Yes, it’s the return of the weekly feature – apart from all the weeks I don’t do it – taking you behind the scenes of life on the snooker circuit.

I was reading about Jason Manford, who has quit as presenter of the One Show after a tabloid expose in which he admitted to ‘saucy chats’ with women on the internet while staying in hotels on his stand-up tour.

His excuse is that he was bored and lonely moving from one hotel to another, which sounds weaselish but anyone who has spent any time on the road will understand what he means.

When Ronnie O’Sullivan described the World Championship as a ‘bore’ at the launch of Power Snooker he wasn’t referring to the actual tournament but the endless hanging around that it entails.

The life of a professional snooker player may sound glamorous – and it can be – but most of the time it’s a merry-go-round of motorways, airports and hotels. It’s late nights, bad meals, one drink too many in the bar and fitful sleep.

As players get older and have families they become less keen on spending long periods away from home.

But at least when they get knocked out they can go home, unlike the other members of snooker’s travelling circus: officials, table fitters, the TV crew and the media included.

The press, or at least needy freelancers looking to save a few quid, have stayed in various establishments that made Wormwood Scrubs look like the Ritz.

I once returned one night from a tournament to find my room had been given to someone else. My suitcase was in the lobby. “We thought you’d left” was the somewhat puzzling explanation.

More than once I’ve had drunks banging on the door, demanding to be let into what they erroneously believe to be their room.

Speaking of alcohol, many years ago the WPBSA appointed a chief executive who availed himself of the free bar in Dubai as if the drink were going out of fashion.

A couple of hours later a board member and his wife were walking down a corridor when they came across him face down, incapacitated through drink.

“Who’s that?” the wife asked.

“That’s our new chief executive” came the immortal response.

The British bed and breakfast is one of those institutions held in high esteem, usually by people who never have to stay in them.

In my experience they are eccentric places. I once stayed in one that would not accept cheques or credit cards (in all likelihood some sort of tax dodge) and was physically driven to an ATM by the landlord so that I could pay in cash.

At least in a B&B you are, in theory anyway, guaranteed a bed. The breakfast often leads much to be desired.

Fergal O’Brien was staying in a B&B in, I think, Plymouth and when his cooked breakfast was put in front of him there were no eggs on the plate.

When he asked for one he was cheerily told, “oh, sorry, we need all the eggs to bake a cake.”

I stayed in a B&B in Bournemouth one time where the manager told me breakfast would be served from 8-8.20am: not a minute before and certainly not a minute later.

As it transpired he used this 20 minutes to conduct what was basically a stand-up routine in the dining room. Hunger felt like the better option after a few days of this.

B&Bs are cheap and can sometimes be friendlier than big chain hotels but too much time in them would surely drive you insane.

One of my colleagues hit on an idea to save even more money in Aberdeen a few years ago: he stayed in a tent.

Alas, one night he returned to the site to find his tent washed away due to flooding and exceptionally strong winds.

One year in Sheffield I stayed in a flat with two other journalists. It proved to be a predictably bizarre experience. One hack believed his room was haunted while one day the other forgot to turn the grill off in the kitchen after making early morning toast.

When we returned from the Crucible some 13 hours later we opened the door and were hit by a blast of heat that nearly knocked us over backwards.

Suddenly life in B&Bs didn’t seem so bad.

A colleague once stayed in one in the era before email and needed to dictate a story to a copytaker late one night. He asked the establishment’s owner if there was a phone he could use – it would be an 0800 number and so therefore free but the owner pointed out of the window and said there was a callbox across a field. This was in the depths of winter.

For those who spent many months at the Norbreck in Blackpool during the 1990s, it wasn’t so much boredom that set in but madness.

Day after day after day of snooker tends to do that to you. All they could do was try and amuse themselves with various wind-ups.

One official returned to his room to find it completely empty, stripped of everything. He later had one of his eyebrows shaved off in an unrelated incident.

The king of the practical joke was John Carroll of 110sport. He once changed all the numbers of various floors of a hotel so that when people got out of the lift they had no idea where they were.

John Higgins naively strayed into this area when he filled Ian Doyle’s bed with sugar in Dubai, which is a little like walking up to a lion and punching it in the face.

Another time, two of my journalistic pals were sharing a room to save money. One joker decided to tell hotel staff that they weren’t just sharing but were, in fact, a couple.

