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Inside the South West Snooker Academy

By RupertJ  |  Posted: April 23, 2012

  • Young players in the Junior Club at the South West Snooker Academy

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At the Waterwells roundabout, half way along the Quedegeley bypass, there's a small brown sign. It says "South West Snooker Academy".
You might never consider visiting and even if you did, it's hard to find, tucked away among dozens of grey offices and warehouses.
But it's worth the effort, as Waterwells Business Park is an understated setting for what is one of the finest snooker centres in the world.
The Snooker World Championships started last weekend and takes place over the next fortnight. Six of the 32 players who made the final cut are based at the SWSA.
It contains eight world-class tables, identical to those being used at the World Championships at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield this weekend.
And it also includes a 370 seat arena which regularly hosts televised international snooker, pool and boxing matches.
There are several strands to what goes on at the SWSA. Firstly, there is the professional side of things. First class practice facilities, where some of the world's top players train.
The Academy is also home to On Q Promotions, an organisation which manages 25 players in total. Some, like current world number 10 Mark Allen and Stroud-based Dominic Dale, ranked 20, are at the top of the game.
Snooker legend Jimmy White is also managed by On Q Promotions. And there are also the youngsters on their way up, trying to make it in the professional ranks, who are also based at the Academy.
Janie Watkins, now living in Gloucester but originally from Llanelli in Wales, is one of the permanent staff at the SWSA.
She said: "I think it helps the professional players being part of an academy because they get into the spirit of it. They all get to know each other, learn from their games and they support each other at tournaments.
"Unless they're playing each other, of course."
Then there's the social aspect of the snooker Academy. It was set up just a couple of years ago by Gloucester businessman Paul Mount, a snooker fan who wanted to provide facilities where children could practice without having to visit the adults' clubs.
Snooker has traditionally been a working class game, often in the past an outlet for kids with behavourial problems.
The Academy still works with youth organisations such as Young Gloucestershire, which sends regular groups to the centre.
"It's good for them," says Janie. "Because there are so many subliminal benefits.
"Being a good sport is one of them. You never see a footballer declaring a foul on himself, for example.
"Snooker teaches mathematical skills and geometry around the table. The kids who play learn how to interact with other players. They learn discipline and concentration as well.
"And it's hard to play snooker if you've been drinking, so it keeps them away from alcohol too.
"In the old days they used to say that if you were good at snooker it was a sign of a 'mis-spent youth'. There are many reasons why that can't happen any more but we do good work with structured groups all over Gloucester."
The Academy isn't the only of use to professionals and youth groups, though. After a minimal one-off joining fee, any member of the public can play at the centre, for a reasonable price of £6 an hour.
 "We get people ranging from age seven to 70 here," says Janie. "The little kids stand on boxes to play at the tables.
"Junior clubs for children aged seven to 17 are on Saturday mornings."
Go to www.southwestsnookeracademy.com for more information.

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