Oh, what a night, as Frankie Valli might say. On 3rd November 2022, snooker legends Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor treated Surrey Snooker Academy members and their guests to a wonderful evening of snooker, laughter and all-round entertainment. Here’s how the event came about:
Finding a table fit for two snooker legends
The story of this special November evening actually begins during one of the hottest weeks of 2022. Back in July ex-fireman turned farmer, Paul Holdenbrook, decided to move from his rural home near Wisbech in Cambridgeshire. A keen player, Paul had built an outhouse for his Riley Aristocrat snooker table – a table with some history as it happens, since it had once been one of the practice tables at the Crucible. Many famous bridge hands had rested on that baize!
There was no room for a full-size snooker table in Paul’s new home, so he needed someone to take it off his hands. If you’re a follower of our LinkedIn diary, you may already know that it’s almost impossible to sell a used snooker table. You either have to pay someone to take it away or donate it to a worthy recipient. Being a snooker fan, Paul wanted a club to benefit from his generosity, but not any old club – just the right kind of club. Half-an-hour on the internet led him to our site and the page about our values. They were enough to convince him that his table would find a good home at Surrey Snooker Academy.
Gareth and I were as astonished as we were delighted to receive a message offering us a free top-quality snooker table. All we had to do was go and get it! Gareth borrowed a transit van and we drove excitedly to north Cambridgeshire, 130 miles away. The table was as good as Paul had said it was. Taking the cushions and cloth off was easy. The slates were another matter. There are five slates on a full-size snooker table and each one weighs just over 200 kg. I could barely lift my end! We managed to get them onto the floor, but more muscle-power was needed to hoist them into a van. We left the slates where they were and drove the 130 miles back to the Academy with half a snooker table.
Back in Surrey, we put out a call to our members for help which was answered by semi-retired businessman, Steve Kent, and Jason from the Camphill Club, who loaned us a wheeled car jack. Time to drive all the way back up to Wisbech for the slates. It was already hot when we met at 7:30 outside the Academy and the thermometer rose steadily throughout the morning. By the time we pulled up at the farm it had reached 38C. Nice weather for heavy lifting!
None of us had any experience of lifting something as heavy as a snooker table slate from the floor into the back of a van. Nor did we fully appreciate how dangerous it was without the right equipment, but our ignorance lent us motivation. We used dowels and logs as rollers, moving the slates on their thin edges in the way the Celts moved the granite slabs of Stonehenge millennia ago. Then we balanced the thin edge on the small circular plate of the car jack and wheeled each slate, one-by-one to the back of the van. One slip and a 200-kilo slate could have crushed an ankle or shattered a hand. In hindsight, we must have looked like the Chuckle Brothers on a bad day. But we managed it and, sweating profusely, we loaded the slates in an hour and a half.
Another 130 miles and we were back at the Academy (nearly running out of petrol just three miles from home). 520 miles of driving, buckets of sweat and some very sore muscles, but we had a Riley Aristocrat table fit for two snooker legends to play on.
Getting in touch with our two snooker legends
This is where Gareth White comes into his own. No one networks like he does, and he’s completely comfortable talking to anyone from a prince to a pauper. So, when snooker table fitter, Keith Davis, came to fit new Strachan number 10 cloths to our heated Burroughes and Watts tables, it was only natural for the conversation to turn to Keith’s brother, six-time world snooker champion, Steve. Within a few minutes, Gareth had Steve’s direct number and was planning a special event in his mind.
Most people assume that famous snooker players are like other sports stars – cosseted and shielded from the general public by agents, managers and PR consultants. Not so. Gareth simply called Steve and asked if he would come down to Surrey Snooker Academy and put on his popular show with Dennis Taylor, in which they recreate their legendary 1985 black ball final. The deal was done with no middleman in sight. What’s more, Steve and Dennis readily agreed to make a short video each to advertise our evening. True snooker legends. It’s hard to imagine famous footballers being as approachable.
A crisis averted
As the summer rolled into autumn, ticket sales for the evening began to pick up nicely. A week before the event we had sold 105 tickets and we knew there would be more sold on the door. Then our key man Gareth took ill. With only a few days to go it was clear that he wouldn’t be able to attend. Once again, our members stepped into the breach, as did members of the Camphill Social Club. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped keep the show on the road!
Preparing Surrey Snooker Academy for our snooker legends
Two days before the event we started to get the events room at the Social Club ready for our special visitors. A crowd of more than 100 needs a lot of space and staging has to be erected so that people at the back of the crowd can see over the heads of those in front. We manhandled pallets of staging from the school next door, hired 75 folding chairs and brought the Riley Aristocrat table out of storage. More slate handling! This time we had six people per slate though – easy! Keith Davis came back to put the snooker table up whilst Steve Kent, Gary Kent and I built the stage and put out the chairs. After eight hours of hard work, we were ready.
The Big Night
By 7:00 p.m. the Camphill Club’s bar was packed with 120 people. Steve and Dennis were waiting in the wings as our MC for the evening, Dean Jorgensen, announced the players with a rollcall of their respective honours. They had won so many between them that it seemed an age before they could get to the table, but it was worth the wait. Dennis kicked off with the first of a stream of gags that kept flowing for the next three and a half hours. Steve was just as funny, especially when talking about how he got his “interesting” nickname.
Four of our members were chosen to play two doubles matches before Steve and Dennis “recreated” the famous 1985 black ball final. I say “recreated” because they actually played a normal frame until they got to the colours. Normal, that is, if normal means endless mickey-taking and banter with each other and the crowd. Once they got to the colours Steve set the table up as it was thirty-seven years ago, and they took us all the way to that legendary last black. Of course, Dennis raised his cue and wagged his finger when he sank it.
The two snooker legends then graciously presented our four best competitors of 2022 with their trophies and posed for photographs with what seemed like almost everyone in the audience. Finally, they held a twenty-minute Q&A before acting as willing participants in Dean Jorgensen’s mind-boggling magic show. A special thank you to our member James Gray for ably refereeing all evening.
Our well-watered and well-entertained crowd applauded loudly as the players left the club. These two truly live up to their billing as Snooker Legends!