As part of our Women’s Snooker Icons series, we recently caught up with our 1987 world champion Ann-Marie Farren to reflect upon her time on the circuit and her rise to the top of the sport.
A competitor in over 100 tournaments across a 13-year span, Farren enjoyed a distinguished career on the World Women’s Snooker Tour. As a tournament winner on eight occasions and a former world number two, the Nottinghamshire-based potter remains one of our most successful players to date.
In an era, which saw Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins among the leading cast of the professional programme, it would be the ‘Great Storm of 1987’ that would coincide with the finest hour of Farren’s career, however, as on one October evening the UK was hit by gusts of up to 122mph during what has since been described as a ‘once in 200 years’ event.
At the same time, 16-year-old Farren was busy competing in the final rounds of the 1987 World Women’s Snooker Championship. Following victories against Welsh duo Agnes Davies and Angela Jones, she would whitewash 1984 professional champion Mandy Fisher in the semi-finals to reach the final for the first time.
Awaiting her in the title match would be Stacey Hillyard, amateur world champion three years earlier, but the result was rarely in doubt as Farren ran out a 5-1 winner on the Isle of Wight.
“Leading up to the tournament I had been practising with now WPBSA Chairman Jason Ferguson and David Blagg,” said Farren. “They helped bring my game on leaps and bounds, and I felt confident, without feeling the weight of expectation of being the no.2 seed. I never really thought about winning until I’d won!
“Anyone who was there will remember it was the night of the famous hurricane, although it somehow passed most of us by due to celebrating late into the early hours! Having all my family and friends on the Isle of Wight to witness the win was the icing on the cake.”
Born to Irish parents, their support would prove crucial to Farren’s path to the top, from having been introduced to the sport by her father, to ultimately having a purpose-built snooker room constructed in the family garden for her to hone her skills at the game she had fallen in love with.
With the backing of her family, Farren would ultimately compete in tournaments from as young as 13, memorably reaching the quarter-finals of only her second competition at the 1985 World Championship in Solihull and being named Young Player of the Year ahead of Karen Corr.
“Mum and Dad drove me literally up and down the country most weekends,” recalled Farren. “It’s only now I work full-time and have a daughter myself that I appreciate their selflessness. Without them none of my achievements would have been possible.
“At 14-years-old I took Allison [Fisher] to the final black in the final at Chelmsford and literally a dodgy corner pocket prevented me from winning my first event – you ask Allison, she ribbed me about it for months afterwards!
“But I went to school the next day and couldn’t concentrate on my work, I knew then that I wanted to play snooker professionally – I had caught the bug.”
Having become world champion at such a young age, by her own admission, following season was to prove extremely challenging as she learned to cope with her newfound status. She would, however, remain successful over the following years, reaching the final of the World Championship again in 1988 and 1989 to become the first player to do so on three consecutive occasions.
“I found the title winning year really hard due to the pressure of being a world champion,” continued Farren. “The expectations I placed on myself became too much and my game suffered. I was only 16, and there was no such thing as sports psychologists to help me make sense of my anxiety then.
“I did manage to overcome my nerves to beat Allison in the final at East Grinstead a few months later, and I was invited to 1987 BBC Sports Personality of the Year where I met my sporting heroes (I still have the invitation), so it wasn’t all bad.
“I also began to receive coaching from the late, great Vic Harris in Southend-on-Sea, having previously been self-taught. Vic undoubtedly helped me to maximise my talent, and I eventually overcame my nerves through undertaking the routine he taught me before every shot.
“I entered a pro-am event and drew a 14-year-old Ronnie O’Sullivan, eventually losing 3-2 on the final black much to his relief! He never forgot and reminded me of the match years later.”
She would continue to compete on the circuit until 1998, as the era of Allison Fisher and Stacey Hillyard made way for Karen Corr and Kelly Fisher, who began to dominate during the mid-1990s.
With commitments away from the baize meaning that she could not devote the time to keep up, Farren took the decision to put her cue away for good, but nevertheless looks back at her time on the Tour ‘with great fondness’.
“Whenever I am asked about this time of my life I tend to say, ‘oh it was an awful long time ago’ a little dismissively,” said Farren. “But through competing on the circuit I learnt some valuable life lessons which still serve me well today. Skills like application, perseverance and resilience still work for me today. I strive to be a high achiever as a civil servant, and I think that performance benchmark never leaves you.”
“I was fortunate enough to travel the world through snooker and made lifelong friends through it. My best friend of 30 years is former world No.1 Lynette Horsburgh, and our children are also best mates! We all try to get away once a year, together with former player Vicky Revell’s family too.”
As the Tour prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary over the coming weeks, Farren also paid tribute to the role played by President Mandy Fisher, who as both a player and director has played a key role throughout.
“At the 1985 World Championship (my second tournament) I was stood in front of the draw looking at who I’d got to play next,” recalled Farren. “I must have looked sad because I heard a voice saying next to me saying ‘cheer up, it may never happen!’. I turned around to see that it was World Grand Prix champion Mandy Fisher stood there.
“I explained that I had Maria Tart in the next round and that she was the No.3 seed. Mandy said ‘don’t worry, just give it your best shot. You just never know’. I went out and won 3-0 and have never forgotten that she took the time out when I was an unknown young hopeful.
“Thanks for those words of encouragement Mandy and everything you have done for the game over the last 40 years!”
Life has since taken Farren to her current vocation as a civil servant, which she continues to enjoy after nearly 20 years and last year saw her work on the frontline for a time during the pandemic, ensuring Universal Credit payments were issued to some of the UK’s most vulnerable citizens.
Although Farren has ruled out a potential comeback to the circuit after more than 20 years away, she continues to keep an eye on the development of the World Women’s Snooker Tour, which earlier this year was recognised by World Snooker Tour as an official qualification pathway to the professional circuit for the first time.
Farren herself competed in the professional World Championship on two occasions, notably winning two matches in 1992 before losing out to Jason Weston.
“It’s more of a level playing field now in terms of recognition,” said Farren. “I always wanted to be known as a player as opposed to a lady player. By that I mean it doesn’t matter what gender you are, look past that and appreciate talent for what it is. The girls today are tremendously skilled sportswomen and deserve their platform. I genuinely admire them.
“I wish both Reanne [Evans] and [Ng] On Yee every success and hope that they don’t feel too down after a result which doesn’t always go their way. They are still the best in the world of billions of females, and I know they will do our sport very proud.”