‘The Natural: The Story of Patsy Houlihan, the Greatest Snooker Player You Never Saw’ by Luke Williams (2023)

I love learning why an author wrote a particular sports book. Finding out what motivated them to tell the story and why they felt like they were the right person to do it. Luke Williams’ fascination with Patsy Houlihan began with a reference in the great Jimmy White’s autobiography that named Houlihan among the 3 best players White had ever seen. This casual reference, that would have left most readers thinking Patsy Who? before forgetting about him altogether, was the initial catalyst that ultimately led years later to this fantastic book. I just love the combination of curiosity and passion that led Williams to write the book and these traits are reflected in the quality of the book.

Patsy Houlihan was a gifted snooker player who was desperately unlucky to miss out on turning his talents into fame and fortune. While he became a legendary figure on the amateur snooker scene, he was ultimately kept from turning professional during his peak by the powers that ran the snooker circuit. He spent much of his time hustling and seeking to win money in snooker halls across the UK at a time when such places played a much bigger part in British life.

As a work of biography, Williams has done a great job capturing the essence of Houlihan as a man, a friend, a father and a snooker player. It would have been easy to paint him as a caricature given his hustling – an Alex Higgins type but without the fame – but Williams avoids this by speaking to an extensive range of his friends and family. His humour, warmth, and generosity, despite his own frustrated ambitions shine through in the many stories told by his various peers and proteges. Arguably there is no better legacy to leave being so well remembered and fondly thought of by those left behind.

The book also stands out as a work of social history capturing the role that snooker halls and amateur snooker played in Britain. It also tells the early days of professional snooker and the closed shop mentality that prevented talented players from earning a living through the sport. It’s a history I was totally unaware of (other than childhood memories of pool halls and watching world championships with my Granny) and one that would have made a good book in it’s own right.

While Houlihan played some matches on TV, almost no recordings remain of Patsy playing which left Williams hunting for memories from those who witnessed Houlihan’s gifts. It is fitting in many ways as the book is ultimately about the importance of memories as we learn of Patsy through the recollections of his daughter and his peers. Williams has done a wonderful job in brining Patsy Houlihan to life in this entertaining, excellent book.

The Natural is published by Pitch Publishing and will be released on 3 April 2023.