Located in Southeast Europe and with a population of just over two million people, North Macedonia is the latest nation to join the expanding global snooker family.
This landlocked country successfully completed its first national snooker championships earlier this month at the Gran Club in the capital city of Skopje. Following five events held throughout the season – featuring cueists from ten different cities and as young as 10-years-old – the top two from the overall rankings were tied and a play-off match was required to determine the inaugural winner.
In a dramatic and exciting conclusion, Pavle Danilov ousted Dejan Sipkovski in a deciding frame to claim the trophy. Sipkovski took the first and third frames, but Danilov levelled up each time. In the fifth and final frame Danilov required penalty points with one red left, but the situation turned, and he came through to record a 3-2 triumph on the final pink.
Prior to this tournament, the Snooker Association of North Macedonia (SANM) hosted a national junior championship that was won by 16-year-old Filip Neshkoski.
A vision of snooker in North Macedonia
President of the SANM Lazar Lazarevski has overseen several ambitious projects inside the past twelve months. In an exclusive interview, he discusses the work that has already been achieved and the plans for Macedonian snooker in the future.
Could you tell us a little bit about the creation and history of the SANM?
The Snooker Association of North Macedonia is a realisation of a long-standing dream. There was a desire amongst the snooker community here to have an organised body that can finally begin the proper systematic process to promote snooker and get it affirmed as a sport in Macedonia.
The association was formed last August by a group of five snooker clubs inside the country. We had a presentation ceremony that was attended by the President of the Olympic Committee Macedonia and a representative of the Agency for Youth and Sport. At the presentation we announced our goals of hosting national championship events and joining regional and continental snooker associations. We also stated our intentions to encourage players, referees and coaches through various projects and workshops, and community inclusion for those with Down Syndrome.
How popular is snooker in North Macedonia and how much exposure does it receive?
Snooker’s increasing popularity is visible, both in the Balkan countries and here in North Macedonia. This is because of the excellent media coverage we get from the national championship on the internet and the effect of Eurosport television where the professional players are becoming more familiar to our sporting audience. We are also close to agreeing with the National Olympic Committee that some of our domestic matches will be broadcast on the Olympic Channel.
We see more and more young children being enchanted by the magic of snooker, and I am increasingly surrounded by parents who support the affinities of their children, which makes me especially happy.
What facilities are there in North Macedonia for people to play snooker?
Currently we have a modest number of tables across the country, some of which are in the clubs and some that are personally owned. One of the goals of the Association is to be able to increase the number of tables, especially for competitions, which we hope will be supported by the government body in the future.
Earlier you mentioned your plans for coaching in the country – how is this going?
Our largest snooker club – the Gran Club – started a collaboration with WPBSA coach Nigel Bond eight years ago. He has visited us on five occasions, and we have developed a close friendship with him.
To have a professional ranking event winner provide us with an unselfish investment of his time represents a huge privilege and great motivation for both us as an association and the players themselves. Nigel’s visits are extremely fulfilling with individual coaching and group training workshops for players and coaches.
We now have four active coaches, three of whom are certified and work under the European Billiards and Snooker Association (EBSA) programme.
North Macedonia recently had representation at the EBSA European Snooker Championships. Can you tell us about that?
For the first time, Macedonian players and a referee took part at the European Snooker Championships in Albufeira, Portugal.
Our junior champion Filip Neshkoski is a great hope for Macedonian snooker. His love of the sport saw him create a makeshift snooker table out of a wooden door! Filip won a match in the under-18 event and therefore recorded the first official victory for our country. National champion Pavle Danilov and Vlatko Janev represented us in the 6-Red and main championships with Pavle winning Macedonia’s first match at senior level.
We must also mention our international referee Ana Srbinovska who was at the championships from the first day and made a great impression.
What are your future hopes for snooker in North Macedonia?
Snooker is certainly on the right path, both globally and in our country, but we should not be fooled into thinking that the road to snooker success is short or that a Macedonian player will soon be on the professional circuit.
