How can billiards make itself more attractive?

If snooker is the equivalent of a test match in cricket, and pool is like a 20/20 game, where does billiards fit in?

Snooker is, perhaps, the game for purists who love to see big breaks and the ebb and flow of a best of 25 match. Pool appeals more to the younger players because a frame can be over in a dozen shots or a matter of minutes.

But never see it on TV, it doesn’t have that rock ‘n’ roll appeal. The Free Press went to find out about why the sport is struggling to survive.

Be honest, how much do you know about billiards? I knew very little, except that it was played on a snooker table, and used three balls instead of the rainbow of colours you see in snooker.

To be honest, even after a couple of hours spent with Bridlington league officials, I still feel like I only scratched the surface of a sport which takes years to master, but those who play it and love it, insist it is much more enjoyable than any other games on the green baize.

Like many sports, billiards is floundering. It needs more players. Games can last hours and it just doesn’t appeal to television companies, or viewers for that matter.

Stop off for a pint in a pub, there’s a pool table. You can watch people playing, learn the rules, pick up tips and have a go.

The world’s biggest snooker tournaments are on TV, it produces household names, and even though it doesn’t have the characters of yesteryear, it is guaranteed exposure to millions. It is trying to crack the Chinese market, but billiards is fading away.

Could you name the current world champion? Or any other player for that matter?

John Bayes is honorary sectreary of the Bridlington and District Billiards and Snooker League. He said: “People ask why billiards isn’t as popular. It’s hard to learn and you never stop learning.

“The strongest area for billiards is in the North East and especially around Middlesbrough. There is a professional circuit and most of the players come from there.

“Bridlington is one of the other pockets of the country which has kept it going. There is still quite a lot of interest in the South West and Cornwall, and it is strong in the Widnes area in Cheshire, and in India, it is the third most popular sport after cricket and hockey.

“The last time it was on TV must have been about 15 years ago, a competition in Norwich, but I think it is to hard for the majority of viewers to follow.

A member of the Bridlington league for 60 years, John’s highest break in snooker is 98, an agonising two short of a century, while his top billiards break is 232. But billiards is his first love. “I was the first person allowed in the Flamborough Vic club before I was 16-years-old. I used to go with my father when I was 15 to learn the game.”

After learning how to play, he then qualified as a referee. “When we went away to play in the Yorkshire League, to places like Barnsley and Wakefield, they always had referees. We didn’t have anyone qualified in Bridlington so I enquired about how to become a referee.

“An examiner from Hull came through and gave seven or eight of us coaching.”

That was when billiards was, maybe not thriving, but certainly more popular. It was passed on down the generations but in this era of technology, people don’t have the time to learn the skills.

League treasurer Ralph Johnson said: “Snooker is all about controlling the white ball, but with billiards you’ve got to think about all three balls for your next shot. And the rules of billiards are much more complicated.”

The Bridlington league only has 35 billiards players and only nine of those don’t play snooker as well.

The league starts again in September and teams will now be made of three players, instead of four, in a bid to get more teams in the league.

There are also plans for an open day event to showcase the game to people who are more used to playing pool and snooker.

League chairman June Mason wishes more people could appreciate billiards like she does, but she accepts it is a losing battle.

“The younger generation have moved on to pool. They want a quick game. Some frames of billiards are over in three-quarters-of-an-hour, but if you get some of the older players, it can be an hour-and-a-half. Usually, it takes an hour to score 100 points, as a rough guide. The younger generation just don’t have the time to learn billiards, but it really helps with snooker skills.

“It would be good to see it on TV again occasionally. I prefer to referee billiards mathes, than snooker. It is far more interesting, especially when you have two very good players. It’s a clever game.”

Anybody who wants to chat about billiards and find out more, can contact John on 850570.