Ant Parsons wins the first instalment of the 900

Congratulations to Ant Parsons who defeated Martin O’Donnell to win the first instalment of the 900

Yesterday night was the last of the first edition of Jason Francis latest brainchild, the 900.

Here is how it panned out:

And here some more pictures taken on the night

“The Shirt” outdid himself for the occasion!

It’s fair to say that the event was a fantastic success

Ahead of the last night, Phil Haigh had spoken to Jason Francis and Martin O’Donnell about what it means for the amateur players

‘I’ve created a monster’ – The 900 Finals Night is here but it is just the beginning

Phil Haigh Wednesday 23 Nov 2022 7:00 am

The 900
The 900 has been a big hit in its debut season

The debut season of The 900 is coming to a close on Wednesday night and after making quite the impact on the amateur snooker scene, we can expect to see plenty more of it in the future.

The late-night, fast-paced action has been cracking entertainment, from Dennis Taylor rolling back the years, to talented teenage prospect Alfie Lee shining on television for the first time.

We’ve also been treated to seeing the likes of fan favourite Tony Drago, star of disability snooker David Church, Emma Parker and Maria Catalano representing the women’s game and a host of recognisable names who have fallen off the professional tour.

It is no surprise that there has been plenty of interest from amateur players with each weekly winner picking up £1,500 and those eight players returning this Wednesday for a crack at the £10,000 top prize.

The force behind The 900, Jason Francis, explained: ‘It’s the biggest prize ever in amateur snooker.

‘£10,000 for the winner and £1,500 for the runner-up on Wednesday, so at some point one shot is going to cost an amateur snooker player £8,500. As long as you’re not involved, it’s the sort of sporting drama you love!’

For the still uninitiated, The 900 is similar to the Snooker Shoot Out on the professional tour, with 15 minute frames, a 20 second shot clock and a few other tweaks like a spotted cue ball and ball in hand for a foul.

The weekly contests are played Monday-Wednesday from 10pm-1am live on Sporty Stuff TV, hosted by the excellent team of Rachel Casey, Neal Foulds and Lee Richardson, with the likes of Reanne Evans and Ali Carter also popping in.

The champion each Wednesday books their spot on Finals Night and one of those players to come through was former world number 32 Martin O’Donnell, who has been thoroughly impressed with the tournament and the opportunities it is affording amateur players.

‘It’s a good set-up, I enjoyed playing in it,’ he told Metro.co.uk. ‘There’s no crowd but it’s exciting. Having a clock on it makes people a bit nervous and there’s good money at stake for it. It’s a great event.

‘When you’re off tour as an amateur, you’re feeding off scraps a little bit, we all have to do something on the side because it’s hard to earn a living, pretty much impossible really until this came out. So whoever picks up the winner’s cheque on Wednesday night will be very, very happy. 

‘This is a bonus that came out of nowhere, none of us were expecting it. What Jason, the sponsors and Sporty Stuff TV have done is amazing, it’s given people a real buzz.’

2018 Betway UK Championship - Day 11
Martin O’Donnell came through his week of action and is into the finals (Picture: Getty Images)

Adding The 900 to the calendar has made amateur snooker suddenly more viable, with the Q Tour, the English Amateur Tour and Pro-Ams returning after Covid making life off the pro tour an encouragingly busy one, and one that can be profitable.

O’Donnell explained: ‘I got £1,500 for winning my week, which is brilliant. I got £2,500 for winning a Q Tour event, winning my week of The 900 would be more than runner-up on the Q Tour, which is our other biggest earning opportunity. It’s really helpful. 

‘The opportunity to play for £10,000 is unheard of as an amateur. What Jason’s doing and what he’ll do in the future will change the amateur game. It will change players’ mentalities because you are a bit lost when you come off tour, you don’t think there’s much around. Now you know that this is going to be there, it might not be as big a deal as it once was, dropping off tour.’

The 900 Finals Night Draw

Martin O’Donnell vs Aaron Canavan
Ben Hancorn vs Andrew Higginson
Philip Williams vs Andrew Norman
Ant Parsons vs Alfie Lee

The success of The 900 so far is going to see the return of a second season, while there are plans in place to create a junior and a professional version.

Francis is excited about it all, but is keen to keep expectations under control as demand increases.

‘I think it’s exceeded my expectations, but in some ways I feel a responsibility now,’ he said. ‘There feels like a huge expectation on me to get amateur snooker on television. 

‘So many people are asking when the next one is, can they play, will I do it for kids, for women. So, now I have to realistically see what else I can do because amateur snooker players have loved the opportunity.

‘I’m passionate about it all, but it feels a little bit like I’ve created a monster, but I’ve got to make sure that monster doesn’t get out of control.’

On what is next for The 900, he explained: ‘A junior one is next, the challenge we’re going to face is that the TV station is betting-led and clearly you can’t bet on children’s snooker, so it’s going to have to be self-funded. 

‘I’ve already had quite a few people come forward and want to be involved. I’m trying to set it up a bit like the IPL. A company comes forward to fund a team to represent them.

‘The pro one, I’m inundated with professional players wanting to play in a pro series. It’s going to be about finding a date that fits in on the World Snooker calendar. They cannot appear on television while there’s a WST event on and their calendar is pretty busy. I think that’s the easiest one to do because there would be a lot of interest in people wanting to follow that and bet on it.’

When the different versions will emerge is yet to be seen, but we can expect another season of The 900 next year, with Sporty Stuff TV very pleased with the product so far.

‘I’ve had no specific numbers yet, but we’ve heard that it’s been as popular as anything they’ve ever had on that channel,’ said Francis. ‘Specifically in that time slot. 