The hope remains that with systemic training of young players we can firstly expect some success on Balkan soil and later, European. Why not? We have great examples of countries which don’t have long traditions with snooker that are doing well – Ukraine, Poland, Finland.
However, with this aside, personally as a President of SANM – and a great lover of this sport – I would get immense satisfaction if we succeed to include as many young people as possible in this noble sport, whether as a compliment to their education, a hobby or as a basic profession. The psychological benefits of playing the sport are unquestionable and snooker can be practised by anyone.
Andrew Pagett is set to snooker’s top tier after he defeated Heikki Niva in the final of the 2020 EBSA European Amateur Snooker Championship.
A former Crucible Theatre qualifier who last featured as a professional in 2015, Pagett becomes the fourth different Welshman to claim the prestigious continental event, in this its 29th edition. Former winners of this championship include Mark Allen (2004), Luca Brecel (2010) and Scott Donaldson (2012).
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the entry and schedule for this year’s tournament in Albufeira, Portugal was reduced.
Pagett began his campaign by topping his group without dropping a frame and qualifying for the subsequent knockout rounds. There he dispatched compatriot Ben Fortey 4-2 before eliminating Northern Irish national champion Declan Lavery 4-1 with breaks of 56 and 79 to reach finals day. During the last four, the 37-year-old registered runs of 50 and 57 as he overcame fellow ex-professional Ross Muir of Scotland 4-2.
In the other half of the draw Niva advanced to become the second player from Finland to reach the European title match, following in the footsteps of 1997 and 2013 champion Robin Hull. On his route Niva ended the hopes of English amateur champion Ben Hancorn and Belgian national champion Kevin Hanssens via deciding frames in the quarter and semi-finals respectively.
The final brought together the top two seeds from the round robin phase. Looking to gain promotion onto the main tour for the first time, 24-year-old Niva calmed his nerves by taking the opening frame. However, it would be the only time he led as Pagett strung together the next four frames – which included a tie-break finish in the fourth – to move one away from glory. The outsider reduced his arrears when chalking up frame six, but the Caerphilly cueist wasn’t to be denied as he sealed the next to win 5-2.
Pagett has featured and performed very well on this season’s Challenge Tour, recording an event victory and finishing third in the overall standings. However, he will no longer need to attend the play-offs as this latest triumph ensures that he will be nominated to receive a coveted two-year World Snooker Tour card.
Preceding this event, exciting Ukrainian prospect Iulian Boiko won the European 6-Red Championship. The 14-year-old progressed through his group and then six knockout round matches, culminating in a 5-3 final success against former world number eight Darren Morgan. Courtesy of the title, Boiko will represent the European Billiards and Snooker Association at the 6-Red World Championship later in the year.
Earlier in the festival at the Salgados Palace Hotel, the Republic of Ireland’s Aaron Hill completed an unprecedented double by conquering both the European under-18 and 21 categories. The latter rewarded the Cork teenager a debut on the full-time professional circuit.
2020 EBSA European Amateur Snooker Championship
Results – from the quarter-finals onwards
Heikki Niva (Finland) 4-3 Ben Hancorn (England)
Kevin Hanssens (Belgium) 4-0 Zsolt Fenyvesi (Hugary)
Ross Muir (Scotland) 4-2 Daniel Womersley (England)
Declan Lavery (Northern Ireland) 1-4 Andrew Pagett (Wales)
Niva 4-3 Hanssens
Muir 2-4 Pagett
Niva 2-5 Pagett
Aaron Hill completed an unprecedented continental double after defeating Hayden Staniland 5-2 in the final to win the 2020 EBSA European Under-21 Snooker Championship in Portugal.
Just days after retaining the European under-18 title at the Salgados Palace Hotel in Albufeira, the latest part of Hill’s trophy duo earns him a coveted professional World Snooker Tour card for the first time. He becomes the first player to claim both EBSA junior category championships in the same year.
The Irishman continued his fine form from earlier in the week, emerging through an entry of over 90 players who were representing 27 different countries. He began his campaign by relinquishing just one frame in the round robin phase, topping his group and qualifying for the knockouts.
