YOU COULD hardly swing a cat in the media centre on final night at this year’s Dafabet Masters without hitting some kind of celebrity, such was the entourage attracted by Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby.
And one of those enjoying his first visit to the tournament was Premier League footballer and Aston Villa captain Ron Vlaar, a long-time friend of top snooker referee Jan Verhaas from his six years spent playing for Feyenoord in the official’s home city of Rotterdam.
Vlaar, a full Holland international with 21 caps for his country, attended with Villa team-mates Matt Lowton and Jordan Bowery and is a huge fan of the green baize. He has a full-size snooker table at home, but admits that Bowery among other visiting pals has the clear edge over him at the moment, and is keen to get his highest break up from 25.
The 28-year-old Vlaar, who arrived in England in the summer of 2012, said: “I have known Jan for some time now, I spent six years with Feyenoord in Rotterdam and obviously he lives there and is always coming back after his refereeing around the world.
“So we met and really got on, and after I first saw snooker on Eurosport in Holland and really liked it, that was something we talked a lot about.
“I didn’t know anything about the game before. When I was young I played billiards with my grandfather, enjoyed that, and then you see some of the other games out there.
“Snooker was one of them. I remember very clearly seeing one of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 147s as a child, my mum wanted me to go and have my tea but I asked her if I could stay and watch the end.
“Luckily the frame didn’t take that long, being Ronnie! And that was what really got me hooked.
“I do have a full-size table at home, it is really nice to have it there. I don’t get to play that much, and need to play a lot more to get my standard up.
“My highest break? I don’t even want to say, really! But honestly it is 25, it’s not great but it is good for relaxing after football and I love to play snooker with friends and my father.
“Jordan Bowery came over recently, and I have to admit the British are generally much better when it comes to snooker. I had no chance. We also have a pool table at the training ground.”
Vlaar was delighted to see the first professional snooker event staged in Holland for 22 years this season, the Rotterdam Open which Verhaas helped to promote, and was disappointed not to be able to attend the trail-blazing event to support his friend.
But he has been to a Snooker Legends event in the past, being hauled up to briefly partner O’Sullivan on a night also featuring Jimmy White.
He added: “I know there was a tour tournament in Holland this season in Rotterdam, apparently it went very well and I would have liked to have gone but had football commitments back here.
“The final of the Masters was only the second time I had been to see snooker live, I went to a Snooker Legends event in Bedworth with Ronnie and Jimmy White.
“I got to do a break with Ronnie, so that was an amazing experience.
“I really enjoyed coming to Ally Pally for the final, it was a great night and fantastic to be around the players – I was so grateful to Jan and World Snooker for their hospitality and helping arrange it.
“Jan is a big man in snooker, and considering snooker is not yet very popular in Holland it shows how well he has done to get to where he has in the sport.”