Interview: Snooker made in Scotland

15:49:00 Ramona Dragomir 0 Comments

Mark Twain once said that “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. Quite a controversial phrase since many think his good friend and novelist Charles Dudley Warner actually said it. Still, we can’t overlook the truth of it.

Now, rephrasing it a bit we can say that “Everyone talks about snooker, but nobody does anything about it”. And for quite some time this was a genuine statement that revealed how this sport was administrated. The year 2010 has been the turning point for snooker, Barry Hearn taking over World Snooker Ltd. and starting the famous “snooker revolution”. But that’s not all, for at the same time, somewhere in Scotland a new and vital National Governing Body (NGB) that would promote and develop snooker, was being born.

This is the story of Caledonian Snooker Ltd., a story that was kindly shared by one of its founders, Alan Craig. It is a story about commitment, hard work and devotion to a cause and of course … passion (because one can’t accomplish anything without passion).

Alan is the Managing Director and also the Company Secretary. Snooker entered his life through his cousin who had a small snooker table at home and it wasn’t long before he would catch the snooker virus and start hitting the ball after school or work.

Hendry as a boy in Dunfermline
In those days I never heard of National tournaments. The objective was to get as many matches as possible and relieve the opponent of his cash.
 Twenty years later Hendry started playing in the same place, and I paid him his first prize money when he was 13 in a Saturday night handicap tournament. His dad had a fruit shop 100 metres from my office and the billiard room was located between us. We had some good times and results when he was a kid.
The rest is history!”, Alan recalls.

Caledonia Snooker Ltd. – the Phoenix bird of snooker

But besides being a player, Alan also got involved into administrating the sport and promoting it through the years and he even wrote the Scottish Angle page in Pot Black for a year an a half back in the late `90s.

He is always there for the players that need individual assistance with certain aspects, enjoys writing a lot (tip: I know this will interest many of you - he wrote a paper on the miss rule in February, but hasn’t published it yet – so keep an eye on that) and this year he “assisted John Rea with the promotion of the Scottish Professional Snooker Championship with the backing of the other directors, and I hope to be involved again next April.”

Alan was part of the team that in 2000 founded a new Scottish National Governing Body for snooker – Scottish Snooker Ltd.. Unfortunately, all his efforts didn’t quite materialize as the NGB started to face major financial and administration problems, all concluding with Sport Scotland accreditation withdrawal in 2010.
I was curious to find out more about the ex-NGB and how Caledonian Snooker Ltd. was born. Although many would have refused to answer such a question, Mr. Craig was kind enough to clarify the situation.

John Higgins and John Rea
“I was one of the founder directors/members of Scottish Snooker Ltd in 2000 and retired along with two other founding directors during the year it was set up to allow others to move it forward.

In June 2008 I was approached by disenchanted members to assist them with some problems they were having with Scottish Snooker Ltd. It transpired that there were some major financial irregularities, and the directors refused to hold proper democratic elections at AGMs. There were also various and serious breaches of the UK Companies Act.

Numerous unsuccessful attempts were made to hold the errant directors accountable and remove them from office. Mediation attempts by World Snooker and Sport Scotland to persuade the SSL directors to tow the line were also treated with contempt. In June last year Sport Scotland removed their accreditation from SSL, the first time ever for a Scottish NGB to lose that status. SSL were trading insolvently.

I and our current Chairman, Paul Marinello, had already formed Caledonian Snooker Ltd on behalf of the players to take over as the NGB in anticipation of the SSL directors’ intransigency. The season 2010-11 just completed was our first and it has been very successful from a standing start.

In November last year we submitted an application to Sport Scotland for accreditation and we obtained that on June 30th this year. That accreditation will now allow us to apply for membership of the IBSF, EBSA and the Home Internationals Federation.”

Ready for take off

With all the necessary documents being now in order Caledonian Snooker Ltd. was ready to start promoting and developing snooker. The playing schedule has stayed virtually the same, with six ranking events (the Main Tour, Under 21, Under 19 – which has three events, Under 14, the Ladies tour and Billiards tour), with the only difference that this time, things would be done taking into account the players’ needs and requests.

Although the Ladies tour and even the Billiards one aren’t so popular, there is hope that more and more players will enrol into these events in order to make their snooker assets be known by the entire world.

Julie Gillespie and Claire Mill with their well deserved trophy
“Unfortunately the provision for ladies snooker has deteriorated over the years from a time where it looked as if there was a good future for them. I can remember events in Scotland 20 years ago with 32 entries. Now we only have a handful of Ladies.

