Saturday, 18 August 2012

Alfie Burden EXCLUSIVE interview: "I will never know if I could have come back to play football at the highest level."

Alfie Burden emerged as the surprise package of the recent UKPTC2 with a run to the semi-finals.

Picture by Monique Limbos
After struggling early on in the season, he's looking to kick on in now his third season back on the professional circuit.

This is his second spell on tour after becoming the IBSF champion in the 2009/10 season. Alfie first turned professional in 1994 after after a blistering start that saw his attacking style compared him to that of Jimmy White, he's first to admit that he hasn't yet fulfilled his maximum potential.

He spoke exclusively to OnCue this month about his past, the present and the future...

I'm talking to you at the perfect time. You enjoyed a run to the semi-finals of the UKPTC2. That came out of the blue. How pleased were you with that run in Gloucester?

I always knew I had the game to produce a run like that. When I apply myself, I believe I'm capable of beating anyone. I never worry about who I'm playing. Sometimes it all falls into place and I can play that well. It doesn't surprise me, but maybe it does surprise others.

I lost to Martin Gould in the semi-final and felt like a bit of luck at 2-1 made the difference, before he went on to win 4-1. At that stage I felt like I could win the whole event but I'm not going to grumble. That's a run I feel like I can build on and I've got a bit of confidence back. I beat some very good players that weekend including Andrew Higginson, James Wattana, Barry Hawkins, Robert Milkins and Ryan Day.

What do you think made the difference?

I turned up and felt good. I made a break of 127 in my first frame of my first match against Andrew Higginson and really opened up and started to play well. I would have loved to have got to the final. I felt I was playing well enough.

I've recently deactivated my Twitter account and I think that might have made a difference. There's a load of rubbish on there and I chat a lot of rubbish on there too. I felt I was messing about too much. It was just another distraction when I should be on the practice table. I wasn't sure if it would change anything, but it did. I'm not saying it was the sole reason for the run but it probably played a part. I might go back on it, but I fancied a break from it all.

During your run it was announced that we won't be staying in Gloucester for very long now. What do you make of it as a venue?

I think it's superb. It's probably the best snooker facility we've ever had. The playing facilities are perfect but I think the tables play well in Sheffield as well. Gloucester is just a lot better for people who want to go to watch.

I don't worry too much about where I play. I just focus on getting my preparation right and turning up to play well.

How did you assess the start to your season before your run in Gloucester?

It wasn't great to be honest because I didn't have the best preparation leading into the season. I picked up viral meningitis. I was very ill for about a month and only had three or four days practice before the start. I literally couldn't move. It was pretty bad and knocked my summer preparations back. I was planning on having a good spell on the table but I couldn't. I didn't feel great in the first few tournament and that was reflected in my results.

Are you back to a full bill of health now?

I'm all right now. I'm practising hard and after not playing well in the first few events I've had a good run and am confident I can get some good results now. I managed to pick up some crucial wins when I wasn't playing well, but that was a bonus. They gave me some vital ranking points. Now I want to play like I know I can.

Talking about ranking points. You're fighting on two fronts this season. You're looking up towards the top 48 but also need to keep an eye on the top 64 bracket just below you. How do you feel about that?

I should be higher up the rankings than I am. I should be doing better. I'm not looking behind me. I just want to work hard and move up. There's a lot of events coming up so I have a great chance to push on.

Have you set the top 48 as a target to break in the rankings this season?

I view myself as being a lot better player than where I'm ranked. It's all very well saying that but I've got to get out there and get the results to prove it. There are a lot of tournaments. That means there are lots of opportunities to get it right. It's good to be consistent in all the events but two or three good runs can make the difference.

Do you feel less pressure then?

It's better for the players. I've been a professional player through a few different systems and this is the best it's ever been. Having only a handful of tournaments to play in is pathetic; it's no good. Nowadays you can't sulk if you get beat. You know you'll be playing a few days later. There are plenty of playing opportunities for everyone.

You got back on the tour in 2010 just when the PTCs started. How do you compare yourself as a player second time round?

I've played the game for so long that I've gone through periods where I've thought I'm a better player now than when I was younger. Then sometimes I think I was more dangerous when I was younger. I'm not sure I'm better but I'm more rounded now. I can mix my game up better but I can't say I'm a better player than I was when I was 17, 18, 19 and 20. I used to pot balls off lampshades. I don't really know. It's a difficult question.

How would you describe yourself as a player now then?

I'm still an attacking player. When I get bogged down and think too much it doesn't suit me. I'm a natural player that likes free-flowing snooker. I've not played too well at the start of the season until the UKPTC2 but I'm sure I'm going to put that right and people will see what I can really do again.

How did you cope with the break off of the professional scene? Did you find it tough?

