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Tinker, Tailor…Snooker Player?

Modern day snooker stars travel the globe competing for unprecedented prize money, with 26 tournaments and £14 million on offer last season. Some players are born with enough talent to succeed from their teenage years onwards and instantly reap the financial rewards. Others are not as fortunate and have alternative careers while they try to make their way up the rankings.

In years gone by, it was the norm for players to have other jobs before they turned pro. Terry Griffiths, who is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his World Championship title this year, is a prime example. We asked Griffiths, and a few of today’s stars, about their occupations away from the baize.

Reardon with fellow Welsh legend Terry Griffiths

Terry Griffiths
1979 World Champion
Former occupations: miner, bus conductor, postman, insurance salesman

“I was 15 when I started working in the mines. I spent three years there which was a wonderful experience, but not the easiest. You’d be underground shovelling coal with bits coming down overhead. I’d finish work, go straight to bed and be back up at 4:30am to get the bus and go to work again. During the next six years I worked as a bus conductor and a postman, before getting a job working for an insurance company. After that I decided it was worth taking the chance and I turned professional. I’m glad I didn’t need to go for it at the age of 16 like they do now.

“It is nice to have worked and had those learning experiences about people and life. I think that helped me on the professional circuit. These days players think that practising is work, but it isn’t really. I never really thought I would make it as a snooker player back when I was working in my other jobs. When you have two children and are married it isn’t easy and it is a big risk to take. After chatting with my wife, I decided to give it a go just to see how I could do against the top players. That was the only reason I did it. I had never ever given any thought of winning the World Championship, especially only a year after turning professional.”

Gary Wilson
2019 World Championship Semi-finalist
Former Occupations: frozen food factory worker, taxi driver

“I worked for a while at a Findus frozen foods factory. It was pretty boring and monotonous. I was essentially in a -18 degrees freezer doing the same thing over and over again. It was very hard and bitterly cold. Memories of things like that really make me appreciate where I am at now. There are so many people that do things like that and we are lucky to be in the position we are in and able to make money from sport.

“I’ve always been a good driver and that is the only thing I felt comfortable doing. So eventually I chucked the factory work and became a taxi driver. I had a few interesting people come into my taxi We used to do a lot of pickups from Newcastle United’s training ground, so I had their players in my car quite often. I also picked up Joe Elliott, the lead singer from Def Leppard, in Newcastle city centre and drove him back to a train station, where he picked up his Porsche.

“People were sick in the car now and then. Once I picked up four army lads from the barracks and took them into the city centre. They were very drunk and one of them looked a bit worse for wear. All of a sudden there was this purple stuff all over the side of my door! I slammed on the brakes and got them out. I’m glad I don’t have to put up with that anymore. I realise I’ve got an easy life now!”

Chris Wakelin
Made Crucible debut last year
Former Occupation: Asda delivery driver

“Four years ago, I was still driving a van around Warwickshire. I loved that job and had amazing people around me. Asda gave me time off to practise and I was allowed to work my hours around tournaments. They had a fundraiser for me when I was really struggling and helped to raise over £1,000 towards my tour expenses.

“Snow was always an issue with Warwickshire being a hilly county. There were countless times when the van got stuck. It is just part of the job. In snooker, if you are 9-6 down and need to fight back it is a tough day, but that is better than working 12-hour night shifts for a week and never seeing the sun. I’m privileged to do what I do.”

Duane Jones
2019 German Masters semi-finalist
Former Occupation: barman

“Just after turning professional I did a bit of bar work to help fund my expenses. I used to work evenings in the snooker club that I practised in, which also had a bit of a drinker’s bar. It was tough because it was on a rough estate. On a Friday night I would often be trying to get some fairly rowdy characters out at closing time. There would be scuffles and I had to try and break it up. I used to look at myself in the mirror and think – what am I doing?

“There were all these drunks hassling me and they all used to take the mick out of me if I lost a match. I was giving everything to being a professional snooker player and to these people it was just a joke. It does give me a bit of satisfaction now when I go on a good run and I think back to the people who were taking the mick at the bar.”

Martin Gould
2015 German Masters champion
Former Occupation: croupier

“My old snooker club decided to take out a table and build a poker room, and they needed dealers. I went through all of the training and a professional dealer came to the club and gave four of us lessons. I found it really difficult initially, but after a bit of practising with the shuffling techniques I got up to speed and started working a couple of nights a week. It was hard work as the poker games went all through the night and you often wouldn’t finish until six in the morning, but I didn’t mind and really enjoyed it.

“When you have nine players around a table you need to be on the ball consistently. You’ve got to make sure you don’t get distracted as there is a lot going on. The cards have to be dealt properly and the chips counted directly. There are times when there is a lot of money riding on you doing your job right. You need to have very strong concentration skills, which I have always had anyway because of snooker. It was a real rush to be involved in, especially when the game reached a crucial hand. I’d consider doing it again when I have finished playing snooker.”

David Gilbert
Three-time ranking event finalist
Former occupation: farmer

“I worked for my dad’s his farming and forestry business. I drove a tractor, did a bit of potato picking, felling trees, that kind of thing. I’m not bone idle, I would much rather be working and not be skint. I used to work 16-hour days for less than £30,000 a year. This season if I had qualified for the Tour Championship it would have been £20,000 just for turning up, even if you get pumped in the first round.

“I owe Barry Hearn a pint because of what he has done for snooker. I wish he had been around when I was 18, because my career might have been different. But I’m just glad he came along when he did. I hear some of the young players moaning from time to time and I don’t see how they can complain about anything.”

A few more ‘other’ occupations:

Danny Fowler, a two-time ranking event semi-finalist, was a binman

Eddie Sinclair, who played at the Crucible several times in the 1980s, worked on an oil rig

Nick Pearce, 1996 International Open semi-finalist, is still a model and actor

Barry Hawkins, a Crucible finalist in 2013, could now have been a solicitor if he had passed an interview after working as an office clerk

Of the former Crucible champions, Ray Reardon was a policeman, Joe Johnson was a gas fitter and Dennis Taylor worked in a paper mill

Graham Cripsey, who spent a few years within the world’s top 50 during the 1980s, came from a family of circus showmen who ran a Wall of Death, riding a motorbike around the wall at high speeds. He even lost a thumb in an accident, otherwise his snooker career could have been more lucrative.