Hill would however endure a scare in the last 32 when opponent Patrik Tiihonen of Finland made a 101 break to move 2-0 up before he strung together four consecutive frames to progress 4-2. The Cork cueist highlighted a run of 97 in eliminating fellow countryman and last year’s runner-up Ross Bulman 4-1 in the last 16 and then dispatched England’s number one ranked under-21 player and national champion Mark Lloyd 4-0 in the quarter-finals. In the last four he ended the challenge of Belgium’s Ben Mertens 4-1.
Waiting for Hill in the final was Staniland, who was the first Englishman to reach the title match since 2016. Staniland showed nerve to survive a trio of deciding frame finishes in the knockout phase, including victory against Frenchman Brian Ochoiski in the semi-finals. In this the 24th edition of the competition, had Ochoiski advanced, it would have been the first time that a player from the United Kingdom had not featured in the final.
Staniland was largely confined to his seat for the opening mini-session of the best-of-nine frames final, though, as Hill helped himself to breaks of 59, 69 and 76 to boss his way to a 4-0 lead. The whitewash was averted by Staniland after the break and with an effort of 53 in frame six, he briefly threatened an unlikely comeback. However, despite a couple of wobbles in frame seven, Hill composed himself to get across the line and secure a 5-2 success.
The 18-year-old joins a roll of honour that lists former champions such as world ranking event winners Mark Allen, Michael White and Luca Brecel. He is the third player from the Republic of Ireland to conquer Europe’s premier youth accolade, following in the footsteps of Thomas Dowling in 1997 – the inaugural edition – and Josh Boileau in 2016. Hill is now guaranteed a place on the sport’s top tier for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons.
Elsewhere in the tournament, England’s Sean Maddocks – finalist in the under-18 championship and the WSF Junior Open – bowed out to Ochoiski in the last 32. WSF Open runner-up Iulian Boiko of the Ukraine qualified as one of the top seeds, but his hopes were dashed by Harry Andrew Gosney (England) in the last 16. Winner of this season’s Challenge Tour Event Seven Dean Young (Scotland) was defeated by Julian Leclercq (Belgium) in the last 32.
Action continues in Portugal with the European 6-Red and Open Championships – the winner of the latter event will also collect a professional tour card.
2020 EBSA European Under-21 Snooker Championship
Results from the quarter-finals onwards
Harry Andrew Gosney (England) 3-4 Hayden Staniland (England)
Dylan Emery (Wales) 3-4 Brian Ochoiski (France)
Mark Lloyd (England) 0-4 Aaron Hill (Republic of Ireland)
Ben Mertens (Belgium) 4-1 Daniel Holoyda (Poland)
Staniland 4-3 Ochoiski
Hill 4-1 Mertens
Staniland 2-5 Hill
The Republic of Ireland’s Aaron Hill defended the EBSA European Under-18 Snooker Championship after he defeated Sean Maddocks 4-1 in the final in Portugal last night.
Featuring 70 players from 24 different countries, Hill was the last cueist remaining following four days of action at the Salgados Palace Hotel in Albufeira. The teenager follows in the footsteps of current main tour professional Jackson Page who retained this title in 2018.
Hill had no issues in qualifying for the knockout stages as he topped his group with four wins from four and crafted the tournament’s highest break of 131. He then dispatched Luis Vetter (Switzerland) 3-1 before dropping no subsequent frames against Liam Graham (Scotland) 3-0, Joe Fenton (England) 4-0 and Ben Mertens (Belgium) 4-0 to make the final.
For Maddocks it was his second major international final appearance in just over two months after reaching the title match at the World Snooker Federation Junior Open in Malta. The Englishman also went through undefeated, eliminating recent Polish national champion Antoni Kowalski 4-3 from 3-1 down in the quarter-finals and fellow countryman Connor Benzey 4-1 in the last four.
