How many professional snooker players have there been down the years?

It must be a few thousand. More to the point, what are they all doing now?

Very few hit the heights of course. This is true of any sport. There are several household names but many more whose names resonate only in their own households.

I was thinking about this earlier today because I found an old notebook from the late 1990s covered in my scrawled transcripts of press conferences from long forgotten matches.

One such was with Nick Walker. Nick was a good player and a very nice lad. He got in the top 64 but never the top 32.

In 1999, he qualified for the Crucible and beat Alain Robidoux – mired in a horrible slump of defeats. But the match I will always remember was in the qualifiers.

Nick was 9-0 up on Rod Lawler. The evening session was to be a coronation.

Rod won a couple of frames but there was no need for undue panic. At 9-4, though, Nick was spending the interval perhaps a little less relaxed than he had begun the session.

At 9-8, he had every right to be in bits. It would surely be the most incredible comeback the game had ever seen if Lawler duly completed the win.

He didn’t. Nick won 10-8. You’d have thought he’d won the title, such was his relief.

So Nick Walker reached the last 16 of the World Championship but, just a few years later, he retired. He accepted that he couldn’t make the sort of living he desired from snooker and so went and did something else (I believe as a recruitment consultant, or some such).

I understand he has been very successful at this. It can’t have been easy putting the cue away – and so his boyhood passion – but he did not believe snooker owed him a living. He accepted he was never going to be world champion and sought out something which would give him the life he wanted.

However, if you’ve played snooker all your life, and don’t have academic qualifications, then the alternatives are unclear.

It’s never too late to be educated or to train to do something else but when snooker is all you have ever wanted to do it can be hard to even think about anything other than a green baize life.

Every month in Snooker Scene we run a questionnaire in which players are asked what they would be doing if they weren’t a snooker professional. Most months they struggle to think of anything.

Of course, years ago players had had jobs before turning professional. Terry Griffiths was a postman. Ray Reardon was a policeman. Joe Johnson was a gas fitter. Dennis Taylor worked in a paper mill.

It gave this generation of players a gratitude for the sudden riches they were able to earn from a sport they loved.

For the more recent crop of players, life after snooker is often uncertain. Some drive taxis. Some run pubs. Like anyone else they do what they can to make a living.

Silvino Francisco, the 1985 British Open champion, ended up working in a fish 'n' chip shop.

Danny Fowler, a top 32 player in the late 80s/early 90s, was famously a bin-man. I heard that after he dropped off the circuit he spent some time driving a delivery van for a maggot farm.

Life in the margins of the snooker world is nothing if not varied. There was one player from Singapore who was even said to be a gigolo.

Graham Cripsey eventually found professional snooker to be too precarious a profession and so went back to his old job, as a wall of death rider.

Kirk Stevens, his life and career severely affected by drug addiction, drifted into employment as a car salesman and, for a time, a lumberjack, a job he gave up, not unreasonably, after discovering he was scared of heights.

Ian McCulloch, a good friend of Nick Walker’s, has set up a new events company, North West Sports Events, to promote exhibitions and corporate dinners featuring sportsmen.

Good on him. Ian always was industrious, never one to sit around expecting things to happen but going out and making the best of himself. He also works for William Hill’s radio service.

Michael Holt is doing a business degree through the Open University. Others, such as Ali Carter, have business interests (and in Ali’s case a pilot’s licence).

There are of course ways to stay intimately involved in snooker once your playing days are over. Some players open clubs. Some becomes coaches. None ever seem to become referees.

Some turn to broadcasting. Neal Foulds has been one of the most successful at this because of his versatility (he knows a lot more than just snooker) and the fact that he is clearly very good.

Sporting careers can be short. They can also be relatively undistinguished. Only the hardcore will even have heard of some of the names in this piece.

But I suspect many of the pros who have drifted away from the circuit would come back in an ideal world.

Snooker is a passion which cannot easily be banished.


Anonymous said...

error at the silv line dave

jamie brannon said...

I've had McCulloch down for wanting to get back on the circuit, but good luck to him.

To my knowledge Foulds also commentates on horse racing, but have not heard him. I guess he works for specialist racing channels. He is, probably, the best BBC commentator. Him and Willie are an ideal double act.

Dave H said...

Indeed, corrected now.

Finn R said...

Nice article Dave. Reading it I became curious about what happened to Alain Robidoux, googled it and came right back to this blog http://snookerscene.blogspot.no/2009/05/past-masters1.html Are there more posts on former players in the archive?

