Following four more days of action at the Championship League next week, professional snooker will then return to Berlin for the 2015 German Masters at the Tempodrom.
Along with the 32 players who qualified for the event, there will also be another familiar face returning to the venue as German referee Marcel Eckardt will be donning his white gloves following a few months away from the sport.
A few people have asked me on Twitter recently where he has been, so I caught up with Marcel recently to find out what he has been up to and why we will be seeing a lot more of him in the arena over the coming months…
PSB: Hi Marcel, it has been a while since we last saw you refereeing at the 2014 Paul Hunter Classic, what have you been up to during the past six months or so?
Marcel Eckardt: First of all, I would like to say ‘Thank you’ for giving me the opportunity for this interview, Matt! And I wanted to thank you for all of the work, time, and effort you put into your great blog!
…That’s right, I disappeared for a few months and took some time off to change my life a bit. But I can say now, that I will be back on the snooker circuit in February – promise! I am very pleased that people were wondering where I have been.
I have done some work for World Snooker already this season. The last event where I have been involved was the Paul Hunter Classic in Fürth. I have done a few qualifiers and I have been to Australia as well.
However, around June/July I decided to do something alongside snooker and I found something that suits me in Berlin. For that reason I moved to Berlin last September and I am still quite happy with that step.
I started a dual education. It is more like an apprenticeship in a firm, but a really good combination with the university. Our business is to provide our clients with financial services and products in all kind of prospects of investment and insurance for companies and private people. It is very complex, but I am really enjoying this new job.
On the other side of the coin, I had to stop refereeing for a while, because I needed time to settle at my new place and job.
PSB: How have you found that change, what have been the biggest challenges for you personally?
ME: Personally I would never call it a challenge when you are willing to change things in your life. It is much more like a new opportunity – or a bigger one.
Of course I moved from a very small town to a much greater city away from the family, that is a change, but I am okay with that. I like it here in Berlin. I found new friends, have a lot of things to do and things are going very well at the moment.
Obviously I stopped refereeing snooker, but for five months only. I knew that this time would go by in a blink of an eye – but it was a tough time anyway. 😉
PSB: Turning to snooker, what first inspired you to become a professional referee?
ME: I think it was just the ambition to become a part of the professional circuit. I have seen a good chance to come through and I looked up to the likes of Jan [Verhaas], Eirian [Williams] and Brendan [Moore].
PSB: As a young snooker fan in Germany, what steps and what sacrifices have you had to make to pursue that dream?
ME: I have shown a lot of initiative, especially during the first couple of years on the amateur level. I worked a lot for this dream. People who do not understand the game won’t understand our work as a referee. We make it look so easy, but it is not. I worked a lot on my abilities – my life became snooker actually!
I travelled a lot, spent a lot of money. It was fortunate that I had a lot of support from home. Unfortunately, it only works that way. But I was convinced that I would achieve my goal to become a part of the professional circuit.
PSB: In recent years you have become an increasingly familiar face at venues and in 2013 became the youngest referee to be promoted to the elite ‘A-band’. How proud are you of what you have achieved so far and what have been your personal highlights?
ME: I am very proud indeed, because there are not a lot of people on the planet who have achieved what I have.
One thing that definitely makes me proud is, when people like my family or close friends of mine are telling me: “I am proud of what you have achieved, Marcel!”
My personal highlights so far? Well, I think there is more to come. However, I made friends with so many people because of snooker. I really do appreciate it. Most of my best mates I know through snooker and pool. And this means much more to me than any final whatsoever.
PSB: Taking that into account, how hard a decision was it for you to come away from snooker at that stage of your refereeing career and how much have you missed the game?
ME: On a scale from one to ten? – At least eleven! I am missing it so much, definitely. It is still my passion. Anyway, whenever I can, I am following snooker on the telly. But I think this makes it even worse!
But I have to say, that World Snooker was very fair to me in all respects. They totally agreed with my decision and we have stayed in contact every month. They know that we can’t make a proper living out of refereeing. Therefore this helped me a lot to make the decision.
PSB: For someone like me who goes to some events, but not all of them, I definitely find that I miss the people and the camaraderie when not there, have you found that also?
ME: Oh yes, certainly! I think we are a great bunch of lads and I do really enjoy the company every time. Maybe not after three weeks of sharing a hotel room, but apart from that it is quite enjoyable.
It is admirable – you see the same faces every time and that is why people become friends at some point. We are going out, having a meal. On a day off we are staying together, going to a beer garden, exploring the city. I like this very much.
I honestly think that the camaraderie is quite important. At the end of the day, we are a team and we must stick together.
PSB: You will though be returning to the baize at the German Masters next month, how much are you looking forward to refereeing at the Tempodrom again?
ME: I am almost not able to explain it, really! Berlin is my home city now and I am living just one tram station away from the Tempodrom – it could not be any better!
I presume I will feel like Brendan Moore during the World Championship. It is something different I guess; sleeping in your own bed during a big tournament, having breakfast at home and you are familiar with the environment.
And for sure I am looking forward to refereeing again. I will wear my white gloves again – I am counting the days!
PSB: A strange question perhaps, but as a referee who has had a few months away from the game, how will you prepare ahead of such a big tournament? Will you referee a few practice games to get back into it or will it just be a case of it feeling like you have never been away?
ME: That is a fair question from my point of view. I do not think that I will get the chance for a practice session. But I will prepare myself of course.
Whenever I am watching the snooker on the TV: I am refereeing the match in my mind – visualisation is the key word. Not just counting breaks. I am talking about positioning and so on. Even which hand I will use to re-spot a colour. It does sound strange and exhausting, but it is efficient.
Anyway, I was not that long away from the game. I know the routine comes back in a blink of an eye once I am at the table.
PSB: Beyond Berlin, will we be seeing you back as a regular fixture on our television screens during the coming months?
ME: Yes, I can confirm this. The German Masters finishes on Sunday and I will fly to London the next morning to referee the last slot of this season’s Championship League. After that I am flying home to do my laundry and flying straight to Cardiff for the Welsh Open. And I am really looking forward to India in March as well.
PSB: Perhaps even the Crucible?
ME: Maybe. 😉
PSB: How exciting would that be?
ME: Very exciting, that is for sure – we are talking about the World Championship. I would like to feel the atmosphere in there and compare it to other venues and competitions.
PSB: What are your ultimate ambitions in snooker?
ME: I would be delighted to see the game become more popular. I should like to do my share. Being in charge of the World Championship final is another ambition of course. And I am still waiting for my first maximum break – the time will come.
PSB: What are your interests away from snooker when you are not studying?
ME: I am like everyone else, really. Just love it to spend time with my friends – and it does not matter what we do. I never mind a good shopping trip. I do not like to cook, but I prefer good food.
I had the ambition to play more badminton, but … well. And of course I do play a lot of American Pool, 9-Ball, 10-Ball, etc.
Thanks to Marcel for his time, he will be back refereeing at the German Masters, which runs for five days from 4th February 2015…
Thanks to Monique Limbos for use of four of the above images.