We often hear and read about the players, the coaches, the commentators, the officials and even the fans.
But it isn’t often that we get a chance to learn about some of the other men behind the scenes at snooker events, exhibitions and clubs.
Does each venue on the season’s merry-go-round trip boast a collection of snooker tables, all ready for the players when it comes to game week?
The answer, obviously, is no.
Players will often blame them in times of desperation but the truth is that there’d be no snooker at all and nothing play for without those rarely-seen characters known as the table fitters.
I caught up with Dublin business man Ger Dunphy, who has been fitting tables all around Ireland and the world for more than 30 years.
“I started in 1981 during my 5th year school summer holidays. I am good friends with Ken Campbell, who lived across the road from me. His dad Des set up Abbey Billiards back in the 1960s. He was out of the business for a number of years and got back into it when snooker became popular again with the big boom the sport enjoyed at the time.”
“During those summer holidays, I went with Des on jobs around the country and when I finished school in 1982, Des asked me if I wanted to go full time. I had no hesitation and under his expert teaching he trained me in. Back then, we use to go to a lot of Workmen’s clubs tinkering on old billiards tables. Snooker became really big that year – probably coinciding with Alex Higgins’ second World Championship victory, so I was lucky as there were not too many jobs back then.
“We traveled up and down the country setting up tables for new snooker clubs opening up. Unfortunately, Des Campbell passed away in 1984 and I had an opportunity to take on the business, with a huge help and guidance from Des Campbell’s wife, who only passed away recently. I will always be grateful to them both for the chance they gave me.
“So in 1984 I started working for myself at the young age of 18. It seems incredibly young now, but I was thankful to all the clubs who agreed to give a young guy a chance to work on their tables. I got the job of fitting tables in Goffs for many years, which was always a highlight. Benson & Hedges knew how to organise a tournament. We always had to take the table down on the final night, so I was predominantly looking for a 9-0 scoreline so we could get out early and join everybody at the after event party.”
Of course, snooker is not just played as a professional and amateur sport.
There are tables for your average club player to make a paltry but personally acceptable break of 16 on, while it is common to see the green baize used as the centrepiece for workplaces and upmarket guest houses.
Although, possibly the most interesting place of all is not somewhere you’d want to be spending all your time in.
“I’m very lucky in that I still enjoy doing my job as I like going to different places. I have fitted tables in all kinds places, clubs, private homes, golf clubs, hospitals, fire stations and more. Even prisons which can be pretty interesting. You have to be at the prison at a certain time and a warden is forced to stay with you all the time, to make sure that none of your tools go missing.”
“I was able to travel to Germany a lot in the early 1990s fitting tables for an Irish company called Leisurecorp. They had already bought many bowling centres and wanted to expand the snooker and pool there. Funnily enough, I am not too keen on watching snooker live but prefer to watch the action on TV. I have fitted many tables for exhibitions for many professionals including the late great Alex Higgins – you would always be worried if he would turn up on time.
“I also did a week of exhibitions in Northern Ireland with Jimmy White, bringing a table from venue to venue. All’s I will say is that I was glad to get home after spending a week with the ‘Whirlwind’. It was okay for him as he could lie on in the morning but I had to bring the table he’d be playing on to the next venue. Jimmy asked us in Goffs one year to recover the Rolling Stones member Ronnie Wood’s snooker table as he lived not too far away. We said ‘no problem, we’ll be there at 8am the next morning’. But when we arrived at his house and the door to the snooker room was open, we walked into the room and realised there was a party still going strong from night before. We had a good laugh!”
Higgins and White are always good for a story. And after many years where competitive snooker in Ireland was at a standstill, Dunphy is happy to see tournaments back on the Emerald Isle and closer to home, as well as still being given the unique opportunity of visiting foreign climes.
“I’m very lucky to still be working at a high level in the trade and to work with World Snooker Services on some of the PTC tournaments, travelling to Germany and Bulgaria, and the PTC here in Killarney in 2011, not to forget the Helix and Galway Grand Finals. Galway itself is a great event, hosted at the Bailey Allen Hall near the centre of the city. We had to recover the table on the Saturday night and didn’t finish until 5am, which involves Gary Wilkinson checking the table and signing off on it.”
“It is a great opportunity to work with WSS as they are at the leading edge in Snooker table manufacturing and fitting. They have the contract for all tournaments fitting the Chinese Star table. Even after all these years, there is always something new to learn.”
So there you have it. A little insight into one of the lesser known aspects of the sport.
It may not seem glamorous and it involves long hours at dubious times of the day but, without the table fitters, we wouldn’t even be able to enjoy the memories of Hendry, Davis, O’Sullivan and co that we have today.
Ger Dunphy Snooker & Pool
Firhouse, Dublin 24