Photograph ©Andrew Warden/belleza-photography.co.uk - used by Pro9 with permission.
JONATHAN MATHERS - IN THE CHAIR
At the midway point in Season Three, arguably the most important season in the history of American Pool in Great Britain , talk amongst the players is already centring on the pitfalls, the possibilities, the perils and the promise regarding their beloved sport and where it’s headed. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the current incarnation that boasts the title of ‘National Tour’, the GB 9 Ball Tour, has taken the task of getting 9 Ball to the masses by the scruff of its collar in boldly moving houses but the question now is, are we on the right track to lavishly furnishing this new house in order to make it a home?
The man with that answer is of course 39 year old Jonathan Mathers; researcher for Birmingham University by day, American Pool fanatic by night and during whatever time in between, the Chairperson of the GB 9 Ball Tour. “I’m not the boss of GB9 or the committee”, Jonathan is keen to point out as we sit down over a coffee, making me wonder if I’d sat down at the wrong table, until quickly following up that statement with the self-deprecating if slightly ominous, “I just keep a strategic eye on things”.
"Read More..." for the full interview.
Having sat on the GB 9 Ball Tour’s committee since day one, Mathers took over as Chairperson at the end of Season Two as Lee Rigby , whom our interviewee is keen to acknowledge as a key and enduring factor in the tour’s success thus far, took on the role of Tournament Director. Since its inception in 2008, the GB 9 Ball Tour has successfully been fuelled by the drive, ambition and honesty of both its committee and volunteers. In it for the money? Reader, I assure you not.
Having known Jonathan for a number of years already, mainly in the guise of ‘fierce competitor’ with such achievements as a British ranking third place finish and a spot on the 2007 GB European Championship team adorning his highlight reel, I came prepared for our chat with two things; a cushion and my bumper sized dictionary; the one without pictures, I might add.
Photograph ©Andrew Warden/belleza-photography.co.uk - used by Pro9 with permission.
Pro9 Jonathan, you’re known on the table for your cool, methodical and patient approach. I’m presuming you bring those same qualities to your current role as Chairperson?
Jonathan "No, not always (laughs). Once that fuse has run down I’m maybe not as cool-headed as the people on tour may think. But seriously, I like to think I do, I guess it’s one of things the Chairperson’s role demands. I’m enjoying it so far but like anything, it has its ups and downs."
Pro9 So you’re halfway through Season Three, the first to be held in hotel venues. Simple question, how’s it going?
Jonathan "It’s going well. I think Buxton and Blackpool (events 1 and 2) had their teething problems but Daventry (event 3) holds up against any tournament in the world. Logistically, it’s absolutely massive, the preparation work that went on by the committee behind the scenes for us to get where we are was huge. We were constantly asking ourselves, will it work? Can it work? Light rigging, getting 16 tables up to a tournament standard for 144 players and getting those 144 players booked into the hotels are just a few examples."
Pro9 Why was the move into Barceló Hotels so important?
Jonathan "First of all I have to say that Rileys have supported pool tours in Great Britain for many years, giving their facilities and equipment for which I think we’re all grateful but unfortunately it became increasingly obvious that those conditions were not ideal. Having bespoke equipment allows us to optimise playing conditions and, ultimately, player experience. We knew the only way to maximise this was to move to hotels. A professional environment also provides a better basis for the one thing that has been missing all these years and that is a serious commercial financial sponsor. They need to be able to see the foundations in order to wish to be associated with us."
Pro9 Specifically, what were the issues with Rileys’ facilities?
Jonathan "Mainly the cloth and cushion conditions. I don’t want to be over critical but the standards that are required for a professional pool tour are over and above those that are routinely provided to the pool playing public."
Pro9 And how does your relationship with Rileys stand currently?
Jonathan "We still have a relationship, they supported our qualifiers last year and they’ll do so again this year. We want to recognise their support over the years. "
Pro9 In your experience, what does a sponsor look for when deciding whether to part with their money?
Jonathan "We’ve got to be realistic, money is invested to gain exposure and to use that exposure to gain access to a particular market. What we need to do is demonstrate that we can do that but it is difficult, we see this worldwide. Our aim is to put ourselves in the best possible position to succeed. I don’t want to make any promises such as by next year we’ll be on the BBC but I am optimistic regarding the future, the fantastic skill mix on the committee can only take us in the right direction. We’re not only looking at commercial sponsors, we’re currently developing proposals to take to Sport England."
Pro9 Tell us more about Sport England …
Jonathan "Sport England are a government agency who support, financially and otherwise, not-for-profit organisations such as ourselves who are looking to sustain and grow grass-root sports."
Pro9 What sort of person does it take to be on the GB9 committee?
Jonathan "I think you’ve got to be a little bit selfless and be willing to work for nothing more than your own self pride. Dedication is the word. The volunteers who help with the set up and take down at events are just as important a component, it’s simply an amazing team effort."
Pro9 Do you and the committee relish the challenge of having the future of the sport in your hands?
