Snooker’s return to The Guild Hall – and a look back in time

Ranking event snooker makes a return next week albeit qualifying only, to the venue I would call the grand old lady of snooker auditoriums. The Guild Hall in Preston will be sure to hold a myriad of memories by players of a certain vintage. As I’m one of them (just) I thought I’d pen a few of my personal recalls purely for nostalgia. As I’ll be writing this strictly on memory, you’ll have to excuse if one or two of the dates are a touch off.

The venue itself is quite old school in style, ideally situated in the heart of the city which can’t be said for a lot of modern venues. The playing arena I’d go as far as saying is as good as anywhere in terms of both the player and punter experience. Usually an eight table set up (four on either side) with more than enough seating and the added plus of a walkway around the top with easy access to view your match of choice. In taking a vantage point up the back, you would comfortably see three tables in action. On the playing side, the tables always seemed to run beautifully there. Perhaps the fact we only ever played there in winter or early springtime helped. 

With the UK Championship at that time firmly ensconced throughout the 80’s in the fair city of Preston, you wouldn’t have picked many venues ahead of it to make your TV debut, as I did in the november of 1990. Now some of these opposition names I’m about to divulge might be giving away my age, but with JV and Dennis mentioning it the odd time just recently, I’m fair game. Anyhow, my first match on screen back then was against the South African Silvino Francisco (see, I did warn you) in the last 16, which was always the start of the TV stages back then. I have a few vague recollections of the match, the obvious one being winning 9-4 and making a nice century in the fourth frame I think it was? Times were very different back then, in that the young whipper snappers of recent years just weren’t around in those days (on screen at least). As I was still a teenager, there wasn’t anyone to bounce around any preconceived ideas in regard to playing in front of the cameras etc. It was very much a case of venturing into the great unknown. Not a terrible thing now I come to think of it. 

This next part will surprise more than a few given the snooker climate of today….Having come through the Silvino match I was now through to play Jimmy White in the quarter-finals. I mentioned that you might be surprised because up until the night before the match with Jimmy, I had never even met him, or in fact even been in the same room as him up until this point. Actually, I think the only time I seen him in the flesh prior to this was when I watched him play Alex Higgins in the Langs Supreme Scottish Masters in Glasgow when I was about 15. You can imagine how I felt when the great man came over to me in the hotel reception the night before our match, shook my hand and said typically “Hi Alan, my name’s Jimmy. Pleased to meet you”. I honestly couldn’t believe he knew I even played the game, far less my name. It was quite a thrill I can tell you.

It was also the year of perhaps the greatest UK Championship final of them all, when Stephen Hendry defeated Steve Davis 16-15 in an incredible final. Yes, the very match that the 7times potted THAT blue with the rest into the green pocket at 15-14 behind. After rolling in a 70 or 80 odd in the decider it’s fair to say that would be the critical tipping point of Stephen truly assuming the mantle of the world’s best player. Getting away from The Guild Hall for a moment, and on a similar theme to the Jimmy story, I actually met Stephen for the first time just six months prior to that tournament. It was at Pontins Prestatyn in Wales, where I was playing in The Home International amateur team event with my mates. The word was that Stephen was appearing in the eight man Pontins Professional event, but having won the first of his world titles just two days earlier he’d have been forgiven for opting out. Anyway, as myself and the lads stood in the bar one night I felt a tap on the shoulder, and turned round to find the new world champion shaking my hand and saying well done for winning the Scottish Amateur championship a few weeks earlier. Taken aback, as again I wouldn’t think he’d even know my name, I mumbled something like “aye cheers, well done yourself for winning the Worlds last week”. It was a very cool thing for him to do, and not something I’ll forget in a hurry. With the lads winning the HI series that week for the first time ever, it was a decent couple of weeks for snooker in Scotland. Needless to say, Stephen won the Pontins event as well. Hungry much?

Some of you will be aware that the World Championship qualifying also used to be held at The Guild Hall in the early 90’s. I for one would love to see it return there one day, as I know just how good an atmosphere it created. That brings me to a match I played there in the ’92 Worlds. My opponent was none other than Alex Higgins. A quirk of that match was that Alex was out to continue what he was calling in the press as the ‘ten year cycle’ having won it in ’72 and ’82. I imagine he was the only one who remotely thought he had any chance of keeping the run going, but still. I recall going into the match feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension, and with good reason. We’ve all heard stories of his colourful adventures let’s say, so there’s little point in me going into them. His form then was patchy let’s say, although you never did know what he could produce given his unquestioned talent. In the end, I came through the match with a decent victory but it really was an education seeing him play up close. The consistency in his game was gone but it was obvious through some flashes of genius what he was once capable of. What I did get was the full package of sharing the table with one of true legends of our sport – the smart suit, the obligatory gold watch and bracelet, the snappy shirt and waistcoat, the quick walk around the table and the trademark twitching before, during and after each shot. We sometimes hear the saying that they were hanging from the rafters…that certainly applied to playing Alex in The Guild Hall.

