The new Caesarscasino.com Shootout begins a week today.

I shall look at the merits – or otherwise – of this new event next week but regardless of the format, the tournament heralds a return to Blackpool, which for many professionals will bring back memories good and bad.

For a number of years Blackpool represented a dream factory for players and often ended in nightmares.

The Norbreck Castle Hotel became established as the venue for qualifiers shortly after the game was thrown open. Its huge main hall could accommodate up to 20 tables and, wherever you looked, cueists were potting balls, missing balls, winning, losing and, in some cases, imploding.

If it was Tuesday you were trying to qualify for the Dubai Classic. Thursday was the UK Championship. It barely mattered what the tournament was: as long as you were still there you had a chance to qualify for something.

The class of 1992 included three players who would become among the finest ever to have played the game.

Ronnie O’Sullivan breezed through his first 38 matches, eventually losing to Sean Storey, and won 74 out of 76 matches in total.

John Higgins and Mark Williams didn’t quite enjoy this success but did well enough to claw their way through to the odd final stage and provide enough evidence that they could also do great things in the game.

The snooker was non-stop and intensive. In 1992, the qualifiers for that season’s World Championship were played in September – closer to the previous Crucible event than the one they were trying to qualify for.

Blackpool in the winter, with the wind off the sea buffeting the front of the Norbreck, could be a forbidding place.

There was one occasion where the car of a referee ended up being blown onto that of another official.

It was at the nearby Marriner’s pub, a focal point for those celebrating victory, consoling themselves in defeat or merely marking time, where Alex Higgins emerged 6-3 down after the first session to Tony Knowles in the final qualifying round of the 1994 World Championship.

Higgins, who rarely favoured a soft drink, fell returning to the venue and cut his arm. Blood seeped on the table as he gamely battled back to win 10-9, a vignette symbolic of his chaotic life and steadfast will to win.

It was also at the Norbreck where the Hurricane told a referee to move because “you’re standing in my line of thought.”

When he made his highest ever break in the World Championship against Tai Pichit of Thailand, he unaccountably began to cry as he set about clearing the colours.

One day he turned up with a gun, carrying it as if it were merely a cue extension.

This bizarre behaviour may have been typical Alex Higgins but it was not out of place in Blackpool, where even the sanest of snooker players went a little bit mad over the many weeks of snooker.

Stories abound. There was the player reputed to have got ten snookers to win a frame.

One player won a match, went to their room because they were feeling ill and passed away.

The officials entertained themselves by emptying furniture out of one another’s rooms and, in one case, shaving an eyebrow off a member of the WPBSA team.

I heard one referee asked a player mid-match for a piece of chocolate because his energy levels were running low.

Some players, who turned professional purely because they had the money to do so, were so bad that they drew crowds of people who wanted a good laugh.

It was a tough system but fair: the survival of the fittest. Some found they weren’t as good as they thought, others fell by the wayside because they were too fond of the social aspect

Blackpool still hosted the qualifiers until eight or so years ago when the tropical environs of Prestatyn were favoured.

I dare say those players old enough to remember the Norbreck days will be thinking of these formative years when they return to Blackpool next week.


Anonymous said...

I seem to recall one player had overslept and was due to play at 10am.
He was in a panic as his guest house was a 15 minute walk away and it was 9.40am and lashing down with rain.
The guest house owner didn't have a car available so he got a lift (and some shelter) in a steamroller which was in operation along the promenade.
The player was asked to wear a high visibility jacket over his dress suit in case the foreman was watching.
He arrived safely at The Norbreck Castle at 9.57am and was then promptly "steamrollered" 5-0 by Ronnie O'Sullivan in under an hour and was back in bed by midday to sleep off the Mariners related hangover from the night before.

Anonymous said...

Good piece Dave. Thankfully this is still a sane place to visit, where, unlike some blogs, we don't have to endure bad grammar and stupid prediction contests.

jamie brannon said...

