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Camden News - By TOM FOOT
Published: 17 April 2008
Camden Snooker is fighting to stay open
Camden Snooker is fighting to stay open
Snooker halls facing final frame decider as smoking ban kicks in

With memberships in decline, once-busy clubs are closing as owners struggle to break even

WITH snooker’s main event, the World Championships at The Crucible in Sheffield, just days away, finding a table to play on in Camden’s snooker halls is normally a challenge at this time of year.
It is the fortnight where every wannabe chalks up and goes into battle on the green baize, hoping to emulate their television heroes.
But the clubs are not as crowded as you might expect. In fact, if you can find one still open, you should be able to breeze in for a frame pretty much any time.
Club owners warned this week that traditional snooker and pool halls across the country are shutting up shop after a downturn in trade. Many believe the decline is an unforeseen by-product of the smoking ban, now nearly one year old.
Only serious clubs are surviving the new hostile climate with teenagers, possibly “rocket Ronnies” and “whirlwind Whites” of the future missing out on practice sessions.
Kentish Town Snooker in Holmes Road – once thriving with 18 tables across two floors – closed last year, and next to disappear of the map is the Camden Snooker Club in Delancey Street, Camden Town.
It faces demolition this summer after its regulars were unable to convince a planning inspector – despite a 500-strong petition – that there was enough interest to save it from the bulldozer.
Former billiards champ and BBC commentator Clive Everton, known to fans as the “voice of snooker” and editor of the magazine Snooker Scene, said he was “devastated” to hear Camden Snooker would close.
He told the New Journal: “We have just found out that 50 clubs have closed in the past two years.
“I am very saddened by the closures, particularly Camden’s. The late John Lazarus, who co-founded Camden with Tony Samis, was a firm friend of mine who loved being among snooker people and knew exactly what environment to ­create for them.
“Rent reviews, in­creased overheads, the smoking ban, the £250 limit on jackpot payouts and the general economic downturn are having a catastrophic effect on snooker clubs nationwide. The government ban on smoking has undoubtedly had an effect on revenue.”
Mr Everton added: “I was speaking to [snooker player] Ali Carter, and he said the smoking ban is not affecting the serious players. It is the social players, who come in for a drink and to chat and play the fruit machines who are being weeded out of the scene.
“I think it will survive because it will find a ­level. What is needed is an association of club owners.”
Camden Snooker in Delancey Street – where seven times world champion Stephen Hendry and trick-shot maestro John Virgo have played – could close within two months after developers won permission to transform the former cinema into a restaurant and flats complex.
Planning inspector Charles Hoile said he accepted arguments from the developers which said there had been a “decline in trend for playing snooker and other cue sports in public”.
He said: “Snooker and kindred commercially operated table games are activities dependent on a public willing to pay an economic price for them and in this part of London, land and premises are not cheap.”
John Meadows, 78, who has worked at the club, with seven full-size snooker tables, since it opened during snooker’s big boom in 1985, said: “When we opened membership was £80 for a year. Now it is £15.
“We used to have a waiting list of 14 queueing up for a game. Every club has its own problems. But the rates are just so high now. We have tried to sell tables but it is difficult because clubs are not expanding any more – no one can afford the space to hold them.”
He added: “What I worry about is the teenagers. The government goes on about giving them something to do but here we are with another club closing down.”
An after-school session in a snooker hall has formed part of almost every teenage boy’s rite of passage but in King’s Cross Snooker, in Pentonville Road, club professional John Woods has noticed fewer young players.
He said: “The whole snooker scene is quieter these days. It is definitely much quieter since the smoking ban. There are fewer young people too.
“If you asked nine out of 10 teenagers to choose between a computer and getting out and actually playing a sport for real they’d choose the PlayStation.”
It is not just snooker that is in danger of disappearing off the map.
Pool, snooker’s grassroots, has almost completely vanished from pubs, with licensees preferring to use the space for “gastro” menus and a different kind of punter.
Dave Hempstead chairman of the Chalk Farm Pool league said the rot started with the “gastro-isation” of pubs.
He said: “The sport as a whole is suffering because pool tables are being taken out of pubs that are opting to go down the ‘gastro pub’ route – but we have had a real resurgence this year. The actual interest in the game is still there.”
Whether that interest will be able to extend beyond a couch and a ­tele­vision set over the next two weeks remains to be seen.

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