17.2.10

TALES FROM THE CIRCUIT#1

I thought, as we are in a quiet week, I would regale (or bore) you with a story from snooker’s past in the first of what is almost certain to be an irregular regular feature.

The year was 1998. Rex Williams was WPBSA chairman, Clive Everton was banned from press rooms (the latter information is related to the former) and at the UK Championship had to follow a trail of plastic chickens stuck to the floor by sponsors Liverpool Victoria that led from the venue entrance to the arena, never deviating in case he inadvertently ended up in the media centre.

We all thought it ridiculous but now it seems like a golden age.

Amid the political chaos, the Williams regime managed to get an extra ranking event on in Ireland.

There were, however, to be a few snags with the Irish Open.

The first was that it was not on television, the first ranking event for six and half years to be played without cameras.

The second was that it was played in a somewhat rough and ready area of Dublin, which led to the head of security spending much of his time chasing young miscreants around the arena.

The venue was a basketball arena. It would be fair to describe space backstage as limited.

At the time, I was working as WPBSA press officer, not a job to be coveted then or now.

I arrived in what I believed to be the tournament office, a small, poky room barely big enough to house the two tournament directors, one of whom informed me that, yes, it was their office but it was also to be the press room.

My colleague Phil Yates described it as “the TARDIS in reverse: it turns out to be even smaller inside than it looks.”

The thing was, the Irish media turned out in force to cover the event. Snooker has always been popular there and the press were full square behind tournaments.

The Irish journalists were extraordinary characters to a man, and woman. One would later be drunk for 27 hours straight at the Irish Masters, but that’s a story for another day.

To give you an idea of where snooker was at this time: the UK Championship finished at the end of November, some players went straight to Malta for an invitation event, won by Stephen Hendry, and then to Germany for another one, which John Parrott captured.

The next day John was sat at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin ready for the next tournament. That’s how it was in those days.

To add to the media circus, Ronnie O’Sullivan was back in action having mysteriously pulled out of the UK Championship a few weeks earlier.

It meant the Sun’s then snooker correspondent came over, plus various other British journos.

They were hoping Ronnie would lift the lid on his troubles and give them a big story. They were to be disappointed. He gave very little away (sensibly), lost in the first round and disappeared (with my pen as I recall, but I don’t hold it against him).

The Sun’s man was aghast. He’d been given loads of space for his story and had very few quotes to go on.

As luck would have it, Quinten Hann played the same night, wildly smashed the pack in one frame, lost 5-0, and then told the Sun reporter that he had booked his flight home before the match.

Job done.

The snooker, although few people saw it, was very exciting, helped by a bearpit atmosphere for some matches.

One such was for Peter Ebdon’s first round contest with Jimmy White. Obviously, 99% were cheering – vociferously – for Jimmy. Not only this, they were jeering – vociferously – against Ebdon, who kept his composure admirably until the final ball of his 5-4 victory, where he promptly turned to the crowd and shouted ‘come on then!’

He left by a side entrance.

In the next round he played Tony Drago, another crowd favourite. The noise for this one was extraordinary. Drago, often a bag of nerves, was playing extremely well at the time and won 5-4.

The crowd got so excited that a WPBSA official was called in to calm them down. His timid cry of ‘quiet please’ was heard, I would say, only by myself and Phil, who were standing next to him at the time.

Drago then played Hendry in the quarter-finals. Hendry led 4-2 but Tony enjoyed, to understate things a tad, some fortunate running in fighting back and in the end again displayed steely composure to win 5-4.

Remember, Hendry had lost 9-0 to Marcus Campbell in the first round of the previous ranking event and was thus not in the best of spirits generally, as I was to find out at the post match press conference.

It was clear from his general demeanour that Stephen was not especially looking forward to talking to the finest flowers of snooker journalism.

It was also clear that almost all of them were a little nervous of asking him anything.

An awkward silence developed that lasted for about 20 seconds but felt more like three weeks.

As I was in an official capacity, I thought I should break it and so ventured the following observation to the game’s greatest ever player: “Well, Stephen, you must be disappointed.”

The game’s greatest ever player fixed me with a look pitched somewhere between contempt and pity.

“Shrewd,” he said.

I can’t say it exactly cooled the atmosphere.

Someone else asked a question. Nothing from Hendry. Not a single word. Then someone else tried and...still nothing. A couple more questions followed but Stephen had had enough and we let him go.

As I pondered suicide, one of the Irish journalists examined his notepad and said, in a voice far too cheery for the occasion, “Well, it’s not going to be a quotes piece, is it?”

And so it went on. Absurdly, the venue had pre-booked a children’s charity bash for the Friday of the tournament and so all the tables had to be taken out and we had a ‘rest day.’

