Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Talking Snooker with... Snookerbacker

The start of the new season has flown by and it's time for another edition of Talking Snooker.

To kick off the campaign, OnCue has secured a chat with one of the big ones. Welcome popular blogger and Twitter funnyman Snookerbacker to the debate.

It's time to talk. Why have the events so far been dominated by players from the chasing pack? Will the highest ranked players turn up to the party soon? Have we seen the end of Ronnie? And, who are the players to watch for the rest of the season?

OnCue: Thanks for joining me. It looks like you've been keeping busy judging from your Twitter timeline. It's always great to hear your comments, but hopefully we'll delve a bit deeper than 140 characters today. It's been a great season so far; if not least for its surprises. How are things your end?

Snookerbacker: Yeah, I'm good. I've been watching lots of the snooker and organising the second Snookerbacker Classic. I'm glad all the places are filled. It's taken a weight off of mind.

OnCue: You must have been pretty confident after last season's success...

Snookerbacker: I was, yeah.  It's good to see the places being taken quickly. It shows the event is gathering pace and should encourage people to act even faster next year. 

OnCue: Has it surprised you how quickly the event has grown? It's got such great momentum in such a short period of time.

Snookerbacker: I'm delighted with how it's gone. Organising anything like this is a risk. Last year I just about broke even. You don't want to end up out of pocket, especially when you're doing it for the right reasons. I'm made up with the success it's had so far. I've called in a lot of favours to make it happen. I'm excited with how much effort amateurs in the UK are putting in to making it. The amateur game is thriving. It's a lot of fun as well. I enjoy doing it.

OnCue: I think it's a great event to freshen up the amateur scene at a time when the rest of the game is doing exactly the same. The amateur needs plenty of care and attention. When you look at the strides being made to improve the sport at a professional level, it's important we don't lose any competitive edge in the amateur ranks.

Snookerbacker: Exactly. It feels like with the blog I can give the players a bit of exposure from playing in the Snookerbacker Classic as well. That should hit home. You look at the publicity Martin O'Donnell got when he won it and some of the others who competed in it. That is part of the deal as well. It's not just about winning the trophy and getting your entrance to QSchool paid.

OnCue: The tournament clearly sets them in good stead for the QSchool battle and the media attention that might come with a climb up the professional ranks later down the line.

Snookerbacker: I'd like to think so. Martin told me after he won the Classic that it gave him the confidence to go on and turn professional. There were people rooting for him. He had a following on Twitter and hopefully I played a part in that. He's a cracking player so it will be good to see how far he goes now.

All the amateurs that played last year are a good bunch of lads. The amateur circuit has a nice feel about it. They're not back-stabbing each other. They just treat playing snooker like a job. I'm only running one tournament but I think there should be more like this out there.

OnCue: From an outsider looking in, I think the event is a great innovation and I'll definitely be coming to the event hosted in London. I can't go to all the events but I'll be there, for sure. 

Snookerbacker: You'd be very welcome. It's not just about the players. Lots of people came along to watch last season. I hope it's the same again. It's a good way to bring the snooker community together. I'm glad people think of it like that, as well.

OnCue: There's a lot going on in the professional ranks with the new season already, of course. But I'd like to just rewind quickly to the World Championship. It was great to meet you there in the media area for a few days. How did you find the tournament? I thought it was a cracker. There were so many great stories breaking throughout the 17 days. It was non-stop. 

Snookerbacker: Yeah, it was the second year running I've been in with the press. It was good fun, but I thought the weather made a big difference this time. The year before was fantastic. It was really sunny for the whole two weeks and that probably improved the whole atmosphere around the place. Everyone was outside. It felt like an Olympic village. It was still brilliant this year but the rain meant it was a little more subdued.

It's great to get behind the media doors. World Snooker has been fantastic to me. It's great that they welcome our blogs onto the scene. It's not just all about the newspapers. They seem quite proactive towards us and help us support the press of the game.

OnCue: I couldn't agree more. They've been first class with me. They could easily close the door a little on the blogs. They aren't obliged to give us accreditation, but they've opened things up just like with the whole sport. The fact that they see the value of the blogs to the overall media coverage of the game shows a bit of vision.

Snookerbacker: I have a habit of writing comments that can be a little near the knuckle and they could easily take umbrage at some of these things, but they see that it's part of the promotion of the game.

OnCue: I just think the more people are talking about the game, the better. Snooker is spreading and it's great they support that. You only have to go online for an hour and there's so much snooker to read about. It would have been unheard just a few years back. It shows great progress.

