Interview with Terry Griffiths (part 2 of 2)

by Roland Cox

(Cont’d from part 1)

Why did you want to become a coach?
I don’t know really. I think initially when I was playing professionally I was about the only player to go and watch. I used to love watching and I still do now, it fascinates me seeing what goes on out there. So although these were the people I was playing against, I used to love going out there as a spectator. I learned a lot through observing what was happening with the other players and then I started doing a little bit of coaching in my club with amateur players asking for advice and help and it’s just something I enjoyed.

Then I studied it a bit more and had a bit of coaching from Frank Callan who was the only professional coach at the time and I learned a lot from that, and I wanted to get a coaching scheme set up which is what I was lucky enough to do with the WSA. I stayed with them for a number of years and then I was put out because of the politics and I wouldn’t support the board for what they were doing to the game so I lost my job.

Then I had a job with 110sport who wanted me to coach Stephen Hendry so I started that in 2001 and I stayed with them until last year. I was among a lot of the top players there which was a wonderful experience for me because I learnt so much from them. But I love the coaching because it gives me a competitive edge which was something I’d lost because I don’t play anymore, and in my own way I was competing as a coach. Seeing players winning and losing is more or less the same feeling I was getting when I was playing.

Terry in his coaching role with Michael Wasley (photos by Janie Watkins)

What would you say has been your biggest achievement as a coach?
On the professional side I would say the best achievement was Patrick Wallace. Patrick was one of the coaches on my scheme and he asked me to coach him. He was a perfect pupil, he was a very intelligent boy and open to every thought you had and would dedicate himself to everything you gave him. And he went from without being harsh a journeyman who was ranked about 150 in the world, and he got up to 24 in the world and got to the quarter-final in the World Championships and lead Joe Swail 7-1 in the first session. So to get from where he was and where he’d been for years to there is probably in my own personal way my best achievement.

But getting Marco Fu and Alistair Carter to their titles was very special just to be a part of it you know because it was so special for them. I mean Marco and your Hendrys and Maguires were special players anyway but it’s very rewarding to see them do better and terribly disappointing if they don’t.

What’s it like when you have two players playing against each other?
Well it’s not great when you have two players playing against each other. When you’re part of a team as I was with 110sport a lot of times you would have Mark Williams and Stephen Hendry playing against each other, and then after that there were more and more players started working within the team so it was inevitable I would have two players going against each other so I would set the rules up early on. I’d tell them I’m not going for either of you but I’m going to try and help both of you to prepare to win.

Do you have thoughts of maybe the win would benefit this player more than the other?
Not really. To me I don’t believe I win anything for players I just help them prepare better. I can’t pot any balls for them so I don’t have a situation where I help one more than the other or I get badly affected by one or the other winning. I think you get into the mind-set where you accept all of that for what it is. It’s not in my control so with the players I tell them how it is. This is what I will do, in the 15 minute interval I’ll go and sit with him as well and if you don’t like it you’ll have to tell me, and the rule I’ve always had is I will never speak about the other player. I can’t do that. And it’s worked alright.

During the intervals do you talk about strategy or do you focus on the mental side or the technical side?
It’s a bit of everything. I’m another set of ears, another mind. That’s what I am.

How did you come to be involved in the South West Snooker Academy?
Well of course the company I was with 110sport had some financial troubles so I was left with a decision if I wanted to finish which I wasn’t far off doing anyway, and looking at the possibility of doing something here with Paul Mount who’d come down to my club to be trained as a coach with Wayne (Griffiths, Terry’s son) and myself a few years before. I knew he had some plans up here, and I’d see him on the circuit and talk to him about how things were going and he said he was going to have a place to help the young players and I’ll always remember the next thing he’s up in Glasgow with Sarah and showing me these plans for this place, and I really wanted to say “are you sure about that?” I mean it’s huge!

Anyway one thing lead to another and obviously with my close links with Janie (Watkins) and because I knew Paul we got together. What attracted me is that Paul is very keen on helping the younger players which for me was a totally fresh challenge. I didn’t have that at 110 with all the established players. Here I had a lovely mix of your Jimmy White and Tony Drago’s who I’d played against professionally, and then you had the younger people and you had the amateur players which is something I liked. And also Paul wants to get structures in place for coaching which is my game, introducing people into this place and training people to be coaches. So all of those things I love and we agreed to have a go at it which is working out very well at the moment.

Do you have any long term goals here?
I think we’ve got more short term goals because everything’s brand new here and it’s obviously to get more events into the Academy. But you’ve got to understand it is a bit of a split because you’ve got the OnQ Promotions which is the management side which is what I do with the players, and I’ve got 25 players if they want coaching, and then the other side is the Academy which is trying to get into the schools and using my profile to help get into the schools and attract more opportunities into the Academy.

