'Future of the game is in Asia'

Ace coach Del Hill, who moulded the careers of some of the all-time greats, is a man on a mission

'Future of the game is in Asia'

In fact, there was a stage when the 57-year-old gentle giant coached half of the top-64 snooker players in the world. The only non-professional ever to have been named as ‘Honorary Coach’ by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, Hill is in India for a two-week period to coach the Indian snooker team for the Asian Games.

A huge admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Hill took time off from the conditioning camp to speak to Deccan Herald on his life, his association with the game’s greatest players and his snooker farm, a resort-like place where players, celebrities  and tourists make regular visits not just for a game of snooker but for some relaxation as well. Excerpts…

You have never played professional snooker, so how did you get into coaching?

My father was a billiards player and I think it was in my blood. I used to play snooker and billiards when I was a boy but I was more into golf. At the golf club there were snooker tournaments and I happened to win a few. But, I started suffering from back problems and could neither play golf nor snooker. We then moved out of London to a farm in Lincolnshire where many local players used to come and practice. I happened to meet Graham Cripsey in one of the pro tournaments and he wanted me assist him with his technique and cue action. Graham soon retired and a young Ronnie (O’Sullivan) asked me to coach him. Over the years, I went on to coach many of the top players and helped them win World titles. My profile just grew.

You have been coaching for three decades now. Can you compare the pro era of the 1980s to the current one?

The big difference to me is sponsors. In the 70s and 80s, you had plenty of sponsorship from tobacco companies and breweries. Now, it’s all lost. Another thing is during those days you had just BBC and ITV but now you have the commercial Sky and many more. People have so many options and I believe cue sport is facing a very challenging market. However, the standard of the game has grown. For example, I just spent one week with Mitchell Mann and in the following week he scores the maximum break of 147. He was 12 years old then, Joe Davis was 55 when he made his first 147. Young guys have remarkable consistency.

Your opinion on the newly-introduced 6-red snooker...

I think it is a great version. I think it is our answer to seeking a place in the Olympics. It is very exciting and very quick. It gives an average player a chance against top pros. With the new ‘Foul and Miss rule’ where the opponent can place the cue ball anywhere on the table is fantastic and just brings another dimension.

Why do many Asians refrain from playing the pro circuit in England?

One can go out and win the World amateur -- like Pankaj Advani did -- and the reward for that is a place in the main tour. And, since Pankaj does not play professional circuit, his ranking will be low. As a result, he needs to win 2-3 rounds before he starts making any money. A world champion would not want to do that. Moreover, it’s very expensive and one needs a good sponsor to play for long. But I feel the future of the game is in Asia. Look at what Ding Junhui has done to China and I believe India needs a player like him to spark a revolution. It will happen sooner or later.

You shaped the careers of many greats like Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Graeme Dott. Your thoughts on them...

Ronnie, in his autobiography, thanked me a lot and said he owed me a lot. I owe Ronnie a lot and learnt a lot from him.

There is a saying ‘You go through life and smell the roses’. It’s just fantastic that I was associated with some of the game’s greats. I always tell them ‘never expect to miss but allow themselves to miss’. Do your job with a smile and believe you will succeed and the rewards are certain.

For me Mahatma Gandhi is the biggest inspiration. Ever since I saw the film Gandhi, I was moved. Imagine the great man sent us – the British – back home without even raising an arm.

Who is your favourite pupil and why?

If I have to say the greatest player that I have worked with, then it is Stephen Hendry. It’s because he has won seven world snooker titles. He had just got beaten by Marcus Campbell and I was summoned to coach him and the very next year he won his seventh world title. Tony Drago is the most natural player, he can just get down and keep potting. But one player who can make an extremely difficult game look mundanely easy is Ronnie. His cue action, getting through the ball, his whole game was just brilliant. Unfortunately, Ronnie still doesn’t realise the amount of natural talent he possesses. I am happy to be called Ronnie’s coach.

How did the idea of a farm conceptualise?

I moved the farm from London to Lincolnshire along with my wife because we wanted to start a family there. Apart from snooker, I’ve put fishing lakes in. It’s pleasure mixed with work. Apart from the pros, many tourists from across the world visit the farm on holidays.
What is your coaching philosophy?

I work on technique. There is a certain way of getting through the ball and every player is different. A good coach should be able to understand that and help players through their own style. There is a saying ‘Wherever the mind of man can conceive, believe and achieve.’ I wanted to be a top coach, I believed in it and achieved it. This is exactly what I tell the players.

As an honorary coach of WSPBA, what suggestions do you have to expand the game further?

I feel the world body needs to get a good qualifying school that will help the Asians get in. At the moment, it is very difficult for Asians at the moment. Asia is a huge market and is waiting to be tapped. I had reservations about India before coming. But I am extremely impressed with the facilities here – the Karnataka State Billiards Association. It’s second to none. Asia and India are exploding and the world body needs to make the best use of it.

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