Snooker player Stuart Pettman has played all the greats. He tells JUDITH DORNAN about his life and his new book.
Stuart doesn’t even have to think when asked what the worst day of his life was.
He says: “My worst memory without a doubt was last year when I played Ding Junhui in the World Championships at the Crucible and I lost 10-1 and basically made myself look like a right idiot.
“It was probably the worst performance of anybody that’s ever played at the Crucible. It did my head in completely, I can’t tell you how much.”
Preston’s own snooker professional, Stuart has had some experience of losing to the greatest names in the game after almost two decades in the sport.
Now, with the help of his friend, Graeme Kay, he has written a book, Stuart Pettman: As Sometimes Seen On TV, documenting his 2009-2010 season to show his extraordinary career facing the giants of the green baize and the contrast with his daily life, running Lostock Hall’s Elite Snooker Club.
Endearingly, Kay opens the book’s foreward with a tale of travelling to Eygpt and asking the friend who picked him up from the airport, who was currently playing in the TV coverage of World Snooker Championships at the Crucible?
“Mark Williams against some crap bloke,” came the biting reply.
The “crap bloke” was Stuart. But, as Kay points out, how many players have even qualified for the Crucible, particularly numerous times?
Pettman’s career high came last season when he reached the semi final of the China Open.
And his list of opponents reads like a Who’s Who of World champions - Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Alex Higgins as well as the aforementioned Junhui. He says: “I’ve held my own, I’ve been one of the top players in the world but I’ve never really fulfilled my potential.
“I didn’t think people would be interested in my life story because I haven’t really done anything to be honest! Graeme said there was a book out about a footballer in the lower leagues, Graham Netherbuck, and they followed him through a season and basically what he got up to.
“That was where the concept came from, that I’m virtually an unknown to most people apart from snooker fanatics. And we’d follow me for a season so people could see what it’s like to play Ronnie O’ Sullivan in front of a full house or to play in the cubicles at Prestatyn.”
His most memorable game against O’Sullivan was in the China Open. Stuart says: “You walk out and all you hear is chants of ‘Ronnie’. You feel really intimidated. The first shot I played against him in the match, I potted a great long red and everyone gave me a polite kind of clap. Then I missed the blue and some of them laughed!
“There’s definitely an aura around him and he just gets absolutely besieged by people in China, it’s absolutely crazy, there were people following him. But it was an absolutely fantastic experience and one that you’ll never forget. I’ve played Ronnie a few times in pro games but that one really stands out.”
In the book, the Sullivan match is followed by a scene back at the Elite, an argument with the club’s veterans about chocolate biscuits. Stuart laughs: “I wanted to show the contrast. This is me at the top of the game, playing Ronnie O’Sullivan in front of 2000 people, then next minute, I’m back with veterans complaining about the price of tables because it’s 50p more than last week!”
O’Sullivan once had a memorable afternoon at the Elite, dropping in for a practice game with Stuart.
He says: “As soon as somebody realised Ronnie was in the club, within a couple of hours, we had about 50 people there.
“They were phoning each other’s friends and family. There were families I’d never seen before with their kids, just coming in because they’d heard Ronnie O’Sullivan was in.
“There were three kids stood by the hatch watching him because they couldn’t get into the match room.
“Ronnie went to the toilet and the three kids followed him and were taking pictures of him on their cameraphone while he was having a pee!
“That’s the kind of buzz that he creates.”
Playing Alex Higgins in a qualifier about 10 years ago was a sadder experience. Stuart recalls: “He was towards the end. Put it this way, he was drunk when I played him. At the interval, I was four nil up and he went straight to the bar and ordered a quadruple whiskey. He couldn’t hold a cue basically.”
The Elite is five minutes from his childhood home.
He says: “It opened 25 years ago and I was one of the first few people through the door. So it was a natural progression from coming in as a young boy and then progressing through the pro ranks and finally coming in to it to own it.
“The ex owner decided to retire and purely by chance, he happened to mention it while I was there. I was practising at the time with Shokat Ali, another professional, and we both had a chat and made him an offer. We’ve been here now for five years.”
Stuart, who is taking a break this season to assess his future, began playing aged nine on a toy snooker table he got for Christmas.
Two years later, the Elite opened.
He says: “I used to come every week with my dad on a Sunday and it progressed from there. I always used to love watching it, even as a young boy of seven and eight, I was fascinated watching it on the TV.
“It was always Jimmy White because at that time, he was really close to winning the World Championships and everybody loved Jimmy.
“It was definitely Jimmy White who inspired me to play the game and get a table.
“Funnily enough, I’ve never played him as a pro.
“He’s the only top player I’ve never played.
“There’s been opportunities when he’s been lower ranked than me and, if he’d have won that game, then I’d have played him but he’s always got beat. Such a shame.”
* Stuart Pettman: As Sometimes Seen On TV is £8.99, out now at Preston’s Waterstones, from The Elite snooker club, Lostock Hall or at www.prosnookerblog.com.