Snookerbacker: It just all seems to have happened at once. The launch of my blog was completely random when I had nothing to do for a few days. I thought I'd write a snooker blog. I didn't do much research but figured the betting angle was a good one because I used to spout off on the Betfair forum a lot. There are quite a few blogs out there but they all add something a bit different. I think a lot more of the players should tap into the online presence of the game at the moment. A lot of young players are gaining great exposure from being part of the online circle and it might give some of the older professionals a lift as well.

OnCue: I thought the blog scene really came alive during the World Championship and that mix of different angles of the blogs was so obvious. It was an excellent tournament but it did have that sense of inevitability after a while that it was Ronnie O'Sullivan's name written all over the title. He played really well.

Snookerbacker: It was quite predictable. The minute he beat Neil Robertson, I knew he'd win it. He was absolutely fantastic. It's just a shame what has happened since with him failing to sign the players' contract. 

OnCue: As usual with Ronnie, there's been a lot said and written about the issue. I think people are placing a bit too much emphasis on it. I think he'll sign the contact in good time and return for the UK Championship and start playing again.

Snookerbacker: I'm not so sure, but I think he'll definitely play at the Crucible. I'm not sure if some of it is just hot air and he's just trying to get what he wants and eventually World Snooker will give in. It's difficult to tell. I hope he's back for the UK Championship and The Masters because the tournaments are better when he's in them, but you can't hold a sport to ransom the way he seems to be doing at the moment.

OnCue: I don't want to sound too naive but he always said he was going to take a break but I think he didn't sign the contract because of that and then thought he'd push World Snooker a little to see what he could get away with. That may be way off the mark, but it makes sense in my mind. 

Snookerbacker: There's probably a lot of truth in that. He always said he wasn't going to play for a while after the World Championship. He's not doing anything that he didn't tell us, apart from sign the contract. I just wonder whether that's just him, or actually his advisors. We'll probably never find out. The important thing is when he starts playing again.

OnCue: Let's move on to the players who are playing this season, and some of them really well. None of the very top, top players according to the world rankings have been winning the events or in the finals so far. It's been quite nice to see some new names in the mix.

Snookerbacker: Ding Junui, Shaun Murphy and Robertson all look pretty rusty. 

OnCue: What do you put that down to? Is the season still boiling up? Or, is the gap between the top players and the rest reducing?

Snookerbacker: I think the players who put the work in are getting rewards at the moment. I heard Ricky Walden has been putting lots of practice in over the summer. He won the Wuxi Classic. Stuart Bingham has been playing plenty of snooker with Allan Taylor. He's won two smaller events and got to the Wuxi final. It looks like Dark Mavis has had his head down. The grafters seem to be getting the results. They're just getting on with it. Some players who don't seem altogether happy with what's going on in the sport are struggling a little. They've all got the talent. They can all beat each so it's like any job where you get rewarded for hard work. You can't just have a couple of months off and expect to come back playing just as well. It's not like riding a bike and jumping straight back on. 

OnCue: Bingham didn't have the best second half of the season last time and went out to Stephen Hendry in the first round at the Crucible. That's probably made him a little bit more determined to start well.

Snookerbacker: After he won in Australia last year, he didn't do much at all. I wonder if any of the form players this season so far will suffer in the same way. I'd be surprised if these players are still winning events towards the end of the season, but you just don't know. The more established players tend to up their game towards the business end. We'll have to wait to see.

OnCue: I believe the extra tournaments is helping a lot of the more experienced professionals because they're playing more matches and keeping sharp at a time in their career when they may be growing a bit tired of the solo practice regimes. That's just a guess, but it seems sensible.

Snookerbacker: I don't know the ins and outs of each player's regimes but maybe. I think Mavis is just naturally a hardworking player though.

OnCue: Each player is different but I remember quite vividly Stephen Lee saying something similar to that in an interview with me. It's an interesting theory.

Snookerbacker: Snooker is more of a job for the players these days. A lot of them have got families and have to provide them, so they're going out and winning matches. The work ethic of players, in general, has improved. Players who see these extra events as a chance to win more money rather than a hindrance, are thriving. Those who are a little more financially secure perhaps don't see it the same way.

OnCue: I was very, very impressed with Barry Hawkins in Australia. He played particularly well in the final to beat Peter Ebdon. He could be a star of the season, easily. 

Snookerbacker: Yeah, he played well and it came out of the blue. I watched him play Mark Selby in Wuxi and he was awful. I'm not sure where his form came from, but he's a good player.

OnCue: Hawkins' tactics were most impressive to me. He didn't allow Ebdon to get on top. He played great attacking snooker. It went down well with the watching public.

