Mike Watterson: The original ‘Mr Crucible’ who became a snooker legend in Sheffield and beyond
A true snooker legend, Mike Watterson was a successful player in his own right – but it was his work in bringing the game to it’s now spiritual home at the Crucible which he will be best remembered for.
It was 1977, and snooker was venue-less, sponsor-less and all but penniless after it's previous promoter left for Canada and they had lost their sponsorship.
Previous editions of the sport’s blue riband event had been held in Blackpool’s Tower Circus, a basketball hall in Australia and even a British Legion Club in Selly Park, Birmingham – but now the World Championship needed a new home.
Watterson had been notified of the fact that snooker was ‘struggling’ during a conversation in August the previous year in which John Pulman – his late best friend who won the championship eight years in a row between 1957 and 1968 – had asked if he could help.
However, the idea of the Crucible as a venue came from Watterson’s wife Carol, a suggestion which later turned out to be a vital moment in snooker history.
Speaking to The Star from his Chesterfield home in 2017, Watterson said: “She’d gone to see a play at the Crucible, and said she thought it’d make a perfect venue for snooker.
“I rang Arnold Eliiman, the manager, and asked him if we could stage the World Snooker Championship there. We measured the stage and it was just big enough to get two snooker tables on – 36 feet, which gave us six feet of leg room on either side of two six-feet wide tables, with a screen down the middle.
“I rented the theatre for £6,600 for two weeks. I made a bid to the snooker association and I guaranteed them £17,000 from the tournament.
“The bank produced a letter saying I was good for the money, it was accepted and away we went.”
Now, over 40 years on, The Crucible is synonymous as the sport’s spiritual home, and the tournament has brought an estimated £100million in revenue to Sheffield since 1977.
Watterson himself played for England as an amateur and had a top competitive break of 140, playing professionally for most of the 1980s – ranking at highest 34th in the world.
After bringing snooker to the Crucible, he went on to stage the inaugural UK Championship and within a few years had founded the British Open and International Open securing sponsorship and TV contracts with the BBC and ITV and in 1979, creating the first World Cup.
Watterson is credited for building much of the professional circuit, creating most of the major professional tournaments during the 1980s – many of which still exist today.
However, in 1983 he was ousted by the WPBSA who told him he was no longer needed as a promoter.
Throughout his time, Watterson also managed some well-known professional snooker players including Kirk Stevens, Cliff Thorburn and Jim Wych.
Aside from Snooker he turned his hand to Darts, creating the BDO World Darts Championship, an idea he came up with while sat in a barber's chair in 1977, and managed to promote the event gaining sponsorship and a TV contract with the BBC.
He created the system of sets and legs to create a thrilling climax every 20 minutes or so and make it appeal to the masses, and breathed new life into bowls too by hosting the UK Indoor Bowls Championship at the Preston Guild Hall from 1981.
However, a breakdown in relationship with BDO chairman Olly Croft and the late Peter Dyke of Imperial Tobacco saw him exit the sport.
Elsewhere he staged the first floodlit cricket in Britain, which was a six-a-side tournament held between Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Kent, staged at Bramall Lane stadium in Sheffield.
In the early 1980s, Watterson also became Chairman of Derby County Football Club before he left due to a growing hooligan fan problem.
He was later approached by Chesterfield FC where he became Vice-Chairman until November 1983, later returning as Chairman – a position he held for just over a year.
Watterson also enjoyed a successful commentating career, working at various events for Sky.
He had grown up near Chesterfield's old Saltergate ground and was married to Diane, after Carole died of cancer aged 44 leaving 13-year-old twin boys Andrew and Nicholas.
He passed away on Friday evening aged 76.