October 13, 2011

SB Classic Special: My Visit to Crossguns, Dublin.

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 1:51 pm

Good day all. I’ve had a few days away in Ireland doing various bits and pieces, one of which was to visit the venue for the second leg of the Snookerbacker Classic over in Dublin. It’s the first time I have visited The Crossguns Snooker Club in Phibsboro, but I’m delighted to say that it won’t be my last.

As I had a couple of hours to kill I started out with a breezy stroll up the Liffey before crossing at the bridge by the Law Courts and making my way up Constitution Hill into Phibsboro, which is about a mile outside Dublin city centre. On entering Phibsboro and as a self check to ensure I was going to the right place I approached a woman to ask her where the Crossguns was, unfortunately I think she might have been Romanian and I think at one point she thought I might be about to mug her, so I carried on regardless. I continued along the road and passed several people in tracksuits, which, being from Liverpool, immediately made me feel right at home.

I came to a busy street where two Irish workmen were talking about something or other and I asked could they direct me, they duly pointed straight ahead in the direction of the ‘snooker hall’ and told me to take a right as I got to the canal. I did as they said and no sooner was I faced with my first glimpse of the Crossguns, situated opposite the canal that runs deep into the heart of Dublin.

First impression? I’d use the word ‘intrigue’ as this was not what I had expected. There was no polished sign indicating that this was the beating heart of the snooker community in Dublin, there was no plaque outside paying homage to the greats that had passed through it’s doors. All I was faced with was a white, single storey building and a rather tatty looking rusty iron stand perched high above the roof in between telegraph wires with an advert for Coca Cola above the simple three words ‘Cross Guns Snooker’. Being of that sort of mind I wondered whether the distant corporate giants of the fizzy drink world paid for it many years ago, do they even know that it’s still there? Do they even care?

I spent a minute just standing there, admiring the canal opposite before locating the single black door to enter the club. I pushed the door and was immediately met with darkness. Just a faint light behind a booth and a man sitting behind it watching the TV. I approached him and explained what I was doing there ‘I’m running a tournament here in January – this one’ I pointed to the poster immediately behind my head. With this, the man immediately switched off the TV and gave me a firm handshake, introducing himself as John.

I have no idea even now whether John was expecting me, or knew who I was, but it didn’t matter as he just started chatting to me anyway, seemingly pleased to be talking snooker with someone at this point in the day. While we were chatting my eyes couldn’t help but wander around the club itself, seven tables, one match table with ‘more room and slightly bigger pockets’ according to John, at the front of the hall and six other freshly ironed tables in pristine condition down two aisles. The one at the far end was populated by three locals, none of whom, I’m sorry to say are likely to be following in the footsteps of some of the more illustrious faces that adourned the walls and had doubtless frequented, or at least visited this shrine to snooker.

John turned on the table lights and took me around showing me pictures of some of the greats, players from around the region and north of the border; Eugene Hughes, Paddy Browne, Dennis Taylor, Ken Doherty and many many other names too numerous to take in as he pointed them out in old photographs; ‘Terry Parsons great player, no longer with us’; and of course, Alex. These were faces through the decades captured in time with one thing in common, their passion for snooker. Photographs of the current owner Fin Ruane and his father who founded the club still have pride of place as do signed posters from tournaments such as the Benson and Hedges Masters. John took me to a photograph of Ray Reardon ‘my hero’ then named Crossguns team players from yesteryear as he pointed to them on old stills amongst this tapestry of snooker memories.

I pathetically tried to compete with his encyclopeadic knowledge by asking had Patsy Houlihan ever played there, to which John politely replied, in order to save my blushes and not hurt my feelings that ‘I think he might have been English’ at which point he produced a tattered copy of Snooker Scene from 1977 saying ‘he’ll be in here somewhere I think’. I have no doubt he was, the manner in which John chose that particular copy made that obvious to me. I also had a feeling that he had handed me some kind of ancient manuscript that he reserved only for those that showed the kind of love for the game that he connected with, or maybe I was imagining that bit. But as I stared at this tatty old mag, I wondered who might have also flicked through it in the 34 years since it’s publication? What was so special about this edition? This month?

As I leaned on the hatch counter, trying to take this whole episode in I also thought about how many others had leant in this same position through the years? Had Alex? I wondered. If he had I was almost certainly touching the same wood he had touched, I had opened the same door he had opened to get in, I had looked out over the same tables that he had studied. In fact at one point I almost expected him to burst through the door in a cloud of smoke, cigarette in hand in his long overcoat with the fur collar, demanding the light for free.

I tried to imagine the nights of high drama that had come and gone at the Crossguns down the years, reputations made and lost, heroes crowned and villains banished. The walls of this small, compact shrine to snooker simply seap history, the kind of history that has been lost in so many clubs around the UK that are either too quick to shelve the past or too greedy to care. John embodies the spirit of the Crossguns and obviously absolutely loves the place, I am not a religious man, but if I believed there was a heaven, this is what I would want it to look like.

There is a scene in ‘Rocky’ where, after a huge fight between Apollo Creed and the Italian Stallion, they make their way alone to a boxing ring in a disused gym to slug it out. They go back to basics without all the hullaballo and simply do what they enjoy doing without the razzmatazz. I got that same feeling when I walked into the Crossguns, a feeling of getting back to basics, of nostalgia, memories of childhood, call it what you like, but the feeling was the same one I had when I first saw a full sized snooker table in a working mens club in Liverpool. For a snooker fan, the place is simply unmissable and has a magic about it you are unlikely to find anywhere else.

As I left and said my goodbyes to John, I looked again out onto the canal. I wondered how many others had done the same, how many snapped cues had been carried out into the ocean, how many players had contemplated their futures looking into these same waters for inspiration or answers.

Had Alex? I wondered.


The Snookerbacker Classic second qualifying leg will be played at the Crossguns Snooker Club on 4th February 2012

Contact me to reserve your place.


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