Alfie Burden credits WSS Tour for renewed motivation ahead of Q-School

Alfie Burden has entered the 2021 Q-School. He was interviewed by WST:

Burden – I’ve Missed The Buzz

Alife Burden admits he has had some “dark spells” during his time away from the World Snooker Tour and that nothing can replace the thrill of competition and sense of camaraderie on the circuit.

Burden was relegated from the tour at the end of the 2019/20 season and narrowly missed out on an immediate return via Q School, losing to Steven Hallworth in the final round of event three. After nine months away from competition, the 44-year-old Londoner is ready to return and has entered 2021 Q School, which starts next week.

Last year I said I had retired and I had no intention of coming back,” said Burden, whose career highlights include winning the World Amateur title in 2009 and making a 147 at the English Open in 2016. “I could have played in a few ranking events last season as a top-up amateur, but pride in my own performance stopped me, I didn’t want to just turn up having not played for months.

Then Jason Francis, who runs the World Seniors events, talked me into playing in one of their qualifying tournaments, and I really enjoyed it. That led me to decide to give Q School another crack, and I have been practising for the last three weeks. I have no match sharpness of course but mentally I am fresh and I still think I’m good enough to be on the tour. If I get my game together than not many players would want to draw me at Q School. It’s a tough event and I might not get through, I realise that.

The main thing I have missed is the competitive side. The butterflies in the stomach when you go to play in a tournament. I know a lot of footballers who have found it very difficult when they stop playing, having been competitive for most of their lives. The adrenaline rush that you get during a match can’t be replaced with anything else, and that’s something that people outside sport don’t understand. I have had a few dark spells where I have wondered what to do with myself.

I have also missed the friendships with the lads on tour as I tend to get on with most of them. I still speak to them of course and over the past year I have watched more snooker on TV than I had ever done in my life, which has also helped restore my appetite for the game. The pandemic has made everyone realise how lucky we used to be. I used to moan about the trips to China, but now I see those events as great experiences and the chance to travel with my friends on the circuit – I would love to go back there now. At the time I took it for granted.

Burden became a friend of David Beckham when their sons played together at Arsenal

Away from snooker, Burden is dedicated to his son Lene’s fledgling football career, and has spent much of the past year helping the 16-year-old to make key decisions about his future.

Lene was at Arsenal for ten years, then we recently took the decision for him to move on,” Burden explains. “I had several very honest conversations with Per Mertesacker, the academy manager. Arsenal wanted Lene to stay at the club, but it was clear that the competition was very tough and there were other junior players in his position who were ahead of him. We felt that in terms of his career pathway, it would be better for Lene to move to a club where he has a better chance of competing for the first team. It was a brave decision, but the right one.

We looked at eight different clubs. Lene spent a week at Liverpool which was a great experience, and also went to see Spurs, Watford, Bournemouth and a few others. We went to Bristol Rovers and Lene immediately felt they were right for him, in terms of the coaching staff and the football philosophy, so he has decided to sign for them. It’s a great move for him and I believe he will be pushing for the first team before long, he is good enough for the top level.

It has been a difficult time for him, he has experienced rejection from certain clubs, there have been tears. But all of that is character-building. He has had to fight for what he wants, and that will stand him in good stead. I’m planning to move to Bristol to support him there.

Having regained his lust for life in recent months, Burden has helped set up a dairy company which delivers goods to hundreds of homes around North London, and is also considering options for deeper involvement in football as a coach or an agent.

But snooker – for now – is top of his priorities. “I’ve got the hunger back,” added the former world number 38. “While I was a pro I got a bit fed up with practice, but I am enjoying it now. If I get back on the tour that will be great, if not I may finish high enough to get some events as a top-up, or I could play in some seniors events.

I’m glad that I have more options away from snooker now. Even if I get back on the tour, at my age it might only be for a few more years. There will come a time when I stop playing for good.

Q School starts on May 27 in Sheffield – Click here for the draws

It’s great to read how the WSS Tour is actually helping older players and ex-players by offering them opportunities to compete, stay motivated and stay in touch with their “colleagues” and friends. There was a real need and appetite for this and the WSS tour is fulfilling it.

