THE attention of the snooker world is firmly on Ponds Forge for the next few days as 128 hopefuls took to the tables hoping to seal a place at the Crucible for the Betfred World Championships.
But the need for a thriving amateur game in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and to see the sport prosper at grass roots level, is as relevant now as it has ever been.
You don’t have to wander far in the corridors of one of the main ranking tournament venues without hearing devotees of the sport opining that the amateur game is suffering and in need of a boost as never before.
So a structure for competition and progression below the professional ranks is vital, and credit should go to the likes of ‘Snookerbacker’ Tim for his continued promotion and support of the amateur side of the game via the Snookerbacker Classic, which crowned its fourth champion in Gloucester last weekend.
China’s grass roots efforts are currently yielding the best crop of young players since Ding Junhui emerged with the likes of Zhou Yuelong and Zhao Xintong looking the real deal. And while those taking part in the SBC event over the years are not all teenagers by a long shot, it has proved its worth, not least with the carrot of a Q-School entry.
Martin O’Donnell won the inaugural event in 2012, and then went on to earn a two-year tour card from Q-School, only falling off last summer. David Gray, a former ranking event winner of course, chose the 2013 SBC as one of the means to try and resurrect his career and went on to lift the trophy.
Teessider Anthony Parsons took the honours in 2014, another amateur who has had his chance playing in the biggest events as a top-up player, notably the 2013 UK against Ding Junhui.
And then just days ago another good story as Brett Miller, a roofer from Barnsley, swept all before him in the 2015 SBC beating former pro Daniel Wells 4-1 in the final to scoop the £1,500 first prize from a total prize fund of £8,000.
Plenty of those in involved in the SBC Finals last weekend and in past years were again due in action this week at Ponds Forge, not least Reanne Evans (pictured) who faced Ken Doherty, Wells who would play Dechawat Poomjaeng, and Sydney Wilson who faced Michael Holt.
Such tournaments offer the amateurs competition and hope among many other things, and it is surely only a matter of time until – in true X-Factor fashion – someone uses the stage in a way that transforms their lives and then goes on to great things in the professional game.
Such events don't organise themselves - and a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes from a number of people, not least the man himself. For snooker to continue to be a part of the sporting landscape in the UK, the more the merrier.
Photograph courtesy of World Snooker