We have the immense pleasure and honor to interview Ben Williams, a World-class Snooker referee. Born in Skipton (Yorkshire, England) 50 years ago, he made his debut on the professional circuit, currently called the Wolrd Snooker Tour, in 2005. He refereed his first televised Final at the 2016 Senior Wolrd Championship, with Mark Davis‘ victory over Darren Morgan.
His first Ranking Final was at the 2017 Riga Master, in which Ryan Day beat Stephen Maguire. The English Open in 2018, the European Master and the Welsh Open in 2021 complete the finals that he has under his belt. He has “sung” three Maximum Breaks. In 2011 at the PTC (Players Tour Championship), a tournament that at that time was a Minor Ranking, to Ding Junhui, in 2018 to Liang Wenbo in the Wolrd Champions qualifiers and to John Higgins in the undoubtedly best scenario, at the Crucible¹ , the temple of Snooker, during the 2020 World Championship, on an unusual date due to all the consequences that the Pandemic had and continues to have.
Elsextoanillo.com: Before starting, we want to thank Ben Williams his amability (only natural coming from him) at giving us his attention and making this interview possible. Ben, why did you choose to become a snooker referee?
Ben Williams: Hi, before we begin, I just want to say that it is a pleasure to conduct this interview. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer the questions.
I originally became a Snooker referee just to better understand the rules as I was an amateur Snooker player. When I started umpiring, it was in a local league. I just kept training as a referee and over time, after refereeing many, many local leagues, when I got my higher license, Wolrd Snooker Tournament director Mike Ganley² offered me to enter the professional circuit, the Wolrd Snooker Tour.
SA: How many divisions are there in refereeing? When did you obtain your license and what was the path prom that moment till you became a top level referee?
BW: I started arbitrating in 1992, after obtaining my Class 3 license. Three years later (1995) I obtained the Class 2 license and finally 2 years later (1997) I took the exam and obtained the Class 1 license, which is the highest category. In 2004 is when Mike Ganley offers me to enter the WST in the old snooker qualifications, which I did. Then there were many qualifiers and then I started with professional players in 2005. So I have been a professional referee for 17 years plus 12 years as an amateur referee. Lots of previous experience.
SA: Do you remember your first match at Top Flight?
BW: (laughs) My first Snooker match. Very very strange to be honest. There are some memories in my mind of meeting the advisors for the first time, who were Jan Verhaas³ and Eirian Williams⁴. I spoke with Eirian when I first got there and some of the feedback I got was good. I always remember the comment I received after my first match. He said it was a bit loud and that it would be better if he could lower his voice a bit when he was refereeing. So when I came out to referee the next match, I lowered my voice and then when I spoke to him he turned around and said ‘now you sound like a girl‘ ((laughs again) and that comment always stuck in my mind from my first encounter with Eirian Williams and Jan Verhaas.
SA: When someone suddenly encounters a Snooker match on television for the first time, they see a referee who “just puts the damn colored balls over and over on the mat” (“But why does he take them out? “It is the typical question that we have asked ourselves almost everything when we saw our first game) and it counts some points that do not usually coincide with those that the scoreboard puts.
Then he at the second table he sentences: “Well, being a referee is very easy, all he does is count and put the balls in their place.” As soon as you fall in love with the game, you start to see all the complications that can be found in a game. For you, what situations are the most difficult to resolve?
BW: The hardest for me to detect is a simultaneous hit that is very, very difficult to see. Anything else is basically a matter of concentration, so yeah, that’s the hardest to see.
SA: I understand that the simultaneous strike is when the player pushes with the sole of the cue ball or hits it twice. Is that so?
BW: No, Its when the cue ball makes contact with the ball on⁵ and a ball not on⁵ at the same time a red and a colour for example
Out of professional snooker
SA: One of the most spectacular duties of a referee is the ball replacing after foul and miss⁶. In World Snooker tournaments you count with the help of a Marker⁷ and of technology, but we suppose those supports dissappear in lower divisions. Aside the natural capacities that can help this, do referees follow some specific training for that matter?
BW: It is a very interesting point that you just said. Yes, we have the Marker and all the technical equipment when we are at the televised table, but we do not have that equipment when we are at the back tables. Never in qualifiers and not elsewhere. So what we generally do is communicate with the players to make sure the balls are as close as possible to where they were originally located and once we all agree we move on. In the end you are there to help the players, not to dictate them. However, if one says one thing and the other says another, then the final decision is up to the referee.
SA: As we indicated in the presentation, you have counted three Maximum breaks. As a fan, I get nervous when the player is already fighting those balls that complicate the 147. Obviously you as a referee can’t show any emotion until the moment of congratulating the player after achieving it, but when John Higgins in 2020 he was fighting for the maximum on the Crucible, after 8 years since Stephen Hendry did in 2012, were you thinking, “Come on John!”?
BW: When John Higgins hit a World Championship maximun breakt at The Crucible … yeah (laughs), I was very aware of it. There was a shot just before to return to the perfect position, quite late, at the break where he managed a very difficult ball to the central pocket. It was at that moment that I understood that he was aiming for the maximum.
Anyway, he had a good chance of getting it and she knew he wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity. In fact, he was so nervous and expectant during the break that I forgot to take the black out of the pocket. So, yes, it is very difficult as a referee … you get very involved in it and yes, you are looking forward to the maximum being achieved, but at the same time you must try to remember to do your job, as I suppose I did not remember well on that occasion (laughs )
Interview by Andrés, @gesaleico