John McBride: Getting…Back to Black

Following on from his Six Red Diary (see here and here), former professional John McBride has very kindly written a third article for PSB in which he explains what made him pick up a cue again and details the story of his comeback so far…

Just before I entered the 6Reds World Championship in December 2009, I started practicing again after 14 years out. Well, let me be honest, if you include two Golfing trips being rained off & a couple of my mates wanting to see me playing Snooker when it did in the meantime, apart from that, I hadn’t hit a ball in 14 years.

Let me take you back please, just a little….
On my harmonious nights in, & they’re have been plenty of them I’m pleased to say, when my beautiful wife (Cathy) & my wonderful son (Seán) have gone to bed, after devouring a nice bottle of red wine, I would look at my Cue case standing up against the corner of the wall, in a room in our house we call the ‘Chill Room’, I would take my Cue out, & relive the memories in my mind of the wonderful times in Snooker that I was fortunate enough to experience, with my Cue.  These thoughts always warmed me.  My fine sandpaper was always still in my Cue case, which I used for shining the ferrule when I played, & I would rest the Cue on my lap, stand up with it, check to see if I had grown, by standing upright with my Cue against my shoulder, also hold the Cue out straight stretched out in front of me, & have a look down the butt to see if it was still straight (I could never work out whether my Cue was or not using this method), find a clean cloth, give it a nice cleaning, & put it back in the case & rest it up against the wall, again.  ‘It’, would always sit there until the next time it caught my eye, when & where I would reminisce. My ‘Bestest’, ‘Bestest’ friend, was my Cue, hard to shake, that feeling.
My wife Cathy wanted me to start playing again. “Why don’t you John?”, looking at me, wondering why.  I could never, ever, find a plausible answer for the lady for not doing so.  How come I don’t play anymore I would ask myself, lying in bed?  One particular night, after me going through my red wine exploits with me admiring me Cue once again, Cathy asked me again. “John, I know you love the game, I don’t mind, in fact, I’d love to watch you play again, why don’t you? Think of Seán, he’d love to see you play.” My wife Cathy always seems to have the knack of being right & for saying the right thing at the right time, when it needs to be said too. Timing? Oh my Cue action was good I thought.
I looked & held my Cue, in esteem, my mate, my loyal, loyal mate, never let me down.  Yes, your tip loosened when I didn’t need you too, (my heart always sank when it did when this happened), but boy, we made a lot of new friends along the way & we had some fun, lots & lots of fun.  My mind always ventures holding my Cue in my hands.
I had, to the best of my ability, & with all my honesty, tried to count the number of 100+ breaks I have ever had when I played. Ask any player to do this, & they’ll find it easier to tell you how many maximums they’ve had or, how many 140+ breaks they’ve had. I only count 100+ breaks that I’ve made in either comps or money matches.  I believe, to this day, I am on 98, give or take one or two, I’m standing behind 98 though.  I want to have my one hundredth hundred against my son Seán, nicking a fiver off him while doing so but probably giving it back to him no doubt sometime soon after, probably in the car on the way back no doubt, though I won’t hold that against him.  I looked at Cathy, smiled, & said “Yeah, I’d love too, genuine, you know I Love you & Seán, you know I Love Snooker too don’t you”.  I can be quite an emotional bloke at times, often cry at the odd film, the end of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ springs to mind, this time I knew I meant it though. Snooker & me were going to meet again. Talk about going to see an old friend!
So I made the move….
I asked about (I now live in Co.Cavan) where I could play?  I say ask about, I asked the barman in my local.  The local barman does not have a fundamental abundance of knowledge in this beautiful game, though he mentioned a club in Monaghan that I gave consideration too.  I phoned that club, a couple of times, but didn’t get an answer.  Believe it or not, the answer to where I should play was already staring me in the face. I had 2 weeks off work for holidays, & Cathy asked me had I phoned the club in Monaghan & when was I going out to start playing again?  I explained that I didn’t get an answer, so Cathy say’s, why don’t you go to the Snooker Club beside the Cinema in Navan we go too?  I could not get over, considering that we go to the cinema there as a family quite often, that I forgot about that place?  I laughed out loud. “Really”, I said, sharing my thoughts with Cathy, “An effort does have to be put in here doesn’t it. Maybe that’s what’s frightening me?” I asked Cathy. “John, get your backside down there” the Lady replied.  I nodded in agreement, smiling, chuckling, wondering. “Its like I’m going to meet my maker”. We both laughed out loud, very out loud.
I headed down there, I see you don’t I…..
