ALTHOUGH he is no stranger to the big occasion, Welshman Eirian Williams will chalk up a personal first when he referees the UK Snooker Championship at York's Barbican Centre tomorrow.

He was in charge of the Embassy World Championship final at Sheffield earlier this year for the first time when Ronnie O'Sullivan beat John Higgins and tomorrow he will be the third man in the arena for the climax of the second most important tournament in snooker's calendar.

Williams, from Llanelli, has been a professional referee for ten years and full-time for the past four. He is one of only six professional referees, the others being John Williams, Jan Verhaas, Colin Brinded, Stuart Bennet and Paul Collins.

"I was a fair amateur player but knew I wasn't good enough to get anywhere as a player so I turned to refereeing," said the former policeman. "That was about twenty years ago and I worked my way through the grading system to reach the top standard."

His first televised match was when Jimmy White beat Billy Snaddon 5-0 in Plymouth in 1995 and this year he was the referee when O'Sullivan made his terrific 147 televised maximum in the LG Cup at Preston in October.

"I am looking forward immensely to the UK final," he said. "It's a new milestone for me. This is on a par with the world championship.

"Good concentration comes with experience," he said of the crucial ability to focus maximum attention on every shot. "But occasionally I have a brief lapse in concentration. It's impossible to have full concentration every second. Referees are only human. But whenever there might be any doubt about a situation I will consult the players and we reach agreement.

"I know all the players well because we travel round the world together. They're a great bunch of lads. We are like a family."

Updated: 11:35 Saturday, December 15, 2001