Jonathan "To be honest we don’t really get that much time to reflect but I guess we do relish it, especially when we see more and more players coming over from English 8 Ball and Snooker, which is great for the game. I don’t think we’re the only ones with the future of the sport in our hands however. Yes the GB 9 Ball Tour plays a vital role, and gives a national focus for the game, but there are also a multitude of local events run by other American Pool enthusiasts which generate fantastic interest in the sport, which is key. To grow the game we do need a sustained and healthy national tour that provides a focus for players, and allows the game to grow to the heights the players deserve. However it’s the players’ responsibility, as much as the GB9 Committee’s, to ensure we’ve got the support we need to get the game where it deserves to be."
Pro9 So why do you think we’re seeing established cue men making the switch to 9 Ball?
Jonathan "If you look and listen to someone like Darren Appleton for example, you’ll know that the game offers ultimate variety and appeal. You can literally beat someone up using knowledge alone. It’s the intricacies, the different skills, the strategies, the patterns, it’s fascinating to me. It’s fresh, exciting and you never stop learning…even Efren’s still learning!"
Pro9 So you’d be happy to see more English 8 Ball and Snooker players sign up?
Jonathan "Yeah bring it on! If they think they’re big and hard enough, why not?"
Pro9 Given the strength of the tour, is there the possibility of any top European names joining for a year?
Jonathan "Yes, GB9 would certainly be open to that idea if there was the interest."
Pro9 If you had a £500 charity bet, would you back GB9 against any other tour in the world right now?
Jonathan "Tour v Tour? In a word, yes. Actually wait, are the Philippines included? (laughs)"
Pro9 Can you clear up where the GBPA fits into the structure of American pool in Britain ? There seems to be much confusion on the subject.
Jonathan "I can see where the confusion lies as any organisation, GB9 included, has to justify their existence by its actions. Obviously I’m not a spokesperson for the GBPA but I can give you my understanding of the present situation. The previous national tour, the BPPPA (British Professional Pool Players Association) was not only the national tour but also the British Association affiliated to the EPBF. Following the demise of the BPPPA, GB9 was established as a national pool tour but not as an Association. At that time, in order to protect the British players’ rights and to allow them to compete outside of Great Britain , we paid the necessary fees to the EPBF. The GBPA has now been established as the new British association with affiliation to the EPBF. I hope that goes some way to explaining that. The GB9 Committee have had extensive discussions with David Morris, the Chair of the GBPA, about the implications of their organisation and the work they wish to do in Great Britain. We have stressed that we would like to see positive steps for Pool in Great Britain which, as we all know, hasn’t always necessarily been the case in the past. We have been given assurances of the GBPA’s intentions such as their wish to promote the game within schools and we’re very much looking forward to seeing how that develops."
Pro9 Despite its demise, the BPPPA had one success story in its youth system. Are there any plans for the GB9 to introduce something similar?
Jonathan "At the moment we don’t have any plans to do that as the tour is a full-time enterprise in itself. We do of course wish to support the development of the next generation of American Pool players and if we can play a small part in that by seeing more younger players on tour, or by supporting other initiatives then we’ll certainly look to do that. Until then, we’ll support the GBPA’s development of the youth game wholeheartedly. "
Pro9 The financial structure within the GB9 is what makes it so unique. Is it frustrating to be tarnished with the same brush because of previous organisations’ questionable finances?
Jonathan "I’m happy for people to question our finances; it’s something we’re very proud of. GB9 is not-for-profit and every single penny received by GB9 players’ membership fees, any sponsorship deals, basically, any revenue whatsoever goes back to the players in what is delivered and no member of the Committee has taken one penny for their work. The revenues and outgoings are there for all our members to see."
Pro9 Can players and fans expect to see any changes for next season? I’ve heard whisperings that the introduction of a Ten Ball event could be popular?
Jonathan "First of all, nothing is set in stone and we’re always striving to improve and to deliver to the players’ needs. If we felt there was a call for variation to the calendar then of course it is something we would consider very seriously; player experience is paramount in everything we do. We want to represent the players’ voice and opinion so if there are any novel ideas or even comments about how we can do something better, then they would be taken to the committee and we would discuss the suggestion and the logistic and financial implications around it. If it’s a ‘no-brainer’ then we’ll implement the suggestion straight away but for other matters, we may take it to a vote as all of our committee have an equal say. "
Pro9 Finally, every single player has been in love with the game at some point or another. Would you say you’re still in love with the game since taking on your current role?
Jonathan "I’ll be honest, for a period I did fall out of love with Pool when I realised my game had suffered because of my work but I’m 100% in love with it again now. I’ve never been the greatest player but I’ll always be the greatest enthusiast."
Photograph ©Andy Warden/belleza-photography.co.uk - used by Pro9 with permission.
Many thanks to Jonathan for agreeing to this interview and also to Andy Warden, for lending his photography prowess at short notice, regardless of how reluctant the subject might have been.
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