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`I FELL DEEPLY IN LOVE WITH A ROSEWOOD BUTT' Snooker star John Parrott, in the hot seat every Tuesday as a team captain on BBC1's Question Of Sport, may have been potting balls for 20 years - but he'll never forget his first cue, as he tells LISA BURROW...; `Some old guy told me to clean it with warm milk, but that just made it stink'.

As a child I was mad on virtually every sport but it wasn't until I was 12 that I picked up a snooker cue for the first time. From then on I was hooked. My dad had taken me and a friend to a local park in Liverpool to play bowls and when it started to rain, he suggested we go to a nearby snooker club called the Dudley Institute where he was a member.

You had to be 16 to get in but he sneaked us through the door before the steward arrived.

The room was a bit run down and full of smoke and there was a dodgy old gas fire that used to knock everyone out.

There were pensioners falling asleep all over the place.

But there were two full-sized snooker tables and the moment I saw the place, I absolutely loved it. Dad explained the rules and told me how to stand and hold the cue. Then he let me loose.

Every time a ball went in the pocket I got this great feeling and wanted to do it over again.

My friend was totally unimpressed - he found it as exciting as looking at cheese labels - but I was gone.

When we got home, Dad saw an advert in the paper for a 6ft snooker table. He paid pounds 25 for it and brought it home strapped to the top of our old Austin car.

We set it up in the front room and from then on I practised on it like mad.

I turned into a serious anorak. Most kids at school were buying Striker and Shoot magazine and things like that and there was I buying Snooker Scene. But I didn't care.

Every night after school I'd sneak into the Dudley for a couple of hours. We lived just off Penny Lane in Liverpool and the club was literally just 20 paces away.

I had to be careful to avoid the steward - he was like Saddam Hussein's babysitter! But even if he threw me out I would be back the next night.

Within six weeks I'd made a 50 break and I was on my way. By the time I was 13, I'd qualified for the North West Area junior finals and I needed a decent cue.

The trouble was, it was difficult to get one for my size so Dad wrote to the Stuart Surridge company, who are famous mostly for making cricket bats.

He'd seen an advert for a two-piece cue and asked if they could make a special one for me.

He didn't really hold out much hope when he sent off the measurements. But they came up trumps.

I think it cost about pounds 30 which at the time was a fair few bob for a cue. And I had to wait three weeks for it - which at that age is forever. But when it came, I loved it. It was fantastic.

It was packaged in a case. It had a rosewood butt and metal joints with black lines beneath and at the top. I fell in love with it.

Some old guy in the club told me I ought to clean it with warm milk and water. I did that for a while until I found out that not only did it stink, it made the cue stick to my bridge hand. In the end I used to clean it with washing-up liquid.

On Saturdays I'd strap it to my bike and cycle five miles to Aigburth People's Hall, where lads could play for a couple of hours in the morning.

The hall didn't officially open until 10am but I used to be there by 9am so I could practise for an hour before the other boys arrived. I'd play until 12. Then I'd be in the Dudley by 1pm, play until 6pm, have my tea and be back for another four hours in the evening.

But all that snooker did the trick. I won two or three area junior tournaments and by the time I was 14 I was in the club's first team - which meant I played in some weird and wonderful places all round the city.

It wasn't easy at first. I lost my first six games, which was horrible, and people were saying I wasn't good enough. But when I won my next 13 on the trot they were OK.

The cue was just brilliant. I gave it all the credit. But unfortunately it was only good for about 18 months simply because I outgrew it.

I went on to win the Embassy world title eventually and I regret that I gave the cue away. My little boy Josh is two-and-a-half now and I wish I'd kept it for him.

He's mad keen on sport - we play football and he's got his own little golf clubs - but I just can't keep him out of my snooker room.

I'm not going to encourage him to become a snooker player because in my book it's far too difficult. But I know that if he wants to play I'll be the first to buy him a cue.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Burrow, Lisa
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 20, 1996
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