different class and so is Ronnie. If Ronnie would learn to co-ordinate his playing with his temperament he could be the greatest player that ever lived."


For months everyone on the circuit called me 'Pick a Window Ganley'!
  Len Ganley
Higgins, unsurprisingly, figures in Len's most memorable match - the 1983 UK Championship final.

"Alex was 7-0 down after the first session and during the interval I was interviewed by BBC Radio.

"The interviewer said: 'Well, it looks like being another runaway for Steve Davis' and I replied: 'Hang on a minute, are we talking about the same game?'

"He made the point that Steve was 7-0 up and I said: 'Let's wait for the evening session'.

"That evening Alex won seven out of the eight frames to trail 8-7 and went on to win it."

While enjoying a bit of banter with the players at the table, Len rarely got emotionally involved.

"The only times I ever gave anyone a hug were when Stephen Hendry made the 147 in 1995 on my birthday and then Ronnie in 1997, when he did the five minutes 20 seconds 147.

"He never took a breath - I actually burst a blood vessel refereeing that match!"

Despite the intense concentration that goes into a frame of snooker, it has always provided a few light-hearted moments - and Len has enjoyed many.

"You're always in danger of putting a ball on the wrong spot, leaving it in the pocket or getting the scores wrong," he grins.

"I spoke to one of the new up-and-coming referees, Graham Harding, and told him: 'Don't worry, there's nothing you've done that I haven't done before you. You've just got to enjoy yourself."

Er, there is one thing he hasn't done.

"Oh yes, it was when Cliff Wilson and Ray Reardon playing in the UK Championship.

"There were two drunks in the back of the stand. I asked Ray if he minded me going up to have a word and forgot I had a mike on me!

Alex Higgins
'The greatest': Alex Higgins
"I went up and asked for the best of order in the game but warned them: 'If you don't stop it - pick a window 'cos you're going through it'! And I had the mike on!

"For months everyone on the circuit called me 'Pick a Window Ganley'!"

The side to Len many people don't see is his tireless work for children's charities.

"Every year at the Crucible I get all the media, the referees and the players to donate a tenner which goes to children's charities like muscular dystrophy and spina bifida," he explains.

"I run a few charity golf days as well, supported by the likes of Willie Thorne, Dennis Taylor, Johnny Briggs from EastEnders and a couple of actor from Brookside. Last year we raised 6.1m."

And then there was that record, which accuses Len of looking like a teddy bear, as well as being vertically dead.

"Oh yeah, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Len Ganley Stance. They were a brilliant bunch of lads. I hope they'll do another song for me."

Watch this space.

The Len Ganley Stance by Half Man Half Bicuit can be found on their Back In The DHSS album. The track appears courtesy of Probe Plus records.

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