Dave, would you favour a return to this system? It seemed like more fun, but the current system seems to be more cohesive.

I still can't get my head round a few of those tales, if they were telling you the truth of course!

What I like about the old system was that it wasn't a closed shop as so many industries are these days.

Dave H said...

If that's a reference to snookerbacker then I can tell you I met him at Wembley and he's a top chap who works very hard on his site

Jamie - regardless of the merits of the open system, there wouldn't be time now to fit it all in

jamie brannon said...

Until Hearn came along there would be have time, but now with the Players Tour and a schedule containg something like 29 events a season, I would agree.

Plus the game is more open than it has been for a while with the new qualifying school and the players tour events. Although was reading in my local paper that Mitchell Mann favoured PIOS to the School innovation, as he felt the PIOS refelected consistency more.

Betty Logan said...

I think one way to make it more "open" would be if they played the PTC through the whole season, and the top 16 on the order of merit not on the main tour were allowed to enter the qualifiers for the next event. It would give players who drop off the tour the means to keep playing in tournaments.

Anonymous said...

yes betsy, but would you know who the sponsor is?

Anonymous said...

Wot, badd gramma; me? The beauty of the internet is that you don't have to endure anything. Just don't read it, I won't be offended.

Some real eyebrow raising stuff in that piece Dave. Wasn't aware that the qualifiers even resulted in a death. Who was the other player Ronnie lost to by the way?


Dave H said...

Dave Finbow 5-0, although I believe he had a bad tip on

Greg P said...

The two main things that come to mind for me when the Blackpool qualifying is mentioned: The place where Higgins' pro career went to die and where O'Sullivan's began by blitzing all comers.

Does anyone know how close Higgins got to qualifying in 1995? The player mentioned, Tai Pichit, actually made it to the Crucible that year. But he could have beaten Higgins in any round. I can't find any info for the 1995 qualifiers anywhere on the internet.

Even without all these tales, it's quite amusing itself to think of the sheer amount of snooker played. It's probably impossible that anyone actually kept track of all the results from Blackpool, if they did it would look like a phonebook, or one of those endlessly scrolling datas screens from the Matrix movies...

Dave H said...

All the results went in Snooker Scene

Alex would have had to have won two more matches

Anonymous said...

in 1995 Alex Higgins Lost 10-5 to Tai Pichit in the last 96 then Pichit went on to beat Euan Henderson 10-6 and Mike Hallet 10-8 in the Final Qualifying Round before Falling 10-6 to Willie Thorne at the Crucible.

in the Last 64 of the 1995 World Championship Mark Davis beat Mark Williams 10-3, Mark Williams tried 4 times to Qualify for the World Championship and Failed every time until eventually he was seeded in 1997.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave

kimball said...

To me Blackpool is The Grand Theatre
and the centenuary amateur world-
championship, celebrating the S&B CC.

Seeded nr.1 was Jon Wright,sidekick
"Jellybaby" always at his side.

Much about the nr.1 seed best not to be told here, but first and only time I have seen a player break the pack in the openingshot, make a 90 break and turn 0-3 to a 4-3 win.
Legendary ref.Padddy Comeforth were
there and few watched since big pro
qualification were held in Preston
where yours truly had the pleasure
to see an annoyed Alex Higgins handle Fred Davis, who with an impish smile tried to go 2-1 up in
their match.A fantastic snooker on
blue with one red left turned the
Paul Mifsud won, the Maltese partied and sponsors for 15 year old James Wattana grumbeld over costs for hiring a chafffeur to take him to school each day.

Best of all, the Icelander (no name)who couldn't count and after
the refs refusal to tell the difference, took a chance and cleared up with a brown after last
Was not enough,lost, and stormed
into the bar and sunk a triple
scotch before the next frame:-)

Worst was the galegust that took
me by the neck and through me straigt in front of a looming doubledecker.

2011 said...

Theres something insane about a player who was probably hundreds of places down the rankings having to wear a dress suit for an early round qualifier held at 10am.