Sandi: Took the Local Honours.
Last weekend saw us return to the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds for the first time since the 2013 Grand Finals for the next two qualifying heats of this season’s Snookerbacker Classic, to find the eighth and ninth qualifiers for the Grand Finals in March.
Leeds has become a regular venue for the tournament, so much so that we now just set off on the same day the event is taking place, trusting that we won’t get too lost on the way to set up in plenty of time for the arrival of the players. Both days saw what promised to be competitive fields including a fair few players making their SB Classic debuts and three former Grand Finalists in local lads Sanderson Lam and Oliver Lines and Syd Wilson from Daaaaan Saaaaaaff.
Mrs SB had been a little busy the previous week so it was ready made muffins that were placed on the antique cake stand rather than baked goods made by her own fair hand, but we needn’t have worried as Saturday’s potters and their guests still managed to polish them off well before midday in a tournament that was to break all records when it came to finishing time, with the first ball having been struck at 9.30am and the last at a pleasantly early 5.06pm.
The first round largely went with the form book, Sanderson Lam had come from his York experience in the UK against Stephen Maguire the previous day and although a little slow into his stride picked up the pace to come through against the handy Lee Brookes while perhaps the only ‘shock’ as such was the exit of Gareth Green who had also been playing in York only hours before against Judd Trump and who went out to the dangerous Sam Thistlewhite.
The atmosphere at the venue was as relaxed as usual and Peter Lines was around as ever keeping a close eye on his son Oli’s progress, while the locals predicted a final later on pitting the two club rivals Lam and Lines together to battle it out. It was certainly beginning to look that way as Lines progressed into the semi-finals with a whitewash of Thomas Wealthy and Lam battled hard to edge out Bash Maqsood, a real competitor, who had made the trip from Derby to play for the second week running following his semi-final defeat last week to eventual winner Ant Parsons.
It was Parsons in the meantime who was on the main screen in the bar area as his UK match with Ding was being watched by the waiting players. Martin Ball shouted over to me in excited tones that Neal Foulds had been kind enough to mention the SB Classic in his BBC commentary, a really nice gesture from him which should only cost me a couple of pints and a brandy chaser next time I see him, cheap at half the price I reckon.
Ball himself was making quiet progress in the event and did not lose a frame in booking his semi-final place against Lam, completing the semi-final line up was danger man Thistlewhite, who scored an impressive 4-0 win over Classic regular and all round top geezer Syd Wilson who was to return on Sunday to have another crack at qualification.
The local anticipation that it would be a Lines/Lam final was justified as Lines completed another whitewash, this time of Thistlewhite and Sanderson came through a potentially tricky match 4-1 against North-East man Ball. The two local players had dominated the high break chart all day and the final did have something of a feeling of inevitability about it as the locals gathered around to watch, forming an impressive crowd.
What awaited them was something of a masterclass in the first three frames from Sanderson, clearly oozing confidence he raced to a three frame lead with a 100% pot success rate, only missing for the first time on a closing break of 86 in frame three, all these stats were thanks to Dom Cullen and Adam Whelan who were doing some Live Scoring as play was going on. Oli looked shell-shocked and it was clear he’d have to try his best to curtail Sandi who seemed intent on putting this match to bed quickly, having heard that me and Mrs SB wanted to leave for a curry in decent time, he’s that kind of lad and that’s possibly why Mrs SB has a soft spot for him.
The fourth frame was probably one of the best I have witnessed in an SB Classic. Sandi was clearly beginning to miss a few as the winning line approached but was doing enough and eventually left Oli needing three snookers, which he brilliantly achieved before Sandi put the frame to rest again, or so we thought as Oli came back with another three snookers. It was fantastic stuff to watch, Sandi simply trying to pot that final ball while Oli was displaying some wizardry at angles, but eventually with Oli needing just one snooker on the pink and black it was Sandi that finally potted match ball to qualify.
Sandi was a deserving winner and was his usual laid-back, grateful and modest self afterwards but I reckon inside he was secretly chuffed to bits to get one over on his mate and local rival. All friendship is left behind when at the table and Sanderson was easily the best player on the day and makes the Grand Finals for the second successive year having been beaten in the semi-finals last season. Oli was left to regroup and try his luck again on Sunday as me and Mrs SB left for our curry and a few glasses of wine. Cheers boys.
To view all the scores from Saturday’s Qualifier click here
James: Experience told.
SUNDAY – Pilot Ledz Cleared for Take-Off
Early Sunday morning was all a bit surreal. Myself and Mrs SB were awoken in our hotel which appeared to have walls made of cardboard to an argument from the next room. A disgruntled husband shouting at his wife who wouldn’t let him cuddle her in bed. We then heard a loud noise which sounded like a drill, but were to discover to our relief that this was water pressure and not the disappointed and yet to be cuddled husband taking matters into his own hands.
