Saturday in Gloucester saw the conclusion of this year’s Snookerbacker Classic and a tension filled, action packed, top class day of snooker saw Ant Parsons from Teeside emerge as the champion to scoop the winners prize, beating Mitchell Mann from the Midlands in the final.
It’s very difficult to know where to start with how it all went. Mrs SB and I put in a lot of work to make this what we modestly think is the best amateur tournament there is and I think yesterday saw that all come together in a Grand Finals Day which I believe, again with modesty, was the best one of our three years on the road. This of course could not have been achieved without the team behind the tournament, the officials, the partners, the venues and of course the players, all of whom I will thank later on.
On arrival at the SWSA Andrew Norman was again his seemingly always cheerful self and helped out with anything I requested. My quest for perfection, OCD about symmetrical tables, chairs, water bottles, ice buckets and custom made cue towels being tolerated as if it were perfectly normal behaviour. Mrs SB laid out a special home made orange cake which didn’t last very long at all, as the main players in the day began to arrive.
The opening session saw wins for Jamie Clarke, Ant Parsons, John Whitty and Adam Wicheard. Adam beating the pre-tournament massive gamble John Parkin 4-3. I’d had word the previous day that a Parkin triumph would have cost the bookies a pretty penny or two so I think they probably owe Adam a pretty large drink as a thank you. John’s opening price of 66/1 was surely a result of the bookies letting the cleaners compile the odds for a laugh, they dodged a bullet.
As those matches finished the next four first rounds got underway and three deciders were to be played out. Ben Harrison beating Zack Richardson, Syd Wilson beating Kishan Hirani and Mitchell Mann also dodging a bullet by coming back from 3-1 and 57-0 down to pip Order of Merit Winner Callum Lloyd who has clearly improved a lot by virtue of his participation in this event. On the end table there was something of a shock as Sanderson Lam of Leeds was beaten 4-0 by 50/1 outsider Anthony Jeffers from Liverpool.
Behind the scenes there was a real team effort going on. The live-scoring system again attracted huge interest globally and was complimented on from far and wide on social media. Andy Guest of My Snooker Stats and his team of Stevie, Dom and Adam did a sterling job all day of keeping a truly international audience informed as things happened, it’s a fabulous system which he should be rightly very proud of and it’s an honour for me to have it for the Grand Finals. He tells me he’s very big in Finland.
As the Quarter Finals were being played, none other than Jason Ferguson, the Chairman of the WPBSA turned up for a nose. We had a very constructive chat about how I might eventually get that main tour card I am after and we’re talking again at the Crucible as he’s putting certain people in touch with me and fiddling with knobs etc. It’s potentially very exciting and hopefully we can work something out for next season which takes the Classic further afield and firmly under World Snooker’s radar.
The Quarters themselves saw wins for Ben Harrison, who had by now lost his coat, over Syd Wilson, who hadn’t lost his coat. Mitchell Mann was really starting to motor and he closed out his 4-1 win over Anthony Jeffers with a 104 clearance in some style, Ant Parsons came through against John Whitty meaning an end to the Scouse challenge for the year and Jamie Clarke beat pre-tournament favourite Wicheard 4-1 to progress to a match with Parsons.
What followed in the semi-finals were two matches that were totally different in character but weirdly both finished at exactly the same time. Mitchell Mann’s form was getting even better and a 92% pot success rate including breaks of 93 and 101 told the story of a superb display against the coatless Harrison. Mitch’s dad Jeff proudly watching in the wings, visibly shaking at the end of the match, knowing that his son was looking likely to end the day as champion if this type of form continued and phoning all his contacts to keep them informed, but the real drama of the day was taking place in the other semi-final between Clarke and Parsons.
On reaching the decider Jamie was left with a match ball green to reach the final, which he duly potted and somehow managed to find the middle pocket with the white, a shot that really didn’t look on. He looked on in stunned disbelief as Ant raced through the final five colours to pip him on the black. Ant offered his hand in commiseration and everyone in the room was left really feeling for Jamie, who is a fantastic player and a very likeable lad with a great future ahead of him. He’ll bounce back I’m sure but for now, it wasn’t to be for him and he was clearly dejected at the end of the match. Ant, by his own admission, had got out of jail, his own bullet dodged. Snooker can be a very cruel game.
As the players prepared for the Final, much discussion centred around the trophy that was up for grabs. Ryan Causton had amusingly said earlier in the day that it reminded him of Chewbacca from Star Wars, while others compared it quite fairly to a stool or a coffee table, others stood for a while transfixed only to say ‘well, it’s different’. The general concensus however was that it was a real gem and I know Syd Wilson and Mitchell in particular took a real shine to it. For reference, it’s a hand-carved piece of Ash wood from a local tree artist called Roy (not Roy Wood as that would be too weird), it took him 5 months to make and to be honest we didn’t really want to give it away, but alas we knew the time would come to part.
Most observers I spoke to had Mitchell as favourite for the final and he started well with break of 62 to bag the first frame. His coach Neil Johnson from Liverpool, an old friend of mine, was ‘in bits’ watching the live scoring and texting me to find out how I thought it would go. I could offer little insight as I had no idea really.
For whatever reason from frame 2 onwards Mitchell’s form began to evade him and Ant started to take command of the match. Mitchell later told me that he’d let the match with Stephen Hendry at the Crucible (part of the winners prize) creep into his mind and that this might have affected his game. Ant however as the match went on was clearly the more focused of the two and in the end the 4-1 scoreline was about right. He even told me at the end that he’d forgotten about ‘The Hendry Part’ of the prize and when he was reminded he hastily started making plans.
