CONGRATULATIONS MUST GO to the eight players who have qualified for the professional circuit through the two Q School events in Burton-on-Trent.
This was a long, bruising process and very much a survival of the fittest, so credit is due to Sydney Wilson, Daniel Wells, Eden Sharav and Rhys Clark, who qualified through Q School 1, and Gareth Allen, Jason Weston, Duane Jones and Paul ‘Snowy’ Davison, who made it through Q School 2.
They will all now be eligible to play professionally for the next two seasons. Wilson, Sharav, Clark, Allen and Jones are all first time professionals while the other three are returning to the main tour.
Weston, 44, was relegated from it in 2003 so he returns after 12 years. Little had been seen of him since but he entered Q School last season and has qualified through it this year.
Allen and Jones are two Welshmen who have enjoyed success as amateurs. Sharav hails from Scotland and rather agonisingly lost in the final round of both Q School events last year.
It was a varied field for Q School with young hopefuls rubbing shoulders with some experienced campaigners. Andy Hicks, a former world, UK and Masters semi-finalist and one of the best players never to have been ranked in the top 16, entered having fallen off the tour last year. He reached the penultimate round of event 1 and the same stage in event 2, where he lost 4-3 from 3-0 up to Luke Simmonds.
Q School is tough but nowhere near as tough as the professional circuit itself, where the standard jumps several levels and players are competing not for the chance to make a living, but for that living.
Two players who have done so for the best part of a quarter of a century are among the players who have now lost their professional status. Dave Harold did not enter Q School. Marcus Campbell did but was beaten in both events. Rather poignantly after his defeat in the second, he simply tweeted ‘The End.’
Campbell was among a slew of Scottish players inspired by Stephen Hendry’s emergence as a world class talent in the mid-1980s. Before then, Scotland had had good professionals but none in the television age who challenged for titles.
Campbell turned professional in 1991. This was the era of Hendry, who would shortly be joined on tour by John Higgins, but also the likes of Alan McManus, Billy Snaddon, Paul McPhillips, Jamie Burnett, Martin Dziewialtowski, Chris Small, John Lardner, Graham Horne, Euan Henderson, David McLellan and several others too.
Campbell lasted longer than most. A hard match player, he had good days and bad but reached a career highest ranking of 21st, won a European PTC title in 2010 and was responsible for one of snooker’s biggest upsets when he beat Hendry 9-0 in the last 64 of the 1998 UK Championship.
It is a result which has followed him round but that is unavoidable. Hendry was struggling a little at the time but nobody beat him 9-0. It was a result which forced him to rebuild his game and he went on to win a seventh world title at the end of the season.
Campbell had, in fact, already beaten Hendry, in the Scottish Open the previous season, and leapt up from 73rd to 48th in the rankings but, despite some good results and a 147 in the 2008 Bahrain Championship, trod water a little until the Barry Hearn era began.
Like many experienced players, he embraced the increased playing opportunities and started to get results. In 2012 he reached his first major semi-final at the Wuxi Classic, and yet here we are just three years later and he’s off the tour.
The two-year rolling ranking system means points come off as well as go on and Campbell’s inconsistency in recent times did not compensate sufficiently for this.
Harold’s fate was sealed when he failed to enter the World Championship qualifiers, having been caught up in a little local difficulty in his native Stoke. A drunken incident left him with cracked ribs and he was unable to play.
Harold’s professional career began, like Campbell’s, in 1991 and he enjoyed a successful career, appearing in three ranking finals, winning one, and spending four seasons in the top 16.
His big breakthrough came in 1993 at the Asian Open in Bangkok where, as a 500/1 outsider, he beat Hendry among others en route to winning the title.
He was a semi-finalist in the next ranking event, the International Open, and swiftly climbed the list. The following season he reached the Grand Prix final. He achieved a highest ranking of 11th.
Harold was renowned as one of the sport’s tough guys but also made well over 100 career centuries, including four in four frames against Ali Carter in a Championship League match.
Over the years, his playing action became more deliberate and thus so did his game but in 2008 he reached another ranking final, at the Northern Ireland Trophy.
Harold is 48. His immediate plan is to work with his brother, a builder. Campbell is 42, his future plans unknown.
All their lives these two dedicated professionals have been snooker players but they now face a very different world. Some former players do find work inside the game – Martin Clark and Gary Wilkinson, top 16 players two decades ago, both work as World Snooker officials and coaching is also an option but there is nothing to beat the rush, the thrill of playing and it must be hard to accept that those days are over.
The sport is not just reliant on star names but the foot-soldiers who form its bedrock. The late John Spencer was once asked abrasively, ‘what have you ever done for snooker?’ He replied: ‘I played it.’
For those who have made it through Q School, there will be much snooker to play these next two years. For those who are departing the scene, new challenges await in a world beyond the baize.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.