One of the hacks had to leave one night to cover football and so his bed was unslept in. The next morning the other journalist set off for the snooker but turned back, headed to the room and ruffled up the sheets in the unused bed in case the cleaning staff got the wrong impression.

I realise all of this sounds childishly pathetic but with so many hours, days and weeks spent on the circuit you have to amuse yourself somehow.

Of course, hotels can be deadly too. Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton fell in his bathroom at the Crucible three years ago and broke his hip, thus missing the last day of the championship and indeed his first ever day at Sheffield since the tournament moved there in 1977.

A fellow journalist was once in the shower at the Norbreck when someone broke into his room and stole his wallet. The hack heard the door close, realised what had happened and gave chase down the corridor, rugby tackling the thief naked.

This scene must have looked a trifle odd to anyone passing by but, on the snooker circuit, it was just another day.


Snooker-Virus said...

all these stories sounds very familiar to me... working in the media too, I also stay too many nights in too many hotels and its true... sometimes you need to be childishly to forget about the loneliness of being on the road...

John McBride said...

I remember when I was playing & I entered the Strachan Challenge Series around 1993 ish, which was taking place up in Sheffield. The comps used to go on for 2 weeks then & I always booked the first week in the hope that I maybe staying the second week. Anyway, when I received the list of hotels & B+B's from the WPBSA, I picked one out, phoned them up, & asked them how close they were to the venue? The reply was that the venue was just around the corner. "Great" I thought, reasonably priced, room booked for a week, the second week if the needs be, just around the corner from the venue, perfect I thought. And I'm playing well to boot.

I arrived, found out that the venue was a £30 cab fare away from the venue, which was the other side of Sheffield, & when I queried this with the owner the reply I received was "I thought you meant the other Snooker club around the corner". Charming I thought. Fortunately, Mark Williams was staying in the same B+B at the time, had experienced something similar to myself with regard to the logistics, & his Uncle Vic, God Bless Him, offered to drop me their & back as Mark had the same match times as me, a 10am start. Though he did finish his match's quicker than I did, I have to be honest.

After my second round victory, I arrived back to the B+B & couldn't open my room door. When I was subsequently let in, by the owners daughter, a referee stood in front of me looking as bemused as I was when I asked "what was he doing in my room?" No prizes for guessing that his reply was that this was his room. After some time, & a very long & interesting conversation, another player at the time staying in the same B+B, being Wilson Doran, offered to let me 'Top & Tail' with him for the night as I well & truly Snookered for somewhere to stay.

I turned up for my 3rd round match, which was against Karl Burrows, suitcase in one hand, cue in the other, & got beat 5-2. Despite knocking in two seventy odd breaks I might add. Playing as well as I was, lets just say when I walked back to my chair seeing my suitcase tidily placed beside the chair, it wasn't exactly overly inspiring.

There are some things on the road that you just cannot compensate for.

Janie Watkins said...

Brilliant Dave. Brings back some of the funnier memories!!

Not sure if I should relate the story of your "stalker" at Cutlers one year!!

TazMania said...

Hotels can become boring the more often you visit them. I always recommend to go to hotels that are from big companies not B&B. I seem to have better experiences at them and have better security.

Anonymous said...

fairly good blog dave


give us a couple OF THE GOOD ONES about YOU

jamie brannon said...

I bet there have been a few players and others related to snooker, who have got up to some saucy action like Manford.

A few tales of escorts are probably in someone's past. I personally enjoyed staying in hotels and bed and breakfasts, when I did a work placement in Nottingham for Freeq magazine.

The only bad hotel was the Gresham, don't go there Dave, if you ever stay in Nottingham.

I have to say I am not a big fan of the practical joke if it is something where someone robs your belongings, that is just theft. I prefer to entertain myself in the Jason Manford way, who in my opinion should never have felt that he needed to resign over it.

Anonymous said...

And that's just a watered down version of what goes on behind the scenes.

Greg P said...

Has anyone here ever heard the late great Bill Hicks? THAT'S stand up.

He actually threw in a few funny lines about snooker too when he did shows in the UK (where he was treated like a rock star). The man was a comedic force of nature.

SupremeSnooker.com said...

I’m not a great B&B man, but my worst experience came just a few months ago in Llandudno of all places, where I was attending a friend’s wedding. My thoughts were with Phil Yates and Mike Hallett last night. There are plenty of odd looking B&Bs there, but they’d have struggled to find anywhere to go for a pint afterwards as the whole town seems to go to bed at about 10pm.

