By Fin Ruane
The Republic of Ireland snooker team this week won the 2012 Home Internationals. This brings to four the number of times Ireland has now won the Prince Of Wales Shield following the successes in 1993, 2000 and 2001.
The series that is held every Autumn has always proved popular with players and fans alike and many top professional players from today and yesteryear will more than likely have several caps won when representing their country in the Home Internationals.
But where and when did it all start?
Strictly for amateur players, the first snooker international was played between Wales and England in Port Talbot in 1969. Amongst the players that represented both sides that day were Doug Mountjoy, Ray Edmonds and future world amateur champion Terry Parsons. The following year the Republic of Ireland team joined England and Wales with each team playing twice away and once at home. Two years later the Home Internationals gained further momentum when Scotland joined up to make it four teams.
Over the next eight years Irish teams travelled back and forth to venues at Grimbsy, Glasgow and Neath in Wales to take on their more experienced counterparts. Players such as Eddie Sinclair of Scotland, Alwyn Lloyd of Wales and Ray Edmonds of England were the stand-out performers of the strong and highly talented opposition teams, and although Ireland struggled to record many victories we still had some great individual talents such as Dessie Sheehan, Pascal Burke and Jack Rodgers. Such was our dismal record in these internationals that rumours of players been selected for the Republic because of their drinking and singing ability rather than their snooker skills were rife at the time!!
Throughout the years the Republic’s home matches were hosted in various venues throughout Dublin. For the first couple of years the matches were held in the main hall in the old Vincent’s school in Glasnevin. This more than suited the visiting players as they were able to practice across the road in CrossGuns and catch up with my father Fin Snr who at that time was secretary of RIBSA and friend to many of the game’s top amateurs. Still to this day I have pictures of Doug Mountjoy, Terry Griffiths, Willie Thorne and the late great Cliff Wilson of Wales practising in the club before their matches.
After several years the Republic’s home matches were moved and Colaiste Mhuire in Parnell Square and The National Boxing Stadium shared the hosting duties. In 1978, just when the Home Internationals were struggling to continue due to the financial strain on the national bodies, holiday firm Pontins stepped in to sponsor it. Their biggest camp which was based in Prestatyn in North Wales was chosen as the venue and, bar two years when the action moved to the Pontins camp in Morecambe because of redevelopment, the camp in Prestatyn still hosts the annual series to this day. The same year Pontins began their sponsorship the Isle of Man became the fifth nation and the following year in 1979 Northern Ireland joined up to bring it to six the total of teams and complete what is still the present day compliment of teams. The format was simple enough, six players made up each team and each player played an opposing team member in each match. Each game was the best of three frames and the frames won and lost are added together to calculate the result of each match. Each nation played each other on a round robin basis.
Over the next few years England and Wales dominated the series. Several new stars were stealing the show each year for their various countries – Wales had Wayne Jones, Tony Chappel and Steve Newbury whilst the old enemy had rising stars Tony Meo, John Parrott and Steve Longworth.The camp in Pontins proved very popular with the majority of the players involved, the chalet accommodation was adequate enough as were the snooker facilities, but as it was one of the UK’s biggest holiday camps it did have its downfalls regarding it as a snooker venue. For instance, the ballroom where the matches were held was right next to the main bar and the constant din of glasses clinking together coupled with roars and groans from the ongoing card game and holidaymakers talking loudly unaware of a snooker match in progress did make it a sometimes noisy atmosphere. Even during evening matches, if you listened closely, you could hear the cabaret from the nearby Clywd Bar!
This all led to various instances of players not fully concentrating on their game but in 1980 one instance stood out when a young player from London arrived on the scene and made news both on and off the table.
Jimmy White, who had just turned 17, showed up to play for England in Pontins as English amateur champion. He won his first match which included a century break and then decided to enjoy a few refreshments with his pals from London. The following morning at 10am White was due on the match table again but was nowhere to be seen. A quick dash was made to White’s chalet where still asleep he was bundled into his dress suit and dragged over to the match table. White’s play was, to say the least, not encouraging and he duly lost 3-0. The English selectors and delegates were furious as throughout the match White appeared to be unsteady on his feet and slur his words at the handshake.
The match referee, Irishman Kevin Carr, was summoned to the English selectors chalet where the book was ready to be thrown at White. The selectors had made their mind up to send White home and remove him as the player to represent England in the forthcoming World Amateur Championships in Tasmania. Kevin, who has long since retired from the game, is one of the most likeable people you could meet and although fond of a pint himself found no malice or bad behaviour from White. Yes he was hungover but it was after all a holiday camp and although White had a bit of a wild side he was a lovable character. Kevin explained to the selectors his views and taking Kevin’s opinion on board they let White off with a caution on his future behaviour. The following month White travelled to Tasmania and won the World Amateur Championship!
More star names appeared in Pontins over the following years, none bigger than in 1984 when at 15 years of age Stephen Hendry showed up as Scottish Amateur Champion to represent his country. He enjoyed a successful Home Internationals and followed that with his appearance in the following month’s World Amateur Championship in Dublin. His appearance in Dublin was Hendry’s last as an amateur player. The Home Internationals in 1984 did however have a lasting effect on Hendry’s personal life too – Hendry’s wife Mandy was there with her sister Maria, who at the time was the women’s world number 2, they were introduced and 11 years later were married.
During the mid to late 1980s at Pontins the snooker boom was in full swing, the Pontins Open was run during the same week, as was the Pro Am and Juniors. The week was renamed the Autumn Snooker festival and attracted almost 1000 players for the week each year. The Home Internationals was the main event and saw all the home nations team members enter the Open and Pro Am events to further the chances of a successful week’s snooker. The international players were handicapped and had to give non internationals +14 start. Most matches were held in the camp’s snooker room, here the tables were unlike the match tables in the ballroom downstairs and add worn table cloths, chipped cue balls and a lot of noise, many club players on holiday for the week captured a notable scalp or two.
1990 saw the Home Internationals suffer as many amateur players joined the pro ranks when the powers that be in the WPBSA deemed it a good idea to open its doors and allow any player interested to turn pro. To the credit of the respective governing bodies of each nation the championships continued and even with the destructive impact the WPBSA’s decision to open the game had on amateur snooker the quality was still there and with the Republic winning its first title since 2001 the future bodes well for Irish Snooker and indeed for the Home Internationals.
Follow Fin on Twitter @Fin_Ruane and visit the CrossGuns website here.