Snooker in the Netherlands - The future is bright, the future is orange

13:10:00 Ramona Dragomir 0 Comments

A trip to the Netherlands
"Made in the UK"  sounds like the perfect title for snooker, although is not quite accurate. The last three years and quite a few trips on the continental Europe, proved that there's also snooker going outside UK's borders. And not just in Europe, but also in far, far away China, Thailand, India and ... Down Under.

Almost a month ago snooker reached a country that many thought has nothing to do with snooker: the Netherlands. The Rotterdam Open has opened the eyes of the world wide public and has fed the appetite of the local snooker lovers with the big names of the game.
The result was a brilliant one, both the players and the audience being content with the event.

But behind the shiny curtain of an official ranking tournament, there are lots of stories, snooker stories, that deserve to be told, shared and learnt from. This is one of them.

Part of the Koninklijke Nederlanse Biljartbond (aka. the Dutch Billiards Federation), the Snooker Federation kicked off back in 1996 and since then, going through good times as well as through bad patches, has tried to help promote and develop an interest for snooker in the Flying Dutchman's country.

For the last two years Annet van Riel has been the Chairman of the Dutch Snooker Federation and now she's ready to hand the baton to Paul Swanenburg. But her history with snooker dates back to 2001 when she started as a simple player last year becoming an official referee (Paul was her instructor), then managing to get feverishly involved as a board member.

Annet remembers: "When I started as chairman, the sport had lost its popularity. A lot of players were getting old and choose their family and career above snooker. Therefore we lost a lot of our members.

I have been focusing on the young players because we believe the future of snooker is there to find, so I've started a series of master classes, where the old players and referees can teach the young players more about snooker, the rules, how to play tournaments and so on.

We've had guest teachers like Jan Verhaas and Rene Dikstra, which have had a good impact on our youngsters, thus they've improved their game and we've even gained more members.

Due to the lack of interested towards the sport we didn't even stage junior ranking events over the years, but last year we changed that and host one which also gained us a few new members and a few pool players who transferred successfully from pool to snooker

So hard work and a genuine interest to help develop the sport have finally paid off and "now we're having an on-going cycle of tournaments. For the men we have about 8 events a year, and for the masters another 8. The junior ranking has 4 master classes and 4 ranking events, while the ladies play with the masters", says Annet.

Luca Bracel (left) and Roy Stolk (right)
"We are currently not hosting any 6-reds tournaments, but we are thinking about it for the future.

Also, besides the individual tournaments, we also have a team competition on all levels. There are approximately 100 teams participating that play almost every week with at least 3 players. At the and end of  the season all the champions of their own region compete with the champions of other regions to become Dutch Champion of their level

However, "snooker in Holland is at a crossroads at the moment. Due to major changes in the KNBB snooker is fighting to keep its position. 

During the coming two years we’ll have to find a way to stop the linger amount of members. And my aim is to do that with all the cue sports. But I truly believe that the future of snooker in Holland is bright, as it incorporates all assets of a difficult, not-easy-to-master cue sport, which presents a challenge to all those who play." added Annet

Back in 2010 I was privileged to see the European Billiards and Snooker Association (EBSA) final between Luca Brecel and Roy Stolk and I was very impressed of Roy's cue action. Sadly though I haven't seen much of him over the last years, so I was curios what has he been up to lately. Annet was very kind to fill me in:

"There were probably one of the most nerve-wrecking days of my life! (A/N regarding the EBSA tournament) I was there as the delegate for the Dutch team and so proud to see Roy win his silver medal.

Only a few months ago he won a bronze medal in the European Championships, so he is still a very talented player, who is probably one of the biggest talents we've ever had. As many players, he had to choose between his career, his family and snooker, but he's most likely to participate again on EBSA or IBSF events."

In July the Netherlands became an official, and very "orange" spot on the snooker map, thanks to hosting the European Players Tour Championship Event Two, also known as the Rotterdam Open.

Mark Williams lifted the trophy after a very dark period of time, thus making the event even more special.

But who had the idea of staging a ranking event in the Netherlands and what implications has this tournament had for snooker in the Clockwork Orange's country?

Rotterdam Open's poster
Annet says: "The Rotterdam Open was completely an initiative by Jan Verhaas. He dreamt for many years of bringing back pro-snooker to the Netherlands, and mostly to his home town Rotterdam. 

He started his career 20 years ago on a Eurotour in Rotterdam! Behind the scenes he has been lobbying for three years, and suddenly it all happened ... and very quickly; in April we've been told that the Rotterdam Open was going to happen in July this year, so off course that we were very happy with this great opportunity to promote snooker in the Netherlands. 

There was a lot of media attention and we are happy with the ticket sales. It was great to hear all the nice comments from players and visitors about the Rotterdam Open and we are hoping to host it again next year! 

The long term effect is hard to predict so far, but we did gain new members in Rotterdam, so that's a good sign. Also, we noticed a lot of "old" players who retired, but who did come to visit, and who were enthusiastic about starting to play again!"

Despite all the efforts and the promotion snooker remains a pricy sport, a problem that not very easy to deal with. Still, the "orange team" is trying its best to cope with it and help the players.

"We've had quite a few players who were good enough to compete with the UK boys, but due to lack of sponsors, it was very difficult to start a pro career. None of them actually succeeded. 

But we are hoping to give the young players a chance to develop themselves here in the Netherlands. Starting with the master classes and continuing with bringing PJ Nolan at the beginning of 2014 to coach a few people in order to become EBSA coaches. This will hopefully bring snooker in the spotlight. 

The Rotterdam Open' champ Mark Williams, in action
Also, we are currently writing a marketing- and sponsor plan, to create funding for the young players to go to England and train over there with the UK boys." says Annet who doesn't write off the possibility to have a Dutch player in the Q-School in the near future.

The soon-to-be chairman of the Dutch Snooker Federation has also big plans to try and "continue promoting snooker amongst youngsters and be actively in involving schools in that."

"And I would like to make a solid connection between the Association and the ‘industry’ (commercial clubs and non-profit foundations)." added Mr Swanenburg.

A very well-known slogan of a well-known mobile network operator sounded something like: "The future is bright - the future is Orange" and after hearing Annet and Paul Swanenburg's stories I truly think that there's hope for snooker in the Netherlands.

Sure, a lot of work is still to be done and more and one bridge will have to be crossed, but as long as the people involved in the industry will support snooker, this cue sport is there to stay.

The UK players have been pleased with the crowds and with the entire event (aka. Rotterdam Open) and that says a lot. Not to mention the great reception from all the snooker lovers out there.

So maybe there's no orange ball on a snooker table, but there sure is a hell of an "orange desire" to add one on the snooker map. And the odds are looking good.

Current champions in the Netherlands:

Men: René van Rijsbergen

Masters: Steven McGuiness

Ladies: Rosanna Lo-A-Tjong

Doubles: Steven McGuiness and Ton Berkhout