More importantly I think is to get the players working more as a team. We’ve got a few schemes running at the moment to get some of the boys together up here, and I come up and watch them practice and set the day out for them and talk to them. It’s not coaching as such, because some of them have their own coaches anyway but it’s to try and get more a team spirit in here. There are players I feel are not playing enough who should be playing here more and Paul is very aware of that so we are going down that route at the moment to see if we can get more of ours playing on a more regular basis. We attract a lot of overseas people in here, and we really need other players here.

So of the players you’ve got are you fine tuning who are going to be your key players moving forward?
Let’s say we’re always monitoring the situation we have with players. At the moment I don’t think they’re supporting the Academy as much as I’d like. Some of them are, don’t get me wrong but they’re mostly local boys. I’d like the others to have a commitment to come to this place every so often. I mean you can’t expect every week and they don’t have time these days but there will be days organised where they come up here and I’ll come up for two days and watch them practicing and set them goals and targets for the season.

Do you have a message for any youngster who wants to take up the game?
The message I’d give them is that they’re very fortunate to be in today’s world when there are so many opportunities in all sports. If they take to the game as I did as a young lad and if they’re good enough then they’ve got ample opportunity to make it as a professional player.

You don’t have to go out these days and tell people how good professional snooker is because it’s not a pastime any more, it’s a profession. Of course the money the top boys earn isn’t something you’re going to get unless you’re very special and there’s higher paid sports than this obviously, but when the top players are earning between half a million and three quarters of a million a year then it’s easy enough to tell people they can take it up as a profession. That was never an opportunity years ago.

Do you have any scouts out looking for prospects?
Obviously with Paul and myself we have so many contacts within the game, and if there’s anybody we should be scouting for which there are one or two at the moment, I take advice and then go and see them playing and Paul and myself will have chat and decide if that’s the right direction to go with that person or not. Paul has final say obviously but he’s taken me on to perhaps give him some advice on that line as well, and we tend to get on very well together which is nice. So I’m enjoying the job and I’m going to be coming up here more now so will be spending a lot of time in Gloucester.

The big 3 of Welsh snooker during the 80s: Mountjoy, Reardon, Griffiths

Moving onto the game of snooker, can you explain to the readers the differences in playing conditions through the decades?
OK well if I go back into the 70s when I started playing at a higher amateur level and competing at that level. I remember going to places like Pontins where they’ve had the qualifiers for the last few years, and if you were put onto a match table it was unbelievable. It had a proper green cloth, whereas if you went into a club in those days the cloth would be there forever! When they put a new cloth on the table in my snooker hall they were queuing downstairs before it opened because they wanted to get on. These days generally speaking if a club hasn’t got all brand new cloths nobody goes in there.

On the professional circuit in those days you had to be very careful when you put your hand on the table because the wood was boiling hot. There were no diffusers in the lights then you see and it was bloody boiling I can tell you! You were sweating, and because of that heat the balls were quite receptive.

Then in the 70s the new balls came in and that made the game different and then the cloths went thinner so that made it easier to spin the balls so there are a lot of things. Advancements they’re called isn’t it not changes, I mean they’re a lot better for the game. But some people at the time thought it took part of the skill out of it.

The cues have improved as well, in years gone by you couldn’t get a handmade cue or if you could you didn’t know where to get it, whereas today it’s an open market and everything is available to them.

So the conditions are far better than they used to be, and on the playing side the levels are much higher and that’s true in all other sports. I have to say that the appearances of modern day professionals are not as good as they used to be, and their behaviour around the table isn’t either, I don’t think. When I see people like Jimmy White who’s here today who is probably the fairest player I’ve known play, then I see out there today players telling the referees where to place balls and arguing and this and that, it’s not that great.

Don’t you think when you watch the amateur players when they don’t have the referees and they’re sorting out the miss rule amongst themselves, they do seem to be playing fair game with each other?
Yes it’s very sporting in one respect. I’m just saying that…

Banging cues and that sort of thing?
I understand banging cues to a certain extent, as long as it’s not disturbing your opponent. In its own way it can get the frustration out and get your mind back set on what you’re there for. But it’s not so much that, it’s just the way the world’s gone and that players expect things to happen for them because they’re used to it happening for them. Years ago we didn’t have that but today obviously the whole world is different. But it’s just that they think the world owes them a living and it doesn’t. It’s a tough world and you’ve got to be exceptionally good to make the top.

