by Alex Claridge
I was about 12 when I persuaded my dad that he had to get a membership for the East Station Snooker Club, which had earlier been known as the Vintage Snooker Club.
It was one of two snooker clubs in Canterbury back then, the other being the Ritz above what is now the Jobcentre in Northgate.
This was 1986 and I was utterly captivated the World Championships that year. It was, of course, the year after the extraordinary “Black Ball Final” when 18.5 million people stayed up into the early hours of the morning to watch Dennis Taylor defeat the all-conquering Steve Davis 18-17 and needing the black to win the last frame.
Snooker was massive. During any tournament, I whiled away hours lying in front of the telly watching Cliff Thorburn take on the like of Terry Griffiths and Willie Thorne.
We talked about it endlessly at school, about who our favourite players were: Steve Davis, Joe Johnson, Cliff Thorburn, Kirk Stevens, Jimmy White, Tony Jones and Alex Higgins.
A game which these guys made look very easy was in fact exceptionally difficult when you got to the green baize of the East Station Snooker Club.
When we reached 18, my friend Tom Cherry and I would play almost every day. It was the early 90s by now: Stephen Hendry was dominating the sport and Ronnie O’Sullivan had arrived.
Tom and I used to love studying the characters who regularly played at the East Station.
There was a tall bloke call Biff who had a straggly mullet and played on one of the four “premium” tables in the first room of the former rail freight store.
You could also count on Lee Martin being in there with his little Scottish mate when they weren’t gambling at the old William Hill in Dover Street.
There were a couple of saddos who wanted people to think they were better than they really were by loudly recording the break score as you walked past “63…64…” In reality, they hardly ever put more than two or three balls down a visit.
And then there my two favourite men in the club. One was a Maltese bloke in his 30s who always wore a tracksuit and the other an older, very fat Englishman with a grey beard.
The hilarity here stems from the fact that they took their games incredibly seriously when they were worse than me, which is saying something.
They adhered scrupulously to the rule on fouls. I remember Beardie telling Tracksuit that he had committed a foul because his sleeve had brushed a red ball.
On another occasion, they had a heated row about whether one had nudged the other: “I’m sure you deliberately nudged me as you came past.”
One time Tracksuit won the sole frame they played, which incensed Beardie and he started towards the exit without doing the courtesy of replacing the balls for the next people to play.
Tracksuit’s “what about the table” was met with Beardie’s “f*** the table”.
Tom and I used to amuse each other by repeating the clichés of the tv commentators like Ted Lowe, Clive Everton, Jack Karnehm and Jim Meadowcroft.
“I think he’s spotted a plant…that’s a bad miss…shot to nothing…just this simple blue…awkward cuing…excellent cue ball control…I think he can see this…he’s lost position here…”
“Whispering” Ted Lowe was many snooker fans’ favourite and rightly referred to as the voice of snooker.
I used to like the fact that he always found something other than the snooker to talk about.
“That’s a very snazzy haircut young Stephen’s got there,” I recall him saying about Hendry’s flat-top/mullet combo.
Another time as the camera panned round the auditorium at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre during one tournament, it caught four portly men in the front row wearing unattractive 90s Pringle sweaters, prompting Lowe to remark: “There are some very intelligent people here today.”
Snooker’s a great sport. I only wish I’d been better at it. Time I think for me to renew my membership at the East Station Snooker Club…