I was sorry to see Bjorn Haneveer retire from the professional circuit, as I would be for any player.

Snooker players tend to start out very young and dream of glory. Most don’t attain this in the way they had hoped: winning the World Championship or another of the game’s big trophies.

This is the way of dreams: for most they will remain mere fantasies but, as John Lennon put it, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Then again, he also said ‘I am the egg man, they are the egg men, I am the walrus, goo-goo-g'joob’ so his profundity was something of a moveable feast.

Bjorn was a very talented amateur. I was in Riga when he won the European amateur title in 2001, a very competitive event the final of which was played live on local TV.

His best ranking as a professional was 53rd. He reached two ranking tournament last 16s and is Belgium’s best ever player.

However, snooker is biased towards the Brits. All the successful non-British players – Cliff Thorburn, James Wattana, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, even Ken Doherty – moved to live in the UK, where all the qualifiers are held.

Haneveer did not, and it is perhaps true to say that he failed to kick on because of this. He looked like a player who could certainly join the top 32, but it never quite happened.

Everywhere I look I read he is quitting because of the expenses he incurs. But this is only partly true.

He is not being forced off the circuit because of poverty. It’s just that he can earn more money commentating for Belgian Eurosport and by running his own carpentry business.

Credit to him for this. Many players have absolutely nothing to fall back on.

Now a father, Bjorn has reassessed his priorities and come to the decision that he can best provide for his family by concentrating on areas other than playing, which is always a perilous business, particularly with the standard through the ranks as high as it is.

But the brutal truth is this: sport is not a charity. It’s about excellence. It’s about achievement.

Every top player started at the bottom and worked their way up. They did so because of their talent, nerve and determination. Some complain that the leading players are too protected but there was no protection in place as they climbed the rankings. It was because of their results.

If snooker had been managed properly for the last three decades the world no.53 could well earn a six figure salary, but it wasn’t and they don’t.

Haneveer may feel he should have achieved more, although I still say his non-British status loaded the dice against him from the start.

I also think the qualifying system is too labyrinthine. The German Masters has only three rounds rather than four, which may be a better model than the current one.

I wish Bjorn well. He is a very good player from a country which clearly loves snooker.

He probably won’t miss the stress of the qualifiers, even if there is nothing quite like competition for a player of his ability.


kildare cueman said...

Although I wouldn't be a fan of Haneveer or his playing style I am always disappointed when a non brit drops off the tour.

I look forward to the day when the top 16 is comprised of ten or twelve different nationalities, competing in as many countries.

Seems a long way away yet though. Its so difficult for a foreigner to even get on the tour and stay on, never mind move up to the top end. Hanaveer is a perfect example. As you say, the best ever player to come from Belgium, a snooker mad country, and his highest ever ranking a modest 53.

Imagine the top 16 having a German, a pole, a Dutchman, a Canadian and a Brazilian battling it out in the quarters with Ding and Robertson in tournaments all over the world.

Then we would know snooker had arrived.

147 said...

Good blog dave.I thought Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor also moved to Britain Dave they were also successful non-british players.

Anonymous said...

You have got to be kidding 147!!!!!

Dave H said...

Can of worms time, but on a strict geographical basis they weren't British, they were from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (indeed Dennis still is)

Anonymous said...

Bjorn is being realistic. Good luck to him.

Dave, I think you are correct by saying that the finances are only part of the reason for his retirement, but I believe it is BY FAR the major reason.

How many of the 96 (and next year 128) players are making a loss?

By increasing the playing tour, Hearn is making MORE money knowing full well that most, if not all the extra 32 players will enter the events hoping to find that crock of gold but will not even see the rainbow. Look at Brecel and Filipiak, huge talents but struggling hugely.

Lambs to the slaughter!

Anonymous said...

bh was a great player and a great guy

defo top 32 material, but as you said, circumstances.....

good luck in the future bjorn

Anonymous said...

12.34, what do you expect hearn to do? Pay everyone on the tour a wage and run snooker at a loss? Im sure he'll take your comments on board(snigger)

Anonymous said...

