The process of selecting the 96 teams who will contest this year's Interleague Knock out cup is now well underway and the letters letting the lucky 96 teams know they have been allocated a space have now been posted.
The county secretaries have one more function to perform then the team captains pick up the reins and perform the final but most important part, that of collection of the accommodation fees from their players and sending them, along with the booking form, back to me.
For those who don’t know, the rules governing player qualification for the knock out cup will be changing on Jan 1st 2009.
It’s not a major change, but to those who have been affected by it in the past will welcome it.
The rule in question is that up to now, if a player did not play in their counties section of the knock out cup they were not allowed to play in the national finals in October. Regardless of how many times they had played for their team during the normal interleague season.
From Jan 1st the rule will change to being a global qualification system for interleague players. What this means is, there will be no distinction between the knock out cup appearances and regular interleague appearances – every match a player plays in will count towards their 50% qualification criteria.
Why were the rules changed? Well it’s like this,
When we adopted the present system of player qualification there was a debate about the knock out cup and where the qualification criteria would come from. I was of the opinion (and still am) that the interleague is a thing – it has two national events a year one in April and one in October. However, the events generally involve the same teams and players so if you qualify for one event you should be qualified for the other.
It was pointed out that in using this model to determine a player’s eligibility for the knock out cup could mean that a player might be qualified to play in the national knock out cup without ever playing in the county rounds of the knock out cup, making a mockery of the qualification rules.
I think it’s fair to see that the possibility was there to play one set of players in the county round to get a team in to a qualifying position, then turn up with a completely new set of players at the national finals.
In the light of that loop hole, it was decided that unless a player plays for the team they want to represent in the national knockout cup in the county rounds they would not be allowed to play in the national finals.
Over the years a number of players who had played all year for their team but for whatever reason missed the county knock out cup rounds were not allowed to play. The teams, understandably, moaned that it was just not fair that for missing one event they could not play.
More and more players are getting caught up in this situation as counties are increasingly playing their event on a single day – meaning miss the day and you won’t be playing in the national finals.
This is not so much of a problem with the traditional way of running the county knock out cup, drawing each round separately and playing the matches over a number of weekends. A player could miss a particular match but still have the opportunity to rack up enough appearances to ensure qualification.
Playing the whole event on one day denies a missing player, who ever they may be, the chance to clock up their 50%
With the new ruling, all appearances count, so you can miss the county round of the event and still qualify for Yarmouth, providing the player hits the 50% target.
We hope that this rule will make it better for the players who for what ever reason are unavailable when the county plays it’s section of the knock out cup.
Before we look at what might happen in this year’s event – by way of the dreaded overview, which will appear once the draw has been done. Lets cast our minds back and see what happened in the ko cup last year.
Everyone who sets off on the journey from where they live to Vauxhall Holiday Park to participate in the National Interleague Knock Out Cup hopes above all else to put in a good performance. To some, that means keeping their cool under the extreme pressure and not making an ass of themselves in front of the team mates and who ever else might be watching.
For others, the challenge is to get beyond the point where the event ended for them last year (except the winners of course) for the elute few the only thing good enough for them is to win the event but of course only one team can do that.
How did the teams do last time round – who performed way above expectations and who fell way short of their potential’
As always the first hurdle is to escape from the group and thereby book a spot in the last 32 – a simple enough task? Well, no actually, of the original 96 teams who attend the event, as combatants 64 of them do not make it past the group stage.
There are a number of teams, whose hopes were high, that have to face the reality of being knocked out in the group stage on Saturday afternoon.
Last year’s high profile group casualties included :-
Cambridgeshire’s Ely who have reached the last eight before,
Nottinghamshire’s Chesterfield who very rarely leave before the last 16 stage,
Lancashire’s Preston South who will still be smarting over their early exit ,
Suffolk’s Ipswich who generally reach the last 8 before being beaten,
Derbyshire’s Corn Exchange who would have expected a bit of a run,
Essex’s Colchester who have made it all the way to the final before,
Shropshire’s Dawley A who have won the event in the past and clocked up a few semi final spots as well,
Warwickshire’s Reds 1 who are always good foe a top 16 spot,
West Midlands Wallsall A who would have expected to make it through to the latter end of the event,
Berkshire’s Renegade A whose skipper is the current England men’s manager,
West Midlands Wolverhampton Wednesday B are normally as solid as a rock,
Warwickshire’s Reds Elite who did not quite live up to the “elite” tag last time round,
Warwickshire’s Nuneaton A are another of the teams you would expect to see in the draw for the last 32 but failed to make it last year,
Buckinghamshire’s Milton Keynes will not have been happy at losing in the group stage last year but will be aiming to restore their pride this time round.
When you look at that lot who all failed to get out of the group section last year. You get some idea of the depth of competition we have in the Interleague events and it appears to get stronger every year.