The next day they were all put back in. A few stray balloons were still stuck to the ceiling.

The final pitted Mark Williams against Alan McManus, the latter having been able to continue after I caught his cue just in time as it was sent crashing to the ground in the cramped tournament/press office.

Mark won. This was really the start of his ascent to the top because for the next four or five years he was in a string of major finals and of course won two world titles.

The Irish Open, however, did not return to the calendar.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of the few tournaments Drago managed to string a couple of wins together. Good to see him playing well again. It seems he has just won 4-1 against Tom Ford in about 40 minutes...

shaun foster said...

keep up the old stories dave and it is good to see some of the old rearguard still mixing it with the potting machines of today oh and thanks for the facebook ad

Anonymous said...

Great days they were at the Irish Open.

As one of the journalists at the legendary Hendry press conference, I remember actually writing down the word shrewd on my notes, just to have something to do with my eyes and hands amid all the tension. As the seconds continued to creak by, and there were obviously no more notes to take, I laboriously put quote marks around the word, again as some sort of nervous release.

One of the drivers at the tournament later told me he'd had the pleasure of driving Hendry back to the airport afterwards. He either didn't know what had happened, or didn't fully understand the situation, because he tried to strike up some conversation on the way.

Apparently Stephen gave some sort of grunted response to the driver's first attempt at chat, then responded to the second bid with "Can you turn on the radio?"

The volume of coverage in the newspapers really was outstanding that week, and the crowds weren't bad either, particularly when you consider the tournament was announced at only a few weeks' notice, and wasn't as well-publicised as it might have been.

Things were certainly helped by the fact that Ken Doherty was such a big star at the time. Obviously he'd won the 1997 World Championship and reached the final the following year. In between he'd won Ireland's Sports Personality of the Year.

I remember rocking up at the venue on the first morning just before play started. There were a couple of guys on the door who didn't seem entirely sure of things, and one of them thought I was one of the players. As he was about to point me in the right direction, I put him in the picture, but given the cloak of bizarreness wrapped around that event, I wonder how far I could have taken things if I'd gone along with his misconception.

With no television coverage, there were no screens for journalists to watch the action, but there was a balcony just outside the press room with a very good view. On the night of the final, I was out there - seated next to the aforementioned Rex Williams - and at one stage I moved my foot without realising there was a glass on the floor, which I inadvertently kicked off the balcony, from which it fell about 30 feet and smashed on the ground not far from the table. Thankfully all this happened while the spectators were applauding the end of a frame, so not too many people noticed.

That week at the Irish Open was quite something, but then all the tournaments in Ireland always seemed to be full of stories, incidents and generally random goings-on. It was the same at Goff's, at Citywest, and more recently at Kilkenny in 2007, as well as the Irish Professional Championship in Dublin later that year.

In fact, the next time you do something in this "irregular regular feature", it really should be built around the Ronnie O'Sullivan press conference after
he'd lost to Peter Ebdon at the Irish Masters in 2004.

Great days.

kildare cueman said...

Dave, you have, in your article conjured up memories of happier snooker times in ireland.

Throughout the 1980s The Benson and Hedges Irish Masters was one of the countries' premier sporting events.

Held annually as the last tournament before Sheffield, it was significant in that it provided a valuable form guide as to who was cueing well going into the World Championships.

The venue, Goffs of Kildare, is used to parade racehorses prior to sale and with its' natural amphitheatre provided an incredible atmosphere for snooker, especially when The Hurricane was featured.
Indeed he cost me a packet once when i laid him at 50-1 outright with a broken leg and he went on to beat Hendry in the final from 3 down with 4 to play.

Bad bets aside, the matches were great, televised from first ball to last and most of the time were played to packed houses. Many top pros then considered it second only to the Crucible in atmosphere.

The players were national celebrities, in a country that rarely gets excited about celebrity, and were keenly sought after for interviews, chat shows and suchlike.
The foyer at Goffs was a mecca of all things snooker. The original cuezone. Amidst pretty ladies giving out free Bensons one could acquire anything from a tip to a table.
Indeed it was the success of the masters and the apparent insatiable snooker appetite of the irish public that led to the belief that the country should host a ranking event.
This belief led to the stageing of the aforementioned Irish Open, a moderate success, although not considered so back then.

Ironically, as Bensons had to bow out as Irish Masters sponsors, they were replaced by ASH, the government sponsored body responsible for promoting smoke free environments.

Whether there will be another ranking event in Ireland or not remains to be seen. My county alone has seen a multi club three division league, sponsored by Burroughs and Watts, reduced to no league and just three clubs still open.

Perhaps the current property price slump, rise in unemployment and new marketing techniques by Barry Hearn, can reinvigorate the games popularity and put irish snooker back to its former status.