A delighted champion said afterwards ‘I am on cloud nine, I’ve been entering this since it started and it truly is the best amateur tournament in the world as far as I am concerned, we are treated like royalty at Grand Finals Day and that is a testament to how well it is run, I am so proud to be the champion this year and even more delighted that my wife Sarah was here to watch me win. It’s a great memory for us both. I have a tournament tomorrow but I’m sure I’ll find time to celebrate and I can’t wait to hook up again with Mr and Mrs SB at the Crucible to really celebrate my win in style, what a day it’s been!’
Mitchell was reflective in defeat and said ‘Ant played the better of us in the final and he deserved to win. I need to work on my stamina as I started badly today but played myself into the tournament with my first win, I felt great in the semi-final but I think it was one match too many for me today. What I will say is that this is a brilliant event and I want to thank Mr and Mrs SB who are doing such a great job for us amateurs, if I can I’ll definitely be back next year to try and go one better’.
Personally, I am absolutely delighted for Ant. He will remember, probably better than me, three years ago when I turned up to Gloucester for the first time as a very nervous rookie tournament director and he was the first player that myself and Mrs SB really got to know with his wife Sarah. For him to win in what I modestly think has been the best year of the tournament so far is fitting and I couldn’t be happier with our champion or the destination for the trophy. As long as their kid doesn’t cover it in jam or paint of course.
As for Mitchell, all I can say is, what a player he is. His percentages were streets ahead of the rest of the field for most of the day but he just tailed off a bit at the end. He is 22, has a great team behind him now and has the snooker world at his feet. I’d say with the way he is going now we’ll be seeing him in the professional ranks sooner rather than later, he has all the attributes it takes to succeed and he knows the areas he needs to work on, if he does that, success is guaranteed. He’s also a lovely lad and his dad Jeff is rightly very proud of him. Onwards and upwards.
A word on the semi-finalists again from a personal point of view. I felt really sorry for Jamie Clarke and have even took time out of my busy schedule to text him today to check he’s OK such was the manner of his defeat, (I’m good like that. Actually I text him because he was on BBC Wales and Mrs SB said he looked handsome and I disagreed, so it was just to settle an argument really). Jamie is a fantastic player and was one shot away from the Final, friends of mine away from the blog who I have met on our travels will know how much I rate him and he still, like Mitchell, and unlike me, has time on his side.
As for Ben Harrison, he wasn’t at his best yesterday by his own admission but still nabbed a Q-School place along with Jamie regardless and can be proud of that. He’s another regular in the tournament and a firm favourite of ours, he was also delighted earlier when I text him to tell him I located his coat. It’s now residing in SB Mansions with a rather hefty ransom tag attached.
Now for the thank you’s in the Oscars style. If I miss anyone I am truly sorry but I will try not to. As I said above this was a truly team effort and I would firstly like to thank the venues and the staff who helped us make this tournament what it is becoming; the superb SWSA and in particular Andrew Norman and Clare Mount, Scotties in Liverpool (Col), Cue Ball in Derby (Danny and Paul) and the Northern in Leeds.
I’d next like to thank all the referees for their tireless work. I can’t name them all but on Grand Finals Day the fivesome of Clive ‘The Planner’ Brown who reluctantly admitted under interrogation and a glass of red wine that I had a great personality, Welshie Alan Collis who turned up unexpectedly but was most welcome and a top drawer supersub, Rob Spencer (who has been out with the blonde one out of the Human League so I hate him), the legend that is Nick ‘Superref’ Harry (’nuff said), and of course the irrepressible and unstoppable Martyn ‘Rolls’ Royce, who has been a constant all singing, all dancing, all head-torch wearing companion throughout the event.
Next the SB Classic family of sponsors, John Parrott Cuesports, SightRight, Snooker Legends, Lake Creative Design and My Snooker Stats and to the lovely Vicki Evans who made the cue towels for the players at Grand Finals Day.
Next, anyone who has taken an interest in the event, whether it be by tweeting me about it, having a bet on it or even turning up to watch or help out, it’s always greatly appreciated. The only exception I will make to this is Craig Scotford aka The Wizard of Glos, who I am still seeking a restraining order from as I type.
Finally, the players. A lot is written about ‘moaning snooker players’ but I can truly say that I’ve not seen any evidence of this in my own tournaments, quite the opposite in fact and I hope this is because we like to treat them well while expecting them to pay £50 to enter each one, some could maybe learn a lesson. Regardless of this, we’ve made some great friends this last three years and every year adds to the list. Special mention has to go to the Jones family, 4th placed in the #TWAT snooker contest Baldy Mark, mum of the year Theresa and daughters Hannah (yes, the snooker one) and their youngest Ellie (who’s artwork is rather ermm, interesting) who we’ve grown a lot closer to this year. I really hope next year is the year that Hannah starts fulfilling her potential in both the ladies game and the amateur tour and Ellie starts to stop drawing pictures of people with arms growing out of their mouths.
So that’s it. We have a champion and our house is now minus a huge heavy log. Congratulations to Ant, who also wins £300 for the highest break of the tournament, a 122. Enjoy it mate.
All the results from the Grand Finals including player stats are here.
If any media or bloggers or dare I say potential sponsors would like to chat with Ant or Mitchell about their Snookerbacker Classic experience then please get in touch with me and I will set something up.
Let’s do it all again next year. I’ll leave you with this……..see you all next season.