Monday, 20 June 2011

Superbly Organised Tournament

Daniel Wells - 2011 European Champion
So, the European Championships are over for another year. What a professional, slick enterprise this was and credit has to go to Oleg and the Bulgarian Snooker Federation. Looking back over the 12 days of the tournament I can remember the excitement, fun, tension and stiff competition that is a European Event. For Bulgaria to take on this event with just 16 weeks notice is a testement to the hard work put in by both EBSA and the BSF, something the players often overlook.

'Blue' Peter, me, Ger, Vic, and Sverrir 'Ashcloud' GarĂ°arsson
The standard of referreing has also improved and this was highlighted by Bernard McGuinness during his speech at the end of the event, well done referees. The closing ceremony was a fitting climax to a wonderful tournament., with estatic winners and gracious loosers. Although I didn't sample the 'Black Ram' whiskey (one of the sponsors) during the closing ceremony I have heard it is quite good, a bottle or two was exported to various parts of the European community no doubt.

I have made some wonderful friends and if I didn't get an opportunity to mention you on my blog (thank your lucky stars) there is always the next time. Sofia is not the easist place to reach in Europe and we had to get connecting flight from Paris both there and back. But thats not detracting from a wonderful venue and event.

Next year I am sure the host country will be a little more accesible with possible host countries ISRAEL, LATVIA, RUSSIA, DENMARK, GERMANY and N.IRELAND hoping to host the event. Watch this space and I will update the moment I hear anything.

For me it's back to the day job (I have some car trouble which means I can't get into work today as I write this) and my other passion which is Politics. The next election campaign will not be for another 3 years, so plenty of work lies ahead. If you are interested in what our party stands for, you can catch up via my website, which again will also be updated with various goings on. Click here.

Oh, and before I forget and get off the snooker theme completely, thanks for the t-shirt Janie. I like surprises and I LOVE SNOOKER!!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Sofia with a bad taste

This is gonna hurt. And gonna hurt bad. I have loved my time in Sofia that is for sure. However it only takes one night to sour our relationship. That night was tonight. 
Make sure each venue is Open
Following a beer at our local restaurant, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try out the 'Sin City' leisure complex. It was advertised as FOUR clubs in one venue, however having paid the 8 BGN Lev door charge I find out it is only one club. The other THREE are undergoing refurbishment. Nothing on the website or reviews tells you this. The one club that IS open is crowded and uncomfortable. Bouncers on every corner wearing black t-shirts with 'SECURITY' on the back don't aid the ambiance. When I asked about the other THREE clubs I was directed to the manager who offers no explanation other than politely escorting me to the exit. Nice public relations move, he hasn't read my blog, but that's for another day.

The Night Gets even Better
A taxi to Lavov Most (Lions Bridge) was flagged down, and from there I made the short walk towards the Happy Bar & Grill which has been a frequent source of refreshments and nourishment during our stay. I am hungry after a long day sight seeing and our closing ceremony (updated photos will be here) and at some stage between this and the huge Lion edifices adourning the local bank I was 'pick pocketed' by a professional.

Near 'Happy' Grill in Sofia
The Professional Touch
Out of nowhere, I was approached by a 'lady of the night' offering her services. Anybody who has been to Sofia will testify this is not unusual. However this particular 'lady' at the same time makes a grab for your 'crotch'...the surprise is one thing, taking your hands out of your pockets to protest is another. At this instance you are defenceless while she rifles through your pockets and off with your wallet, I reckon it took 3 seconds, tops. I'm a pretty streetwise kid, and this caught me out, big time, so be aware.
Hotel Difficulties
So, on my return to the Princess Dedeman Hotel in Sofia, I ask to speak with the 'Night Manager' as it is now approximately 2:00am and I have had a long walk back, short on money and temper. I have to go through the same story with the bell-boy and desk manager, before the Night Manager arrives to ask what is happening. More frustration. I explain the situation and advise that the Hotel need to take my pre authorisation as payment or they don't get paid once I cancel the credit card, simple? No. They suggest another form of payment, or perhaps a bank transfer in the morning, none of which is an option. A military interview takes place before they decide to process the card details I provided on arrival. They are ok. I can now cancel my 'stolen' credit card.

I ask for some food given I still haven't eaten, and am hungry. This is too much like hard work right now, I don't have the energy for another debate with the night manager about how I am going to pay, so head off to bed. What has happened to 'Customer Service'  I wonder? Dedeman Princess Hotel and Sofia you can and should do so much better.

