We’ve been speaking to a host of names from snooker’s elite to find out what they deem to be their greatest match. Jordan Brown’s selection is in no doubt and was one of snooker’s most significant giant slaying triumphs.
Northern Irishman Brown headed to the 2021 BetVictor Welsh Open at Celtic Manor, ranked 81st in the world and a 750-1 outsider to win the event. After a dramatic week, which saw him negotiate no fewer than four final frame deciders, he came within a match of the title.
His opponent in the final was six-time World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. Brown would go on to secure one of the biggest shocks in the history of the sport, winning 9-8 to claim the Ray Reardon Trophy and a maiden ranking title.
Brown’s rise to prominence has been an inspiring one. The Antrim cueman worked in a petrol station for 14 years between 2004 and 2018. Brown eventually handed in his notice to focus fully on snooker when he came through Q School to earn a professional tour card. He admits that throughout that period, the thought of facing arguably snooker’s best ever player in a prestigious final seemed a long way off.
“I certainly never thought it would happen. I’ve said a couple of times that I had some dark days working in there,” admitted 33-year-old Brown.
“I was in a dead end job and I wondered if I could ever get out of that environment and turn professional, let alone win titles. It was hard, but it gave me the extra mental strength to have that determination and go on to be successful. I won a few fans that week at the Welsh Open. To come from an ordinary nine to five working person, to then achieve what I did, hopefully inspired a few people to never give up and follow their dreams.”
Brown had a treacherous path to his showpiece showdown with O’Sullivan. He defeated the likes of Alexander Ursenbacher, Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire on his way to the final. When he woke up on the morning of the title match it took some time to come to terms with the scale of the task which lay ahead of him.
Brown said: “It was a rollercoaster for me that week just to get there. On the morning of the final, it was still sinking in and I was still processing what I had achieved. Reality then kicked in pretty sharply, I realised that I was about to face Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of a ranking event and had to think about how I was going to go about trying to beat him. He played phenomenal snooker that week, but I needed to remember what I had done to get there myself. I earned my place and thought that there was no reason why I couldn’t go that one step further.
“I had a lot of belief that I was going to win that match. I was probably one of only a select few that did think I could win. Nobody gave me much of a chance, which was understandable as it was a bit of a David vs Goliath contest. All I could do was focus on myself.”
Many players have been overawed by the occasion when facing global superstar O’Sullivan in a big match situation. That was not lost on Brown who watched the the Rocket on television throughout his childhood.
When the match got underway he managed to get off to a good start and establish a foothold in the tie. That was in part helped by an exchange with his opponent moments before play commenced.
“I remember Ronnie had a few words with me backstage before we went out into the arena. He was very nice and I got a sense that he liked me. It felt like he respected what I had done already in the week. I got a good vibe that he appreciated my achievement. That engagement with him was very nice and to hear him say good things about me was amazing. I had to switch off from that quickly and settle into the match and I managed to do that. I played well and got 4-1 ahead. I was giving Ronnie a really good battle and a lot to think about. I really thought I could win at that point.
“I was delighted to be 5-3 up after the first session. I remember in the interval I didn’t speak to anyone. There was just one person who I called, my friend Declan Lavery. I didn’t want to talk about snooker, I wanted to distract myself from the magnitude of what I was doing. We were obviously in a bubble due to Covid, but I knew everyone in the outside world would be watching and talking about it. I didn’t need those distractions. The one text I read was from Mark Allen. It was just a message to say to keep doing what I was doing, not to look at my phone and get something to eat. He has been in so many big finals and his advice was definitely worth listening to.”
The second session saw O’Sullivan force his way back into contention, but Brown remained steady despite the onslaught. He eventually found himself 8-7 ahead and requiring just a single frame for glory. Despite the gravity of what he was on the verge of achieving, he managed to remain calm and got himself over the line.
“Once I got to eight frames I tried hard not to get carried away. I knew I still had to get another frame on the board. He forced the decider with a century, but I knew in the back of my mind that I had won four deciding frames to get to that point. I’d coped with the pressure all the way throughout the week and there was no reason I couldn’t do it again. I am normally quite good with pressure. The experience of previous matches that week kept me calm.
“I honestly just said to myself to concentrate 100% on every shot. I didn’t think of the occasion, what it would mean to me and my family at home, or who I was playing. I couldn’t allow myself to have those thoughts. It helped me in that decider, otherwise I couldn’t have done it under that pressure. I am very proud of how I handled myself. I think you could see the relief flooding out at the end.
“It didn’t sink in for a while. The initial thought was that I couldn’t believe someone like me had done that. I’m just an ordinary guy who happens to play snooker for a living. It finally hit me a week or so afterwards. I struggled in the events that followed after that because it was a massive deal to me. That is only natural and I’m sure a lot of other first time winners have had that experience.”
In the immediate aftermath of the match, Brown found himself in a surreal environment having achieved his lifelong dream in a behind closed doors and Covid secure environment. The lack of a traditional afterparty meant for some unorthodox celebrations.
He also received further words of praise from his opponent in the post-match interviews. O’Sullivan said: “I love Jordan, he’s a great guy. I’m so happy for him to win. He is a fantastic player as well. I played alright today and not many people beat me when I’m playing alright. He is a proper player.”
Brown was taken aback by O’Sullivan’s comments and admits it made the win extra special, he said: “For Ronnie of all people saying those things was amazing. I loved watching Stephen Hendry, but Ronnie was my hero. The way he plays, I just idolised him. I dreamed of meeting him let alone playing him in a final. For him to be so kind after the match was amazing. You could tell he meant it, because on other occasions Ronnie can’t wait to get out of there after the matches and says things he doesn’t mean. We met up a couple of days later and he was still congratulating me. I genuinely think he was more happy for me than he has been at times winning tournaments himself. I look forward to playing him again in the future.
“We were just confined to our rooms afterwards because of Covid rules, so there couldn’t be an afterparty. I didn’t have anything to drink, but one of the WST staff managed to drop off a couple of cans of Carling at the door and the hotel staff left a little surprise and a card in the room. The reception staff were so nice throughout the event. I kept checking out and then checking back in when I won matches. They were asking how I was getting on and looked after me. That wee note they left in the room will live long in the memory. I at least had a wee celebration to myself.
“My phone never stopped the whole night. I think if I had to guess there were about 500 messages. Normally after matches I get a few from close friends and family. I could tell that everybody I knew from Antrim went out of their way to watch that. Antrim snooker has a great following and it made me think that I have a great support base back home. It was very humbling.”
Brown will be in action at his home tournament next week for the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast. Tickets remain available for the event at the Waterfront Hall, which runs from October 9th to 17th. You can witness the best players on the planet for as little as £7. Click here to book now.
This post appeared first on World Snooker.