Looking to avenge his whitewash loss to Maddocks during the semi-finals of the previously mentioned WSF Junior Open, Hill made an ideal start to the final as he compiled breaks of 73 and 55 to take the opening frame. The Irishman doubled his lead and it was looking like he was going to inflict a clean sweep of his opponent when a run of 92 allowed him to move 3-0 up. Maddocks got on the board with frame four but a 50 break helped promising prospect Hill secure a 4-1 victory and once again lift the trophy.
Elsewhere in the tournament, 13-year-old Bulcsú Révész (Hungary) and 15-year-old Robbie McGuigan (Northern Ireland) finished the groups phase as the top seeds, although Révész lost to Benzey in the quarter-finals and McGuigan bowed out to Joe Fenton (England) in the last 32. The Ukraine’s Iulian Boiko – runner-up at the recent World Snooker Federation Open – lost to Benzey in the last 16 and Dean Young – a winner on this season’s Challenge Tour – also went out at the same stage to Kowalski.
Attention in Portugal now turns to the lucrative European Under-21 Championship across the coming days where the winner will be offered a two-year professional World Snooker Tour card.
Results – from the quarter-finals onwards:
Bulcsú Révész (Hungary) 1-4 Connor Benzey (England)
Antoni Kowalski (Poland) 3-4 Sean Maddocks (England)
Ben Mertens (Belgium) 4-0 Madalin Gal (Romania)
Aaron Hill (Republic of Ireland) 4-0 Joe Fenton (England)
Benzey 1-4 Maddocks
Mertens 0-4 Hill
Maddocks 1-4 Hill
The World Snooker Federation (WSF) and Australian Billiards and Snooker Council (ABSC) are today delighted to jointly announce a new agreement which will see two major amateur tournaments held in Adelaide, South Australia in January 2021.
Following the successful staging of the WSF Junior Open and WSF Open tournaments won by Gao Yang and Ashley Hugill respectively in Malta earlier this year, both mixed-gender competitions are now set to take place next year at the Snooker SA Venue in Adelaide.
Both competitions will be open to all players who are in good standing with their national federation and will offer main tour qualification to the professional World Snooker Tour from the start of the 2021/22 season.
Snooker SA, established by the Billiards & Snooker Association of South Australia at ‘The Venue’ in 2015, houses 12 full-size snooker tables and is based in the heart of Adelaide with local accommodation and amenities easily accessible.
Snooker has a proud history in the region dating back over 100 years to the formation of the Association in 1913 and has seen many great champions crowned including current world number two Neil Robertson, winner of the inaugural SA Snooker Open in 2001.
Jason Ferguson, WSF President said: “Together with our friends at the ABSC I am extremely pleased to be able to announce the next staging of these two highly prestigious WSF tournaments in Adelaide next year.
“This year’s open entry events in Malta proved extremely successful in breaking down barriers, providing opportunity for all in to gain access to the World Snooker Tour. Our new World Junior Open demonstrated clearly that there is a new generation of players waiting to appear in our major televised events. The tournament provides a fantastic opportunity for these players to compete for a world junior title in our sport, many of them also then contesting the subsequent open competition with the world’s best amateur players.
“The World Snooker Federation is going from strength to strength, and to fit with the WSF’s vision of reaching out to all destinations around the world we are delighted to be working alongside the experienced and passionate ABSC team. When staging international amateur events such as these, it is vital we find attractive international destinations for all. Having personally visited Adelaide in the past, I am sure all players along with their families and friends will soak up this wonderful Australian experience by the sea.
“Once again, these tournaments will be open to all and will again provide direct access to the World Snooker Tour, not only through main tour cards, but also further opportunities to compete in prestigious ranking tournaments.”
Frank Dewens, ABSC President said: “We are delighted and honoured to be offered the opportunity to host these two prestigious tournaments. The ABSC together with the Australian Confederation of Billiards Sports are providing our elite snooker players the opportunity to play against the best in the world. Whilst Australia is at a distinct disadvantage geographically, these tournaments will be bringing the best in the world to Australia and to our region.”
Further information about the tournaments will be made available in due course.