October 14, 2012

Snookerbacker Classic Gloucester Review

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:16 pm

Andrew Norman: Well Chuffed

We’ve just arrived back from a cracking weekend’s snooker at the South West Snooker Academy and we now know over half of the field for Finals Day in this year’s Snookerbacker Classic. Jamie Clarke and Andrew Norman joined Friday’s qualifiers Adam Wicheard and Kyren Wilson and Leeds Qualifier Oliver Lines in what already looks to be a mouth-watering line up in February for the big prizes in Leeds.

One thing I did notice across the board this time around is how high the bar has been rising in the amateur game in 12 short months. Many of the matches contested would not have looked out of place in the professional qualifiers, with two in particular that I saw at first hand worthy of the latter stages of a major event, those being the finals contested between Kyren Wilson and Ben Harrison on day one and Andrew Norman and Allan Taylor last night, both great adverts for the amateur game in the UK.

The weekend was also enjoyable from a social aspect and again we were complimented on this side of things by players, referees and the staff at the Academy which I think is what is making the event become attractive to those who want the game to move forward in the UK as much as it seems to be doing overseas. If we can do our bit to make that happen it will have been worth it.

But at the end of the day, the event is about the players and day one started in great fashion with a high quality encounter between Ben Harrison and Reanne Evans on the live stream, Ben winning 4-2 with two centuries (103 and 109), the first centuries of the event this season with Kyren Wilson also knocking one in early doors to dust off the Friday cobwebs; a 102 on his way to a win over Kishan Hirani.

But more was to come on the centuries front as 17 year old Welshman Jamie Clarke took to the stage in the next streamed match to piece together a fine 141 total clearance which will take some beating in the race for the £300 highest break prize, it was already clear that this was going to be a very tough school for those hoping to qualify.

At the other end of the spectrum, Tom Doggett, a giant from Cornwall, was bashing them around on the arena table on his way to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of a bemused Paul Norris, who must surely have expected a tougher opener and over in the match room Craig Scotford, a Wizard from Gloucester was also displaying his very own brand of careless snooker on his way to a 4-1 defeat by Jay Bullen and then on his way to the bar, where he stayed for almost the rest of the entire day with fellow drop-out Doggett.

Once these two chancers had been dispensed with it was back to the serious business, Ben Harrison defeating Andrew Norman to reach the first final against Kyren who whitewashed Andy Neck to take his place and former tour-pro Adam Wicheard defeating Allan Taylor to take his place against Zak Surety, a semi-finalist in the Classic last year who had been racing through at a pace all day and put paid to John Whitty’s chances, John retiring back to his campervan in the nearby campsite for the evening.

Kyren Wilson with his Artwork

The final between Harrison and Wilson saw Kyren take a 2-0 lead and in frame 3 on a decent maximum chance he took a risk on 48 only to see Ben clear with 81 to snatch the frame, Harrison then produced another 60 plus clearance in the next to level it before Kyren regained his form to win a close fought encounter 4-2 and take his place in Finals Day. Former pro and ‘man of many faces’ Adam Wicheard’s final against Zak was a little more scrappy with neither player hitting top form, but it was Adam that prevailed 4-2, with Zak telling me afterwards that he wasn’t sure how all of a sudden his form had gone away after the way he’d been playing all day.

Back at the tournament desk, all of Mrs SB’s now legendary cakes had been consumed by players, guests and visitors, including a top 32 player, both Doggett and Scotford had been on the cider all day and I appeared to have unwittingly recruited Ian White, the blog hardman, as the official tournament nuisance, there he sat, endlessly jabbering on over my right shoulder about this that and the other whilst drawing childish doodles all over my match planner while I was trying to concentrate. The Gaffer Paul Mount also decided to come over for a chat and join in the general careless banter with a seafarers tale. All I will say is that if you see him heading towards you in his boat, you’d better have all your wits about you as he seems to sometimes miss obstacles such as the small matter of lowered bridges that are directly in front of him. There is only one word for that.

Scotford by now was verging on a drooling mess and Doggett, who had come dressed as a children’s TV presenter was little better, though on account of the fact he is about 15 feet tall he seems to handle his intake a little better than his careless drinking partner who later in the evening took it upon himself to shout about lesbians at a table full of, you guessed it, lesbians, in the nearby hostelry. Myself and Mrs SB by this time deciding it was time for bed………..

……….the next morning we awoke immediately feeling the benefits of not having become involved in the previous night’s idiotic behaviour and made our way to the venue bright and early for Day 2. As with the previous day Andrew Norman greeted us in his naturally hospitable and friendly manner and the relaxed feel to the event continued as Ben Fortey hoovered around our feet making the place look tip-top for the early session. Mrs SB was also delighted to be able to watch her favourite cookery programmes on the TV with Allan Taylor who had received an unexpected bye (big tip: tell me next time….), while the first round matches were taking place.

