The Snooker Legends tour - Behind the baize

18:53:00 Ramona Dragomir 0 Comments

For many of you, the Snooker Legends tour is something you’ve got used to hear about and most likely the majority of the people reading this have seen the great list of snooker players at least once, during this year’s tour.

A brilliant plan to put together this project, right? How many of you have craved to see “la crème de la crème” of snooker in one place and at the same time? How many years have you dreamt of witnessing the clash of snooker titans? Now, all of that has become a reality thanks to Jason Francis and his team.
And since everything starts with a great idea, Jason “baked” his for 6 months before telling anything to his army of people. Then, the development part started as every person involved has worked very hard for you to see the legends on tour.

Snooker Loopy: Why snooker and not some other sport? What made the difference for you to start this? Are you a keen snooker player or it’s just admiration for snooker and the people involved in it?

Jason Francis: “I am a keen snooker player and played to a reasonable level in my youth. I grew up in small village in Cornwall and the only place to hang out was the snooker hall so I got hooked from an early age. My Grandad was a very good billiards player and I still use his cue to this very day.”

SL: Many people say that “The Golden Age” of snooker were the `80s. Would you agree with that? Is that why people come from all around the country to see the snooker legends on tour?

JF: “I think you have to remember that in the 80’s we only really had 3 or 4 TV Channels and so Snooker attracted incredible viewing figures. We all know 18.5 million stayed up to see the Davis-Taylor final in 1985 but snooker regularly topped 10 million viewers during the world championships and so my thoughts were that as its only 30 years ago a lot of that audience must still be out there and may well be interested in seeing these players play again? What I didn’t realize was just how fanatical some of them are, many fans have travelled far and wide to follow the events.”

SL: One of the most important figures of the Snooker Legends tour was without any doubt, the late Alex Higgins. This was one of his last matches, if I’m not wrong. How was “The Hurricane”? Was he still enjoying playing and moreover to play surrounded by friends and people who have adored him?

JF: “The last game Alex played was indeed our event at the Crucible which was perhaps fitting for such an iconic player. If I am honest the time I spent with Alex doing publicity before the events was more enjoyable than the event itself in April. It was obvious that he was very unwell and I had a real dilemma about whether to let him appear. I felt in a bit of a no-win situation as if I didn’t let him play then 1000 fans would have been disappointed, and Alex himself would have been furious, but by letting him play I knew people would be shocked at his appearance and may have judged me for allowing him to be seen in that way. At the end of the day looking back I’m happy with the decision I made.”

Part of being a fan job is to be curious. And I bet that many of you would like to hear how are the snooker players getting along, what are they doing when they are touring, if they stay until the morning light telling jokes and sharing old memories. Well, yes! Jason told us that while the Snooker Legends caravan was hitting the road the atmosphere was just incredible as fun was the main ingredient. 

J. Francis (third on the right) and the Snooker Legends
“What I didn’t realize was just how little time players spend together on the main tour, many arrive just before their match and disappear afterwards. Spending time with these guys when they are relaxing and together recounting old times and stories, many involving Alex of course, is fantastic.”

SL: I have a special rule for each interview I make…it’s called “It’s bragging time!!!” :-)) The first stage of the Snooker Legends tour was completed and you travelled high and low for every event. If you were to draw the line and cumulate those 18 events, those marvelous nights filled with class snooker, the glamorous list of players and all the work you’ve put in to it, would you say it was a success? The result is what you have hoped for? Please do brag about it :-P

JS: “You can never quantify the amount of time I spent on last year’s tour, the late nights I sat with my partner working on the marketing was just ridiculous. We sent out nearly 8000 individual letters informing people about the events. We didn’t have any sponsors, apart from Riley who did our table, so it was fully self funded and financed by my company. I had to take some risks and I’m grateful that my fellow Director Nick allowed to me to take them and believed in my ability to deliver.

