Coulsdon might be a strange place to find a source of support for a player from Hong Kong hoping to make a big impact in snooker’s world championships in Sheffield, writes Ian Lamont.
But when Marco Fu steps out into the Crucible Theatre for his first-round match against Matthew Stevens on Tuesday morning, the cheers for him will be loudest from Frames Sports Bar.
Frames, on the old Brighton Road, is where the world No17 does the majority of his practice sessions when he is not flying around the world trying to keep up with snooker’s new, intensive schedule.
At Frames, Fu plays against the likes of former world-ranked player Tony Drago and David Gray, who is trying to get back on the professional circuit.
The bar’s owner, Tony Thompson, took over running the venue about 14 months ago and has encouraged quite a few youngsters from Croydon and Forest Hill to practise at his club.
“I’ve known all these players a long time – David since he was nine,” said Thompson, who has 16 tables at the club, including one from the 2011 world championships used by the best standard players. “We make Marco has the best facilities and that table’s available for him.
“People do know he’s here,” Thompson said of the kudos it creates, although he is hard to beat for most. “I’ve played a few games with him but he’s far too good for me.”
South London, which once seemingly had a snooker hall on every high street alongside the cinema, dance palais and bowling alley, providing the smoky venue for many a misspent youth, has a long tradition of producing world-class players, with the flamboyantly gifted Jimmy White, from Tooting, probably the best known. At Frames, Michael Georgio is the latest hopeful, making his way on the world tour’s qualifying circuit, the Q School.
“There are people who beat Marco,” Thompson said, “but once in 20 times if they are lucky. David and Michael are a very good standard and might beat him, but not the general club players.”
Frames hosts many tournaments, for amateurs and professionals, in pool as well as snooker.
Fu was there until last week, when he had to qualify for the finals after some coaching in Gloucester under former world champion Terry Griffiths and his son.
Fu, 35, a world championships semi-finalist in 2006, now sits just outside the top 16 players who gain automatic entry to the 32-player televised rounds. This year, the bookmakers rate him as a 66-1 outsider.
“Hopefully he can do the business in the world championships and maybe bring the trophy back here,” Thompson said. “We’ll all be rooting for him. If he plays well he can win, but you need to be really consistent.”
Fu lists his home address as being “Happy Valley”, which misleads many to think of the world-famous Hong Kong race track. But in fact, it is the downland of Coulsdon where he lives these days, handily placed for the British motorway network and a quick drive down the M23 to Gatwick to fulfil his snooker tour responsibilities, as well as practice sessions at Frames.
Fu is among an influx of players from China and other Asian countries said to be enjoying the biggest growth in the sport. He has been on the world tour since 1998 and won four tournaments since, making 14 semi-finals and four finals, including the unfortunately titled German Masters at the turn of the year. He has made two of those semi-finals this season.
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