AT 46, snooker star Nigel Bond accepts his best days are probably behind him.
But anyone who saw him in Blackpool 12 months ago may beg to differ.
Bond cantered to victory in the inaugural World Snooker Shoot-Out at the Circus Arena in Blackpool Tower, seeing off the rest of the best 64 players in the world to lift the trophy and claim the £32,000 first prize.
The tournament was such a success, they are doing it again. It begins tomorrow and is snooker with a difference. Each match is a one-frame, winner-takes-all shootout, lasting a maximum of ten minutes.
World No.1 Mark Selby could exit the tournament within ten minutes of the start – maybe not to the taste of snooker purists, but thrilling to watch nonetheless. The pros themselves love it and Bond, back in town to defend his title, can’t wait to get going.
“It isn’t a ranking event, more a fun weekend, but believe me, every player taking part really wants to win,” said Bond, who is first on tomorrow at 6pm, against Robert Milkins – the man he beat in last year’s final.
“You can’t really practise for a ten-minute match. You just have to hope you wake up on the day in really good form and able to make your pots. That’s what happened with me last year.
“The Blackpool fans were fantastic. Hopefully, I can do it again but the odds are stacked against it. I’m 46 and not getting any younger. But I still feel on my day I am capable of beating anybody, especially when it’s a format like this.”
Snooker used to be a major thing in Blackpool. The town hosted the UK Championship in the 1970s, and up until a decade ago all qualifiers for the major tournaments were held at the Norbreck Castle.
Bond, from Derbyshire, recalled: “I used to come here all the time. Last year was the first time I’d been back in ages, and I was blown away by what they’ve done to the place. They’ve cleaned up the front and it looks really good.
“It’s just a pity we’re here in January and the weather’s not the best, but you’ve got to love Blackpool – it’s a national treasure.”
Bond has been a familiar name on the snooker scene since turning pro in 1990, pulling off the most notable victory of his career six years later when he beat John Higgins to win the British Open.
He warmed up for this week’s event by taking part in a doubles match with a difference at Q’s snooker club on Lytham Road.
He and world No.6 Shaun Murphy took on Seasiders players Matt Gilks and Bob Harris. Murphy, the 2005 world champion, said: “I got knocked out in my first game last year, so ten minutes after I started I was driving back to my house in Manchester.
“But you speak to any player and they absolutely loved it. The crowd were great and as soon as I got home I switched on the TV and watched every single match.
“I was delighted Nigel won because he is one of my best mates, but hopefully I can do a bit better myself this year.”
And Murphy, in good form after finishing runner-up to Neil Robertson at last week’s Masters, will have some local backing.
“My uncle and auntie live up the road in Fleetwood and pretty much all my family are from the North-West, so I should have plenty of support,” he said.
Any temptations to sample the nightlife? “Unfortunately, we’re all quite professional these days,” Murphy said.
“The times when Alex Higgins and Jimmy White went on the lash between sessions have finished really.
“We’re all in Blackpool trying to win and there will be plenty of time for drinking afterwards.
Murphy starts his attempt to be crowned Shoot-Out champ at noon on Saturday, when he faces Fergal O’Brien.