The biggest thrill I get is from the fans themselves who say what a great night they’ve had. For many I don’t think they expected the playing standard to be so good or the evening to be such fun. We did 18 events last year and had something like 16 centuries, including Jimmy’s 147.

This year’s it’s a bit easier as everyone in the snooker world knows about the Legends tour and in truth I have more players wanting to play than I do have places on the tour. I’m also hopeful that the same fans will return but also bring other people with them. Having someone like Jimmy White call you the best promoter he has worked with feel pretty good. Barry Hearn has also been so supportive, as have the guys at World Snooker.”

For many years fans have shared expression like: “It will be a blast to see all my favorite snooker players playing together! or “I fancy a match between X and Y! or “ It would be so great to see a rematch of that final!”. For some of them, that is now a living reality and for those who still didn’t see their “dream team” …well, don’t you worry for new and improved snooker legends series is going to travel high and low the UK for you to see and cheer! ;-)

SL: So, another tour with the snooker legends will be held in 2011, the dates are already set up and a lot of interesting and new names are being added to the list like Kirk Stevens, Ted Lowe and Doug Mountjoy. Does the magician have more surprises which will be revealed along the way?

JF: “We do have a few more up our sleeves. Last year for example they told me I’d never get Cliff Thorburn to come from Canada, and then they said you’ll never get Ray Reardon to play again. Having Kirk has been a major coup and I can’t wait to work with him as he has no idea just how popular he still is here in the UK. Watch this space!”

The mithycal days are back... :-)
As you’ve all seen making the fans` dreams come true is essential and it’s probably one of the biggest rewards Jason and his team can get. Still, a complex project like this needs a lot of dedication, hard work and time.
Driving vans, unloading them, helping in lifting the snooker tables and then being ready and fresh for the big event (at 6:00 pm!) were not easy tasks for Jason, but he did it. He admits he is a bit of control freak, during this year’s tour he attended every minute of every event, but only because he wants everything to go according to plan so in the end people will be happy with the result.

SL: What would you say it takes to transform a project into reality? Is it hard work? Is it passion? Can you have one and exclude the other? It’s a combo pack? For you, what made the Snooker Legends tour a living success?

JF: “It’s belief and determination, and sharing your enthusiasm with other likeminded people. Every time someone closed the door on me I knocked a bit harder and if that still didn’t work I went in through the window!”

SL: The thing I really hate about interviews, especially when you are applying for a job, is that “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question, so I’m not going to ask you that, but I’m going to ask you if you have any future plans regarding the Snooker Legends tour.

JF: “The great thing is we should be able to introduce new players each year as they come to the end of their own playing careers. We have to keep evolving and listening to what the fans want. I’d also love to come overseas but I need some sponsorship and investment to make that happen.”

If you must know, Jason Francis is an artist with a diploma in his pocket, so he is no stranger from creating new and entertaining concepts.
Many people think that having a talent makes things easy. You just come up with a brilliant idea, you start to feel it growing, you put your heart and soul and keep on creating, until: Voila! A successful story is born! Well, yeah…but let` not get ahead of ourselves! It’s easier when you have “an artistic soul”, it’s easier when you have inspiration and things seem to glue one to another, but that doesn’t spare you from working your butt out during the process!

I don’t do praising stories, but I can’t overpass Jason’s efforts and what he has achieved by working real hard and mixing passion with dedication. The fact that today we can shout: “Hey! Guess what I did last night? I saw the snooker legends playing and it was awesome!” is mainly because a man had an idea and he wasn’t afraid to make it real.

The Snooker Legends tour had a wonderful start and I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that it put a smile of many people faces, so the “snooker caravan” will continue to delight its public in more towns in the following year. Until then, please be sure to check the new list of events  and book yourself a place early so you will be able to be a part of this glamorous snooker feast. :-)

In the end I would like to give my sincere congratulations to Jason Francis and his team for putting together such an amazing project. Also many thanks for agreeing to give me this interview and good luck with all yout future projects! :-)