First thing I done?  Picked the table by the bar, tightest pockets I could find, with a few people watching (I love Snooker being respected), I picked up the Cue ball, & the black, nothing else on the table, left the other 20 balls in the tray, & spotted the Black, put the Cue ball right behind it, & I said in my mind looking at the shot, “Hello Stranger, Its Me, I’m back”, & hit it. Knocked it in.  Its like, how can I say, the Buzz of the game, or the Love of the game, has always been there, bubbling under the surface, wanting to get out, though somehow life, though it has been very good to me, seems to somehow have restrained ‘it’.  I quickly put the line up together, hammered a few reds & pinks into the middle pockets, listened to the ‘crack’ it made when you potted them, & wondered to myself, missing playing is harder that actually missing shots when playing.  My shoulders felt firm, my back was strong, “Hold on McBride, remember this” I said to myself. I was back in the pockets, literally.
Jump in, The water isn’t that cold, is it….?
After managing a couple of Ton’s in the line up, & getting some nice comments from the bar, such as “I don’t know who he is, but he can pot a ball”, 3 hours later, feeling pleased but tired, I drove home, wondering, where do I go from here? I want to play again, & again, I decided, deffo, that much was definitely agreed.  I googled “Snooker in Ireland” when I got home, & quickly come across a website called which I now know as the ‘Republic of Ireland Billiard & Snooker Association’.  I logged on, made some ‘scurrying surfing’, to where I could find ‘Contact Us’. So I did.  After a couple of phone calls, I came across a gentleman by the name of Gregg Whyte.  Gregg told me the score. €20 membership per year of & a €20 entry fee for all comps.  I explained I hadn’t played for a while, I didn’t disclose my Snooker experience, only in that I haven’t played in 14 years & I love the game & that I didn’t want any early expectations put on me, I wanted to enjoy this, again.  Gregg advised me to play in the Intermediate competitions, being that these are open to players outside the Top 16 Amateurs in Ireland, which is separated into the 4 different categories, being different parts of the country, North-West, West, South & the East of Ireland, which is the area I’d be playing in, where all match’s were best of 5 frames, all the way through to & including, God forbid, the final. That’ll do for me I thought. Finals being about from here to Timbuktu I thought to myself. For the time being anyway.
How’d you miss that?
With my new found Snooker Knowledge, I turned up in the Roadstone Club, in Dublin, paid my fees, gladly, had a quick walk around, tables were nice, respect being shown, & I drew a fella called Stephen Reddington.  I noticed that all the players were dressed in evening wear, were holding the game in great respect, & I loved it. I’d hardly spoken two words though its worth mentioning, till this day, I have been made very welcome.
Stephen broke, hit the blue on the way back from his break, but got pretty lucky as it was a half ball kiss on the blue that put the Cue ball in between Green & Brown close to the Top cushion.  I looked down the table, & saw mist. My first thoughts were, “Jeez, I mustn’t have seen you in a long time”.  My Cue action has always been reliable, so I stood right arm strong, leaning on my left leg, prompting my right leg for the angle of the shot, worked out the angle while doing so, squaring up to the shot, to play the clip of the red & send the Cue ball back up in between the Yellow & Brown & to take confidence with doing that.  I missed the red all together.  Was I embarrassed? Yes would be an honest answer.  I was getting looks abound. Fortunately, my table etiquette was good, automatic pilot style kicked in, & I showed no emotion. Then, my opponent, who was & still is, a gentleman, said “That’s a miss, can you replace the Cue ball & play again please”.  Another learning curve for me. “Course” I replied, hoping not to make a dick of myself again. Stephen Reddington beat me 3-1, fair & square. What I took away from the match, was that I had a frame ball black in the 3rd frame, when I was 2-0 down, that I knocked in comfortably.  Bottle being one of the major ingredients in this game I quickly reminded myself. If that works, then so do I.
In a Nutshell….
Best way to describe my experience so far is, that I am so, so pleased that I’m back playing again, & that I listened to my wife Cathy, I looked down my Cue, & knocked that Black in 6 months or so ago after being 14 years out of the game.  I’ve played in 3 finals since, won 1, have learnt that is a wonderfully run organisation, where I have learned there is a thriving, is the only way I can describe it, Over 40’s Snooker community, called the Masters, where in very recent times seen Two teams entered in the European Team events in Malta representing the, the players being Joe Delaney, Brendan Thomas, Eddie Ingle & Anthony Bonnar, where I also learnt that Darren Morgan is playing Sparking Snooker (Good on Him) & which has given me aspirations of playing in this same event, this time next year, all being well, & I’m genuinely loving be back playing Snooker again.
I’m back clearing the line-ups regularly, knocking in 80’s again playing for the lights etc…, knocking in 60’s in competitions regularly when I’m playing in them, & only practicing about 4 hours a month. Though, if I’m honest, practicing about 14 hours a day mentally. I want more…