Janie Watkins said...

Andrew Norman recently became Operations Manager at South West Snooker Academy.

He lost his Main Tour place after many years and wisely decided to plan for his long term future.

It seems to be working extremely well so far, as having had no time to practice, he romped through to the quarter finals of the Paul Hunter Classic at the weekend!

Amazing what can happen when some of the expectations and financial pressures are lifted from a player's shoulders

kildare cueman said...

No one comes close to Foulds as a commentator/analyst. Every time he speaks he says something relevant and doesn't repeat himself. He also knows when to stop talking, like when a player is about to pot frame ball. I'll watch any match if he's in the box.

Anonymous said...

Which Francisco became a cocaine smuggler? That is pretty industrious, it has to be said.

Bryn said...

Another good thought provoking item. Whilst Snooker Scene's main focus must always be on the here and now, it is always good to hear of the older players and be nice to hear from some of them. World Snooker lists several great names of the past still on the rankings (albeit in alphabetical order at the end). But how are players such as Graham Miles, or dear old Jackie Rea (placed at 140 at the age of 91) doing? Be great to see a feature or two.

Dave H said...

I rang Graham Miles not so long ago for a feature and he denied being Graham Miles.

Anonymous said...

To be in the top 140 players in the world at 91 is pretty amazing, it has to be said.

Dave H said...

Finn: there are around ten I think on this blog, from around the same time as the Robidoux one.

John Lim said...

Hi Dave, I'm quite surprised to see Singapore being mentioned in this post.

I'm from this sunny island, and didn't know we had a professional player in the ranks, not to mention a rumoured gigolo as well! I would really be interested to know when did such a player actually played in the tour, or was it during the era where you can just be a professional by paying?

Bryn said...

Shame about Graham Miles, nice of you to try. He did an interesting 40th anniversary Pot Black Feature with Rex Williams a while back. Anything coming up on Ray Reardon's 80th?

Anonymous said...

I'd rather you wrote 100 consecutive articles about O'Sullivan rather than stuff about 'Nick Walker'.

Anonymous said...

Hello to Graham Miles if he is reading this.
Chin music my friend, chin music.

Anonymous said...

Dave, 6.07pm's tone is a little curt, but there is a point there in that I guess folk do want to read about Ronnie, Higgins, and the likes most often on the blog. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Always enjoy Neal Foulds on commentary.

Now, how about Clare Balding joining Hazel as anchors for the 3 BBC tournaments?

Anonymous said...

Don't be silly 558, Clare Balding can actually do the job so the BBC is hardly going to shove her away on the midnight snooker coverage along with Hazel, Rishi and Stubbsy are they?

Anonymous said...

Clare will be tooo busy on channel 4...

@1052...i am not in the slightest bit interested in anything ROS says. id rather hear about walker or any other decent human being.

LuigiVampa said...

As a snooker fan I want to hear about Ronnie and the likes of Nick Walker - guys why can't we have both???

Keep up the good work Dave.

Anonymous said...

dont remember anyone saying dave cant comment on both.

stating preferences is what was mentioned

just like your preference is to hear about both

Anonymous said...

Dave I enjoy reading all your articles keep up the good work

Levi100 said...

I remember being a regular subscriber to Snooker Scene back in the 70s/80s, living in Ireland and always hungry for the latest news on the superb amateur competitions held all over Britain back then. I was a big fan of the brilliant Dubliner Patsy Fagan, a player I had the pleasure of watching in the early 70s handing out a 5-1 mauling to Doug Mountjoy followed by a 3-2 victory over Welsh International Des May on the Welsh boys home table in aberystwyth Nth Wales.

You mention Neil Foulds but I've often wondered about his Dad Geoff, Ron Gross, Vic Harris, Sid Hood, and hundreds more I've read about and seen play when we had the home internationals.

So much thanks to the players of that great era cos when my Snooker Scene came through the letterbox I'm sure i saw your name in there.

Levi100 said...

You mentioned Neal Foulds but I often wonder about his Dad Geoff and the great players of his time. Back in the 70s I read SS religiously every month, and it was great to read about all the super amateur competitions held around Britain at that time. I was a big fan of the fantastic Irish player Patsy Fagan who was forever at the business end of these competitions and did very well as an amateur.

So, to Snooker Scene and all the players of this great era... Much Thanks!

Anonymous said...

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