John Astley created a sensation at the UK Championship on Thursday as the amateur knocked out defending champion Neil Robertson.
An angry Shaun Murphy had said earlier in the week after losing to teenager Si Jiahui that those not currently on the professional tour had “no place in the building” at York’s Barbican – or at any major tournament as a top-up player.
But unranked Geordie Astley, 32, a yo-yo player who has fallen off the circuit twice, proved his worth with a stunning shock 6-2 victory over the Australian.
The last-time three-time UK winner and world No4 Robertson defended his title in York in 2016 he also went out to an amateur in the shape of Peter Lines.
But after world No6 Murphy’s ‘boot them out’ rant Astley was under no illusions that this was an especially sweet win against a man who publicly agreed with Murphy – and one for the little guys.
Astley said: “It probably is the biggest win of my career, in a massive tournament. And maybe the stars were aligned a bit with all that has been said this week.
“I was having a joke about it with my brother this morning who was down with my dad, that wouldn’t it be funny if I beat the defending champion as someone not on the tour.
“I had seen Neil’s opinion on it too, which everyone is entitled to. One thing where I really don’t agree with Shaun is about byes, you should earn your wins.
“There shouldn’t be byes in a big event, and there is talent off the tour as I and Si Jiahui have shown this week. Shaun said he is trying to put food on the table – but so am I.
“There was probably only a handful of people who thought I could win this match. I haven’t won a match in the UK since beating Ken Doherty a few years ago.
“Even if I am an amateur at the moment, I do play pretty much full-time, as well as doing some coaching. Snooker is still very much my life, and so I am not a naïve young player.”
It was only the second match Astley had ever won at the UK Championship after the victory over former world champion Ken Doherty he referred to, a thrilling 6-5 success over the Irishman that came way back in 2013.
A crestfallen Robertson, 39, said: “I defended Shaun a bit because I know where he is coming from. Ronnie O’Sullivan drew Michael White and he is not an amateur at all, really.
“Ronnie, me, Shaun would all rather play the world No125 than Michael in the first round. Maybe I paid the ultimate price for expecting things to happen and not forcing them.
“Maybe John was fired up by the row about amateurs and even what I had said about it. He was getting a lot of support from friends and family in the arena.
“John is technically an amateur…but it’s not like he’s a 17-year-old golfer. He has spent a lot of years on the tour, and keeps getting on and falling back off, like a semi-pro.
“The reason these guys don’t win more matches is sometimes when they under the pump they don’t produce – but today he did.
“It hurts, as defending champion you don’t want to go out in the first round and I made it a bit easy for him.
“Look, John played a great, brilliant match - the match of his life - and was fearless out there. He had a crowd, stood up to it and played as if he had nothing to lose.
“I was pretty off the pace for the first five frames, and lacked focus and energy. If I had played well today, I would have won. But I didn’t.”
Reacting to the furore caused by Murphy’s comments before his match, Robertson had said: “Amateurs are under a completely different pressure where there’s actually no pressure, because they’re not competing for ranking points.
“They’re basically on a free hit at a pro, so I completely agree with what Shaun’s saying there, because it is very dangerous.”
In other results on Thursday Masters champion Yan Bingtao from China admitted he had felt under pressure against former women’s world champion Ng On Yee from Hong Kong, with the match being screened across their nation at home and being watched by plenty of family and friends as part of the TV audience of millions. But Yan showed his opponent full respect from the start and ended up running out a comfortable 6-0 winner.
Jimmy White, the 59-year-old who won this UK title 29 years ago, went out 6-3 to Ali Carter, and former world champion Graeme Dott came through 6-3 against Jamie O’Neill. In the evening session, last year's beaten finalist Judd Trump put in a fine display to entertain the crowd with a 6-1 win over David Lilley, Mark Allen beat Michael Judge 6-2 and Stuart Bingham played out a nail-biting encounter with Dean Young.