Powerhouse 2002




Qualifying competitions, is there more here than meets the eye?

On a visit to the qualifying competition for the Powerhouse United Kingdom Professional Snooker championships 2002 in York I was struck by the situation that the top and former top players find themselves competing in.

Before I expand further on my feelings on this matter, I wish to make it clear that the venue and the staff that administered events from the paying public point of view were faultless. The point that I wish to make surrounds the fact that on the day that I visited there were four tables situated in a vast arena with a cubicle around each one.

On the surface the players seemed unaffected by these surroundings and yet I was struck by the fact that I was watching a former Grand Prix champion, a former World Matchplay champion and a Benson and Hedges Masters runner up, all playing at the same time.

For a player who has performed at the highest level with up to a thousand spectators sitting on the edge of their seat, it must seem something of an anti-climax to play in front of a handful of people in an atmosphere reduced hangar.

Motivation in sport can result in some spectacular performances; I have seen player raise their game due to, amongst other things, the support that a crowd is giving them. Think of Alex Higgins against Steve Davis in 1983, Alex was 0 – 7 down in that match and yet eventually prevailed 16 – 15.

Solo practise can reveal technical factors and offers an opportunity to work on them while match play reveals so much more about a players total capability. I remember Steve Davis once losing to Ray Reardon 5 – 0 in the qualifying competition for the British Open in about 1990. Would Ray have been able to roll back the years in such a spectacular way if Steve and he had been playing in front of a packed house with the extra adrenaline rush that those conditions will almost inevitably produce?

Having said all this, shock results are good publicity for Snooker as long as there are not too many of them. I am not sure how many people would tune in to a ranking final between two largely unknown players. Spare a thought for those players who once played in front of capacity crowds, who now play in front of a few die hard supporters in a muted yet strangely intense atmosphere throughout the season.

These players find themselves battling for ranking points, almost in a secret and cathedral like atmosphere and then win or lose, slip away to either celebrate with a couple of friends or return to the practise table to sternly prepare for their next opportunity to progress onto the well lit stages of the televised tournaments, where thunderous applause often greets their efforts and a substantially larger cheque is presented at the end of it all.

The so-called journeyman professional, often, or so it seems to me at least. has to apply himself with even more dedication and perseverance than his more colourful counterpart at the top end of the ranking list.  Good luck to all those players who find they are fighting to join the top sixteen or facing the struggle to remain in the top thirty-two. Without this supporting cast the top players would be denied the backdrop that allows them to become national heroes or pin ups for the new generation of Snooker supporters.

You can almost hear them now, quietly practising to make them capable of grasping that most elusive of opportunities, attempting to make it really count. Who knows, perhaps capture a ranking event title for the first time or beat one of the players they once idolised as a younger player.

There are many intriguing stories played out in pre-qualifying that never make it into the newspapers or onto your television screen. I heartily recommend that should you get the opportunity, you should go to see live Snooker played, who knows, you may see just such a story played out in front of you. I feel sure that the players would be glad of the support.

David Smith