Having mentioned a couple of match wins, it’s only fair that I throw in a defeat there that sticks in the memory. I’m not sure of the year but I’d guess mid 90’s, and not for the first time it was Mr Hendry administering the pain. To be perfectly honest the reasons I remember it was that it was the semi-finals and he gubbed me 9-1. My main recall is starting the 7pm night session 7-1 down, two big breaks by Stephen and 15 minutes later I was in the car and heading back north. I swear I was home in time for News at Ten, followed by the snooker highlights (or lowlights) on BBC. Needless to say, I didn’t tune in.

As ever, thanks for taking the time to read, and let’s hope The Guild Hall sees lots more snooker in the years ahead.

Yours in snooker

Alan 

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15 thoughts on “Snooker’s return to The Guild Hall – and a look back in time

  1. Marion says:

    Preston was the one & only place my late Father came to watch snooker with me. I kept digging him in the ribs for watching the adjacent table…
    Be sorry to miss you there next week. Great venue, super blog.

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  2. Tony Conroy says:

    Alan you brought back so many wonderful memories, I always loved snooker at the Guild Hall, is there any chance you could send me a link to games to be played so I can create new memories

    Thanks

    Tony

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  3. Reblogged this on richardpgh1 and commented:
    Fantastic write up. I took the venue off the council 18 months ago as they were going to have to close it. Pleased to say that is certainly not going to happen in our private ownership.

    I made it my mission to get snooker back and it took a while of knocking on the door but I wasn’t going to give up. Pleased to say my persistence paid off and back you certainly are….

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  4. Good read, having grown up and still living in Preston I have many great memories of being able to attend live snooker in my childhood/early teen’s so it was a major disappointment when the UK Championship and then the Grand Prix disappeared from Preston. The new owners of the venue have done a good job in bring bringing a couple of tournaments back in recent years.
    I looked at the 2016/17 World Snooker calender earlier and it looks like there will be quite abit of snooker at the Guild Hall this season, a few qualifiers plus an actual tournament in the World Grand Prix in February. Hopefully we’ll now see the Guild Hall return full time to the snooker calender.

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  5. Travelling up overnight from Portsmouth to Preston (via London) next Friday to be at the Guild Hall on Saturday for the qualifiers. Hope I get some shut eye on the coach! Great read Alan & good to know the set up at the Guild Hall.

    Thanks.
    Rachel

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  6. Alan, I have a couple of ideas for blogs (you).

    1. Snooker v golf. I saw on twitter that you said snooker was more difficult than golf. This surely begs the question, why not play golf professionally instead of snooker? I have never played either myself, but I understand that a lot of snooker players love and play golf extensively. Why? What is the fascination? You could get quotes from other players.

    2. All along I have been expecting something about the emotional impact of someone of you tender years (you’re younger than me!) getting to the semis at Sheffield. Coupled with this is the impact that social media must have had, but perhaps you are too much of a roughie toughie Scot to do emotion. (I live in hope!)

    3. I think you do not like talking about yourself or your personal life AT ALL. I think in this day and age you are to be commended for that, but I’m sure all your blog followers would appreciate you answering your own questionnaire?

    Cheers pal!

    ________________________________

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  7. Anna says:

    Dear Alan,

    Thank you for your blog, which provides lots of interesting insights into the snooker world, for your work on ITV4 (I’ve greatly enjoyed listening to both your commentary and studio discussions this week) and, of course, for your performance on the snooker table.

    Could we expect new updates to your blog in the future? I know that you obviously have a pretty busy schedule at the moment, but maybe later, sometime around Christmas holidays?.. I would greatly appreciate new posts from you (and so would other readers of your blog, I’m sure).

    Anyway, thank you once again for everything you do, and the best of luck!

    Anna

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  8. Anna says:

    Dear Alan,
    What a strange contrast once again between your splendid commentary and studio analysis at the World Grand Prix last week and your disappointing performance on the table today. (And I guess I’m not the only one who is surprised and saddened by this.) What’s happened to your intention to “go deep into tournaments”, as you said at the start of the season? 😦

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