My friends and I were staying in a place that very much resembled Fawlty Towers (it’s about a 15 minute walk from Venue Cymru). The bloke who ran the place was grossly overweight and had horrible, greasy hair. He was downright weird!

When we arrived, we were told that he wouldn’t go to bed until the last person was in, and we were to phone him if we weren’t coming back. Giving the guests a front door key or having a swipe card entry system hadn’t reached there.

My room wasn’t too bad, but others had to duck to get through the doorway and the musty smells left a bit to be desired.

I was lucky in that I had a room with a shower that worked. Others had to make to with a very old bath with a brown ring around the outside.

My toilet had a weird sign above it: “Be careful what you put in this toilet. It can only eat what you do”- WHAT?

I was lucky to have a shower that worked, but wasn’t so lucky with the lock. I could lock the bathroom door, but couldn’t unlock it when I’d finished my shower the following morning. I don’t consider myself to be claustrophobic but this was just horrible!

Eventually, a rescue effort took place. This was hardly on the scale of the Chilean miners but it wasn’t pleasant. Eventually, the cleaners let my friends in to commence the rescue; it was easy to unlock from the outside using a coin, and I was free, but not before one of them got their phone camera out and filmed the experience. Luckily I had a towel on, but it did end up on YouTube for a while! Of course, all my friends who were staying at the hotel had come into my room to witness this.

I’m thinking of buying a camper van now………


John McBride said...

Lovely Blog this, bringing back some great memories.....

I was fortunate enough to get 4 tickets sent to me (Thanks Anne) for our player of the year award back in either 1992 or 1993 ish (apologies). I can't remember which year, so forgive me. The company was superb tho.

Anyway, the great Stephen Hendry won our Player of the Year award that year & afterwards, amongst the mingling, I looked beside me & there the Great One was, no more than 6 feet away from me, player of the year trophy in hand. He looked at me, I looked at him, I knew him, he didn’t know me. I said, "Excuse me Stephen, can I have a look at your trophy please?" The Great One looked me up & down, & handed it over. I had a good look at he trophy, smiling at the situation I was in, & at the trophy, looked up at the Great Man & asked "Stephen, can you do me a favour please?" The Great one looked back at me (& as anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting the Man), replied "Sure, no problem, what is it?" I replied, "Look after that please, because I'm gonna' win this next year". A smile broadened his face, I chuckled, so did he, we shook hands, he wandered off to carry on reaching his own echelons in our game, that I could only dream about, & I carried on smiling & enjoying myself.

What a wonderful world Snooker is.

Anonymous said...

I once stayed in a B & B where I was informed that breakfast finished at 8am sharp which seemed a little extreme.
I got uo early despite a late night and got down there at 7>55 and ordered tea.
I went to the toaster and put some bread in which was cooking quite nicely but as the clock struck 8am the whole breakfast "buffet" was closed down by the somewhat policeman-like owner.
He walked off with the toaster with my toast still in it and refused to let me take the toast out, explaining that he had said 8am sharp and he meant exactly that.

Anonymous said...

Of my many snooker-related B&B nightmares, the worst was in Bournemouth at the 1998 UK Championship.

Having booked a room well in advance, I arrived to find that they had no record of my booking, and so I was moved to another B&B.

When I got there and went to my room, I found that there was - literally - no bed. There was just a small corner where the floor was a couple of feet higher than in the rest of the room, upon which had been placed a mattress, a pillow and some sort of bed cover. More Beirut than Bournemouth.

There was a television in the room, but it came without a plug. The curtains weren't big enough to cover the massive window, which in turn exacerbated the problem of there being a nightclub directly over the road, with huge bright lights outside it and the loudest music you'll ever hear, until the small hours.

To top it all off, when I arrived there was a brown armchair sitting upside down on top of the "bed", alongside two childrens' bicycles tied together with a rope.

There was no bathroom in the building, so to use the toilet you had to go to the building next door. The same obviously applied if you wanted a shower, and as I was stepping into it one morning I looked to my left and saw a Chinese man staring at me through a pane of glass.

I say B&B of course, but it really should just have been called a B, because it emerged that the breakfast part of the deal, literally, just did not exist.

The last insult came on the morning after the final, when for some reason, I had to spend the morning travelling across town to return my key, to the hotel which had turned me away when I'd first arrived.

Not surprisingly, I stayed in a different hotel the following year. Actually, it was the place referred to in the blog, with the 20-minute-breakfast window.