Happy Ending
At 5.00am I get a wake up call to the room advising that my cards have been handed in to the Hotel, which is a relief given the night I have had. Although I lost my wallet and a small amount of BGN Lev, I am happy to have my ID cards back. Not a memorable last night in the city, but one I am happy to put to the one side.

Friday, 17 June 2011

McIntyre pays his bets - Confirmed

Well done Daniel Wells (Wales) on winning the 2011 European Snooker Championships. Daniel, who will be turning professional in the forthcoming season played extremely well, but proved to be too strong for his opponent Vincent Muldoon (Ireland) on the day. Unlucky Vinnie, you had a great championship.

I took a fiver of McIntyre - ha ha ha ha ha......
A Winning Bet
Just a little 'aside' to the snooker. During our enjoyable day on Vitosha Boulevard yesterday, John and I both discussed the merits of the Masters event, now that 'hot favourite' Darren Morgan was put out. Who was going to win the prestigious event now we wondered, and given that we had differing opinions,  we decided on a small 5 BGN wager, which wasn't going to break the bank, just for fun. John was off the opinion that 2008 winner Alan Trigg would be too tough an opponent.

For me, I stuck with my original pick Steve Judd (see my earlier postings for confirmation !!) and it was the Englishman who came good in the end, winning 6-4 in a tight match. The 5 BGN Lev was duly handed over this evening, Mr McIntyre pays his bets, let it be said :)

Thursday & Friday - Our time in Sofia is ending

A nice leisurely stroll to the Lions Bridge with my friend Janne from Finland where we stopped for a coffee at the nearby Papaya coffee house. Janne told be a lot about his country, and it sounds like an ideal destination for future Championships. I know his compatriot Jyri is a big fan of the idea, and is bending a few ears to the idea at this event. 

Later that evening we had a very enjoyable hour or two on Vituska Boulevard with the legend that is John McIntyre. He is one of the best 'travel companions' you could wish for and I for one hope this isnt his last trip away. Having said that if we are successful in hosting he 2012 European Championship in Northern Ireland, he will probably have one of the shortest trips imaginable. We spent the evening having a quiet drink and watch the pedestrians stroll up and down the Boulevard. The strangest thing we saw was an elderly man bedecked in flashing strobe lights from head to foot...John thought he had just witnessed a UFO landing!

Back to the hotel and I was summoned by Janie to her 'office' where she presented me with her t-shirt I had been admiring earlier and another as a gift. I won't be looking at it until I get home, I like surprises. A very nice touch from a lovely lady (even if she did give us a hard time for not attending the exhibition!)

A Special Request for Peter O'Brien
The evening wouldn't have been complete without a bit of 'ribbing' towards the experienced Irish referee Peter O'Brien. During the Mens Semi Final in which he was officiating he had a momentary lack of concentration, respoting the blue when McDonnell was clearing up the colours...his reaction once he realised was classic.....'oh fxxx' he says putting his hand up to his head before removing the blue again. He took it in good grace, an unusual lapse from a great guy. Don't think he appreciated my rendition of Phil Collins number which goes like this... 'When Im felling blue, all I have to do, is stop and think of you'....classic end to the night.

Friday Afternoon
I am writing this from the city centre, having had a quiet stroll this morning. Each day I decide to walk to Lavov Most (Lions Bridge) and get a bottle of water and maybe a slice of pizza. Once there I will decide if I can walk a little further, I continued on to the picturesqe Banski Square, sat down with my Ipod listening to Edel - 21 and watched the city go about its day to day business. As some stage in my excursion I finished up at the imposing NDK or National Palace of Culture (below).

National Palace of Culture, Sofia
Then I went up to Vituska boulevard again (I do love this pedestrianised Area of Sofia with its shops and outside eateries) before taking a detour and sitting down to write this update. Where I am I don't know and I'm not overly concerned. I have just enjoyed a nice chicken meal, washed down with a Latte, sitting in the shade of the Catcus Restuarant and Bar, there are affordable taxis applenty, so long as I remember the name of the hotel we are staying. Speaking of which, our closing ceremony is tonight, our last night in beautiful Sofia.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Sinatra and all that Jazz

Have just watched a good semi-final in the mens event, Vincent Muldoon (Ireland) against Martin McDonnell (England) and saw Vinney get over the winning line 6-4, I am delighted for him. He is here with his mum and I think she is playing every ball for him she looked so nervous. One thing for sure, his opponent Daniel Wells (Wales) will give him another tough game.

