Alife Burden admits he has had some “dark spells” during his time away from the World Snooker Tour and that nothing can replace the thrill of competition and sense of camaraderie on the circuit.
Burden was relegated from the tour at the end of the 2019/20 season and narrowly missed out on an immediate return via Q School, losing to Steven Hallworth in the final round of event three. After nine months away from competition, the 44-year-old Londoner is ready to return and has entered 2021 Q School, which starts next week.
“Last year I said I had retired and I had no intention of coming back,” said Burden, whose career highlights include winning the World Amateur title in 2009 and making a 147 at the English Open in 2016. “I could have played in a few ranking events last season as a top-up amateur, but pride in my own performance stopped me, I didn’t want to just turn up having not played for months.
“Then Jason Francis, who runs the World Seniors events, talked me into playing in one of their qualifying tournaments, and I really enjoyed it. That led me to decide to give Q School another crack, and I have been practising for the last three weeks. I have no match sharpness of course but mentally I am fresh and I still think I’m good enough to be on the tour. If I get my game together than not many players would want to draw me at Q School. It’s a tough event and I might not get through, I realise that.
“The main thing I have missed is the competitive side. The butterflies in the stomach when you go to play in a tournament. I know a lot of footballers who have found it very difficult when they stop playing, having been competitive for most of their lives. The adrenaline rush that you get during a match can’t be replaced with anything else, and that’s something that people outside sport don’t understand. I have had a few dark spells where I have wondered what to do with myself.
“I have also missed the friendships with the lads on tour as I tend to get on with most of them. I still speak to them of course and over the past year I have watched more snooker on TV than I had ever done in my life, which has also helped restore my appetite for the game. The pandemic has made everyone realise how lucky we used to be. I used to moan about the trips to China, but now I see those events as great experiences and the chance to travel with my friends on the circuit – I would love to go back there now. At the time I took it for granted.”
Burden became a friend of David Beckham when their sons played together at Arsenal
Away from snooker, Burden is dedicated to his son Lene’s fledgling football career, and has spent much of the past year helping the 16-year-old to make key decisions about his future.
“Lene was at Arsenal for ten years, then we recently took the decision for him to move on,” Burden explains. “I had several very honest conversations with Per Mertesacker, the academy manager. Arsenal wanted Lene to stay at the club, but it was clear that the competition was very tough and there were other junior players in his position who were ahead of him. We felt that in terms of his career pathway, it would be better for Lene to move to a club where he has a better chance of competing for the first team. It was a brave decision, but the right one.
“We looked at eight different clubs. Lene spent a week at Liverpool which was a great experience, and also went to see Spurs, Watford, Bournemouth and a few others. We went to Bristol Rovers and Lene immediately felt they were right for him, in terms of the coaching staff and the football philosophy, so he has decided to sign for them. It’s a great move for him and I believe he will be pushing for the first team before long, he is good enough for the top level.
“It has been a difficult time for him, he has experienced rejection from certain clubs, there have been tears. But all of that is character-building. He has had to fight for what he wants, and that will stand him in good stead. I’m planning to move to Bristol to support him there.”
Having regained his lust for life in recent months, Burden has helped set up a dairy company which delivers goods to hundreds of homes around North London, and is also considering options for deeper involvement in football as a coach or an agent.
But snooker – for now – is top of his priorities. “I’ve got the hunger back,” added the former world number 38. “While I was a pro I got a bit fed up with practice, but I am enjoying it now. If I get back on the tour that will be great, if not I may finish high enough to get some events as a top-up, or I could play in some seniors events.
“I’m glad that I have more options away from snooker now. Even if I get back on the tour, at my age it might only be for a few more years. There will come a time when I stop playing for good.”
Q School starts on May 27 in Sheffield – Click here for the draws