‘We’re already talking about how we structure season two and how that will look.’

A vibrant amateur scene is crucial for the sport to thrive and grow, The 900 has brought something to the party and it should finish Season One with a bang on Wednesday night.

Phil also had a chat with Michaela Tabb who refereed throughout the event

Michaela Tabb on the ‘challenging’ 900, her snooker legacy and life since the tour

Phil Haigh Wednesday 23 Nov 2022 3:43 pm

Michaela Tabb
Michaela Tabb is still very much involved in the snooker world (Picture: Twitter)

Iconic referee Michaela Tabb left the professional tour back in 2015 but has been really put to work again this year at The 900, not made any easier by running her own business at the same time.

The pioneering ref became the first woman to take charge of a World Snooker Championship final in 2009 and again officiated a Crucible final in 2012.

She has now been off the main tour for seven years, but has had to get used to a new challenge over the last few weeks at the hectic, fast-paced and late night event, The 900.

Not only has she been refereeing from 10pm-1am Monday-Wednesday, but running her successful Blackball Tables business from her Reading hotel room while flying back and forth from Scotland.

It’s been quite challenging,’ she told Metro.co.uk. ‘Getting used to the hours of 10pm-1am, then needing a bit of time to wind down, then a nap and getting up in the morning to work, then going to work again at 7.30pm, it’s been quite bizarre but I’ve loved it.

I fly down on a Monday and back on a Thursday morning. Those Thursday’s are challenging, it’s tiring. Thursday afternoon I’m in the bath with a book and zonked.

I wasn’t concerned or worried, but I was questioning how I was going to stay awake and work those hours. I’m not a late night person to bed anyway, so to start work at 10pm, what the hell?

But because the matches are so quick, you find it’s the quickest three hours of the day. We do two games each, me and the other referee Mark, but we score for each other. Before we know it we’ve done four, half way through, it disappears. It’s a perfect format, it’s been amazing.

Being part of the team here, from start to finish, seeing it through, it’s been fabulous.’

Tabb’s business, selling pool tables and various snooker and pool accessories went from strength to strength in lockdown, and she hasn’t missed her opportunity to work her magic while donning the white gloves again.

We sell snooker and pool accessories so it all merges into one a bit. I’m down here selling snooker balls to a player, not while I’m in a match! But it’s who we are, that’s why we love it,’ she said.

Tabb has never hung her gloves up entirely, staying involved with refereeing since the days of being one of the most recognisable faces in snooker on the main tour.

I stopped the professional tour in 2015, but I’ve always reffed for Snooker Legends since 2010,’ she said. ‘I do the Seniors Tour and a lot of exhibitions with Jimmy [White], Ken [Doherty and Ronnie [O’Sullivan]. They’re fun nights. I’ve kept my hand in and I can make it work around my job.

I do [miss it] at times. It was long hours and difficult at times. When the World Championship comes round every year it is difficult, obviously I was there for every year bar one, when I was having my son, when I was working on the tour. It’s always like, “Aww, would have been nice to be there.”

But things change for a reason. Obviously now I’ve got a very successful business, which couldn’t have happened if I was still on the tour.

I do still follow it and there’s still so many people there who were there when I was there, still doing well, and it’s nice to see the young guns coming through as well.’

Tabb was a big name in snooker while she officiated on the pro tour, but even transcended the sport to an extent due to her position as the first female ref at the top of the game.

She was happy to shoulder the burden of pressure that came with that role, but did not quite see how much pressure was coming with it.

I didn’t expect it,’ she said. ‘I started on the snooker because I’d refereed the American pool on TV, four years before they came to me with the snooker.

I hadn’t appreciated the significance of the history I was making when I started on tour. Then there was actually a lot of pressure on my shoulders because I was representing the whole female population.

Let’s be honest, if one of the guys made a mistake, commentators and people at home would say, “That man made a mistake” but if I made a mistake it was “Michaela made a mistake” because I was the only one.

So there was quite a lot of pressure there but in hindsight I was probably the right choice for it because I was married and had a family. I wasn’t a young girl, I had responsibilities at home, a bit more mature, a level head on my shoulders, so probably the right kind of person to make that change.’

While she was forging a path, many have followed, with a range of female referees working on the professional circuit now and in recent years.

I love it now,’ said Michaela. ‘I look and see all these young ladies out there reffing and think, that’s because of me. I love it.

In her World Championship final days, were there any approaches to work away from the green baize: ‘Never offers to go on reality shows,’ she said. ‘I was probably a celebrity in the world of snooker, but refs are supposed to keep their head down really…but I’d have probably done it! Maybe not the jungle.’

Tabb’s exit from the professional tour was somewhat controversial at the time, as she claimed sex discrimination, unfair dismissal and breach of contract against World Snooker, and the two parties came to a settlement over the matter.

On the matter, she said: ‘I suppose, in summary, we had a difference of opinion with regards to my employment contract. I wasn’t happy with the terms that were being imposed and decided it was time to go my own way. That was the long and short of it.

It just wasn’t right for me and I couldn’t carry on under the circumstances. It happens to a lot of people in different walks of life, I was just quite prominent as the only female.

From my point of view it was stressful. We ended up in an employment tribunal and I wouldn’t have gone there if I didn’t believe I’d been mistreated, but we came to a settlement and we both were happy to walk away. It was time to draw a line and move on.

I believe what’s meant for you doesn’t go by you. What’s happened since has worked for me and my family.

Clearly loving her time at The 900 and enjoying her great success in business, it all appears to have worked out well for her.

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