So welcome to my first blog, which I will update around every 3 or 4 weeks or so (well, that’s the plan). Here I am going to try to give you some insights into what goes on behind the scenes here at the IPA, and also any other information I think might be worth adding. As you may be aware, we have just been to South Africa for the Simonis World Series, and I can honestly say, what a great four days we had. They play on slightly different tables to those we are used to, so the guys had a little trouble in adjusting, although Marshy (now nicknamed ‘Marshmallow’ by the locals), seemed to adapt quicker than the others, although Harry gave him a good game in the semis. Marc, who is now known as ‘Ray’ (apparently something to do with him looking like Ray Winstone) – never really got going as we know he can, while Jack also struggled though I believe he is using a new cue. Talking of Jack, he played one of the top SA guys – Yulan Govender – for a few quid, but lost. Big turning point at 10 all when Yulan came out of a tough snooker and potted the black and Jack never really got a sniff after that. Chris played some of the locals as well – they ‘don’t play for free’ these guys – I think he won his first and lost a couple. We all had our eyes opened a little with the standard of players they have and I was particularly impressed with a young kid called Ishmael – he cues the ball like Jimmy White – wouldn’t it be good to see him over here in the future, although they may well struggle on our tables. Probably because of his extra table time (plus his talent of course), Jack went on to win the Open event, beating Chris Bowron in the final. He had to keep his composure in the semis against Wetsi Morake (arguably SA’s best player a few years ago) but win he did and congratulations were forthcoming from everyone in attendance. So, the cream from the SA Premier League beat our guys in the Team event, and it was fully deserved as well. We didn’t win any of the lags for 2 sets which I think made the difference, but for me it didn’t matter who won – it is great for pool full stop that these events are happening, exposing the IPA to a new audience and giving the SA players the opportunity to compete against their idols they usually only see on You Tube. The club we played in – Timeout – was booming every day. Loads of tables – all busy – music beating out – and it created a great atmosphere. They are all coin mechanism tables – and about 30p a frame. Those tables were non-stop whilst we were there and those SA boys (and girls) can’t get their change in quick enough – usually whilst playing for some level of money game. It’s very cheap in SA compared to UK with a bottle of Castle lager about 90p. We were so shocked at the price we had to have several just to make sure! The owner of the club – Jayson – was supplying me with Jaeger bombs, and obviously in the spirit of SA-IPA relations I had to accept 1 or 2! We all went for an Italian meal on the first night which was superb. We all discovered that Jack (now renamed ‘Jeck’ as the South Africans call him with their twang) can eat a horse, or even 2 if he is hungry – he demolished a 7 layer lasagne as well as everything else put before him during the stay. We had 2 courses and 2 drinks each and it worked out about a tenner per person – happy days and more than enough to make us all want to come back next year. All in all a great experience and then on the day we were coming home, we headed to a safari park, which was fantastic. Personally I got a great selfie with a giraffe and we all got some great pics, particularly with the lion cubs and cheetahs. It was quite surreal three of us being left alone in a compound with three cheetahs, and no chance of outrunning them if they felt hungry, although Marshmallow would have taken one for the Team im sure. We have to say were royally looked after by Ishaun and Grieta, who ferried us about everywhere and who we can’t thank enough. I didn’t get much sleep during the 4 days due to sharing with the marshmallow, he can snore for Wales and I’ll cough up for a single room next time I think. So what’s going on next? Well, Sean Trivass (our Press Officer) and I are heading to Gibraltar to meet up with the top brass at Corals and finalise the deal. So lots of prep going on for that between now and then., and it’s going to be very busy after that meeting with the new events and all the planning that will be going into them. James Hanney has sorted all the venues and hotels for next year so I need to find him something else to do though hats off, he has done a really great job. Simon Webb is starting to look at the World Series events for 2017, and Paul Bebb/Scott McMillan are looking at the new scoring system we are trialling at the Brighton event. We will see how that goes then decide which system we want to use next year and beyond. Louis is selling all the tables/balls etc after Brighton, so that we will start the Worlds in February with brand new tables. The full Team are meeting at the end of the month to finalise a lot of the details for the new events, looking at our rules and governance and a whole host of other things we need to sort before Brighton. The plan is to meet the Pros at Brighton and present the proposals before general release although this might change depending on time. So the final Tour event is at Brighton as always at the sublime Brighton Hilton on the seafront. We are missing quite a few players due to the Blackball International (BI) Worlds, it’s not ideal but it’s done now, we just have to get on and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The BI AGM is taking place at Killarney which I’m hoping to get to. We should still have about 170 players which a couple of years ago would have been amazing, but it just shows how things have changed when we are a bit disappointed with ‘only’ 170. We will also have a new face helping with the tables at Brighton – Chris ‘Clippo’ Clipsham will be assisting Louis ensure the tables are in tip top condition, and I’m sure you will all make him feel as welcome as you do the rest of us. Louis has to nip back to Leeds during the Brighton event to attend his brother’s wedding so will be clocking up some miles travelling back and forth but that’s IPA commitment! As many of you will remember, we did the presentation for 2017 at Warwick and the feedback has been really positive – there seems to be a great buzz around the Tour and what’s coming up. We have filled about half of the spots so far for the Tour – I have no doubts it will be full in the next 3-4 weeks which is fantastic. There seems to be a lot of excitement especially about the Tour event at St James’ Park in Newcastle – I’m told we will get a fair few spectators which will be great. Im hoping we have some special guests attending as well. Talking of spectators, as part of the Corals agreement, TV is going to have a role to play. There have been many people who say pool cannot be anything more than it is and it’s not a spectator sport, blah blah blah. Just my opinion, but I think these people do not know what they are on about and are very naive, and there are some notable names I could quote. They are looking at it from completely the wrong angle. Obviously I can’t say too much at this stage, but what I will say is that when we do get blackball on TV, it won’t resemble anything that has gone before it. What for me is key is continual improvement in every area. We are always tinkering with something to make it better. The stream will be no different and we are wanting to turn it into a ‘programme’ in 2017 – think of Jeff Stelling on a Saturday afternoon and you will have an idea of what we are thinking. The downside to doing this is that I will probably have to pack in playing to commit the time (I can hear the sighs of relief) which is going to be hard to do as I have played competitively for 30 years, although not that competitively recently. I’m hoping I can find a compromise so don’t start cheering just yet! Hopefully that gives you a flavour of what’s happening at IPA HQ – as you can see, it’s a lot!! If you have any questions you want me to answer, I will include them in the next blog – just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any subject is fine however ‘sensitive’ it may be. In the meantime, keep looking at our Facebook page and website for all the latest news and don’t forget to share the news through social media – sharing is caring, and the more people we have interested in pool the better it is for all of us. See you in a few weeks.