Telling JH about my blog and he will be in it ;)
Our World Snooker Champion John Higgins arrived last night. There was a reception for him in the hotel which was well attended by all of the players and referees, together with the assembled press. I spoke with John briefly in the lobby, just to let him know we are pleased he is back and that perhaps another few world championships will come his way. He's a good guy.

Although I had a trip planned to Sinatra's Piano Bar in the city centre, the reception was a good opportunity to mingle and chat with some friends, and get a few photographs.  After a couple of drinks a taxi was ordered and I headed off, with Ger and Nico for company.

 It didn't take long to arrive at our destination, The Sinatra Piano Bar is on the top floor of what can be described as an office block, there is no way you would ever stumble upon this place. It's a nice relaxing spot, a little smaller than I had anticipated but nice all the same. From here we headed into Studentski Grad or 'Student City' for a beer or two. I like quiet evenings ;)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Masters - Its a knockout

For me my tournament ended with a 3-0 defeat to Allan Norvack from Denmark in the final 32. He played a very strong game and I was 2-0 down before I knew what was happening and despite trying hard in the third just couldn't get over the line. 
It would have been nice to have made a match of it, however when its not your day no amount of sweat and tears is going to get points on the board.

Other matches to note today:
Darren Morgan beat Stephen Merrigan 4-0 for a place in the quarter final. Stephen from Ireland was a semi-finalist in 2008 and I had him tipped to go one step further this year. Alas coming up against a player who made a 142 clearance earlier in the week was always going to be tough. I am continually surprised that the Welsh player continues to compete at this level when his game is undoubtably strong enough to compete in the main event. That is a question only he can answer. Jyri Virtenan from Finland was another one of my tips to progress but he lost out to Kurt Desplenter 4 frames to 3.

Given there was no snooker for me today, I spent the day doing some unplanned sightseeing (as suggested by Janie earlier in the week).
My intention was to walk to Lavov Most (Lions Bridge) for a slice of pizza and a bottle of water, then maybe chill at the pool. This didn't really go to plan and before I knew it I was having a meal and a glass of wine at Victoria Restaurant (Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd) having spent an hour or two viewing the sights nearby like the impressive Alexander Nevsky Memorial Church (right) and the nearby Russian Church of St Nicolas (below).

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Business End - Week One is complete

I love the business end of championship snooker. The atmosphere changes once the group stages have been decided. Some unsuccessful competitors leave, The selected number of referrees get allocated their semi-finals and finals, and the knock-out draws are here. Good work team.

I have been seeded number 13 and drawn against number 20 seed Alan Novack from Denmark for a place in the last sixteen of this years tournament, should be a good match.

We had our AGM yesterday and I was honoured to be the Northern Ireland delegate at a well supported, enthusiastic meeting. It was decided this year to hold the AGM at a time when no group games were being played, a very wise decision. It meant the maximum number of delegates could attend and the meeting was all the better for it. Well done the EBSA board.

Outside dining, well sheltered and excellent food.
A Secluded Restaurant
Following my match John and I headed to our favourite restaurant in the city centre. I highly recommended it. Get a taxi from hotel to the National Theatre. Once there, head down the right hand side of the theatre about 50 yards and you will come across this great little outdoor spot (pictured right). The Pork Fillet with 2 types of onion and saute potatoes is great, some Bulgarian Merlot and garlic bread, cannot be beaten. And it costs next to nothing.

Titanic Centenary Year 2012
While talking with my Finnish friends Janne and Antti later in the evening I found out that this particular tournament represents Finnish Referee Victor's 19th consecutive European Event. Anybody that knows Victor will testfy that snooker is in his heart, and the giant of a man can potentially make it 20 next year. If Northern Ireland are succesful in our bid for the 2012 event, it would be an event to celebrate as it coincides with the centenary year of the Titantic sinking. However something tells me this big Fin wouldn't go down so easily. Well done Victor.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A good day for Northern Ireland

Go Team NI. Before getting to the snooker it's worth point out the power of online blogging. The German snooker player Miro Popovic pulled me to one side today to let me know he has been following 'this' blog and he is enjoying it...WOW! What for me is a way to let my kids know what is happening has reached so many people and I am humbled, even though a lot of the ramblings are pretty random and not really related to snooker. Thanks Miro, your words mean a lot to me. Plus you have invited me to your town which I know very well having spent some time in Bottrop, I want to say be prepared for lots of beer and fun!

