YELLOW TO BLACK Q&A WITH...CHRIS SMALL
Former Scottish snooker professional Chris Small achieved a lifelong ambition to become a major ranking event winner when he won the 2002 LG Cup at the iconic Guild Hall in Preston.
Small spent 14 seasons on the top tier of the sport. In 1992 he overcame a bumper starting entry to claim the Masters Championship Qualifying competition and he was also part of the Scottish Nations Cup team alongside Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Alan McManus.
The LG Cup victory propelled him up the rankings and into the World's elite Top 16. He reached as high as Number 12. Throughout his career he made another three major ranking semi-finals.
Unfortunately, Small was severely hampered by ankylosing spondylitis; a degenerative spinal condition which would leave him suffering during and after matches. He persisted, though, and played through the pain barrier, but had to retire from professional competition in 2005.
We caught up with Chris to see how he is now, and what his current thoughts are on snooker...
TCV - Hello Chris and thank you for your time!
I think the whole snooker community would like to know how you are - it has been over a decade since your retirement from the pro circuit.
I believe you are still heavily involved in snooker with coaching up in Scotland? That must take up time...I guess you really enjoy it?
CS - Yes, I am a full time snooker coach now, coaching around 5 or 6 days a week - I take great pleasure helping players with their games.
It is fantastic to continue in the sport that I love after having to retire in 2005 with my spinal disease. It's a great job that always keeps you on your toes as every day I am working with different levels of players.
One of my clients Chris Totten actually just won the European Men's Championships in Cyprus last week and is now able to turn pro, so results like that make it all worthwhile!
TCV - Your greatest moment was when you became a major ranking event winner in lifting the 2002 LG Cup at the Guild Hall in Preston. What were your memories of that week from start to finish?
CS - I arrived in Preston outside the top 32 as I had a bad season the previous year, so I felt under pressure from the off.
I remember thinking just win your first match to get full points. I managed to beat Mark Davis 5-0 to get into Round 2. Then I was up against Joe Perry and felt quite relaxed, I played well to win 5-2.
I felt so good after that match; infact I phoned home to tell my wife that I was going to win the event. I was so confident I even told her to go and buy a dress for the final!
Round 3 I was up against my good friend John Higgins. I knew it was going to be very tough, but I was aware I could win if I played well again. I won 5-1 and played superbly. I felt like a top 8 player - exactly how I knew I could perform.
After the win I was walking back to the hotel knowing in my head that I was the best player in the world. This true belief is what I think helped me claim the tournament, as I felt so mentally strong that week.
I was about to play Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Quarter-Finals and my mate kept saying to me - "It will be really tough today, do you fancy it?" My response was "He's not in my league, it won't be a problem -chill out!"
I went out and again played superbly to win 5-1 - I knew I would. It was so pleasing because I always believed I could beat the top players on the big stage. I was believing in myself.
The semi final was against Jimmy Michie, so I felt under a lot of pressure and expectation having just beaten the world numbers 1 and 2. I told myself to relax and just play my game. I won 6-2 which put me through to my first ever ranking event final...and it felt so good!
In the final I faced good friend Alan McManus, but I had to tell myself he was the enemy for that day. Again I felt a lot of pressure since I had never been that far before, yet I was convinced I couldn't lose the match.
I won 9-5 and remember looking for my wife and my dad in the crowd to start celebrating with them. It was then I noticed that the arena was jam packed; I wasn't aware of this before because I was in the zone throughout the match.
It was the best feeling in the world - lifting the trophy and thanking all the important people in my life that helped me so much throughout my roller-coaster career. All the hard work and pain over the years was all worth it.
TCV - That win at the LG Cup helped you reach the World's Top 16. You also won the Masters Qualifying Event in 1992. What were your other career highlights? Do you have a favourite match you were involved in? A Favourite venue?
CS - One of my career highlights was when I played for Scotland alongside Hendry, Higgins and McManus in the Nations Cup in Newcastle. I was so proud to represent my country and play alongside three legends of the game.
The press kept saying in the lead up to the event that I was the weak link of the team and could maybe let them down; this really motivated me to do well. I won something like 20 out of 21 frames that week and we got to the final but were beaten by Wales. We were all gutted, but inside I was so proud of the way I performed that week and shutting the press up big time!
My favourite venues are the Crucible and the Guild Hall. The Crucible is such a special place to play snooker and hopefully the World Championship will never leave there as it would never be the same.
One of my favourite matches was actually a 13-12 loss to John Parrott in the Last 16 of the 1999 World Championship - it was such a great game with a great atmosphere throughout the entire match. It went backwards and forwards from start to finish, however, unfortunately I just got pipped. That year I actually fancied having a very good run so when I lost I was so gutted.
TCV - What is the state of Scottish Amateur Snooker at the moment?
It looks like your national governing body lays on quite a few tours / events. As you mentioned before, 18 year old Chris Totten just came back from Nicosia in Cyprus having won the European Amateur Championship.
Are there other players who could come through to join their fellow Scots on the professional circuit?
CS - The state of Scottish Amateur Snooker at the moment isn't great but it was so good to see Chris win the European Championship.
We have recently started a junior academy every Saturday morning to encourage kids to play snooker, so hopefully Scottish snooker will be brighter in a few years time.
There are 1 or 2 other players from Scotland who have the potential to turn pro but they need to work very, very hard to achieve pro status.
TCV - What do you think of the current set up of the professional game?
There are more events, opportunities and earning potentials than before - but they do come at a cost. Anything you would change or tweak?
CS - I think the professional game is booming at the moment with something like 22 tournaments a season.
It's great if you're young, free and single, but if you're married with kids it could become a problem. At the end of the day, though, it's your job so you have to just get on with it, make your money and when you retire you can be very comfortable and have as much spare time on your hands as you like. If I was still on the tour I would be playing in every tournament possible as points make prizes.
If I could change one thing about the current set up, it would be to go back to the tiered system. I feel it would give the lower ranked players a better chance of making a living, because at the current moment it is very, very difficult for them.
TCV - What do you think the future holds for snooker?
CS - I personally think that the game will keep growing stronger worldwide thanks to Barry Hearn and I think in maybe 5 or 10 years time the top 64 in the world will comprise of a lot of Chinese or Asian players.
It looks like the money is going to keep getting bigger, so there is great earning potential if you dedicate yourself to the game.
The future for snooker looks very bright indeed!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chris for sharing his time and wisdom with us. It was great to hear such detailed insight from a major ranking event winner. I am so pleased he is still around the sport he loves and that he makes such a big difference.
Chris was also a real pleasure to communicate with. I wish him all the very best for the future - I'm sure his coaching career will go from strength to strength!
Written and published by Michael Day on the 26th March 2017