Can you feel the Force?
This month marks three years since Peter Ebdon played his last match as a professional snooker player. A mid-December German Masters qualifier against Matthew Stevens – he lost 5-4. It goes without saying it wasn’t the way Ebdon wanted to bow out.
In the months that followed, the 2002 World Champion tried his utmost to get himself into a fit state for one last Crucible hurrah. But, he was in too much pain and on the 30th of April 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he announced his retirement.
Unfortunately, it was “wear and tear” in Ebdon’s neck, suffered over the course of his 29-year career, that forced him to stop.
“I couldn’t stand or sit without being in excruciating pain for around ten months,” he now reveals. “The only time I wasn’t in pain was when I was laying down flat. And I gave up taking painkillers because it wasn’t making any difference. I felt that my career had been taken away from me. It was a real shock to the system. There were some really difficult times, but fortunately, I’m not in pain anymore.”
Prior to retiring, Ebdon visited a professor in Coventry to find out whether surgery was an option. An MRI scan showed deterioration of the vertebrae, but he opted against an operation in favour of alternative medicine.
He recalls: “The professor basically wanted to drill through my chest and take out two vertebrae and replace them with some plastic contraption that would give me limited movement in my neck, which is a scary thing to hear. I didn’t fancy that, so I had lots of healing, bodywork and acupuncture to get me back on track.
“I remember sitting in the professor’s office at the hospital and he was talking to me, but I just couldn’t really hear what he was saying. Everything was in slow motion, like being in a movie. It was really strange. And all I could think to myself was, ‘that’s it, it’s over.’”
After turning professional in 1991, the Islington-born potter had secured two-thirds of the Triple Crown by the mid-2000s. To this day Ebdon still has regrets about his performances at the Masters, where he reached just two semi-finals, a decade apart.
Other than his 2002 Crucible triumph, it was the UK Championship where the nine-time ranking winner played out his fondest victory. A thrilling 9-7 win over John Higgins in the semi-finals of the 2006 event in York, having already knocked out Mark Selby, Stuart Bingham and Ding Junhui, before going on to defeat Stephen Hendry 10-6 in the final.
“To win the UK Championship in York was incredible, it’s an amazing place,” said the former world number three, nicknamed The Force. “I don’t think I practised harder in my entire career. I felt in top form but I had a tough route. I only won it once, but sometimes once is enough because of how tough these big tournaments are to win.
“I took the trophy back to Dubai on the plane to see my family and I remember dancing around the living room at Christmas to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ with the UK Championship. I was just so happy, so happy to win the UK. It was certainly one of the highlights of my career.
“I remember when I won, glancing down at the trophy and seeing all those incredible names of the greatest players in the history of snooker and knowing that my name was going on there. To be part of that history was very special.”
That chapter of Ebdon’s life is now complete. However, the 52-year-old is still involved in the sport, coaching the current generation of players in the hope they can realise their dreams too. Elliot Slessor was the first to approach him, with top 16 players Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski following suit. The latter even credited Ebdon for helping him progress to the quarter-finals of this year’s World Championship.
Like his time on the baize, Ebdon’s coaching style is intense. Conversations take place before and after matches. He makes “lots of notes” and watches his player’s opponent like a hawk.
“There’s an awful lot of effort that goes into it,” he said. “And I hope the players understand, and I think they do, that my heart and soul go into giving everything I can.
“Seeing the light bulb go on in their mind and the difference it makes when they realise what they’re capable of mentally, it really is an incredible thing to behold.
“When the players win, I feel their elation. When they get beat, it’s almost like I’ve been beaten as well, I feel shattered. To play a small part in the players’ success and to make a little bit of a difference, it really does mean an awful lot to me because I know as well as anybody how hard it is to win.”
Ebdon hasn’t exactly put his feet up since retiring. In fact, he was already planning his post-playing career long before he called it a day. In 2016, he founded Designer Pedigrees, a horse breeding consultancy business, before utilising the lockdown to set up a second organisation called Quantum Energy Healing. Combined with his coaching, Ebdon has created a routine and structure that allows him to enjoy his life again, pain-free.
“There was a silver lining in the cloud that determined I wouldn’t be able to play snooker anymore,” he said. “Because I felt there was some unfinished business, I could still win another tournament. And I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to go through the pain I experienced. It was absolutely horrendous. But it was obviously meant to be and I had other things to do in my life.
“I’d given my time in snooker, it didn’t end how I expected or how I would have wanted but that’s it. Despite it being very difficult for quite some time afterwards, things are good now. I’m doing the three things I love and that is the secret of all success.”