IT’S BAD NEWS for Martin Gould that health problems may mean he can no longer fly.
As reported by the governing body, Gould has suffered from acute ear infections and doctors have told him that flying may exacerbate the problem.
A quick look at the snooker calendar, with several events in China and on mainland Europe, reveal how damaging this may be to Gould’s career. He has already withdrawn from this week’s Riga Open. Ironically, he came within a frame of winning the tournament staged furthest from home, the Australian Goldfields Open, earlier this month but suffered another infection on his return home.
Let us hope Gould finds a way of managing this because he is a terrific talent and an enjoyable player to watch, possessing as he does a formidable attacking game. He went toe-to-toe with John Higgins in their Bendigo final, losing 9-8 after a high quality duel.
Even leaving health matters aside, some snooker players travel better than others. A lot of it comes down to attitude as much as dealing with different climates and jetlag.
John Parrott, a family man, was no fan of being away from home but had a very good record outside the UK, winning tournaments in various outposts – Thailand, Dubai, Belgium, Malta, Germany and Pakistan included.
This was due in large part to Parrott’s attitude. He treated these events purely as work. In Thailand, when some players were exploring a few of the more eye-catching sights, JP was in bed with a newspaper crossword faxed from home.
Mark Williams is another player who has enjoyed considerable success outside Britain, particularly in Asia where he has won three ranking events in China and three in Thailand.
Williams would usually take a friend or two, try and enjoy wherever he was and, while other players complained about the food, the people, the sights, and basically the fact it wasn’t the UK, the Welsh left-hander would look for the positives.
Last season he played seven events in six different countries within the space of five weeks. But perhaps this did take a physical toll: he only won two frames at the Crucible.
The great Australian Eddie Charlton would often commute back and forth from home to the UK, spending as much time on aeroplanes as he did involved in grinding safety battles.
Some players simply seem to struggle away from home. Years ago, Graeme Dott and Michael Holt used to argue about who was the worst player once they got to China, a dispute Dott lost when he won the 2007 China Open.
Mark Allen famously took against Haikou during the 2012 World Open but still came home with the trophy and then defended the title a year later.
Higgins himself was said in his early years to be a poor traveller but has added Australia to the list of countries where he has won a ranking event. He has captured two in China, two in Germany, one in Malta and won the Irish Masters as well as European Tour titles in Germany and Bulgaria.
Travelling can be enjoyable and it can also be dull. There are only so many hours you can spend in airports and on coaches to venues before boredom sets in. It may seem like a jet-set lifestyle but the mundanity of travel is more apparent when you are doing so for work, not for a holiday.
Many players have no interest whatsoever in sightseeing. This may partly be due to lack of curiosity but is also often simply because they are there to do a job. They go from airport to hotel to practise table to match, in competitive not holidaying mode.
It can be harder for players with young families but the fact is that if you don’t want to travel, professional sport is the wrong career for you.
I remember in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, several players stated they would never fly again. They did, of course, because they had to.
One knock-on effect of that tragedy was that players could no longer carry their cues on to aeroplanes, which led to the ritual of players standing anxiously by the baggage carousel after journeys to foreign climes to see if their cue would firstly emerge and secondly whether it would emerge unscathed. Stephen Hendry’s cue with which he won his seven world titles was damaged beyond repair at Heathrow in 2003.
One of the criticisms aimed at World Snooker is that while it is good to have tournaments far and wide, the calendar is not quite joined up so rather than having a run of events in the same area, players are flying here, there and everywhere. This was certainly the case at the end of last season where there were tournaments in successive weeks in Blackpool, Mumbai, Llandudno, Bangkok and Beijing.
In sports such as tennis and golf, it is common for events to be staged in the same area for a series of weeks, but snooker is not yet at this stage. Travelling expenses soon mount up and tiredness can set in.
Like so many things in snooker, this issue is seen largely through the British prism. It is worth remembering that while travelling may be tough for some players, at least they get to go home at the end of it. Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui among others spend most of their time a long way from the places of their birth.
And with snooker being played in more countries than ever, travelling will remain a central part of the lives of players for the foreseeable future. Best keep that passport in a safe place.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.