Of the 12 qualifiers for the pro circuit through Q School, seven will be making their debuts as main tour professionals.
They will be in Gloucester tomorrow alongside the biggest names in the sport when the last 128 of the Wuxi Classic gets underway.
They are Elliot Slessor, Hammad Miah, Ahmed Saif, Ross Muir, Ryan Clark, Alexander Ursenbacher and Chris Wakelin.
Ursenbacher is from Switzerland and Saif will be playing a Qatar solo as that country’s sole representative on the tour.
The others are all British. The amateur scene in the UK is not as thriving as it once was – indeed there aren’t as many snooker clubs as there once was – hence there are fewer young talents but this does not mean there are none at all.
Wakelin’s story is certainly interesting and, in its own way, inspiring. In his final Q School match he was up against Adam Wicheard, who somehow managed to snap his cue during the match, after which he conceded.
Wakelin had struggled mentally in way which suggested his snooker career was over before it had begun. He told worldsnooker.com: “I developed the yips and it got so bad that I couldn’t deliver the cue. At one point if I had a straight black off the spot I would have to play it with the rest because otherwise I had no chance. Then as I got better I decided to go to the English under-21 qualifiers in Leeds and I got through. That gave me some of my belief back and I decided to enter Q School. Three months ago I would have said it was impossible for me to qualify for the tour but now here I am.”
I like stories like that because it underlines how hard it is to get to the position Wakelin is in now.
He plays Peter Ebdon, one of the greats, in the first round. Right now he’ll be like a kid waiting for Christmas.
In years gone by, new pros would turn up at a tournament and start playing without any advice or instruction as to how to be a snooker professional. Thankfully, the WPBSA is more enlightened these days, chiefly thanks to its chairman, Jason Ferguson, who has instituted an induction process.
I don’t know exactly what this entails but the players should be told that this is only the start. They haven’t made it yet. A lot of new pros over the years have assumed it will be easy. They look at some of the old stagers in the qualifiers and assume they will roll them over, but these hardened match players have been around for years for a reason.
That said, these are undoubtedly exciting times to turn professional. The opportunities are unparalleled. The seven new pros have a potential ten ranking events, eight European Tour events and four Asian Tour events plus the PTC Grand Finals ahead of them.
That’s a lot of snooker. It’s also a lot of money, both to lay out in expenses and to potentially win back in prize money.
Mark Allen told the BBC before the World Championship that the new system would “decimate the tour” although neither he nor the journalist who wrote the story seemed to know that decimate means one in ten, which would mean a drop off of 13 players.
The truth is that sport is the survival of the fittest, so not everyone can earn £200,000 a year. The new system at least means if a player wins a match then he receives prize money, which is surely as it should be.
Quite what the likes of Ursenbacher and Saif will make of it all is fascinating. They have come from countries that don’t have the snooker heritage of the UK but must be good players to have made it through Q School, although neither actually seems to be in the Wuxi Classic.
Good luck to all the newcomers. Every world champion you’ve ever seen had to start at the bottom and work their way up to the top. Their early careers are littered with matches against long forgotten players, a mix of wins and losses which helped make them the players they became.
My advice: be professional, treat the game with respect, work hard and, above all, try and enjoy it. You won’t beat everyone and there will be moments of intense disappointment but this is your chance – go and make the most of it.