Bill Marshall talks to the Bradford youngster who is part of a quartet of West Yorkshire players bidding for glory in the Embassy World Championship finals.

Simon Bedford knows better than most how long the road is from wannabe snooker star to the bright lights of the Crucible Theatre.

When the 22-year-old Bradford professional recalls the start of his campaign to qualify for the televised stages of the £1.323 million Embassy World Championship, which began at Stockport last December, he cheerfully admits that he stood little chance of making it all the way to Sheffield.

"I just wanted to make a bit of money winning a few matches. I didn't really look very far ahead," he said.

Now, however, Bedford has a chance to pull of what would be one of snooker's biggest shocks if he can beat the legendary Steve Davis in the first round at the Crucible.

Their match - to be played at 2.30pm on Sunday and 10am on Monday - promises to be fascinating encounter between the most experienced player in the game and a virtual unknown.

"Steve's a class player - what he's done in the game is amazing. To be playing someone of his stature in the first round is exactly what I wanted. Most of the pressure will be on him," says Simon.

Having won at Stockport, the world No 215 moved on to the Norbreck Castle Hotel at Blackpool, where he spent the first half of January attempting to reach the next phase of snooker's biggest tournament.

Seven wins later, and with victories over 1991 European Open finalists Tony Jones and Mark Johnston-Allen under his belt, Bedford headed for the Telford International Centre and a match against Gary Wilkinson.

The hard-fought nature of Bedford's passage through qualifying continued as Wilkinson - the 1991 World Matchplay champion - fought back from 8-3 in arrears to level at 9-9.

When the former World Championship quarter-finalist snookered himself on the final pink, Bedford had a chance to wrap up victory at 10-9.

"My arm felt like jelly on that last pink, but I was determined to knock it in," he said, following what turned out to be the ninth longest best-of-19 frame match in snooker history.

"It was a hard road to Sheffield, but now I'm really excited. I was never actually behind in any of my matches. I always seemed to get off to a good start - possibly because a lot of the pressure has been on my opponents."

When Bedford lines up at the Crucible, it will be the fourth venue he has played at in this year's event. Such is the scale of his achievement in fighting through the qualifying rounds that BBC Television's Grandstand invited him on the programme as WPBSA president Lord Archer and women's world champion Karen Corr made the live draw for the first round on Saturday, March 28.

It was on the programme that Bedford found out he would soon be facing Davis, but, unlike most Crucible dbutantes, he does not appear to be suffering from pre-tournament nerves.

This may have something to do with the vociferous support he is guaranteed when his friends and family make the short journey from Bradford to watch his match against six-times champion Davis.

"My dad follows me wherever I play, which means I always have someone there cheering me on. I'm sure everyone from the club will be coming to Sheffield now to support me," he said.

Bedford is one of four players from West Yorkshire to reach the finals - a quartet which includes his colleagues from the Cuedos Club at Allerton James Wattana and Jason Prince.

Wattana - a practice partner of Bedford's - has reached the semi-finals of the Embassy World Championship twice, and is still seen by many as a potential world champion.

If the 28-year-old did win snooker's greatest prize, he would become only the second player in history from outside the British Isles, after Canadian Cliff Thorburn, to do so.

Wattana, who uses Bradford as his English base, was beaten 16-9 in 1993 by Jimmy White, but came a lot closer last year, eventually going down 17-13 to Stephen Hendry.

This year the world No 12 faces Irishman Fergal O'Brien in the first round at 2.30pm on Saturday and 10am on Sunday.

Prince is delighted to have joined his two club-mates at the Crucible, following qualifying wins over John Read, Andrew Higginson and Martin Clark.

"It was a hard fought match against Martin at Telford, but I couldn't be happier to be going to the Crucible, as it's always been my dream," Prince said.

Welshman Darren Morgan will provide the opposition for Prince's debut at the Crucible at 2.30pm on Tuesday and 10am on Wednesday.

Most snooker experts believed a Leeds player would make it to Sheffield, but they would have expected Paul Hunter - the Regal Welsh champion - rather than Peter Lines to be their representative.

However, while Hunter crashed out 10-8 to Mark King, Lines shook off the after-effects of pneumonia and a stubborn opponent to reach the televised stages.

Lines spent ten days in bed with the illness and could barely practice for his big day at Telford.

"If it hadn't have been the World Championship, I would probably have withdrawn, but now I'm obviously glad I didn't," he said after completing a 10-6 victory over 1991 world semi-finalist Steve James.

Reward for his efforts comes in the form of a meeting in the first round with 1991 Embassy World champion and 'A Question of Sport' captain John Parrott at 2.30pm on Monday and 10am on Tuesday.

Snooker's official bookmakers William Hill make Wattana 40-1 for the title, with Prince at 150-1 and Bedford and Lines both 200-1 outsiders.

Although the bookmakers may not rate the chances of the Yorkshiremen this year, it was a similar story in 1986 when Bradford's Joe Johnson won the title as a 150-1 outsider.

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