Meet the Rotherham potter who beat five snooker world champions

Meet the Rotherham potter who beat five snooker world champions

By David Beddows | 16/02/2021

Meet the Rotherham potter who beat five snooker world champions

 

A WORLD beater when he was just 15 and the conqueror of five world snooker champions, Jimmy Sansome is one of Rotherham’s unsung sporting heroes.

Even to this day, at the age of 90, strangers stop him in the street and remember his exploits on the green baize or at football many decades ago.

The son of a miner, Jimmy was a good footballer, representing the British Armed Forces Army and also scored the goal that won Silverwood Colliery the Mexborough Montagu Cup in 1954.

But it was at snooker that he really excelled.

As soon as a cue was placed into his hands as a kid, Jimmy had a natural feel for it.

So good, in fact, that one day, more than 70 years ago, he was given a special one-day membership of Dalton Progressive WMC so he could take on the then world champion Walter Donaldson.

Jimmy beat him 3-0.

He was given a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps and then he had to leave the club straight afterwards, in line with the rules back then.

Jimmy doesn't blow his own trumpet. He lets his achievements — and others — do the talking for him, including devoted wife Christine.

“The crowd went mad when Jimmy beat Donaldson. It was a big thing, “ she says.

“Jimmy was a member at Eastwood View and Silverwood Club in the days when working men's clubs would hire professionals for a night. He loved taking them on.”

In the following years the kid from Dalton beat four other world champions — Fred Davis, John Pulman, Ray Reardon and John Spencer, each time playing off scratch.

Christine recalls: “When he played Ray Reardon, as soon as Jimmy started to knock the balls in, Ray said 'oh, it's serious then.'

“He was a lovely man.”

Jimmy became a big name on the local snooker scene, winning both the Rotherham Open and the Rotherham Handicap “double” in 1966.

“He won tournaments so many times that the organisers would sometimes say 'don't enter this year Jimmy otherwise the others won't stand a chance’,” says Christine.

“He offered to give the others a start, he just wanted to play.”

During his days in service after World War Two Jimmy had played for the Army football team against Germany in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.

On his return home the Army didn't want him to leave, not least because of his ability with a football.

He was the only man in the team not to be attached to a club and although Sheffield United were interested in him at one stage, Jimmy's abiding passion was snooker.

“He won quite a bit of money over the years, mostly from people backing him,” says Christine.

“I'd be so nervous but he didn't have a nervous bone in his body.

“He never made a 147 but in the olden days there was a trophy at Silverwood for anyone getting near a hundred and he did. It was the old balls, more difficult. A 100 with those was as good as a 147 apparently!”

Jimmy remained a good player into middle age and in 1985 he played Joe Johnson, losing only on the black ball.

A year later Johnson became the world champion.

Jimmy's friend, Ray Hill, has followed his exploits at snooker and football closely.

He wonders now if Jimmy is the oldest surviving winner of a Montagu Cup. Jimmy scored the goal of the game that won the Mexborough Montagu Cup for Silverwood against Bolton Ings Lane in front of 3,062 spectators in 1954.

A day later, a tired Jimmy and his team-mates lost the Rotherham Charity Cup final to Parkgate 3-1.

Jimmy still has his winner's trophy from the Montagu final and plans have been put forward for it to be donated each year to an appropriate player from the final, to preserve both the prized piece of silverware and Jimmy's name.

Jimmy got so much right in his sporting career apart, perhaps, from something that was out of his control. His exploits came in the days before snooker really took off and turned players into household names.

Says Ray: “Jimmy has always said: 'I was born too early. If I'd have come into the world later I could have been a pro, one of those players who you see on the telly at the World Championships in Sheffield.”

Many would agree with that and their memories haven't dimmed. Adds wife Christine: “Even now, all these years later, people will stop us and say to Jimmy, 'you have given us some happy hours’.

“That's lovely to hear.”

 

When a star of the future was locked out... and Alex had had a few!

A TRIP to snooker practice turned into a brush with a singing star of the future for Jimmy Sansome.

His friend, Ray Hill, takes up the story: “One Sunday morning Jimmy was going to Eastwood Club to practice and there was a bloke waiting outside.

“This chap said 'can you help me get in? I'm singing at  dinner time and I need to spruce myself up a bit.’

“Jimmy took him in, let him get a wash and Jimmy did his snooker practice and then went and sat down in the concert room.

“The bloke came on stage singing and seeing Jimmy, gave him the thumbs up.

“Afterwards, he came and sat with him and he said: “the concert secretary thinks I'm alright, he's going to book me for tonight.'

“Years later, a song came out called Please Release Me that was a big hit at the time.

“It turns out the guy who sang it was Engelbert Humperdinck, the man Jimmy had met that Sunday at Eastwood Club before he became famous.”

JIMMY Sansome never played the great Alex Higgins — even though the one-time World Champion did appear in Rotherham.

The Irishman, notorious for his heavy drinking, turned up for an exhibition match at Silverwood Club the worst for wear.

Jimmy remembers Higgins was so drunk, the highest break he made was 20.

The crowd booed him and told him never to come back again!