Although we have plans and provision for a Ladies Tour, it will take some time to grow that area. However, we did win the Ladies Home International Title last September!
Julie Gillespie and Claire Mill are our only two active players at the moment, but Holly Riddle will be joining them this season.”, Alan informs us.

As for billiards, he continues his statement: “Participation levels in this area have also dropped dramatically over the years and we only have 8-12 entries per event last season.
It is an area that needs development, but it is difficult to promote and generate interest.”

But to stage a tournament you need a proper space and proper conditions. It is not a secret that the majority of the snooker clubs aren’t very suitable for playing snooker at a high level, the tables not being redressed as often as the situation requires. However, Scotland’s management team from Caledonian Snooker are doing the best they can to offer their players a welcoming playing environment.

“We make the best of what is available. Contrary to current hype, Snooker in the UK as a participant sport has declined very quickly. In 1995 there were 142 clubs in Scotland and now we have 80!

We use 6 clubs across central Scotland which, we consider, have the best facilities to play all our events. Conditions will always vary from venue to venue but that’s the way it is at this level and the players, to their credit, just get on with it.”

Snooker made in Scotland

Snooker’s biggest players have come from Scotland and maybe, as Alan likes to say “It must be in the water or it’s the Irn Bru!” Whatever’s the reason, one can’t deny that snooker wouldn’t have been as real and entreating as it is today without the likes of Stephen Hendry, John Higgins or Graeme Dott. They’ve put their seal on this sport, fed the hungry hearts of fans, thrilled the whole world with their achievements and have made this cue sport to break so many boundaries and change the lives of so many different nations.

But can we rely on Scotland to keep on delivering more snooker stars in the near future?
Alan says yes, although the situation these days is far from the one that the legends of snooker experienced when they started their journey to conquer the world.

“It would be wrong for me, or us as an organisation, to take the credit for the success our great players have had. All an NGB can do is to provide the opportunities and the direction. I like to think that the Scottish grit, psyche and ingenuity are the catalysts for producing great players.

Hendry, Dott, Maguire, McManus and Higgins
From my early days in Dunfermline I watched Hendry become, arguably, the greatest player to hold a cue.
He won two consecutive Scottish Championships before leaving school at 16! He only played in three! He did that without any coaching, but with a great desire to win. No player has emulated that feat since. He set the benchmark for others to follow, and McManus, Dott, Higgins and Maguire have shown the same desire.

Michael Leslie, Scott Donaldson, Eden Sharav, Ross Muir and Rhys Clark are young players knocking on the door to get in on the act.

However it is much more difficult, and more expensive now to attain pro status. It’s not about how much talent you have anymore, but how much cash you can raise to buy in. I fear, for that reason, that they may not get the opportunity to follow our legends.
For a £1000 anybody can spend the weekend with Steve Davis and Terry Griffiths and become a World Snooker Coach, and then go out immediately and earn a living at it. Young snooker players can’t do that and something has to change.”

This year, Scott Mackenzie got a spot on the World Snooker Main Tour. The lad had a very good run trying to qualify for the Australian Goldfields Open, but sadly lost his last match against Ken Doherty. What are your thoughts about your young ambassador? Will he stun us this season?

Alan Craig: “Scott is a very experienced campaigner and he has had a good start on his return to the pro Tour. I hope he is able to maintain his form and secure his place in the top 64. Should he do so I can see him staying on the Main Tour. It’s not easy for him, or any of the players in his position, without major sponsorship to defray their expense. Snooker is not a cheap sport to play and Scott is also holding down his job as a taxi driver to make ends meet!”

Looking towards the future

As I’ve said it before, snooker is going through a whole revolutionary process. The Chairman of World Snooker, Barry Hearn is trying to make it go global and this season proves he means serious business. More tournaments are being held outside the UK borders than within and that gives you a better image of how the sport is growing. Still, his efforts will be in vain if the local or National Governing Bodies won’t work together for a better future.

With a very turbulent history, but looking towards a bright and clear future Caledonian Snooker has its own personal programme for reviving snooker in Scotland, promoting it and offering the players the best conditions and opportunities to get involved in this sport.

Alan has shared some of his NGB future projects, among them being the “launch of a junior development programme that will create 17 local academies in Scotland over the next five years”. The date is already set – September 3rd – and there will be two road shows, one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh, both of them being developed in partnership with Paul Hunter Foundation.