Back to snooker and Team NI. We had the first win registered for the snooker  master John McIntyre, well done buddy, long overdue. The EBSA table fitter Jacek Rudowicz from Poland is a fantastic potter, but John used his boundless experience to cause enough problems winning easily 3-1.

The Bulgarian Ivailo Markov was my 5th group opponent and he didn't find his game at all, giving me a few too many chances, thankfully I took these with a couple of small breaks in the first, a 60 in the second, and a comfortable 3rd to secure a 3-0 victory. Snooker over for another day.

A nifty dancer - nice
Following the successful 'Party Bus' night on Saturday enjoyed by the team, rumours were abound that a 'Lady GaGa' look-a-like would be making an appearance at the venue, alas this didn't happen but by no means did it dampen what was an otherwise a fantastic night, Sofia will come again. I hope.

Day 6 - Snooker is for crazy people

That is for sure. It's a mad game, frustrating, difficult one minute, easy the next, and lady luck plays a hand as well. My match with Finland's Jyri Virtanen didn't get off to the best of starts, the match venue was changed and I didn't get the message so had a wasted trip and back to the club venue. Not to worry, I don't think my game was all there and it was always going to be a hard match against a very strong opponent. I lost the match 3-0 despite two close opening frames. I was disappointed not to give Jryi a better match, and I told him in the bar later on I would appreciate the opportunity to play him again, who knows we may meet in the knock out stages at some point. This was my first time meeting Jyri and I like him, a good guy.

When I am not playing this week, we have been talking snooker either in the lobby or at the practice tables. We had a very lively discussion on Wednesday night together with a cool beer.  Peter, Nico, Bernard, Janie and others, about ways to make the game more accessible for players and more. It was an enjoyable way to pass the evening, and I have to say some really good suggestions were put forward by Janie, her knowledge of the game immense.

Jager Mojito - very nice, yes
While it is ALL snooker  for the majority of the time, we are allowed to leave the confines of the Dedeman Princess Hotel on occasion and yesterday we did just that. It was a balmy Saturday in Sofia, why not. John and I found another fantastic little restaurant in the city centre, called the Funky Kitchen which was very enjoyable, although there was no music. From there we had a cocktail or two in the Bar Flight which makes one of the nicest Jager Mojito's I have ever experienced (it was my first one) lol.

Back to the hotel and Oleg has arranged a party bus to take all the players to Student City in Sofia. As it is only 10.30pm we have 1 hour travel around  the city, with some sights and some drinks servered on board. Once we arrived it was clear that this is a place that never, ever sleeps. There are a wide variety of clubs for all music tastes, from traditional Bulgarian music, hip-hop, dance and jazz. We decided on the hip-hop as it was closest to the bus and we were only going to stay for that was going to happen. Our evening finished (I think) at around 05.00am this morning, thankfully my match is not until later tonight. 

What a way to spend a Saturday evening in Sofia, a very memorable experience and one I would do again. Oleg, you are a legend. Thank you my friend.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Day 5 - The heat is on

By the time I arrived for my match at 1pm my friend John McIntyre had already lost to the strong potter from Israel Ygal Pagliari. It leaves things difficult now for John, and he needs to secure a victory quickly. I had a good match against Gilles Grzeskowiak of France. My cue action felt light and effortless and for the first time this week I started to see the balls better. It was just as well because my opponent is a very strong player, as he demonstrated in the first frame which he won easily.

The second frame was a tight affair and could have went either way. In the end it came down to the pink ball and Gilles played a good safety with cue ball in baulk around the green spot and the pink just below the right hand middle, tight on the cushion. I instinctively saw the opportunity for a 'double' into the left corner and deliberatly punched the cue ball with some top and right hand side to make sure the cue ball ended up in a safe position. The pink thundered in not even touching the sides of the pocket, 1-1. This allowed me to get into the match and I won the next two frames comfortably enough. That's now played three with one defeat and two victories.

It was then into the city for dinner and we stumbled upon the famouse Ale House in Sofia, where you litterally do away with the bartender and pour your own beer, at the table. The beer was good, the food disappointing.