Snookerbacker: I was surprised to see the head-to-head record between the two players before the match. Hawkins led 8-2. That's typical Ebdon. He does have some very poor head-to-heads against certain players. Hawkins has always had it in him but it's great to see him deliver a top title.

OnCue: As the season develops, who do you think will come to the show?

Snookerbacker: I think the only player in the game apart from Ronnie capable of putting a sustained run of wins together is Robertson. I think the jury is still out on Judd Trump. He's got remarkable talent but.... 

OnCue: Robertson is the best all-rounder. He's one hell of a package, I agree. I think Judd will win one event, for sure. It's a different challenge to win more though.

Snookerbacker: He had that great run where he won the China Open, reached the final of the World Championship and won the UK Championship, but that's not a career. I've been really impressed with him in the press room. This image thing is just crazy because he's a professional lad. Maybe he's waiting for the big events to give his main focus. That might be the way to do it now, until you need to worry about your ranking.

OnCue: What about Selby? He divides my opinion massively. He's clearly very capable but will he start winning more events? 

Snookerbacker: Injury has put him back but he's amazing when he gets going. He should win something.  I'd back him to win something before quite a few of them. I'm not sure how Mark Williams is feeling. He might be in the twilight years of his career. But we should also consider John Higgins. He's very quiet but we all know what he's like when he gets going. He was so poor last season. I can't see that happening again. 

OnCue: He's said he's really going to hit the practice table this season. If he finds his momentum, he's a competitive animal. He's still a massive force in the game and could easily come back with a blaze of glory.

Snookerbacker: I noticed he's 14/1 to win the World Championship at the moment. If you'd seen that price 12 months ago your eyes would have popped out of your head. You don't just become a bad player overnight. He can afford to pick and choose and could do really well in the events he does play in. He's the player I will be watching most closely.

OnCue: I'm looking forward to seeing Mark Allen back in action after the setbacks he's had. He is a seriously talented little player. I still think he could have a massive future and win lots of titles.

Snookerbacker: He's great. I'm firmly of the opinion that unless he does something completely out of order, the sport needs him. We need a bit of a villain. We need someone who is ready to say things and he's perfect for that role. I think he knows what he's doing. You want someone to give it a bit and not just go through the motions.

OnCue: He seems to thrive under that controversy. He reached the final of the UK Championship after criticising Barry Hearn and won the World Open after tweeting about how much he hated China. He gets that bunker mentality and produces his best snooker. As long as he doesn't get himself in too much trouble, I think it's fine to say a few things to pump himself up.

Snookerbacker: He enjoys a bit of a ding dong. He's a fabulous player. I hope he can kick on this year.

OnCue: Looking a bit further down the rankings, there was a debate online about who is second in the Chinese camp behind Ding at the moment. That role seems to be up for grabs. Who do you think could assume that position this season? 

Snookerbacker: I like Cao Yupeng. I watched him a lot last year. I didn't think he was that good the first time I saw him play Dennis Taylor at the Wuxi Classic before it was a ranking event, but his results from the second he turned professional show he's really been improving. A lot of the Chinese players have a good first season and fall away, but he might be made of sterner stuff. He's carried on this season. 

OnCue: I'm a fan of Xiao Guodong. His scoring is sensational when he gets going. He was excellent at the PTC Grand Finals, despite his injury.

Snookerbacker: Yeah a lot of players say he's the second best around. I've always liked Tian Pengfei but he's getting very unreliable.

OnCue: He can be explosive when he plays well, but he's not very consistent. I think Wenbo is the biggest offender of inconsistency though. He looked nailed on to follow on from Ding, but it hasn't happened for him.

Snookerbacker: Apart from Ding who can't seem to win in China at the moment, they tend to play better in their home events. Maybe they find it tough playing so much away from home. They've been saying for years that the Chinese players will dominate, but I'm still waiting. The whole top 16 being from China doesn't look like happening. They've been saying that for a while.

OnCue: People get excited but there's some good players from the UK coming through as well. 

Snookerbacker: There are some damn good players here. I think the game is growing more in the UK than anywhere else in the world right now.

OnCue: That development probably gets taken a little bit for granted. Anyway, thanks for joining me. Enjoy the PTC1. Who is your tip? 

Snookerbacker: I'll say Martin O'Donnell. I'd like to see him really make his mark.

OnCue: I think Robert Milkins at his base in Gloucester. That would be a great story.


  1. Surely not SB himself18 July 2012 at 10:54

    Thanks a lot. That was a great read. More SB whenever possible please!