Mark Jones is the father of Hannah Jones and is also actively involved in the grassroots of snooker as the IT Communications Director on the board of the EASB (English Association of Snooker and Billiards). I caught up with him at the Pink Ribbon event to find out more about his behind the scenes role and to discuss the state of the ladies game and what it’s like to be a snooker parent.
Roland Cox: You are on the board of the EASB as the IT Communications Director so how did that come about and what does the job involve?
Mark Jones: I’m still not convinced I know how I got into that role really, I think it was through knowing John Hartley and Dan Lewis and they were looking to build the board up and they had an IT requirement, somebody to help with the website and webshop and databases and also to provide general guidance in IT, and we’re looking to implement video streaming for various events as well so that’s what I do.
RC: Can you tell the readers exactly what’s involved in setting up live streaming over the internet.
MJ: Well at the moment it’s as simple as turning up with a camera and a laptop and making sure there’s an internet connection, but that’s the biggest problem. I’ve found in the clubs that we go to they generally don’t have a good enough connection.
At the moment the academy in Sheffield has such a poor infrastructure when it comes to connections outside of the Academy itself that it’s not really feasible, but they are looking into it to see what they can do.
RC: So it is something that will definitely improve in future then?
MJ: Yes in this country they are rolling out various plans to try and improve the broadband infrastructure, and when they do we might be in a position to have better live feeds at various events and see more snooker.
RC: How involved are you in the junior scene and how much is down to Hannah?
MJ: To be honest if Hannah wasn’t playing snooker I’m not sure I’d be involved at all right now. I love playing snooker, I played fairly well when I was younger and then I moved to Derby and entered the local league so I think I’d just be a normal club player now.
When Hannah got involved, I started going to the local junior club and helping out and from that Hannah got the scholarship from the WLBSA (World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association) so I got involved there helping Mandy Fisher out with the juniors. We brought a fair few juniors into the game but a lot of them left for various reasons, primarily because there’s usually only one winner but also because the parents have to sacrifice a lot of time and money to get them to various events.
Then I entered Hannah into the EASB events because I wanted to see how she would compete with the lads, and I ended up helping out with the juniors so that’s how I got to be where I am.
RC: What’s it like being a snooker dad watching your little girl play?
MJ: Horrible. Massive. Excellent. Brilliant. And at the same time terrible! It is the most stressful job. Take today for example, Hannah played Zack Richardson and she just wasn’t there! She’s not cueing the ball properly, she’s really struggling and it’s awkward because you want to try and help and point out what she’s doing. You’ve seen her knock in big breaks before and play effortless snooker in matches and then you turn up and watch her really struggle and it’s horrible.
But at the same time this is all about the grounding and the learning and it’s nice to see her develop and improve and nice to see her come away with titles and get accolades and recognition as well. So it’s ups and downs, highs and lows.
RC: You’ve taken her to places like Thailand, is that to give her more experience and to see how the ladies game is developing in other parts of the world?
MJ: Hannah’s sort of a vehicle in the same way that Reanne is for raising awareness of the ladies game. Hannah was asked to go and represent England in Thailand. It was a situation where a lot of girls couldn’t afford the trip out. It’s a long way to go and it’s a lot of money and the return even if you win the tournament doesn’t pay for you being out there. So with funds allowing we try and take Hannah where we can.
The first time she went abroad was to Belgium with Reanne for the European Championships but that was a bit gimmicky because she wasn’t ready. I mean she was a good little potter and she did her bit out there because she won a frame which was quite crucial to get them in a play-off after Reanne had lost a frame, and Reanne ended up winning the play-off which got them through to later rounds so she did play her part out there, but really it was a marketing exercise.
Syria in December was an opportunity for Hannah because firstly she was number 1 on the ranking list and was the English Ladies Champion so that helps. But the other thing is you’re going to a Middle Eastern country where you wouldn’t expect to go to play snooker and as a culture experience for Hannah it was massive.
RC: How do you think ladies are treated in snooker as a whole? I’ve heard stories from Monique about playing conditions and imposing on male members in their clubs.
