Why are there not more beards in snooker?

The Hurricane Alex Higgins in the heyday of snooker in the 80s

One of the most under-appreciated sports in the world is snooker. Hitting coloured balls around a table might look simple, but there is serious skill and talent needed to deliver a cue in a straight line. And despite seeming like it could be quite dull, snooker is pure poetry. The colours, the cloth, the control of the ball. The darkness of the snooker hall. The low hanging lights. The smell of the table. The dust of the chalk. The silence. Victory ultimately being little more than most things in life – down to chance.

Snooker entered the public consciousness in the 1980s with the televised matches of the World Championship on the BBC. Back in the days of Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor, and Steve Davis, the green blaze was often covered in a stratus of cigarette smoke while the players sat and enjoyed a drink between visits to the table.

The sport has changed a lot since those heady days. Whereas in the 80s players didn’t especially look after themselves, nowadays snooker players are focused on fitness, nutrition, and preparation.

And players appear to take pride in their appearance. Rarely do you see a player looking unkempt, scruffy, or dare we say it, bearded.

Stephen Hendry (on the right) with the bearded Ben Foster.

The latest thing in snooker is Stephen Hendry’s “Cue tips” YouTube channel. The noticeably well produced content from the 7-times World Champion includes Hendry enjoying a frame and a chat with a famous snooker player, sportsperson, or celebrity.

And a quick quip from Stephen Hendry about resting a bearded chin on an ash cue made me think about the history of beards and snooker.

Probably the most recognisable facial hair in the history of snooker is Willy Thorne’s wonderful walrus moustache. Ronnie O’Sullivan – arguably snooker’s greatest ever player – paid tribute to Willy with his own Coronavirus lockdown moustache in 2020.

Willy’s wonderful walrus

Moving to full beards, Rory McLeod sports quite impressive facial hair. And the young snooker player Jackson Page enjoyed some media interest in his beard when rising up the ranks at the spritely age of 15 years old. Mark Williams had a very full beard for a short spell a couple of years ago. But, just as I am writing this, I notice Northern Ireland’s own Mark Allen has grown a rather tidy looking short beard as he wins his first round match.

There are probably some obvious reasons for the lack of beards in the beautiful game of snooker. Here are a few that come to mind:

  1. Historically we might say that snooker is a gentleman’s game.
  2. Beards surely cause friction that impedes cueing action.
  3. Because other players don’t have a beard

Lets take these in turn:

Historically we might say that snooker is a gentleman’s game.

One of the main reasons why I enjoy snooker is the etiquette. There are certain rules – some written and some unwritten – that are followed: staying out of your opponents sight line, not being too loud when playing, acknowledging fluke shots, and, my personal favourite, no flatulence (never mind flocculence) when your opponent is hitting a shot.

And of course there is the dress etiquette. For the big events, like the World Championships, players are required to wear certain colours of shirts, trousers, and waistcoats. The importance of dress most likely extends to the hair on the face as well. Is it gentlemanly to not be clean shaven? Is shaving part of the ritual of preparing yourself to appear in formal arenas in front of formal crowds?

Billiard (and snooker) rules. To be taken seriously.

The most obvious answer is that beards surely cause friction that impedes cueing action

The standard technique for hitting a shot in snooker is to get as low as possible over a shot in order to see in as straight a line as possible though the cue ball towards the object ball. The way to do this is to rest the chin lightly on top of the cue. This doesn’t necessarily mean having to have an exceptionally smooth chin, but it might mean not having to feather a cue through unruly flocculence causing unwanted friction at the end of the face.

Arguably the greatest ever Ronnie O’Sullivan with his shaven chin on the cue

Because other players don’t have a beard

Despite the validity of the points made above with regards to beards in the context of the history of the sport and the playing of the sport, beards are primarily sociological. Put simply, beards are grown and worn for social reasons, be it to project a certain image of masculinity or to be seen as being part of a group. The most important point is that men grow beards for other men. So to continue on with that logic, if no one in a certain social group is growing a beard – and particularly if the hegemonic figure, i.e, the most powerful, respected, or feared within a certain group, is not growing a beard – then the rest of the individuals in that group will also remain clean shaven.

I wonder if Ronnie O’Sullivan was to go a step further from the Willy Thorne walrus and start growing a full beard would other players start experimenting with their facial hair as well?

There is no doubt that they’d all be cueing up (get it? Sorry!) to make sure they would also be seen with a beard just like Ronnie’s to prove they could be as hirsute as snooker’s best ever.