Stephen Lee Q & A: We discuss his recent renaissance, match-fixing and how Barry Hearn has helped his return to form
The Upcoming’s Ramona Dragomir caught up with Stephen Lee ahead of the snooker World Championships
Stephen Lee has had a great season; putting in practice his distinctive silky-smooth cue action and regaining his place amongst the best 16 snooker players in the world. He is enjoying his snooker more than ever.
Still, the last couple of years have been a genuine “snooker slalom” for Lee, who resides in Trowbridge. He’s had to cope with losing his Top 16 spot as well as match-fixing allegations, only to make a full recovery during the current season and win his first ranking tournament after no less than six years without silverware.
You started this season outside the Top 16 and here you are now, back on track. How would you describe your evolution: was it a bumpy road or a smooth transition back to a place where you believe you belong?
That’s a good one to start with. Well, I always believed I was going to get back into the Top 16 and when I did last October, just in time for my birthday.
I parted with my manager at the time [Paul Mont from OnQ Promotions]. They were going to end my career!!! It was hopeless!
Apart from that, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I was particularly helped by Barry Hearn putting all these new events on.
2010 was undoubtedly a difficult year for you. You were arrested and charged with match-fixing, you slipped out of the Top 16 and yet, after all that, you managed to win one of the European PTCs (EPTC Event 4). You also put the 2010 UK Championship winner John Higgins in quite some trouble during your match, not to mention reaching the quarter-finals of the 2011 China Open.
How did you cope with all that and what made you carry on? Where did you find the strength to get back out there and keep on playing? And did you ever considered retiring during that difficult period?
Well I haven’t done anything wrong so I have got nothing to worry about with match-fixing! I’ve been told it will be dropped next month.
I won the PTC event at Paul Mount’s Academy [South West Snooker Academy from Gloucester] and that was good because he was planning on ending my career but thankfully he has not got a clue when it comes to snooker. In the past he’s pinched a deal off me, as well as being the biggest pain in my side for two years, so when he had to give me the 2010 EPTC 4 trophy, it was a great feeling and one in his eye!
I’ve got a young family and a great wife who believes in me, and I had a lot of events to play in. I knew that there was form in me, so I’ve had a go and have been lucky to turn my life around.
What do you put your return to form down to? Have there been any major changes in your life or lifestyle that could be the reason for this incredible renaissance?
My new manager Adam Quigley from Pockets Promotions has been a big help, my family and friends have helped me and also Barry Hearn for giving me events to play in.
This season you’re regained your Top 16 place. For many players to reach this position is a dream come true but it does also put some extra pressure on you. Do you feel a bigger pressure now that you’ve got a spot with the best players in the world than when you had to go through the qualifying rounds?
I’m enjoying snooker now again with all the hard work Barry Hearn has put in. I was never going to let my chance slip by, I was always going to shake it with two hands and not let go.
The World Championship is just around the corner and you are facing Andrew Higginson in the first round. How do you expect things to go?
Higginson is a good player but I’ve beat him the last three times and I’m planning on making it four!
I’ve been putting some practice in ready for Monday night, but I’m not going to overdo it. I’m having a day off on Friday to chill out and then I travel up to Sheffield on Sunday afternoon.
The 2011/2012 season was probably one of the busiest seasons in snooker’s history. Many players have complained about having too many tournaments and less time to spend with their families. What’s your opinion on the season’s structure?
The players who are moaning have either made their money or want to be part-time snooker players. I’m behind Barry Hearn 100%.
I’ve always wanted to be a pro snooker player and play every week and I’ve not had the chance in the past. I’m loving it. It’s hard on the family but in ten years, I will have all the time in the world to be with them.
And finally Stephen, what would you say were your best and worst moments as a professional snooker player?
Winning the PTC Grand Final has to be up there because of where I have been.
Worst moment? Losing to Stephen Hendry in Ireland Goff’s Irish Masters. I was ahead 9-4 I think, and lost 10-9. I felt robbed.
Stephen Lee is available for coaching and exhibition matches.