Ron Vlaar: Villain has snooker heroes
As captain of Aston Villa, Ron Vlaar has spent most of the current season enduring the pressure of battling against relegation.
Pic: Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images.
So it’s a great relief for the 28-year-old Dutchman to be able to take his mind off football by playing or watching his favourite other sport…snooker.
Vlaar first came across snooker while watching television at home in Holland. “When I told my friends about it they didn’t know much about snooker so they didn’t understand what I was talking about,” he said. “But I was fascinated by the skills involved and the way the best players controlled the cue ball. I also like the tactical side of the game – when two good safety players are against each other it’s like a game of chess. And I find it amazing to see the best players perform under so much pressure.”
What really got him hooked was seeing Ronnie O’Sullivan make a mesmerising 147 maximum break during a match against Marco Fu at the 2003 World Championship.
“I was at home with my family and my mum had made a really nice dinner,” Vlaar recalls. “She was just putting it on the table so she called me, but Ronnie was on this incredible break and going for the 147 so I had to tell her I would come later! I watched him make the maximum and then joined my family for the meal. The food was a bit cold by then but I didn’t mind!
“I have a table at home now so I play a lot. It’s a difficult game and my highest break is only 34 but I am improving. There is a pool table at the Aston Villa training ground and the other players enjoy a game, but it’s not the same as snooker. I watch snooker on TV whenever I get the chance.”
Vlaar names O’Sullivan as his favourite player so it was dream come true for the tough 6 foot 2 inch centre back when he got the chance to play alongside the Rocket during a Snooker Legends event in Bedworth. An exhibition doubles match saw Vlaar and O’Sullivan team up against Jimmy White and another fan.
“It was a fantastic experience to see Ronnie play,” said the former Feyenoord ace. “It’s only when you get that close to the best players that you realise how good they are and how well they strike the cue ball.”
Vlaar, who has played 14 times for the Netherlands, is a close friend of leading snooker official Jan Verhaas.
“He comes from a town in Holland close to mine and a friend of mine knew him,” Vlaar explains. “Jan came to watch me play for Holland and then we got to know each other. It’s great for our country that a Dutch referee has been so successful in snooker and is considered one of the top officials.”
Vlaar comes from a sporting family; his father was an amateur footballer while his mother was a handball player and his two sisters are competitive in volleyball and gymnastics. And through his own experience in football, he fully understands the mental demands involved in sport at the highest level.
But he feels that snooker players have it as tough as anyone, particularly in the intense atmosphere of the Crucible arena.
“If I make a mistake then one of my team mates can cover for me,” he said. “But in snooker you’re on your own and if you make one mistake you might be sitting down for the rest of the frame.”
Vlaar was glued to his TV set for much of the 17 days of the World Championship loved seeing O’Sullivan coming out on top in the final, refereed by his friend Verhaas. And helping keep Villa in the Premier League made it a perfect finish to the season for the flying Dutchman.