Friday, 10 June 2011

A break from the baize - Day 3 & 4 in Sofia

Sofia is a beautiful city. It was only last night that John and I fully appreciated the diverse mix of culture, style and cuisine that Sofia has to offer.
While I had a 'free' day with no match on Thursday, my tournament hit the wall on Wednesday when I lost my second group game, to the experienced Israeli Yakov Shaashua. Again as in my first match, I somehow 'switched off' having secured a 2-0 lead only to watch my opponent rightly get back into the game. He gained renewed confidence as the match progressed, winning three frames on the spin to secure his second victory of the event, and my first defeat. Yakov's compatriot and my good friend Doron Lavie reminded me this morning about the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. He is a very wise man.

My own team mate John McIntyre really struggled with the conditions on Thursday, and I fully understand where he is coming from. While the heat and humidity is quite severe at the club venue, the hotel can be equally as challenging for the players as John later testified. This together with the early start (10.00) really didn't suit him and he lost for the second time. The heat really is on for him now, and a victory in his next match is paramount. For me, I have a tough match against Frenchman Gilles Grzeskowick and this time I will remember Doron's wise words.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Day 2 - Sports Minister breaks off

We had a VIP at the opening ceremoney today, Bulgaria's very own Sports Minister Svilen Neykov who 'broke off' to officailly anounce the start of this years European Snooker Championships.

Under no pressure whatsoever from the assembled press, in case your wondering no, he didn't miscue, although the cue ball did fail to reach the baulk cushion. It was a great start to the event though and a credit to the organising committee for securing such a high profile politician to officially open the tournament.

Svilen Neykov Bulgarian Minister of Physical Education and Sports tells the waiting press about the growth of snooker in Bulgaria, and outlines what  exactly went wrong with that break off.

My colleague John McIntyre has had a stressful days travel today, he couldn't make the trip yesterday as the flight was full, and instead had to travel on his own but thankfully made it ahead of his match with Darren Morgan of Wales. John lost 3-0 but it was a tough ask given just 30 mins to get prepared.

My tournament started at 5pm with a tough match against the gritty Marcel Bera from Romania. Marcel pots a lovely long ball and in truth I didn't give him enough respect, taking on too many 50-50 chances. He punished me like any good snooker player should. My 2-0 lead evaporated and he levelled at 2-2 before we were escorted off the table to make way for another match. The break was just what I needed, winning the decider comfortably.

John and I finished the evening with a glass or two of wine and some 'spag bol' before calling it a night. Another day over, just glad to get a win under my belt.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Euro Snooker - Day 1

Such a long day, all for the love of snooker. I started this morning at 2.45 am with a quick shower, shave and on the road to Dublin Airport, arriving just before 5am tired but excited, snooker cue and holdall in tow, ready for another European Adventure.

Have to give credit to Air France, breakfast of coffee and muffin on the way to Paris, then another 'snack' on the connecting flight from Paris to Sofia. Credit to EBSA Mr Fix It aka Jim Leacy for laying on a welcoming party in Charles De Gaul Paris, a nice chap escorted us from arrivals to the departure gate, although outgoing EBSA secretary Pete was quick to take the credit for this one.

The Hotel we are staying at, the Dedeman Prince Sofia & Casino met the Irish group at the airport and following a brief drive, we arrived at the hotel in good spirits, and greeted by secretary Maxime Cassis. It was good to see so many familar faces from previous European tournaments.

Now it wouldn't be a European 'Adventure' without the odd incident or strange goings on, and it didn't take long. I took a quick stroll over the the Central Station, and had slice of pizza and beer (cost was 4 Lev, or about £1.50) and returned to my room for a freshen up, so I was only gone about an hour. On my return, on the table in the corner of our room was a tasty looking dessert with the words '45 Years' presented in chocolate on the plate.

Now I know I'm not 45 yet, and can say with some confidence my room-mate is a 'little' It turns out our 'Hotel' is 45 years in business today 6th June., and we all received a little birthday cake to celebrate. Well done Dedeman.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Subway time

Was just browsing a local book store in the lovely Derry (as you do) during my lunch break looking for a clarinet book for my lovely daughter jo jo aka bubbles, and stumbled across a nifty little Thomas Cook travel guide. Together with the usual hot spots and must visit attractions, snuggled inside is a map of the local subway...I have never been so happy, and yes, I am easily pleased.

For the uninitiated, when I don't have a match I will locate the nearest tram or railway station and climb aboard, where I end up nobody knows. This is by far one of the main attractions of competing in these fantastic EBSA tournaments, second only to the people and the craic. Whoever decides on the tournament location I will find out, I owe you a very large drink (or two).