John Williams (snooker referee)

John Williams (born 8 June 1937) is a retired Welsh snooker referee. He presided over eleven World Snooker Championship finals, nine at the Crucible Theatre, including the 1985 final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis – the most watched snooker match in history. Having began refereeing in the 1960s, Williams left the civil service in 1981 to go full-time. Having the chance to referee tournaments at Pontins, he took charge quickly and organised the events for many years. Williams gained national attention following a match between Fred Davis and Alex Higgins where the roof collapsed after rainfall and flooded the snooker table. He was pictured in many national newspapers after the event and resulted in more television coverage.

The longstanding referee for snooker television show Pot Black, he took charge after Sydney Lee's retirement at the 1981 event. Williams was forced into retirement in 2002 due to contract negotiations with the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, but made sporadic appearances at the World Seniors Championship until 2012.

Early lifeEdit

Williams was born on 8 June 1937 in Ruabon, Wrexham, Wales as one of six children.[1] His father was a fan house attendant at Gresford Colliery,[1] with his grandfather being British bar billiards champion in 1906. After passing his Eleven-plus examination aged nine, Williams went on to gain seven O Level qualifications at the end of his secondary education.[2] He started work as a trainee metallurgist in the steel industry.[1] He was offered the opportunity to join Bolton Wanderers F.C. as a player, but declined as his job in the local steelworks involved him working on Saturdays. After working in the steel industry for nearly 20 years, Williams became a civil servant at the Department of Employment,[2] after a short stint employed in quality control at Pilkington Glass. He played snooker in a local league, and had a personal best break of 73. He married Joyce and they had three sons and a daughter. Following a divorce, Williams married Kathleen.[1]

Referee careerEdit

Williams started refereeing snooker matches during the mid-1960s, leaving the civil service in 1981 to become a full-time referee.[1][3] He was offered to referee matches at Pontins, where began to run and organise the events for decades.[4][5] At the 1973 World Snooker Championship, he refereed a quarter-final match between Fred Davis and Alex Higgins at the Manchester Exhibition Hall. The ceiling of the Hall was a glass dome, which was covered in a tarpaulin to keep the sun off the table. Under the weight of rain, it broke, and flooded the table. This led to the press picturing Williams with the headline reading "rain stops play".[4]

Williams refereed the most World Snooker Championship finals of any referee,[5][6] his first at the Crucible Theatre being the 1978 final between Ray Reardon and Perrie Mans.[2] Having previously refereed the last session of the 1976 final,[7] Williams took charge of eight other finals at the venue until 2002,[6][8] including all three that went to a deciding frame.[9] He refereed the most viewed snooker match in history, the 1985 World Snooker Championship final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor where Taylor won on the final black in the deciding frame.[4] He was also the referee during Cliff Thorburn's maximum break against Terry Griffiths in 1983, the first maximum in the history of the competition.[1]

The last world championship final he refereed was in 2002, when Peter Ebdon beat Stephen Hendry in a deciding frame.[10] In total, Williams officiated 11 World finals, including part of the finals in 1975 and 1976.[11][12] In 1983, Williams received a two-year suspended prison sentence, after pleading guilty to selling non-existent snooker tables worth £6,500.[13][14] This led to the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) expelling him as a referee, however he later won a legal battle to be reinstated.[14][15] In 2003 he sued the WPBSA for wrongful dismissal after the WPBSA contracts for referees included a mandatory retirement age of 64, at a time when Williams was 65. He had believed that he had an agreement with the WPBSA that meant he could continue to work, but his contract was terminated at the end of July 2002.[16]

As the popularity of snooker on television grew during the 1980s, Williams became a household name along with fellow top referees Len Ganley, John Street and Alan Chamberlain.[17][18] Between Ganley, Street and Williams, they refereed the final of 17 of the first 20 World Championship finals held at the Crucible Theatre.[5] After Sydney Lee's retirement in 1980, he became the referee of the snooker television show Pot Black for the 1981 event.[19] He remained in the role for the remainder of the series and its revivals during the 1990s.[20] Williams made a return to snooker refereeing when he officiated matches in the 2011 World Seniors Championship,[21] and returned for the 2012 tournament.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Terry Smith, ed. (1990). "How dripping water helped the career of referee John Williams". Benson and Hedges Snooker Year (Seventh ed.). Aylesbury: Pelham Books. pp. 125–129. ISBN 0720719550.
  2. ^ a b c Morrison, Ian (1988). Hamlyn Who's Who in Snooker. London: Hamlyn. p. 122. ISBN 0600557138.
  3. ^ "Snooker Chat Transcript". BBC Sport. 30 April 2002. Archived from the original on 19 February 2009. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Malone, Emmet (23 March 1996). "Spoilsport rain began Williams' reign at top". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 16 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "Hand In Glove: The Snooker Referees". World Snooker. Archived from the original on 17 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Triple Crown Final Referees". World Snooker. Archived from the original on 17 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  7. ^ Everton, Clive (2012). Black farce and cue ball wizards. Edinburgh: Mainstream. p. 60. ISBN 9781780575681.
  8. ^ Downer, Chris (2012). Crucible Almanac. p. 143.
  9. ^ "Collier to Join Select Group". World Snooker. 4 March 2016. Archived from the original on 25 August 2020. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  10. ^ "Top 10 Crucible finals". Sky Sports. 2010. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  11. ^ Nunns, Hector (8 April 2014). "Before the Crucible". Inside Snooker. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  12. ^ "Reardon clinches it in the last frame". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 May 1975. p. 13. Archived from the original on 12 March 2016. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  13. ^ "TV Snooker referee in court". The Times (61445). London, England. 1 February 1983. p. 3.
  14. ^ a b "Referee consults solicitors". The Times (61470). London, England. 2 March 1983. p. 22.
  15. ^ "In brief - Snooker". The Times (61487). London, England. 22 March 1983. p. 23.
  16. ^ "Top referee sues for wrongful dismissal". Snooker Scene. Birmingham: Everton's News Agency. February 2003. p. 31.
  17. ^ "Veteran Referee John Street Dies". 10 January 2009. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  18. ^ Chowdhury, Saj (29 April 2006). "Snooker's star referee". BBC Sport. Archived from the original on 9 September 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
  19. ^ "BBC Television – 31 March 1981 – Pot Black: BBC2 Knockout Snooker Competition". BBC Genome Project. BBC. Archived from the original on 26 February 2017. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  20. ^ "Pot Black – UKGameshows". Archived from the original on 16 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  21. ^ "World Seniors Day One". World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association. Archived from the original on 9 December 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  22. ^ "WSS ROKiT 2019 World Championship Build-up – Tony Drago v Dene O'Kane". The WPBSA World Seniors Tour. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020.