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TALES FROM THE CIRCUIT
Yes, it’s the return of the weekly feature – apart from all the weeks I don’t do it – taking you behind the scenes of life on the snooker circuit.
I was reading about Jason Manford, who has quit as presenter of the One Show after a tabloid expose in which he admitted to ‘saucy chats’ with women on the internet while staying in hotels on his stand-up tour.
His excuse is that he was bored and lonely moving from one hotel to another, which sounds weaselish but anyone who has spent any time on the road will understand what he means.
When Ronnie O’Sullivan described the World Championship as a ‘bore’ at the launch of Power Snooker he wasn’t referring to the actual tournament but the endless hanging around that it entails.
The life of a professional snooker player may sound glamorous – and it can be – but most of the time it’s a merry-go-round of motorways, airports and hotels. It’s late nights, bad meals, one drink too many in the bar and fitful sleep.
As players get older and have families they become less keen on spending long periods away from home.
But at least when they get knocked out they can go home, unlike the other members of snooker’s travelling circus: officials, table fitters, the TV crew and the media included.
The press, or at least needy freelancers looking to save a few quid, have stayed in various establishments that made Wormwood Scrubs look like the Ritz.
I once returned one night from a tournament to find my room had been given to someone else. My suitcase was in the lobby. “We thought you’d left” was the somewhat puzzling explanation.
More than once I’ve had drunks banging on the door, demanding to be let into what they erroneously believe to be their room.
Speaking of alcohol, many years ago the WPBSA appointed a chief executive who availed himself of the free bar in Dubai as if the drink were going out of fashion.
A couple of hours later a board member and his wife were walking down a corridor when they came across him face down, incapacitated through drink.
“Who’s that?” the wife asked.
“That’s our new chief executive” came the immortal response.
The British bed and breakfast is one of those institutions held in high esteem, usually by people who never have to stay in them.
In my experience they are eccentric places. I once stayed in one that would not accept cheques or credit cards (in all likelihood some sort of tax dodge) and was physically driven to an ATM by the landlord so that I could pay in cash.
At least in a B&B you are, in theory anyway, guaranteed a bed. The breakfast often leads much to be desired.
Fergal O’Brien was staying in a B&B in, I think, Plymouth and when his cooked breakfast was put in front of him there were no eggs on the plate.
When he asked for one he was cheerily told, “oh, sorry, we need all the eggs to bake a cake.”
I stayed in a B&B in Bournemouth one time where the manager told me breakfast would be served from 8-8.20am: not a minute before and certainly not a minute later.
As it transpired he used this 20 minutes to conduct what was basically a stand-up routine in the dining room. Hunger felt like the better option after a few days of this.
B&Bs are cheap and can sometimes be friendlier than big chain hotels but too much time in them would surely drive you insane.
One of my colleagues hit on an idea to save even more money in Aberdeen a few years ago: he stayed in a tent.
Alas, one night he returned to the site to find his tent washed away due to flooding and exceptionally strong winds.
One year in Sheffield I stayed in a flat with two other journalists. It proved to be a predictably bizarre experience. One hack believed his room was haunted while one day the other forgot to turn the grill off in the kitchen after making early morning toast.
When we returned from the Crucible some 13 hours later we opened the door and were hit by a blast of heat that nearly knocked us over backwards.
Suddenly life in B&Bs didn’t seem so bad.
A colleague once stayed in one in the era before email and needed to dictate a story to a copytaker late one night. He asked the establishment’s owner if there was a phone he could use – it would be an 0800 number and so therefore free but the owner pointed out of the window and said there was a callbox across a field. This was in the depths of winter.
For those who spent many months at the Norbreck in Blackpool during the 1990s, it wasn’t so much boredom that set in but madness.
Day after day after day of snooker tends to do that to you. All they could do was try and amuse themselves with various wind-ups.
One official returned to his room to find it completely empty, stripped of everything. He later had one of his eyebrows shaved off in an unrelated incident.
The king of the practical joke was John Carroll of 110sport. He once changed all the numbers of various floors of a hotel so that when people got out of the lift they had no idea where they were.
John Higgins naively strayed into this area when he filled Ian Doyle’s bed with sugar in Dubai, which is a little like walking up to a lion and punching it in the face.
Another time, two of my journalistic pals were sharing a room to save money. One joker decided to tell hotel staff that they weren’t just sharing but were, in fact, a couple.
One of the hacks had to leave one night to cover football and so his bed was unslept in. The next morning the other journalist set off for the snooker but turned back, headed to the room and ruffled up the sheets in the unused bed in case the cleaning staff got the wrong impression.
I realise all of this sounds childishly pathetic but with so many hours, days and weeks spent on the circuit you have to amuse yourself somehow.
Of course, hotels can be deadly too. Snooker Scene editor Clive Everton fell in his bathroom at the Crucible three years ago and broke his hip, thus missing the last day of the championship and indeed his first ever day at Sheffield since the tournament moved there in 1977.
A fellow journalist was once in the shower at the Norbreck when someone broke into his room and stole his wallet. The hack heard the door close, realised what had happened and gave chase down the corridor, rugby tackling the thief naked.
This scene must have looked a trifle odd to anyone passing by but, on the snooker circuit, it was just another day.
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