Just like most sports, we can all get over enthused about those at the very top – witness football, most follow the Premier League (I am guilty as charged as a fanatical Everton supporter), but you would have to admit they do get 99.99% of the media coverage yet football at all levels is just as much fun to watch, and even better to play.
Pool is in a similar boat but in recent weeks I chose to follow my fellow pool players around (with permission) as the Sussex County Blackball Pool Team, relative newbies to the sport in an area controlled by the less popular World Rules. Step forward Carl Fitzsimon, a larger than life character who from humble beginnings basically set up the Sussex County Blackball Association In 2012 from Jesters Bar in Eastbourne – and they haven’t managed to get rid of him to this day! A lack of players meant they had to start from scratch with just an A and a B tram (plus Seniors) to start with but here they are, five years later with added tables at the club and more teams to the fold with a strong showing each and every year at the National Finals in Selsey. Pool, as you may have guessed, is not the wealthiest of sports but local businesses stepped forward to help with table suppliers Automatic Machine Services taking a keen and supportive interest in the overall setup as well as Fairway Electrical (who provide the Pro Cups), plus Ministry Of Fones and Monster Flat Pack who helps with most or all of the fees and overall funding, including sponsoring players for the prestigious IPA World Championships each February. Not Nike or Reebok perhaps, but an all hands to the pump attitude from local businesses is as big a story (or ought to be), and just goes to show that if you work hard enough at something, you will eventually see results!
In 2015, Carl was finally rewarded for all his hard work with a place in the England Masters B2 squad where he proudly represented England in Coleraine Northern Ireland, Killarney Southern Ireland, and at home at Bridlington with his best result when runners up in 2016 in the European Championships when promoted to the B1 team. Not content to sit on his laurels, Carl was joined by team mates Dave Langham, Kev Mcllroy (who won the 2017 individual title), Andy Mcintosh, Graham Betteridge, Paul Thompson, Stuart Richardson, Roy Pontefract (manager) and Shaun Ryan (Captain) in the B1 team this year who went on to win 2017 European Championships in Bridlington, where the team spirit helped them over the line against pre-Tournament favourite Northern Ireland in a pulsating final, 13-11 after a nail-biting finish to top the thirteen nations taking part.
It may have taken thirty years of playing pool to get to that standard but for me, it is a heartwarming story that good old-fashioned hard work can be rewarded however far down the line that may be, with Carl and his colleagues now looking forward to a trip to Malta for the Nations Cup in November – time for the ever-generous sponsors to open their wallets again perhaps?
As Carl asked me to say as my final sentence – bring on the next 30 years!