On Saturday (September 26) we’re celebrating the success of the York bar billiards league with a charity challenge event at the Golden Ball, featuring the world bar billiards champion and the England captain.
Golden Ball, Cromwell Road, York
Sat Sep 26 @ 2pm-10pm
£2 entry, in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice
This amazing game has had its ups and downs in the city. It’s said that bar billiards first came to these shores from the continent in the 1930s, when an Englishman, David Gill, saw the game ‘billard russe’ being played in Belgium.
Gill was intrigued by its uniquely challenging format: nine holes of varying point values scattered around the playing surface, with opponents racing against the clock to rack up the highest score – while trying to avoid knocking over white and black pins.
Doing so either erases the player’s current break or their entire score.
On returning home, Gill persuaded the London firm Jelkes to start manufacturing similar tables over here, and the game quickly became popular.
Rise and fall of York game
One of the chief northern outposts was York – talk to older pub-goers and they’ll wax lyrical about the tables once found in pubs like The Ackhorne, the Bootham Tavern, the Cross Keys, and the Woolpack on Peasholme Green.
However, over time the game’s fortunes began to decline. Britain’s variant of American eight-ball pool emerged in the 1960s and swept all before it.
By early 2013 there were only two tables left in York – in the Golden Ball and the Phoenix.
For those of us who drank in both pubs, often while playing a frame or two, it was clear that the game still inspired affection amongst regulars and caught the imagination of newcomers.
A dream is born
We began to wonder if a bit of energetic collaboration might be all that was needed to kick-start a revival on the wider pub scene. The York Bar Billiards League was born.
We now have eight teams playing regularly across seven pubs.
As well as the Golden Ball and the Phoenix, there’s the Fulford Arms (with three tables!), the Knavesmire, the Waggon & Horses, the Woolpack, and York Brewery Tap Room, as well as a team from the University of York, which uses the Fulford Arms as its home venue.
We also hold a singles cup every season, and play regular regional ties against the Sheffield league, which is even more recently established.
Our players cover all age ranges and skill levels. People are proud to represent their local pub, but they also enjoy socialising with players from other pubs.
It’s proved to be a great way of bringing people together from different parts of town in a spirit of friendly competition.
Craft and personality
Maybe this explains why we’ve managed to reverse the apparently unstoppable decline of the game in Yorkshire.
There’s a thirst for this kind of community-based game-playing, which is connected to the rise of a different kind of pub culture in recent years, with respect for tradition and small-scale craft breweries.
This ethos fits in perfectly with bar billiards – a traditional pub game that also emphasises idiosyncrasy and craft, both in the way it’s played and in the tables that it’s played on.
Each table has a personality of its own – a result of small-scale production by skilled craftsmen, in contrast to the bland uniformity of conventional pool.
Game’s spiritual home
If this link between the beer and the billiards is part of the game’s appeal then it’s no coincidence that the Golden Ball has become the spiritual home of bar billiards in York.
No pub more perfectly represents the new pub scene – a community owned cooperative dedicated to promoting small-scale local breweries and showcasing the talents of local artists and musicians.
The Golden Ball has just won Camra pub of the season for these reasons, and picked up the amazing accolade of Pub Of The Year in the Yorkshire Life food and drink awards.
So the Golden Ball is the perfect host for our event on Saturday, when we welcome David Ingram, the world champion, and Curt Driver, the England captain.
They will be taking on all comers from 2pm to 10pm in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice.
Meet the champs
David is based in Sussex, and won the world title in December 2014 with a dramatic victory over the long-established master of the game, Kevin Tunstall.
The scores that were racked up in this match are incredible – David overturned a 15,000-plus deficit from the first leg to win the title with a 15,820 break in the second leg.
To put that into perspective, it’s an average of 1,000 points per minute!
Consequently the chances of beating the world champ are *ahem* pretty slim, so a £50 prize will go to the highest scoring challenger on the day, with each £2 entry fee being donated to St Leonard’s.
We’re also going to have a separate practice table, where beginners can learn to play with tips from the experts, and we’ll have food in the beer garden all afternoon, as well as the usual range of great beers on the bar.
With all the proceeds going towards a hugely important charity, and all the bar takings going back into the local community through the pub cooperative, we can’t think of a better way to celebrate the revival of bar billiards in York. We really hope to see you there!
The York league is always looking for new players; if you’d like to get involved you can join up at any time.
As an added incentive, all our regular players qualify for free membership of York Brewery tap room!
We’re also on the look-out for new teams for future seasons, so if you’d like to see your own local pub get involved, or you know of a club or organisation that might be interested in getting a team together, just let us know and we’ll help make it happen.