Anonymous said...

The best article of a tournament so far Dave! You should start writing a book...

Anonymous said...

Snooker © The Fine Art Method
A secret is wasted if not shared
Hi Dave
A good show lad that is quite a post you’ve set and should attract a few blogs. You are very generous with your name dropping Dave. I vaguely remember that Phil something; his brother Bill or eldest son runs that Microsoft blog in America.

Dear ole Rex, the games most beautifully dressed and debonair professional; and the first business minded Chairman to grace the honourable but difficult office.

Rex with his “Off the shoulder Beautiful Overcoat” actually wanted to invest the excess Tobacco money in silly property. Rex refused to be the “Prize Winners Benefactor” so the old lad had to go.

Another recollection is I have is the registered letter (I still have) I sent to Phil Yates, but returned unopened with “No Phil Yates at Snooker Scene address. ( A job offer).

Snooker world wide had only one voice in those days though he cried his eyes; begging for support the old lad was excluded from the Press Room for a period. Mr hey you

David Caulfield said...

Nice one! but being Irish, I can safely say that there really should be a ranking event in Ireland. There would definitely be crowds if held in the right place. And when I say right place, I'm referring to the odd decision to hold the 6 red world championship in Killarney! I don't think a more awkward spot for spectators could have been chosen.

Anyway, good to hear some of the stories

jamie brannon said...

My dad tells me of a match where Williams started shouting 'come on' in a match versus Ebdon. When was this I think it was at the Crucible? Ashame no cameras as there is plenty of vintage YouTube footage there! I get the feeling that Hendry was threatening retirement at this point. Persoally I miss that there is not more of a bearpit atmosphere at snooker events.

RichP said...

Nice piece Dave, more of those will be welcome.

Sparky said...

The 1998/1999 snooker season consisted of the following tournaments from September through May:

Scottish Masters, Grand Prix, Benson&Hedges Championship, UK Championship, Malta Grand Prix, German Masters, Irish Open, Nations Cup, Welsh Open, The Masters, Scottish Open, Charity Challenge, Thailand Masters, China International, Irish masters, British Open, Embassy, and the Premier League.

It's really EMBARRASING that now, some 10 years later, there are only 6 ranking events, and that we're now in the middle of a 7-week snooker draught!

Anonymous said...

Sparky,
Apparently these were great days then?
If you look in the snooker magazines it would hyave been all doom and gloom and the board would have come under the usual fire.
GOLDEN DAYS?

moondan said...

Many more please Dave.

I think its fair to say Stephen never took lessons in the art of communication. If he won the event, he did the cat that got the cream routine and if he lost, he was speechless with grief.

At its best, Stephens game was very black and white, very few frills but ruthlessly efficient, so much so that when he was at the table, his performances hushed the fans into almost a holy silence such was his clinical skill.

That season for him could not have started darker, a 10 nil drubbing by a fellow scot (who he ungraciously said was not a tournament winner) but ended with him puting together a sustained and brilliant performance to take his seventh title and insure immortality in the snooker world.

I certainly will never forget that campaign, and spent the whole tournament waiting for the pressure to get to him.
Here was a guy that was not just playing for another title, he was playing for the seperation that victory would give him over, Ray and Steve, and of course the mantle of being the greatest player in the modern game.

How he potted a ball is a wonder to me, but pot he did and the manner of those victories and the field he beat will be better appreciated more by future generations than this one has.
As he stood with that trophy aloft with his best cheshire cat grin soaking up the riotious cheers that were so deserved, could he ever have immagined that the position he had just won on the table as the undeniable greatest, be questioned by a rather unstable front man of snooker, who's views are not widely held amongst his peers.

I think the stand out memory for me that historic night was the interview Ian Doyle gave tv.

There was Hendry in the background, still grinning and lapping up the worship, and here was Doyle laying into him, telling the nation that he could win 10, if he stopped skylarking about and refound some of his old commitment to the game.
Doyle went on to say Hendry spent more time at golf than he did his craft and it had to stop.

He must have been some slave driver that Doyle.

Anonymous said...

I remember being at the Norbreck in Blackpool with the player I managed.

While he was getting himself ready, I went to see the end of Danny Murphy's match.

Danny had come back from 4-1 down, and potted a great black to level at 4-4. Ann Yates them told them they had run out of time, and their match would need to be concluded after the end to the 1st match of the evening session.

Danny - who was now on a roll - pleaded with her that there was enough time, but Ann was having none of it.

And as he walked out of the arena he said "Well, at least I can tell my grand-kids I was once pulled off by Ann Yates".

We all - including Ann - fell about the place laughing.

Those were the days :o)

trophymad said...