This weekend is not just about the Knock out cup though, on the Thursday and Friday before the Interleague knock out cup kicks off we also run the national men’s singles championships for a prize fund of over £5,000 and the title of the National singles champion is included for the eventual winner. Last year we saw Carl Morris beat Robert Wharne (Stafford) 8-1 in a bit of a one sided final. By the time these two got to play each other countless others had done battle but fallen short.
Whilst it must be said that Carl’s appearance in the national amateur singles raised a few eyebrows there was no justifiable reason to stop him, he was an amateur by the rules we use to classify a players status.
Like just about everyone else my first view, without considering any implications of the statement, would be no, how can a 2 x former world eight ball pool champion and leading professional for some 10 years be allowed to enter a amateur singles championship?
This is where the problem lies, every single World champion, International or professional at some point in their lives will give up their status as a recognised professional/international player.
Once a player for whatever reason decides to do this, what do we as the governing foe pool in England do? There are only two options available to us the first one is to stop them playing in competitive pool from the point they give up their status as a recognised professional/international.,/P>
Or accept they are no longer recognised professional/international and allow them to continue to play pool as an amateur.,/P>
Neither option, in my opinion, is satisfactory, if we take the view that since they were once a professional/international; therefore, they should not be allowed to play in amateur events. I can see and understand why people might take this view but they obviously have not thought through the logic of their argument or they are blinkered to the reality of the situation.
To adopt that stance, we would be basically handing out a life time ban to every player who has come up through the ranks from being a local league player who has then been good enough to make it to being an interleague player, county player, international player and then on to being a professional player.
We would be saying to all past and present professionals/internationals that once you have attained your goal of making it to the elite of our pool players when you decide that the processional pool players life is no longer for you, you will have to retire your cues as well because you will no longer be allowed to play competitive pool.
That scenario, I hope, would to all sensible people be a non-realistic approach to the problem.
If it’s not fair to ban all ex professionals/internationals from ever playing competitive pool ever again, once they take the decision to retire from the profession/international ranks then the only option is to let them play as soon as they relinquish their professional/international status.
That means from the day they retire they are deemed as amateur and free to enter any amateur events they wish to enter.
Well no, that’s not fair either, because that means a professional/international could give up being a professional because they are perhaps not earning enough to sustain being a professional/international one year, clean up on the amateur circuit and make enough to go back to being a professional the following year buoyed up by the money they made whilst they were amateur.
That too is not really a good thing to allow so that leaves us with one question, what is the best way to deal with the issues of professional/internationals who have decided to give up their status.
The way it has been decided to tackle this issue is to introduce a cooling off period, where it is accepted that the player concerned is no longer recognised as a professional/international by the various official bodies. But at the same time they are not deemed as being amateur either. This cooling off period lasts for 2 years
In effect they become “in limbo” neither one thing or the other for two tears because they are not recognised by the governing professional body and are not invited to play in any of their professional events. Whilst at the same time they are not allowed to enter any event designated as amateur only.
For two years an ex professional plays very little competitive pool and whilst we accept that they are always going to be a cut above the rest there just has to be a limit to the amount of time they should be stopped from playing and the time frame that was decided was two years.
Two years may not seem that long to you as you read this but try to imagine yourself not playing competitive pool for two years – perhaps it will you will start to think that it is quite a long time to be barred from competitive pool when all you did was resign your status as a professional.
Just for the records, in case you are wondering, Carl Morris had spent two years in the wilderness before being allowed back in to the rank and file of pool players.
As a footnote it should be worth noting that there are a considerable number of amateur players that are a lot better than a number of professionals but no one has ever suggested that that be excluded from amateur only events.
When you consider the quality of players who dropped by the wayside at various stages of the event you will get an idea of just how strong the event has become over the years.
In Round one we had the following casualties, who judged by the standard they usually set will consider their performance last year as a real under performance and will hope to do better this year if they enter again. In terms of player profiles you would have to say that Liam Stanley (Nottingham), Carl Clack (Watton), Steven Bridgewood (Stoke On Trent), Darren Hope (Peterborough) & Clint I'anson (Chilwell) exit at the first hurdle was a massive shock, I wouldn’t mid betting that none of those mentioned ever thought they would be dumped out of the event in th efirst round. Other notable fallers were Mick Worsfold (Bracknell), My Defender, Michael Puntschart (Holland On Sea), Joel Pickersgill (Newton Valence), Ben Annison (Wymondham), Shaun Payne (Loughborough), Max Brooker (Milford), Tony Lennon (Barton Under Needwood), And Paul Mcneil (Portslade
By the time Round 2 had finished we had lost the following group of players all of whom would have expected to do a lot better than this when they entered the event.
Chris Cass (Colchester), Darren Welfare (Brighton), Roger Charles (Coventry), Nigel Meal (Thetford), ,. Jerry Tickell (London), Liam Farrell (Coventry), Jamie Fay (Orpington), Gavin Lomax (Anstey), Jason Hill (Preston), Matt Goodale (Spalding), Dean Wisher (Welling), Andy Sutherland (Leatherhead), Liam Doherty (Leighton Buzzard), Aiden Owens (Sleaford) & Robert Southey (Puckeridge)
Round three saw the departure of these big guns, whilst not quite what they might have expected, these things do happen and the weaker (on the day) have been culled by now and the quality begins to get concentrated.