We then went to breakfast which was in a lovely airy room and all very pleasant with everything just as it should be. The people up with the larks were mostly of an older generation and there me and Mrs SB sat enjoying the relaxed feel while contemplating the day ahead. Then, inexplicably and quite without warning we heard the words ‘CAN’T TOUCH THIS’ booming from the speakers in the room as the staff decided that what this room needed was a large dose of MC Hammer to shake it up a bit. The old people around seemed unphased by this intrusion, perhaps handicapped by deafness as me and Mrs SB giggled our way through our eggs, beans and hash browns wondering if this was really happening. I think it did, but it was a long weekend.
An altogether more sedate atmosphere awaited us with David Soul’s ‘Silver Lady’ replacing Hammer’s silver trousers as the potters arrived for another day of battle at the Northern. Again there were a few people making their debuts and a few familiar faces. There were also a couple of no-shows including one player who I was reliably informed had been somewhat pre-occupied the night before with a couple of professional players, I’ll just leave it at that but it all sounded very very careless to me.
Hannah Jones and her mum Theresa arrived early having been at a pool tournament until 2am that morning, it’s the second time that Mrs J has arrived feeling rather delicate in as little as a week but this time I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt as her daughter confirmed the story as true.
The main match of Round 1 saw two of the big hitters in the Order of Merit List meet up with Syd Wilson beating Joe Steele 4-1. Joe had sneaked into 2nd spot on the list last week in Derby after his final appearance and now faced a wait to see if he could hang onto one of the two Grand Finalist spots that come from this list at the end of the qualifiers as the day wore on.
Oli Lines was back and completed a 4-0 win over debutant Danny Crompton while there were also wins for Martin Ball, Chris Winter, Sean Hopkin, Syd Wilson, Sandi’s replacement Troy Brett and Martin Ball, while Dom Cullen and James Leadbetter went through with byes.
One of the main talking points in the social area was Mrs SB’s carelessness at forgetting the cakes for day two having left them back at Hammer Hotel, something which we must ensure doesn’t happen again, but in general there was a real ‘Sunday feel’ around as the matches progressed again at a nice level pace.
In the quarter finals we very nearly saw a slice of SB Classic history as Syd Wilson slotted in ten reds and ten blacks in his match against Chris Winter, seemingly in prime position to make the first maximum in the tournament’s history and scoop a £1000 bonus to boot (or at least a share of it), but he slightly overran red number 11 and had to settle for 81 missing the next black to right middle, going on to beat Chris (who later was to tell me that he’d recently had coaching from Frank Callen, to which I nearly fell off my seat – snooker people may be able to guess why) 4-0.
Syd Wilson: Heads Order of Merit.
There was also a 4-0 win for James Leadbetter, who is an airline pilot for his day job and a former professional player making his debut in the Classic. Joining him were young Troy Brett from Derby who had travelled up with Hannah and her mum, who remained semi-conscious in the corner of the players area while he daughter repeatedly kicked her begging her for food and Lines, who came through a really tight match against Martin Ball, who can count himself unfortunate this weekend not to have gone closer.
Leadbetter was to get the better of Brett in their semi-final as Syd Wilson powered his way to a 4-2 victory over Lines, who again came up against a player who at times didn’t miss a ball. Syd had said to me earlier in the day that he’d not been too happy with his form of late but that didn’t show in his early matches on Sunday, he was now to face his final hurdle against James for a slot in the Grand Finals.
A tense affair, quite different to the final of 24 hours ago was to see SB Classic referee Martyn Royce officiate over a deciding frame win for Leadbetter, Syd being left to rue a few missed chances to snatch the match at the death.
The stats would show Syd in front in almost every department but in the end it was James’s experience which perhaps saw him over the line, Syd losing his second qualifying final of this season but as a consolation taking a commanding four point lead at the top of the Order of Merit, he’s also playing next weekend in Gloucester so he may be able to put further distance between himself and the chasing pack should he fail to qualify automatically there.
James in the meantime was delighted with his win, though he later confessed to not having a waistcoat to wear at Grand Finals Day so if anyone has one going spare give him a nudge. He did well after facing a lengthy wait after his first match but I’m sure being a pilot he is accustomed to waiting for take off, either way, it adds another angle to a fascinating field at Grand Finals Day as I reckon Ledz will probably be in it for the cash alternative prizes rather than the two Q-School places on offer.
To view all the scores from Sunday’s Qualifier click here
To view the updated Snookerbacker Order of Merit and view the highest break and tournament details list click here
If you want to enter this season’s SB Classic, new dates were announced on Friday here. Places are limited and there are already a number that have been taken, the first players to pay for the slots will get them. I would strongly advise you to be quick for the Liverpool and Leeds Qualifiers.