On a visit to the qualifying competition for the
Powerhouse United Kingdom Professional Snooker championships 2002 in York I was
struck by the situation that the top and former top players find themselves
Before I expand further on my feelings on this
matter, I wish to make it clear that the venue and the staff that administered
events from the paying public point of view were faultless. The point that
I wish to make surrounds the fact that on the day that I visited there were
four tables situated in a vast arena with a cubicle around each one.
On the surface the players seemed unaffected by
these surroundings and yet I was struck by the fact that I was watching a
former Grand Prix champion, a former World Matchplay champion and a Benson and
Hedges Masters runner up, all playing at the same time.
For a player who has performed at the highest
level with up to a thousand spectators sitting on the edge of their seat, it
must seem something of an anti-climax to play in front of a handful of people
in an atmosphere reduced hangar.
Motivation in sport can result in some
spectacular performances; I have seen player raise their game due to, amongst
other things, the support that a crowd is giving them. Think of Alex
Higgins against Steve Davis in 1983, Alex was 0 7 down in that match and
yet eventually prevailed 16 15.
Solo practise can reveal technical factors and
offers an opportunity to work on them while match play reveals so much more
about a players total capability. I remember Steve Davis once losing to
Ray Reardon 5 0 in the qualifying competition for the British Open in
about 1990. Would Ray have been able to roll back the years in such a
spectacular way if Steve and he had been playing in front of a packed house
with the extra adrenaline rush that those conditions will almost inevitably
Having said all this, shock results are good
publicity for Snooker as long as there are not too many of them. I am not
sure how many people would tune in to a ranking final between two largely
unknown players. Spare a thought for those players who once played in front of
capacity crowds, who now play in front of a few die hard supporters in a muted
yet strangely intense atmosphere throughout the season.
These players find themselves battling for
ranking points, almost in a secret and cathedral like atmosphere and then win
or lose, slip away to either celebrate with a couple of friends or return to
the practise table to sternly prepare for their next opportunity to progress
onto the well lit stages of the televised tournaments, where thunderous
applause often greets their efforts and a substantially larger cheque is
presented at the end of it all.
The so-called journeyman professional, often, or
so it seems to me at least. has to apply himself with even more dedication
and perseverance than his more colourful counterpart at the top end of the
ranking list. Good luck to all those players who find they are fighting
to join the top sixteen or facing the struggle to remain in the top
thirty-two. Without this supporting cast the top players would be denied
the backdrop that allows them to become national heroes or pin ups for the new
generation of Snooker supporters.
You can almost hear them now, quietly practising
to make them capable of grasping that most elusive of opportunities, attempting
to make it really count. Who knows, perhaps capture a ranking event title
for the first time or beat one of the players they once idolised as a younger
There are many intriguing stories played out in
pre-qualifying that never make it into the newspapers or onto your television
screen. I heartily recommend that should you get the opportunity, you
should go to see live Snooker played, who knows, you may see just such a story
played out in front of you. I feel sure that the players would be glad of the