Can of worms time, but on a strict geographical basis they weren't British, they were from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

On strict geographical grounds, then anyone from the British Isles is British! Just like Russians are European even though they're not in the EU. And how Brazilians are American, even though they are not American nationals. Basically Northern Irish are British any way you look at it, unless they leave the Union.

wild said...

exactly 1.41

if players cant make it they move on to something else Bjorn Haneveer has done it in a dignified way and good luck to him for the future.

Barry Hearns priority is the sport and where it will be in 10 or 20 years he cant worry about players thats their job to do that.

kimball said...

Thank you Dave, good writing about
Björn. I were in Riga too, the opponent in the final were Kurt Maflin and it went to a decider.
Björn was flowing in those days and played a musical kind of snooker + a 147 in the europeans.
For us on the mainland, Björn Haneveer, Kristian Helgason,Björn Lorange and Robin Hull are the true heroes in a very upphill world.

Witz78 said...

Eventually there should be enough money to reward all players, the mediocrity Hearn currently refers to are the lower ranked players but these guys are professionals and among the best 96 (soon to be 128) players in the word so if half of them are mediocrity, what does that make all the amteurs fighting it out at PTCs, Q School etc.

At the moment the money just isnt there, i think the Eastern market needs to be properly tapped into, its all very well holding more tournaments there but if there more of the same £300k events then thats not really setting the heather alight. With their booming economy and huge interest, tv figures etc there should be more money on the table from them.

As for the qualifying, yes ive long been against the teired protective set up that exists. A flatter format modelled on the German Masters and even towards the PTC model of everyone (bar seeds) in the 1st round would be favourable to me. A more level playing field would also work better and easier if an Order of Merit is chosen as the new ranking system.

The current set up too of the top 16 being at each event seems outdated IMO. Given the tour will be 128 strong, that means theres only 16 places available to the other 112 players so were going to hardly ever see a lot of the other players at venues. The argument that the BIG names must be at a venue for sake of TV, crowds, tickets, interest etc doesnt wash with me. I think reducing the elite from a top 16 down to a top 8 or 10 would work better. By making the priveleges to the elite available to fewer players, it would just raise the standards even higher. Im also thinking of the likes of Tennis where theres not the same protection for top guys but they rise to the challenge. Also a worldwide tour similar to tennis with challeneger events (PTCs? ) should ultimately be the way snooker goes.

Oh ye have faith in Hearn.

Co said...

Correct Dave but they are still British. Next pop quiz: did the Nazis invade Britain and if so where?

Andrew B. said...

"A six-figure salary for the world no. 53" is pushing it a bit... the 53rd highest earner back in 1988-9 (Warren King) won about £13k prize money, and prices since then have roughly doubled.

Janie Watkins said...

at Co said...

channel island. Do I win the quiz?

Colin M said...

@ Janie: Yes! You win a piece of chalk.... :-)

Colin M said...

It's a very interesting article Dave and it shines a light on the difficulties highly talented foreign (and UK) pros face to make a living in this highly competitive and skillful sport. For an insight into what it's like for a UK-based pro, I can highly commend the Stuart Pettman biography "As sometimes seen on tv". Being able to make century breaks at will is no guarantee to success... it takes so much more.

Anonymous said...

It seems absurd to have a "professional" circuit where fewer than half the members are able to earn a living from playing snooker.
Why not reduce the tour to, say, 56 pros who would joined at each event by 8 "amateur" qualifiers with the Top 16 entering the draw at Round 1.

Betty Logan said...

I don't really see how that addresses the problem 1024; you're still going to have the same number of people earning a living from the game. Whether you have 50 people on the tour or 500, only the top 32 are going to make a liveable wage. The tour size won't alter this, but it determines how many players have access to the opportunity to make money from the sport. When the game went open and snooker was at its peak only a fraction (certainly less than half) of the pros had an adequate income from the game. Since the game lost the tobacco industry there has been a noticeable dip in quality, so clearly funding "mediocrity" does have a knock-on effect—even if that effect is simply just a factor in the number of people who attempt turning pro.