Ian Duffy (Telford), Spencer Jones (Great Yarmouth), Mark Mcgauley (Milton Keynes), Peter Ashman (Littlehampton), Simon Fitzsimmons (Bury), Jack Pople (London), Mark White (Coventry), Paul Dunkey (Brierley Hill), Vinny Allen (Leicester), Carl Bromley (Chorley), Keith Jones (Aylesbury) And Mick Conlon (Cambridge)
If you are still in the mix by the time we get to round four the quality starts to get distilled down to the top players and from here on in there will be nowhere to hide. So to go out here can’t really be considered to be an early bath but just to keep the theme going here are some of round four casualties.
Andy O'Hara (Southport), John Rimmer (Southport), 2006 Champiopn Shane Balding (Holbeach), Nick Booth (Bordon), Jason Norris (Farnham) & Frank Strivens (Epsom)
Once you have negotiated round five you are in the last 32 and no matter who you are, you have had a good day and if you are one of the ones who have managed to keep the engine running sweetly, your thoughts will turn from getting as far as you can to, hang on a minute I have a chance here. Just as Carl Morris (Stoke) did last year, you have to say that to be the one who can say I won the event is an amazing achievement by anyone’s standards.
If this has whetted your appetite and you want to enter the event this year you can download the National Amateur Details & Entry Form and then post it of the address shown. This is a very attractive event and tends to attract 200 – 300 entries each year so if you have not entered it before it will be a good test of your pool playing skills
Here are some of the players who fell between the last 16 and the semi finals, who will, I am sure be back again this year for another crack at winning it.
Last 16 - Arfan Dad (Keighley), Matt Cooke (Aldershot) 1/4 FINALS - Bayden Jackson (Hucknall) & Nick Davey (Southport) LOSING SEMI FINALISTS Matt Barcock (Rushden) & Pat Ward (Oakham)
Those are the ones who can say they might not have won it but they did have a good run spare a thought for the many players who expected to do well but in the end went for an earlier than expected bath.
As always the knock out cup will provide all the qualifying teams with a roller coaster ride of emotions all packed into one weekend. Some will be in a state of depression by 11:00am on the Saturday of the event as they realise they have a mountain to climb to keep themselves in the event. For others it’s all plain sailing as they win the first match and can sit back and see how the other match in their group pans out before they are called into action again.
Then there are the ones that draw their first match. For them it’s a nail biting time, as both teams know that the draw hands the advantage to the third team in the group and providing the third team takes advantage of playing second, and win their match they will be in the driving seat. Why? Because they will know that a win will make them favourites to progress out of the group it’s as simple as that.
For the team they are playing it will be an “only a win will be good enough” situation to keep their hopes alive. That in turn produces added pressure on the team that could only manage a draw in the first match.
The team not playing in the second match will be praying for a draw because it will put one team out and leave them with a head to head with the third team with all to play for. It can be that tight. So tight in fact, a single frame in the 54 frames scheduled to be played in a group series can, and is sometimes is, the only difference between all three teams.
When things are that tight you can see why it becomes a roller coaster ride of emotions one minute you are in, the next you are out, then you are back in, then its looking bleak then suddenly it con be all rosy again.
The ones who come out of the group to continue their quest will start to celebrate around 4pm on the Saturday after their second match.
They can’t celebrate too hard though, they may have won their group but they are going to be playing one of the other 31 group winners as soon as their opponents group is decided. It is a gruelling schedule, playing since the morning, then having to do it all again against a fellow group winner. That however, will be the last match of the day for all teams win it and you are back at 9 am bright eyed and bushy tailed on Sunday morning. Lose and it it’s off to the bar to dissect what went wrong and make plans for having a good night out to heal the hurt everyone in the team is feeling.
When it all starts again on Sunday morning at the last 16 stage it’s sudden death at a terrible time in the morning but there is no hiding place because the event just rolls on.
This set of matches is amongst the toughest anywhere and not just because of the quality of the teams and players involved. For most pool players, starting to play pool at 9 in the morning is a totally alien experience.
Once the last sixteen matches are completed there is some time for the players still involved to wake up fully and start to feel normal again. For some though there will be no time for any relaxation. If you are unfortunate enough to be the last team through, then it’s straight back on the table.
For those that have just lost there are a few moments of wondering round the hall wondering where it all went wrong. Then it’s back to the caravan to pack up your gear and make the long journey back home.
For the teams that are still left in the winning line is within touching distance now and usually the team that holds their nerve do the best but for all teams that are still in the event the pressure gets ramped up another notch.
One thing is for sure we will have had her great event, whoever comes out wining the final match on Sunday 5th October will have been tested to the limit and be worthy winners of the National Interleague Knock Out Cup.
To all those of you going I am sure you will not be disappointed, to those who are not going, you are going to miss out on a great weekend.