Southwest Snooker Academy: Opening Night Report

Yesterday I was in attendance at the Southwest Snooker Academy for the official opening of the arena table, as marked by an exhibition between Jimmy White and Tony Drago, as well as a few other fun matches. Click below for my report…

Living 200 miles away from the venue, I left my house well in advance so that I would make it nice and early and for the first 199 miles everything went well. Unfortunately however getting close to the Academy I couldn’t work out how to actually get to it so decided to leave my car in the park and ride and try to find my way by foot. Luckily enough however, as I was walking, Paul Mount drove past me and gave me a lift, result! As soon as we got out of his car we were greeted by Terry Griffiths, there to commentate on the exhibition who shook my hand despite having no idea who I was!

Having sorted out my car I was quickly spotted by On-Q’s Janie Watkins who gave me a sneak preview of the very impressive main arena which I am reliably informed has a capacity of 361. I then was taken through to the back and saw four of the other tables that they have in the venue, which will be used for events such as the upcoming EPTC that will be staged there. Apparently there is also an identical set-up directly above, bringing the total to eight tables, in addition to three practice tables elsewhere.

Jimmy gives his pre-match interview

Downstairs I was also introduced to a few students from the local University who had the opportunity to interview Jimmy White, Tony Drago and Terry Griffiths prior to the start of the exhibition. All three were in good form, a particularly amusing moment coming when one of them said to Tony that he reached the top 10 for the first time in 1998 to which Drago quickly corrected him and said 1994. As the interviewer probably wanted the world to swallow him up however, Tony then realised that it was the top 16 in 1994 and the top ten in 1998 as had been put to him. Phew!

After that I went back through to the VIP area and had a chat with Dominic Dale and David Hendon as we tried to ascertain how many frames there were going to be tonight as nobody really seemed to know. It was then explained that the match would be a best of seven, albeit it with a minimum of five frames to be played prior to the interval.

Heading into the arena for the main event, I took a seat on the second row and watched as Dale (MC for the night and suitably dressed for the occasion), brought on a raft of On-Q Promotions players, together with the trophies that they had won during the past season to have their photos taken with Paul Mount and receive a round of applause from the audience.

The Pink Army

Then came Tony and Jimmy for the main event, as well as referee Michaela Tabb who prompted the first quip of evening when Jimmy said that he could not concentrate, referring to the clothing that Michaela was wearing!

Although he did lose the first frame, Jimmy was in excellent form and quickly bounced back with two centuries and another break of 94 to win the exhibition 4-1 in what have only been about 45 minutes. Highlights included a brilliant shot from Jimmy in which he potted one red off another red despite neither being particularly near the pocket, as well as the quip of “it’s only worth four grand” when someone suggested that he go for a 147.

Following the fifth frame, Jimmy and Tony looked at each other to say “is that it then?” and upon receiving confirmation, shook hands and we headed back to the VIP area for half an hour or so. Unfortunately it was at this point that I became aware that the exhibition to this point had not gone out on the live streaming as had been planned due to a technical glitch far too boring to explain here. The problem would be fixed however for the second half of the evening which was in many ways to prove more entertaining in any case.

Jimmy in the balls

Having chatted further with Dom and David, I headed back into the arena as a series of draws were made to decide which paying punters would get the opportunity to play Jimmy and Tony as well as which would win a couple of prizes on offer such as a signed cue and book by White.

The time then came for Mark Davis to demonstrate a frame of six-red snooker with a member of the public. The man that Mark chose to be his opponent though turned out to be Paul Mount who despite the fact that he does not get the chance to play as often as he would like these days, potted a few balls and did ok. I found it to be quite amusing because I could tell from the reactions of the crowd that most of them did not know that Paul is in fact a very handy player, instead expecting him to be hopeless when he has in the past made a break of 143!

After this match came a couple of contests between Jimmy and members of the public, the second being particularly entertaining as the Whirlwind attempted to put together a 147 break which would have been some way to mark the opening of the arena! As it was an exhibition however, Jimmy had hit the reds from behind (something that he amusingly described as a George Michael break, which went over the heads of almost everyone there I think), sending 5-6 of them up into baulk which is not ideal when going for a maximum. He did far better than he probably should have however before eventually missing a red into the yellow pocket.

Paul Mount getting an unexpected outing

The way Jimmy had played it just went to show that he still clearly has the game and can play all the shots, indeed it was near flawless snooker from him last night. On the match table with the lack of a crowd and the intense pressure of the ranking points however, it is a completely different proposition and a test that he cannot always pass.

As Jimmy had to leave following his doubles match with Tony, Drago then came to the table and had a chance to show his skills, getting in on the act with a century of his own, in fact the highest break of the night which would have pleased him no doubt. The most comical moment during his matches however was when referee Michaela Tabb (when she wasn’t falling over the advertising boards around the table), at one point let out a shriek at the sight of a ‘beastie’ on the floor, a fair sized spider that had taken residence in the empty box that the balls came in!

Following the conclusion of Tony’s final match, MC Dale came down from the commentary booth and thanked everyone for coming as well as presenting Michaela with a bunch of flowers and rounding off proceedings. I was actually sat next to Paul’s mother who was telling me how proud she was of her son, rightly so given the very impressive state of the venue.

MC Dale!

We then headed out and I had a good chat with Sarah Mount about the evening, as well as introducing myself to Alfie Burden and his sister, Alfie of course having written a blog for this site last month. I also had a chat with a few other On-Q players such as Jamie O’Neill, Michael Wasley and Jak Jones as the guests filtered away and important negotiations as to what to order from the Indian came to the fore.

Summing up though, it was a very enjoyable evening and from what I saw of the Academy it is a very impressive facility and surely the only one of its kind in this country. As described previously, there are eight tables set up with seating there for crowds together with room for partitions to be inserted should they be required, in addition to the main table which has a commentary booth, a booth for a marker and also windows at the top where people can watch from the player’s lounge. And there were no problems with the scoring, World Snooker take note. As Terry Griffiths said pre-match, snooker could do with another dozen people like Paul involved as ventures like this can only be good for the sport.

Tony Drago and a scared looking Alfie Burden

It was a shame that there was an issue with the live streaming but it is the first time that the Academy has attempted to do this and teething problems are only to be expected. The footage was recorded so should hopefully be made available at some point and it is better that any technical issues are identified now rather than at the upcoming EPTC event which will be staged at and streamed from the Academy.

Thanks again to Paul, Janie and Sarah for the invite, hopefully I will be able to get down there again soon!