Thank you for that highly enjoyabel BLOG! I really hope that Snooker will bounce back to it's old glory and that next season's calender will be full of tournaments. I bursted out in laughter, when I read the part where you ask Stephen Hendry this question during the press conference! I just started writing reports about Snooker Exhibitions and can't bring myself to talk to the players. A situation like the one you had at the prss conference would kill me! But you had the bravery of asking, that is something!

Anonymous said...

The question is 4:59PM did Danny Murphy come back later and win? ;)

Anonymous said...

Some great stories there Dave. Quentin Hann, now there's a character. Does anyone know what's happened to him?

Anonymous said...

re QH - he got banned

G said...

"As luck would have it, Quinten Hann played the same night, wildly smashed the pack in one frame, lost 5-0, and then told the Sun reporter that he had booked his flight home before the match."

Good God, the clues were there from quite early on, weren't they?

G said...

"The second was that it was played in a somewhat rough and ready area of Dublin, which led to the head of security spending much of his time chasing young miscreants around the arena."

Rough and ready? I'll have you know you are talking about my area, this is where I live! Actually, you're spot on...

ddrIII said...

All results from this tournament:

http://www.snooker.org/trn/9899/io98_res.shtml

Anonymous said...

Dave

Is there a special society of former world snooker press officers?

jamie brannon said...

Williams took away 250,000 grand according to a website I read, surely the largest first prize cheque ever receieved outside of Sheffield in the history of the game.

Dave H said...

It would have been were it true. He actually won £50,000.

Anonymous said...

Snooker © The Fine Art Method
A secret is wasted if not shared
Hi Dave
How are you! A good show lad; and congratulations on your chance “Reminiscing Thread” I hope that there are some enquiring minds amongst the new faces on the value of “Snooker Technique”?

Just to feel the tempo Dave! Was Joe Davis the games first snooker coach? Was Joe Davis subjected to “Early Day Muggers”? Was Joe Davis a philanthropist?

It is simple questions that could be asked in any snooker club, church hall or board room; there is no catches; nice simple question to attract “Snooker discussion” on the Dave-Den blog. A final question Dave “Would pro snooker have survived without Tobacco money”? Mr hey you

jamie brannon said...

A rare mistake by Chris Turner. His website is excellent.

Anonymous said...

After Ebdon wound up the crowd I remember there was a brawl between 2 fans outside the arena.
It ended becaude a fairly large lady produced a frying pan from her car which she used to clonk one of the guys over the head with.
Everyone fell about laughing, the fight was over and Ebdon was through to the next round.

Dave H said...

"Dave

Is there a special society of former world snooker press officers?"


Yes. We meet once a year and say 'no comment' to each other.

G said...

"Dave

Is there a special society of former world snooker press officers?"


Yes. We meet once a year and say 'no comment' to each other."

Shrewd....

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed travelling over for that event, I still remember seeing a couple of horses running wild on the road leading upto the venue.
It was actually quite scary but the tournamnet was otherwise great and will live in the memory forever.

snookerbacker said...

Hello Dave - is there any word on whether the qualifiers next week will be streamed on the internet?

Dave H said...

Not sure

Anonymous said...

During Tony Drago's matches in that tournament I recall a toothless,ruddy cheeked local in the back row shouting "anywhere" each time Drago missed a pot.
I think he hoped for a fluke from the Maltese Falcon, either way he seemed unapproachable and always alone.

Anonymous said...

Somehow despite the lack of a sponsor, there was a raucous post-final party involving quite a lot of singing. Possibly to do with it being the week before Christmas, possibly to do with it being in Ireland. I almost fell off a step ladder in work the next day. Surely now would be a good time for another hastily-arranged extra ranking event?!

Anonymous said...

Ah yes the post tournament was indeed a wild affair, I recall a lucicrously dressed man who appeared to have eyebrows on his cheeks offering me outside at 3am.
I declined and went to bed and awoke with a massive hangover having missed my plane home.
Great memories though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

What happened to Ann Yates?

Thanks, Joe

Anonymous said...

On the world snooker site says qualifiers are being streamed live...


http://www.worldsnooker.com/world_championship10_qualifying_tickets.htm?tid=153

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, do you know where there are several tables "lost" abroad?

Anonymous said...

Was Ann any relation to Phil?

Dave H said...

No she isn't. As far as I know she lives in Ireland.

Anonymous said...

re 7:08pm

Where do you find that announcement?

I haven't see anything about that!

Anonymous said...

i take it the answer is "no", 7.14

snookerbacker said...

re: 7.08 - I can't see that either - I have emailed 110 sport but as yet no response from them. Any updates would be greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

2:10am it was on there having just checked it again it has gone.. bizarre, i can only think they have pulled the plug on live streaming.