Snooker greats pay tribute to famed ref Len Ganley

Shake on it: Len Ganley officiates at a Crucible match in the 1980s involving David Taylor and Tony Knowles.
Shake on it: Len Ganley officiates at a Crucible match in the 1980s involving David Taylor and Tony Knowles.

The most famous snooker referee of the 1980s and 1990s, who oversaw four World Championship finals at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, has died at the age of 68.

Northern Irish Len Ganley refereed many famous matches, including Stephen Hendry’s first success over Jimmy White in 1990, when he became the youngest World Champion, and the 1983 UK Championship final in which Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins beat Steve Davis 16-15.

Forefront: Len Ganley, centre, presents 25 wheelchairs from his fundraising efforts at the World Snooker championships at the Crucible where the popular referee oversaw four finals.

Forefront: Len Ganley, centre, presents 25 wheelchairs from his fundraising efforts at the World Snooker championships at the Crucible where the popular referee oversaw four finals.

He also officiated Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record five minute, 20-second break of 147 at the Crucible in 1997.

Len took charge at world finals in 1983, 1987, 1990 and 1993 before retiring from refereeing in 1999.

He also appeared in a television advert for Carling Black Label in the 1980s, crushing a snooker ball with his hand in a match between John Spencer and Terry Griffiths.

Len even had a song written about him - ‘The Len Ganley Stance’ - by rock band Half Man Half Biscuit.

He worked tirelessly to raise money for children with muscular dystrophy and spina bifida, raising millions of pounds over four decades, and was awarded an MBE in 1994 for his charity work and services to snooker.

Len was born in Lurgan, County Armagh, where he worked as a milkman and a bus driver. He first visited Burton-on-Trent in 1971, and remained in England from then on, becoming a full-time referee.

Steve Davis paid tribute saying: “Len did a very good job of being a referee and a personality at the same time. He was a great character off the table, but in the arena he was an excellent referee.

“He knew the game as a player, having made century breaks himself, so when he was in charge of your match it was nice to know how well he understood the game.”

Former world champion Dennis Taylor added: “It is such very sad news. We travelled all over the world together and with his lovely Northern Ireland accent he was always very popular with snooker fans.

“We had a few words on the table but we were great friends throughout my professional career and Len was involved in most of that.

“He also did a terrific amount of work for charity - he was one of the good guys.

“During the world championships anyone that came anywhere near the Crucible Theatre and saw Len had to give him a tenner.

“He used to raise a lot of money for powered wheelchairs - he was right at the forefront of that.” Len died at home in Northern Ireland, leaving behind his wife Rosaline and six children, including son Mike Ganley, who is the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association tournament director.

His family have requested donations to the Paul Hunter Foundation, rather than flowers. The foundation provides opportunities for disadvantaged young people to play snooker.

* Visit www.paulhunterfoundation.org for more information, and to donate.