It was difficult. I considered giving the game up. I spoke to my family when I first dropped off but just thought I was too good to give up. When I won the IBSF world amateur title to get back on tour I felt like I played some of the best snooker I have. The first season back on I played very well and won a lot of matches. I won bundles of matches but then I went through quite a lot in my personal life. I've split up with my wife and it's been pretty tough. My preparation suffered, especially last season. It was very up and down. Then when that settled down and I felt I was ready to put it in again, I suffered with the viral meningitis. So it feels like now my fresh start is beginning.

Are you genuinely feeling content now then?

I'm feeling good, yeah. It took me a while but things have settled down. I've got myself another house and I see my kids a lot so I'm in a batter place now and it could be the start of a good spell for me on the table.

You seem quite relaxed as we speak. Have you set any specific targets now you're in a good place mentally?

We were talking about the ranking s earlier and I definitely want to land in the top 48 before the end of the season. I'm not normally a target setter, but that's achievable for me. I'm going to play my matches and see where it takes me.

You've been around a while now Alfie. Looking back on your career, you qualified for the Crucible and got to the last 16 of the Grand Prix in the 1997/98 season. How do you look back on those moments?

I look back and think I'm watching a different person. I was so young. I was dubbed the next Jimmy White. I was a quick left-handed player and signed up with Stephen Hendry's manager. Big things were expected of me but I was a bit wild when I was younger. I liked to party. I look back on them days and it's a bit of a blur. I did well early in my career. I thought I'd arrived and thought I just had to turn up to win matches. The longer you live like that the harder it gets.

It all seemed easy at the time but things have changed. I've got good memories but I want to create new memories.

Is getting back to the Crucible one of those new memories you'd like to create?

I was only one match away this year. I got hammered 10-0 in the final round of qualifying by Peter Ebdon, but I was certainly playing well enough to get there. I stuffed Jack Lisowski 10-3 before I played Ebdon. I was fully confident of beating him but the match went horrible and all wrong.

Getting back to the Crucible is definitely one of my targets.

Do you think you would appreciate it more second time round?

Yeah, definitely. I've only played there once. I lost to Tony Drago 10-8 in the first round. I gave him a good match and at the time was the first player to make two centuries on a debut. I gave a good account of myself and thought I should have won the match actually. I never would have thought that when I was leaving there in 1998 that I would never be going back. It's a big disappointment in my career not to get to play there more often, but I haven't given up hope.

I want to start hitting the venues again and show I've still got what it takes.

I understand you were quite a talented footballer. So, how did you end up playing snooker?

I used to play for Arsenal FC until I was about 16-years-old with Frank Lampard, Lee Bowyer  and Stephen Hughes all in my academy team. They were the three big names that went on to have top careers.

I left there and went to Swindon Town when Glenn Hoddle was the manager and they were in the Premiership. It was a great set up and I think I would have gone on to play in the Premiership but I broke my leg in four places. It was horrific. I was good at snooker as well but it was just my hobby , but then I decided to switch because of the injury.

That's how bad it was. I will never know if I could have come back to play football at the highest level, but I turned professional as a snooker player a year after I took the game up full-time. I improved dramatically in a short space of time. It seemed to all happen very quickly.

Did snooker ever feel like it was second fiddle to football? Does that explain your wild lifestyle in your younger days?

Yeah, maybe. I don't like to live in regret but if I had my life again I would definitely change the decision I made when I got injured. Football is my main love in life, even now. I'll always have that feeling of what could have been. I made my decision at a very young age. My parents let me make my own decision but in a way I wish they told me to go back to playing football.

Do you play football now?

I've played for good amateur clubs. I still play now but I can't commit to a team because of how much I'm away with snooker. I miss it dreadfully. My little boy is playing at Arsenal now though. I get enjoyment out of that, but I won't let him play snooker. It's too hard.

Do you go to watch Arsenal still?

Me and my Dad have got season tickets. I go as much as I can. I'm currently taking my FIFA coaching badges. That's what I want to do when I stop playing snooker. I've still got a lot of contacts in football, so I'd like to teach young kids at a professional club one day.

Are you confident about Arsenal this season?

I'm not one of them fans that has been moaning and screaming for Arsene Wenger's head. I think he's still the best manager around. You look at the clubs around us who have spent millions and millions and are getting nowhere near the top four. There would be a lot of clubs who would like to be like us.

Your company has been superb, Alfie. Just to finish, on a snooker note. Is there anyone you see in the qualifiers that reminds you of yourself at your age or who you're just generally impressed with?

Lisowski sticks out like a sore thumb to me. He looks like he's got the lot. He's very talented, natural and I'd expect him to go on and have a great career. He looks a lot more sensible than I was at his age, so he should be all right. He is the one player who looks like the real deal.

Thanks Alfie, and good luck for the rest of the season.

1 comment: