Sport

2017 Oceania snooker champion and two-times runner-up world champion Matthew Bolton on chasing the Australian billiards record. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: SUPPLIED

Top of the table: Matthew Bolton, 38, billiards and snooker player

I learnt to play billiards when I was six years old. It was the first game I was taught. My father and grandfather were both West Australian champions, so it was born into the blood.

Billiards is unique because of the amount of concentration required. Unlike other cue sports games, there’s no end. You’re at the table until you miss. If you’re good enough to make a 700 or 800 break you might be at the table for close to an hour.

Walter Lindrum is arguably the greatest sportsperson ever from Australia in any sport. His record is just phenomenal. They changed the rules a number of times because he was so dominant; he could stay at the table for a couple of hours without missing. He’s an icon of Australian sport. I don’t think there’ll be anyone in the sport that dominates like Lindrum did.

His record is 4137. That is a Mount Everest of a break. I’m sure it’ll never be beaten. The game was played under different rules back then. The conditions, the tables and the balls and equipment were different, which definitely made it easier to make big breaks than it is today.

Unless you are a billiard enthusiast or really understand the game, for the general public and new people, then the game as a spectacle can be quite boring. But in saying that, those who understand the game love the repetitive nature of making big breaks in billiards because they understand the skill, the touch, the concentration that is required to do it.

I suppose the disappointing part is that the very best players in the world can’t make a living from the game. That is due to the spectacle, the nature of it as a spectator sport. It just doesn’t get the coverage, the media attention, the TV that’s required to bring in the corporate sponsorship and give the best players the chance of playing it as a professional sport rather than an amateur sport. It is a shame a lot of the top players around the world aren’t playing for the same money as the snooker players.

I’ve always played snooker at a high amateur level. In the past four or five years I’ve focused a lot more on my snooker. I’ve been the No. 1 player in Australia for the past three to four years.

I won the Oceania championship a few months ago which gives me a two-year ticket on the world professional snooker tour. So snooker at the moment is my No. 1 focus because there is a chance to play at professional level and make a living out of it.

If I had the choice I’d play billiards professionally though. It’s always been the game that I’ve excelled at the most, and been in the top few players in the world for quite a long time.

I don’t believe games like that will ever die. It gets spoken about in cue sport circles and other circles, but I actually think it’s a bit of a futile conversation to a point. The lack of venues – and RSLs and places like that removing full-size tables – is certainly an issue. However, there are a few academies and large rooms that have opened up around Australia. The sport around the world has a very stable structure.

I don’t worry that I’ll be the last of a generation of champions, so to speak. I do believe that the game will continue on and, you know, it will just have to work with the times.

I’d rather win a competition than make a high score. I’m chasing Bob Marshall’s record of 21 Australian titles. I’ve won 15 now, so all things being equal and my health staying good, then I’m very, very confident that I’ll break Marshall’s record, which is one of the greatest records in Australian amateur sport. It would be an amazing achievement.

I’d love to make a thousand break. I think there are only five living people in the world who have made a thousand break. And I’m knocking on the door of doing that.

A break that size, it goes through different phases. It can seem like you’re having to really concentrate hard, and it’s taking a lot of mental energy out of you. And then you go through 10- or 15-minute periods where you know you get in the zone, so to speak, and it seems really easy and you’re almost freewheeling and just doing what you’ve done for a number of years.

It’s fantastic when you’re on autopilot and everything seems easy and you’re just flying along. But that certainly doesn’t happen for an entire break,
it only comes and goes.

I don’t play pool at the pub. I get asked to a lot by my mates, but I have to politely explain that it’s the last thing I feel like doing if I go out socially. I’ll let my mates have a game instead.

 

This week’s highlights…

• Horseracing: Recognition Raceday

Saturday, 1st race 11.50am (AEST), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

• AFL: Melbourne v Port Adelaide

Saturday, 2.10pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

• NRL: Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm

Saturday, 5.30pm (AEST), GIO Stadium, Canberra

• Swimming: 17th FINA World Championships

Sunday until July 30, Budapest, Hungary

• Golf: The Open Championship (British Open) – final round

Sunday, Royal Birkdale, Southport, England

Cycling: Tour de France – final stage

Sunday, Montgeron to Champs-Élysées, Paris

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 22, 2017 as "Top of the table". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.

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