Tony Knowles Q-School Ambitions

Tony Knowles is most famous – at the table – for inflicting the Crucible curse on Steve Davis in 1982. He beat the defending champion by 10-1 on the first day of the World Championship. He won two ranking events – the 1982 International Open and 1983 Professional Players Tournament – and was ranked as high as number 2 in the World.

At 65, he still loves the game and has regularly been competing on the WSS Tour.

Tony has entered the 2021 Q-School and has been speaking to WST about his expectations and ambitions:

Knowles – Tour Place Is My Goal

Veteran Tony Knowles believes he has a “realistic chance” of making it through Q School and achieving his ambition of regaining a place on the World Snooker Tour at the age of 65.

The former world number two has entered Q School for the first time in four years, having rekindled his enthusiasm for practice. When the event at Ponds Forge in Sheffield starts next week, he’ll line up against some 200 other players, all hoping to land one of 14 golden tickets to the pro circuit. Knowles will face Bradley Cowdroy in the opening round of the first of three events.

Click here for the draws and format

“I played ok against Jimmy White in the recent World Seniors Championship and it made me want to test out what I’m doing in other tournaments, to find out whether I’m good enough now to win matches” said Knowles. “The adrenaline was flowing and I was nervous when I played Jimmy at the Crucible, perhaps because I expected too much. I may have lost 3-0 but I felt I hadn’t made many mistakes, Jimmy just punished my bad shots.

“I have been practising more than at any time in the last 20 years and I have really got the love of the game back. I have a table at home and I’m using some of the practice methods I used many years ago, working on my long potting and cue action. And I haven’t lost the thrill that comes with playing in tournaments.”

Knowles was one of snooker’s biggest stars of the 1980s, winning the International Open, Professional Players Tournament and Australian Masters. He was ranked among the top 16 for most of that decade and reached three Crucible semi-finals. Perhaps his greatest moment was beating defending champion Steve Davis 10-1 in the first round in Sheffield in 1982.

He last played on the tour in 2001 and was unable to progress beyond the last 64 at his most recent attempt at Q School in 2017, but Knowles remains optimistic.

“I’ve got a realistic chance this time because of the time I have put into practice,” he said. “I have still got the knowledge of the game. Snooker changed in my era when the balls and cloth changed. But everything comes full circle and you saw at the World Championship this year a very controlled style of play from the likes of Mark Selby and Stuart Bingham. That knowledge remains very important and that’s why you see a lot of the older players on the circuit still doing well.

“What I need is more matches against other players on the Star tables, if I can get that under my belt then my consistency will improve, I’ll cut out the mistakes and the break-building will come back. My goal is to get back on to the tour and show what can be achieved at my age.”

How well Tony will do remains to be seen of course, and, should he succeed, the hectic Main Tour schedule might prove difficult to cope with for a 65 years old.

One thing however is certain: snooker is in his blood. The Seniors Tour has offered him playing opportunities as well as a renewed appetite for competition. He will give it his best shot.

Tony is one of the many WSS players who will compete in Ponds Forge in the coming weeks. He is the oldest in the draw. Amongst them, David Lilley the reigning Seniors World Champion will also be there, trying to regain his tour card. 

Good luck and, above all, enjoy it guys!

Seniors Q-school announced ahead of the coming 2020/21 season

The news was  aired by Jason Francis during the MSI of the Final two days ago.

This is the announcement by WPBSA:

The ROKiT Phones World Seniors Snooker Tour has announced the launch of World Seniors Qualification School from which eight places at major Seniors tournaments in 2021 will be won.

To be held in Jersey from 2-8 November 2020, the event will be open to a maximum of 96 players, including both amateurs aged over 40 and for the first-time current World Snooker Tour professionals ranked 65-128 at the start of the 2020/2021 season.

Places in the following competitions will be contested over the course of the event:

  • 2021 UK Seniors Championship (4 places)
  • 2021 World Seniors Championship – (2 places)
  • 2021 Masters – (1 Place in the 2021 Masters)
  • 2021 Super Seniors over 55s – (1 place in the 2021 Masters)

Each of the eight qualifying players will be guaranteed to win a minimum of £1,000 at the final stages of the event.