Going back to the tables briefly just to put something to bed. Some people seem to think the tables in the 90s when Hendry was at his best were the fairest tables and that it’s too easy today.
It’s a load of rubbish! The tables have never been really tight or too big. There was once in 1982 when BCE came along and did a contract and they did the tables too tight, but in general terms I think the tables are very fair. They give you the opportunity to play well but don’t give you easy pockets. These players today are so good they make it look as if the pockets are easy but they’re not. And you’ve got to remember that whatever the conditions are they are the same for both players.

You mentioned earlier that the players of today are better than in your day so how do you think the better players of the 70s like Reardon and yourself would you cope if you were starting out today?
I think we’d cope and we’d handle what’s in front of us; I mean we handled what was in front of us in our day, Reardon more than me because he was 6 times champion of the world. What I find today is that the players aren’t perhaps as rounded as they used to be. They’re very aggressive now, it’s all-out attack, they only want to play when the sun is shining, and it’s just different.

Terry Griffiths and Doug Mountjoy

The standard is very good but there’s not enough variety in the game, I don’t think. They’re all very much the same. This is generalising of course but of the younger players that I see, the ones that are successful because I don’t see the ones that are not because they don’t play in these events, it’s not that they just attack more, it’s that there’s no finesse with it. If you understand that?

Yes for example a lot of the Chinese players just get down and bash.
They don’t stroke the ball around the table like they used to do years ago. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing, but if you’re asking my opinion then that’s missing from the game. And also because we get into such a competitive world there’s not so much personality shown. All the players these days are competing week in week out. In the days of the personalities, the Reardons and the like, Alex Higgins or whatever, it was an exhibition circuit with some tournaments thrown in.

A good thing to look at would be the tennis world because if you look back there used to be some great characters and now there isn’t any. They’re all better players, they all run faster and hit the ball harder and it is very competitive. I think sport has got to be competitive and snooker is going through a very good run at the moment with Barry Hearn and I’m pleased to see things like that happening. But at the moment in this country I think we need a dozen of these (gestures to SWSA) because this will spread the word to get more people playing.

Where do you see the growth areas for the game? Europe for example?
I think Europe will grow to a certain extend but Asia’s going to be the place and in another 5 years I think most of the big tournaments are going to be in Asia. I think that’s where the money is, that’s where the public adore the game out there because of players like Ding and James Wattana. It’s not just China, there are other countries out there, India and Pakistan have always been strong at snooker and billiards. In this country we’re always going to have snooker, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the days of the 80’s and 90’s and if you do then you’re a fool because it’s not going to happen. But the game will always be sustained in this country because there’s such a wide base of it here.

What about Eastern Europe and Scandinavia?
I don’t think that’s going to happen. There is interest but it’s early days yet. If you go back 20 years there was a huge boom in Belgium because they used to get BBC1 and then that didn’t really materialise. And the same with Holland, there is interest out there but it didn’t come forward. The countries that have come forward are in Asia.

Still we’ve got more countries competing now in the amateur world championship that we’ve ever had before. The game is spreading round the world and there’s millions of people playing this game all the time. But all we ever think of is what is the pinnacle of the game which is the professionals, but there’s only 100 of them! So the truth of it is the game is out there with other people and not the professional game.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the game today with things like the Shootout and shot clock and Power Snooker?
Well you’ve got to understand I was with Barry Hearn for 11 years, he was my manager so I understood things were going to change with Barry, nothing stops still with Barry Hearn. That’s one of the secrets to his success.

I think the 6 and 10 reds are hopeless, I think the Shootout was a tremendous success, and then they’re trying different things which I don’t think is the right way to go. What they really need to do which they’re starting to do is to do other things for the grass roots of the game and not to put silly events on that really will never be snooker.

I think 6 reds is popular in Asia mainly because they like to have a gamble on the game because it happens very quickly and I can understand that, but it’s never going to take the place of the World Championships. They’ve had their World Championship and Mark Davis won that but I wouldn’t say it was a meaningless tournament but it wasn’t far away. I mean it’s not going to attract attention, it’s not going to get the media coverage apart from maybe to have a laugh about it, but on the other hand you’ve got to have a bit of variety.

I like Premier League and always have and that’s the shot clock and the top players are always playing each other so that’s always good, but at this moment in time seeing perhaps cricket and football having too much of everything on television is going to have an effect in the long term. Snooker had that in the 80s and 90s when you started to have too much on television and in the end people just don’t watch because there’s so much of it on.

At which point Terry was whisked away to fulfill his duties as coach to the players and drive a hungry Mark Allen to McDonalds before his next PTC match. He quips “Do you see what I have to put up with?” as he reaches for his car keys and then he’s away. Terry is kept very busy in his role at SWSA but from watching him in action over the weekend, it’s clear he enjoys every minute of it.

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