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.
SA: Ben, one of your characteristics is your good humour and kindness at all times. There is a Spanish expression, “iron arm with a silk glove”, which refers to someone who, without losing kindness, is firm and does not allow himself to be influenced. At the 2020 Wolrd Grand Prix, in the second round match between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Barry Hawkins, you presented Rocket (and fans) with a Masterclass on the three misses rule and free ball. But the surprising thing is that Ronnie, who is used to not changing his opinions, accepted the decision with a fair face. Would it be, in your opinion, the ability to calm the environment the best quality of you as a referee?
BW: Yes, I am one of those people who takes life quite happily, so when a player approaches me with a little question or concern, I tend to deal with it with smiles. I am just like that. He (Ronnie) had a doubt. And yes, it is unusual to have to explain something like that, especially to a player like Ronnie, but everything went well and he accepted my decision, which was good. Yes, I am like that, I am very smiling, I am smiling all the time
Photo courtesy of Ben Williams
SA: Apart from that, you are possibly the referee who approaches most naturally faces the various situations that occur in a game. I remember your laugh after Stephen Maguire’s bouncy ball in the 2020 Master, when the incident with the wasp after the consolation of Kyren Wilson and it is inevitable to remember when you were not only the victim of a “biochemical attack” from a Rocket (we mean Ronnie O’Sullivan the Rocket), but also that he initially blamed you for being the one who launched it. I confess that I have never seen you so blushed as at that moment. Jokes aside, have you ever been instructed to be, shall we say, less familiar in that sense?
BW: Our senior advisers have suggested to me more than once that I stop … smiling so much, so to speak. Obviously I shouldn’t be too familiar with the players. Unfortunately, my character leads me to get involved and enjoy what I do, so I certainly find it very difficult not to laugh or make a joke when the opportunity presents itself. I have a feeling that I’m going to continue to act like this, and, I hope everyone enjoys it. That’s how I am, I’m afraid (laughs)
SA: In a normal season, without the difficulties we are experiencing, is there a minimum and maximum number of tournaments in which a top-level referee must participate, or is the referee free to register as many as he wishes?
BW: In a normal season, we don’t referee much, it tends to be something around 30 or 40 days a year, depending on the number of referees and the number of tournaments we have. So obviously for the last two years, with the covid, we have not been able to bring in many of the more experienced referees from abroad so easily, so many have not been able to participate. And that is why many of us referees in the UK have had to work many days refereeing a lot of games. And yes, I loved every minute of it, although obviously not as much as normal, because of how things are going this year.
SA: Last season, as we mentioned at the beginning, you refereed the final of the European Master, the first completed tournament of the season and the Welsh Open, as well as one of the semifinals of the World Champions, I imagine that this season, you would love to referee a final of the Triple Crown⁷. Let me make a hard question. Imagine that tomorrow, The Boss calls you and tells you that he is going to put your name in the final of the Master⁷ or the U. K. Championship⁷ and that you choose in which of them. In which one would we see you?
BW: What ending would you choose? Wow … Masters, UK Championship… That’s a very difficult question. Both Finals of the Triple Crown, both in incredible cities, both with a spectacular audience … The truth is that I cannot decide on either of them, I would be equally happy to do both tournaments, both are two magnificent places in which to referee . When will this happen? Maybe not this year, hopefully yes, maybe next …
SA: We cannot conclude this interview without getting a little closer to a more personal aspect. Your career as a professional referee must be full of emotional moments. Your first game, your debut on the professional circuit, at the Crucible… What comes to mind at this moment?
BW: Of everything I’ve done so far in my career as a referee, showing up at last year’s World Championship semi-final was an incredible feeling, a table set, a huge crowd, almost bursting to see the semi-finals… Totally incredible. It is very difficult to overcome that. And of course, two fantastic players, Mark Selby and Stuart Bingham.