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.