All players will undergo a COVID-19 test upon arrival (at no cost to them) and will be responsible for booking and paying for their own travel and accommodation.

Jason Francis, Chairman of World Seniors Snooker said: “We are delighted to be able to launch our new World Seniors Qualification School which I am sure will prove to be a fantastic week of snooker with big prizes on offer.

“Only this week we have seen the likes of Gary Filtness and Wayne Cooper overwhelmed by the chance to play at the iconic Crucible Theatre for the first time and through Qualification School even more opportunities will be created for players of all levels of experience to achieve their dreams.

“We also hope that by holding these qualification tournaments together, rather than over the course of several individual qualifying events, this will help to reduce travel and accommodation costs for our loyal players over the course of the season.”

Further information will be released by World Seniors Snooker in due course.

There are still many uncertainties linked to the covid-19 crisis and the 20/21 season calendar is not yet available at the time of writing.

 

50 years of Pot Black

Two days ago, it was exactly 50 years that BBC first aired the iconic Pot Black.

Here is Ray Reardon recalling that “legendary” program

Reardon recalls ‘Pot Black’ – 50 years on (BBC)

Next January the WSS ROKiT Tour will remember it, and somehow recreate it in Liverpool, at St Georges Hall, the venue where John Pullman became World Champion in 1966.

St George Hall

The picture above dates back from 1952, and features a match between Fred and Joe Davis.

An exclusive interview with Stephen Hendry

Stephen Hendry is fully embracing the World Seniors Tour – he was today confirmed to play in the World Seniors UK Championship next October – and he very kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me. Many thanks to Jason Francis who relayed those questions to him and recorded the interview. Here it is:

And here is Stephen doing some filming today for the World Seniors Tour promotion.

An interview with Jason Francis, Chairman of the WORLD SENIORS SNOOKER TOUR

I have known Jason Francis for many years, attending and taking pictures at a number of his events, from one night exhibitions to mini exhibition tournaments to actual ranking World Seniors tournaments. What was obvious to me from the start is that he’s a hard-core snooker fan who put his heart and soul into his snooker endeavours. He’s also a very hard worker. Jason is surrounded by an extremely loyal team and I have no doubts that their loyalty largely feeds on Jason’s own enthusiasm, working ethics and positivity.

I asked Jason if he would agree to answer a few questions, and here is the result.

Thank you Jason!

How/why was the “Snooker Legends”  idea and concept born?

I can’t remember exactly when I first had the idea for a Legends Tour. Many people have asked me, and it would be great to create some symbolic ‘light bulb’ moment. However, the truth, as far as I can remember, was I’d been bored watching Peter Ebdon and Graeme Dott on TV take an hour over a frame – and the children’s theatre company I ran,  and owned, was beginning to feel the bite of the recession. I was looking at ways to use our position and contacts with the theatres to try out another type of show.

Snooker Legends was one idea I had and recreating the Sunday night darts game show Bullseye was another. (I actually produced the Bullseye theatre tour as well, in 2010: it sunk faster than the imaginary speedboat they offered on it for the 101 or more in six darts!)

How/why did the Snooker Legends idea evolve into the World Seniors Tour?

I think since 2010 I’d been solving the snooker governing body a major problem, in that players who had been great servants to the game had fallen off tour and unless they got regular punditry work they were relying on coaching or exhibitions – neither of which could be described as providing a full-time income.  We were designed to be a vehicle for Alex Higgins, we all know what happened but out of it came the Legends tour and came 20-30 theatre exhibitions a year that  eventually, in 2017, evolved into a chance to resurrect the World Seniors tour.

Why the distinctive format?

I’m from a theatre background and to put it bluntly once you exceed a certain number of hours in a theatre, or dare to go near midnight then the charges become very large. To me a show should be 2 and a half hours with an interval – that’s old school theatre no matter what the subject. We’ve done various formats over the years with legends but all designed to deliver that time of show. We are in the entertainment business, so the respotted black gives me moments of drama but also helps me with the length of the shows.

The World Seniors tour offers serious competitive snooker, mixed with entertainment, glamour and conviviality. Did your background in theatre help/inspire you in achieving this? 

