Thomas Barrett on why snooker’s only ever black professional Rory McLeod is not everyone’s favourite player
He sounds as Scottish as porridge, haggis and a deep fried Mars bar washed down with Irn Bru – but Rory McLeod is of West Indian descent and was born in the midlands.
The 46-year-old has caused a sensation at the World Snooker Championships by beating favourite Judd Trump 10-8 at The Crucible in the first round.
He is the only black player on the professional tour, the oldest remaining cueman in the tournament but remains a controversial character because his religious beliefs mean he will never shake the hand of a female referee.
McLeod is not your average snooker player and in many ways is the antithesis of the brash Trump.
His parents moved to the UK from Jamaica and after competing in Qatar, he converted to Islam in 2004.
He wakes up at 4am every day to take his first prayer of the day and places his faith as a central part of his life as a touring snooker player. “I’m a Muslim first, a family man second, and a snooker player third. The job I do is not a priority on that list of three” he told the BBC.
McLeod has taken an unconventional path to the top and after spending a decade on the secondary tour he drifted out of the game and worked as a pub landlord and a barber before starting his current 16-year stint as a pro in 2001.
He has never reached higher than number 32 in the world rankings, so to supplement his income he has spent much of his time in Qatar, where he has coached their national snooker team.
McLeod’s career has not been without its controversies and he has regularly come under fire for refusing to shake the hand of female referees.
In a 2015 interview with Vice Sports, he explained that under Islamic law, male and females that are not married must not touch so to protect both sexes from the temptations of infidelity but it’s a stance that has made further strengthened McLeod’s reputation as an outsider in the game.
His religion has recently been brought up due to the ISIS badge that he wears on his shirt, with unfair criticism coming his way on social media (it’s the logo of ISIS Business Solutions, in case you were wondering and he has worn it long before the terrorist group came to attention).
He’s also come under attack from other players in the press for his, at times, laborious style of play. In 2014, Ricky Walden dubbed him ‘the dentist’, and complained that playing him was: “absolutely painful from start to finish”.
It’s a style of play that has long got under the skin of opponents and as the senior player in Sheffield, he perhaps isn’t going to start changing his calculated game anytime soon.
Often outspoken, McLeod has been vocal about World Snooker not attracting enough black players to the sport. In a 2016 interview with the BBC, he accused snooker’s governing body of pandering to the sport’s money men while ignoring the financial pressure that aspiring black players are under.
“What World Snooker are bothered about is the prize money and sponsors. That is it” he said.
“You need black people in the snooker clubs for starters. There could be a lot more but the opportunities are not there. Most snooker players have money and support behind them, to have that in the snooker business for black people is not something that exists.”
WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson responded by saying that his comments were “completely unfair”, but McLeod’s argument is not without merit. In all his years as a pro, he has remained the only black player to ever qualify for the World Championship.
Snooker chief Barry Hearn has regularly bemoaned the lack of characters in the game but in McLeod, there’s been one under his nose all along, ready to break out from the tag of being just a black or Muslim snooker player.
He plays Stephen Maguire in the second round but McLeod is keeping his feet on the ground after seeing off Trump: “It’s the best win of my career – beating Judd on the big stage is brilliant.” he said.
“I’m enjoying every second of it at the moment and I’m just happy to be in the second round – it’s a gift that every snooker player wants.”