Snooker Marbles – Sheffield

This is one of 40 stories from my book

Sports the Olympics Forgot

which is available here

When snooker was popular in the 1920s not many people could afford the full-size snooker table and snooker cue. In poorer areas of England children used to draw the snooker table on the pavement with chalk. Picture frames were used in place of the cushes and differently coloured marbles replaced the snooker balls. The children used tapering sticks and even chopsticks instead of the cues.

In 1930 the first snooker marbles tournament took place in Sheffield attracting 162 players from all over Yorkshire. The streets of Attercliffe were specially washed for the occasion and covers erected so that the games wouldn’t be obliterated by the weather. 20 games could be played simultaneously between the hours of 11am and 7pm when the sun set behind the gasworks.

There were no seedings for the event; the player’s names were pulled out of a baggy cap and each game was played over the best of five frames. During his 3-1 preliminary round win over Alan Stables, Mike Dempsey became the first person to register a hundred break scoring 104 before snookering himself behind the brown marble with just two reds left on the table.

The favourite for the event was Terry Davis and he won his first three matches 3-0 before losing in the third round to Alan Wistow, who went on to the semi-finals. Wistow was from Sheffield and he knew the pavements of Attercliffe like the back of his hand. His games were watched by many people using step-ladders to see over the crowds.

Wistow lost 3-2 in the semi-final to the rank outsider Brian Oldfield, whose new chopstick suited him well, allowing him to impart some backspin on the cue marble. In the other semi-final Dickie Halligan beat Ross Bywater 3-1 despite Bywater making a break of 132 in the second game; his consolation was to collect the trophy for the highest break of the competition.

The first final took place on a Saturday afternoon and was the best of nine frames. Halligan cued off watched by around 140 people, who crowded so closely at times that the referee had to warn them to stand back as they were blocking all the available light from the players. Oldfield’s chopstick started well and he raced into a 2-0 lead, but Halligan received a lucky break in the third frame when a ricochet from a miscued shot landed in a pocket at the other end of the table and opened up the other reds for him. Halligan gained some self-confidence from this and reeled off four consecutive frames to go 4-2 ahead before a brilliant 109 break from Oldfield in the seventh frame made it 4-3.

However, disaster then struck for Oldfield. In trying to impart some sidespin on a straight blue into the right-hand bottom pocket his chopstick splintered on impact with the pavement and he had to use his spare chopstick. Halligan took advantage of several miscues and won the eighth frame 65 – 47, to win the final 5-3. The first prize was 5 pounds and a free night out at the local greyhound track.

Published by Julian Worker

Julian was born in Leicester, attended school in Yorkshire, and university in Liverpool. He has been to 94 countries and territories and intends to make the 100 when travel is easier. He writes travel books, murder / mysteries and absurd fiction. His sense of humour is distilled from The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Midsomer Murders. His latest book is about a Buddhist cat who tries to help his squirrel friend fly further from a children's slide.

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