Jamie Clarke with his Artwork

Zak Surety continued his strong form to knock out Sydney Wilson who the previous day had been very careless with his car keys much to the annoyance of Mrs SB (not at Syd who she helped try to find them), while Scouser Brian Robertson who I met for the first time despite living close-by beat his fellow Liverpudlian John Whitty to set up a date with The Assassin in what the four of us agreed could now be justifiably termed ‘The Quarter of Scouse’, Allan was to emerge triumphant from this mini-territorial battle and claim the shellsuit.

Ben Harrison again started the day with a century, his third of the weekend in defeating Ryan Causton 4-0 in what I thought would be a very close encounter. Tom Doggett meanwhile was threatening to win a match against Hannah Jones to collective gasps in the players area from his opponent of the previous day Paul Norris and his wife who struggled to comprehend how this hapless tree could possibly beat anyone, but thankfully 15 year old Hannah dusted herself down and put everyone out of their misery by coming back and sending Doggett back to the tournament desk to bore me and Mrs SB with his tales of country life and making 2 mile long pasta from scratch all day.

Meanwhile, the day was progressing at a pace and the cakes and the delicious Chocotoffs brought by Monique Limbos from Belgium were being devoured by the sweet-toothed potters, once we had got to the final stages we had said goodbye to a few players that were in decent form including Ben Harrison, Zak Surety and Reanne Evans, who I can say having met for the first time is totally lovely and I reckon a little happier than some of the other unsuccessful players given that her and Hannah received a further gift from sponsors Amarya, for being girls.

A surprise package was emerging in the shape of Chris Keogan from Sheffield, a great lad who is combining snooker with a teaching degree, apparently he has had coaching from Terry Griffiths and it shows in the way he plays the game, very measured and controlled and a real tough match player, he won through to face Jamie Clarke in the first final whilst Allan Taylor and Andrew Norman had emerged largely untroubled from the bottom half of the draw, Andrew beating Welshman Gavin Lewis who had not been at all well all weekend in his semi-final.

The match between Allan and Andrew was in my view the best match of this year’s tournament so far and up there with the quarter final last year between John Sutton and David Gray. Allan at 3-2 up looked to have the momentum but Andrew battled back to force a decider and at 62-0 missed a black to leave the Assassin needing snookers. Allan then made what could only be described as an almost miraculous break to clear to the black, only to see this rattle in the jaws. He did get a further half chance to complete the comeback but in the end it was Andrew that prevailed in a frame that took the breath away for those watching live. Allan as ever took the loss on the chin while Andrew celebrated winning the artwork, which he said he’d had his eye on since he’d first seen it the previous morning.

Adam Wicheard with his Artwork and Ref Martyn Royce

In the other final, Jamie Clarke was highly impressive in establishing a seemingly unassailable 3-0 lead over Chris Keogan. But battler Chris was not done with and came right back to level at 3-3 before Jamie managed to snatch an edgy decider which could have gone either way. I was very impressed with Jamie having not really seen him play before and I think he may be a player with a very big future ahead of him, he’s a bit like Matthew Stevens in his way around the table and a very fluent player, he’s also a very nice lad as is Chris who claimed to have never before won a match at the Academy, so hopefully his run yesterday will see him also kick on.

So that was it, the event was over and again Gloucester provided the perfect platform for the UK’s top amateur players to do battle. The Finals Day is really shaping up already into the amateur event of the season with the final eight doing battle for £4000 worth of prizes including the all important two Q-School entries. I really hope that some of you will come along to Leeds next February to see for yourselves what fine shape the UK and Irish amateur game is in, I have again found everyone I have encountered to be decent, hard-working, dedicated players who are grateful for the chance to compete in top venues for big prizes.

On a personal level, there are too many people to thank but special ones go out to all the staff at the fantastic SWSA for their hospitality although Sam Baird still owes Mrs SB a gin and tonic on account of the prank he played on Syd; to referees Clive Brown, Alan Collis and Martyn Royce for their tireless work all weekend; to the lovely Valerie and slightly less lovely but still lovely Matt who came all the way from Canada via an overly-officious customs (cuthhtomms?) process in London but who still found time to buy us presents (always welcome); to sponsors Amarya, John Parrott Cuesports and Lake Creative for their continued support; to Monique for the Chocotoffs and the excellent photos and to the incredibly talented Zara Daniella who provided the winner’s artwork, which was unanimously heralded by all the recipients as far superior to any medal or trophy they could receive and as if to rubber-stamp just how good they actually are when you see them were described by Scotford as ‘done by someone with too much time on their hands’. Brilliant.

The next stop for the Classic is London next month. In the meantime, check out Monique’s photos from Gloucester here and here. You can also view all Friday’s results here and Saturday’s here.

For those in the know, I reckon the guy on the right below is a shoo-in for Antwerp, he loved the cake…..

Mill Hopkins and Mill Junior, pictured just before he snatched the cake back.

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