MJ: It’s getting better. There are still the old dinosaurs out there who don’t like ladies, don’t want to watch them, don’t want them in their club and on their tables. They are slowly being pushed out but ladies have still got a long way to go. If they can pick the pace up a bit and get some ladies coming through and more publicity for Reanne as she tries to qualify for the men’s tour then that’s the positive publicity we need to raise awareness that ladies can actually play. If that continues then a lot of the pool players who used to play snooker may come back in and especially with all the things that Barry Hearn is doing to raise the interest in the game again.
RC: Where do you think the major growth areas are for ladies snooker?
MJ: In this country we’re really struggling. It’s a legacy of the organisation at the moment and the players are pretty stagnant until new blood comes in. The new blood I’d say is the likes of Jasmine Bolsover who is 12 now and she’s a cracking little prospect. But that’s it really, there’s no one else of note at that age and getting them to play in WLBSA events is so tough.
Abroad I can see Europe doing really well. There are a lot of ladies playing and a lot of middle aged ladies as well as younger players. In China there are some ladies coming through but not as many as you’d expect. I mean you’d expect the Chinese to really push on it but again the interest is mainly with the men out there because that’s where the money is. There’s no money in the ladies game. If that changed I think that would see more of an insurgence of Chinese ladies.
Hong Kong again only has about 4 players and the youngest is 20 so that doesn’t bode too well so it looks like Europe will be leading the charge on it.
I think with all the initiatives that are coming from Barry we’ve got to hit the schools, get Hannah involved with a lot of publicity and try and raise the profile that way and see if we get more girls in. But there’s got to be initiatives out there, I don’t know what they are just yet.
RC: Do you think it would be good for Hannah to one day try her hand at pool in America?
MJ: Obviously Hannah has to be famous in snooker in some way first in order to go over there and play pool, otherwise she’ll just be one of hundreds of players. You have to be famous in this country, like being world number one and world champion in the ladies game or by qualifying by rights to get on the men’s tour and competing at a high level. That’s the challenge she’s got and she needs to get to that level. She has to surpass Reanne because every generation has to go that little bit further than the previous one.
After Alison Fisher and Kelly it sort of stopped until Reanne came along and now Reanne has raised the bar with the way she’s going and Hannah is 10 years behind her in age. Hannah could push past Reanne and then we need someone like Jasmine to push past Hannah.
RC: Where is Hannah now in relation to where Reanne was at her age?
MJ: I understand from speaking to a lot of people that Hannah is better than Reanne but that is understandable because she’s been playing longer. Reanne started later than Hannah did. But at the same age I understand that Hannah is as good as any girl who has ever picked up a cue. But she has to keep practicing properly and playing the right people. I mean she’s come to the Pink Ribbon and she’s been outclassed but she’s had 4 tough draws to be fair to her. I wouldn’t have been able to beat them myself, they are all regular match century breakers. But she has to see this and has to see what the gap is like but all I know is she’s come out of this event smiling and wanting to do more.
RC: As you’re around the junior scene who are your tips who you think will make it to the big time?
MJ: One of the names who springs to mind at the moment is Shane Castle. I’ve seen him knock in so many centuries in games against Hannah in Pontins and he was 11 at the time he was doing it as well. He’s not being caught up in this flow of enthusiasm you see for so many young players. What tends to happen is taking Judd as an example, they’ve got to find their pace in the game, their natural level. It’s all very well saying Judd won everything as an amateur – which he did do, well – and then saying he’s going to get on the pro circuit and be World Champion next year, because it’s not going to happen. It’s taken him a few years to learn everything, settle down and as soon as he finds his pace and his rhythm everyone needs to watch out.
That’s the same with the juniors. You can see some key people out there like Shane and another lad called Brandon Sargeant who is coming through, and you’re seeing them all the time but a lot of them are going to disappear because of opportunity or circumstance or whatever. They’ve all got the ability, but it’s the ones who have got the mental attributes that can take them one step further, the ones with the killer instinct and the ones who can learn from matches.
So I don’t know what will happen to Shane, he could end up working for Microsoft or playing pool, who knows? But he is one of my key ones to watch out for in the future. So watch this space.
RC: OK Mark thank you and all the best to you and Hannah over the coming season.
MJ: Thank you.