A coach education programme is also part of the equation, it being scheduled to start later this year in order to “create 8-12 Scottish Foundation coaches by the end of the 2011/2012 season”.

“Under the guidance of a new Director of Coaching our candidates will be assessed on technical skills, presentation and delivery and administration of a coaching session.
The candidates will also have to attend mandatory Sports Coach UK courses before they are issued with Scottish certification and licensing approvals to practice. The Scottish coaches will then be used to deliver classes and mentoring in our new academies as they come on line.”

And since one can’t overlook the importance of referees in snooker, Caledonian Snooker Ltd. will also launch an induction programme for refs, in order to increase their number. The programme benefits from a partnership with the Scottish Billiards & Snooker Referees Association and will kick off later this year.

Alan added that they are seriously considering increasing the number of tournaments by “reintroducing three pro-ams to our schedule, along with a National handicap tournament, a National team event for our local leagues members and a National disabled competition.”

A very ample fundraising programme is also a huge priority at the moment, for we all acknowledge the fact that players need to be sponsored to play in different tournaments, sometimes in far, far away countries. Very soon, meaning August 23rd, The Scottish Snooker Golf Day will begin and there is hope to raise up to £3000-£4000. (please visit the official website and FaceBook page for more information)

“One of our members, Jim Stewart, promotes this fundraiser for us through his business Connoisseur Golf. We hope to add two local Sportsmen’s dinners and a National Scottish Snooker Dinner to the annual schedule. In addition we are also in the process of designing a Scottish Snooker lottery system which I’m hoping will be launched this time next year.”

Last but not least, the marketing sector is constantly finding new ways of promoting Caledonian Snooker’s activities and progresses, either through its official website that has been put together by Chairman Paul Marinello, social media (FaceBook and Twitter) or their private members’ forum carefully “instigated” by the talented player Anthony McGill.

In the end I must also add the fact that this great team of managers and players appreciate a helping hand from volunteers, “a volunteer induction programme that will produce the administrators of the future for Caledonian Snooker Ltd.” being in question.

The old and the new

A business man will definitely approve of what this team of hard working and devoted people have done in the last year to put together a clean NGB, but let’s be honest … we don’t actually need to have a big brain to acknowledge this.

It is crystal clear that it all happened because a bunch of people stood their ground and weren’t afraid to start from zero, even though maybe, there wasn’t too much confidence in the system. Still, they’ve obtained the needed accreditation and after a year of activity things are definitely better than before. Snooker is growing more and more and the fact that the Scottish players and their results in the current tournaments are improving is partially due to Caledonian Snooker’s influence on the sport.

So, what’s the secret recipe for turning Scottish snooker into a rising star? Alan says that an important part is their “unique management”.

“You will see from our website that we have a unique management structure with seven elected directors and an appointed management team of twelve at the moment.
One of the problems for NGBs is having elected directors with all the skills to manage the various day to day activities, and at the same time replace them when they retire or face re-election.

Our structure allows for smooth administration of all aspects, no matter who the directors are. The members of the management team are not subject to election but are appointed by the board. The management team are hands on with everything to do with snooker, while the directors are left to manage the company and supervise the management team.

We are pretty well organised in such a short space of time with Tam McGill and his tournament direction team making the National tournaments run like clockwork. Michael Gallagher, our media officer has also built up a great media contact list which is now paying dividends with regular publicity. If the directors appoint the right people to the Management Team they can remain in position and get on with the job of running the snooker side no matter who the directors are.”

Simple as that, I might add.

Well, with a story like that one can hardly find something else to add. So, let’s wrap it up and see the conclusions.

The story of Caledonian Snooker Ltd. resembles the story of the Phoenix bird that had the capability to be reborn from its own ashes. Still, I bet that the bird didn’t experience so many obstacles as the Caledonian team has had, for in the modern times to rebuild something in this context is seen with one eyebrow lifted and a sceptic eye. Still, they’ve managed to do it and in great style.

Although as a sport, snooker needs to be organized, administrated and run like any other business, with the only difference that the ones who must win are the players and not the board of directors. This is a very special and sensible business that needs a strong hand, but also a soft touch and that doesn’t resonate with many who seek only personal gains from this business.

It is said that after each storm the rainbow appears, so maybe that after all those years of darkness which snooker experienced in Scotland, the time has come to see some rainbows appear and some gold coins at the end of them. It might just be that Caledonian Snooker will be the one that will paint those lovely seven colours.