As above really but yes they are all key elements. People only have so much disposable income, we need to make sure if they choose to spend their money with us they have a really good time!

How is the WPBSA involved? What is your role exactly?

World Seniors Snooker Ltd is a separate company owned by myself and the WPBSA – it has been separated from Snooker Legends on purpose. Many people say one of the strengths of the Snooker Legends brand is me, myself and the relationship I’ve built with the players, however it’s also a huge weakness. Indeed without me the World Seniors Tour still has to function – the company has made commitments to its legends and all over 40’s amateur players globally. What we need to see is it not rely so heavily on me – one person cannot control every aspect, and fulfil every role, of a global cue sports tour. Of course there are things that I am integral too but as this grows then the tour needs to stand on its own two feet and not be reliant on Snooker Legends or Jason Francis.

Why and how do you collaborate with National Federations? 

Our tour is propped up by the amateur players all following the dream to win a qualifier and get to the final stage events to take on a legend. The National Federations are largely voluntary, yet a body like the EASB puts on over 100 events a year. It’s crazy to me that we shouldn’t be working together and encouraging their players to enter our events, especially as some of them carry a place at the World professional championships.

What are your “dreams” about that tour and its future?

I’d like to see £50,000 for our world champion within the next 5 years and a minimum 25k for the other ranking events, of which I’d like to get to 10. Aside from the ranking events I want to bring back pot black as a one-off special and also provide some other events purely for the amateurs – very much like the top 16 shootout we’ve got going to Norbreck Castle next year.

Jason has a book coming out on July 12, 2018 and you can pre-order it here on amazon

The book “presentation” by the editor says this

Jason Francis is the man who created the Snooker Legends Tour and who’s been at Ronnie O’Sullivan’s side on tour for the past 6 years. This is his story, sharing tales on the road with ‘the Rocket’ and some of the game’s greatest ever snooker legends like Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry.

From his initial idea, to meeting and staging the last ever snooker show with Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins to taking over the World Seniors Tour, Jason reveals what he learnt about the players themselves and also the sport as it developed over the years under the guidance of Barry Hearn.

Jason grew up watching snooker on a TV that needed two shillings for the meter. He was fascinated by their characters, the bitter rivalries and their seemingly rock star lifestyles. Jason wanted to be a snooker player, he wasn’t good enough but years later found a way to get involved with the sport he loved.

Through his tour, Jason was at the centre of it all, able to bring the former players together again to renew old rivalries and create new memories. He struggled against those in the game who didn’t want him to succeed but never gave up. This is his story, a snooker fan’s story.

And Jason commented

This book still tells the stories but it’s really my journey from the first idea to the recent announcement of the tour.

An interview with Jimmy White

Earlier this month, Jimmy, the reigning Seniors UK Champion was in Ireland to play Ronnie O’Sullivan in three exhibitions. He was interviewed by Conor Sharkey.

There are a couple of inaccuracies in this article, notably the fact the Stephen Hendry retired well before Steve Davis did, but Jimmy’s quotes are very interesting all the same.

Here it is from the Donegal News

Two things attracted my attention.

Jimmy states this is his last year as a pro. Now, what does that mean? I would be very surprised if he was willing to retire, he’s the type you have to scrape off the table! So what then? Is he possibly determined to concentrate on the Seniors Tour exclusively? Is he expecting the invitational tour cards to disappear now that the Seniors Tour is growing and seniors players are offered their own set of tournaments to play in?

Jimmy’s assessment of the current players isn’t exactly all positive. In fact it’s pretty damning in some aspects. He’s questioning their motivation and desire, including when talking about Ding and Trump. He states that most current players’ game is incomplete, some aspects are poor or missing and they don’t cope with longer formats well. The last bit of course isn’t helped by the fact that the “standard” format nowadays is the best of 7. He’s clearly not impressed with what he perceives as being most players mentality. I think he’s a bit too harsh actually. Many do struggle badly financially and that’s hard to put that off your mind when bills await to be paid. Rookies face a top 64 player in first round more often than not and get nothing for their efforts if they lose, even if they played well, gave their more experienced opponent a good game and entertained the audience. I’m not sure that this system is a great “motivator”.