Tony Fun – Interview with a Canadian Snooker Player
I had the pleasure to interview Tony Fun, a close friend, and someone I have learned a great deal of snooker from. Tony has been a competitive snooker player since the 1970’s, is a century runner that visited England, played with Peter Ebdon, and was the recipient of Marco Fu’s first 147 maximum break. Enjoy the interview and please do leave some comments below.
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Tony’s accomplishments and Personal History in snooker
I first saw a pool table at the age of 6 at a friend’s house. I gravitated to it right away. The more I played the more I enjoyed it. I found over the next couple of years I was making friends with just about anyone with a pool table. In 1972 or 73 at 11 or 12 years old I saw a snooker match being played on TV, I don’t know who was but I remember seeing these guys in tuxedos playing on a table the size of a football field. That was it. A year or so later I was playing some straight pool at Brentwood Bowling Lanes on a 4 ½ x 9 ft table and a friend invited me up to a snooker room by the name of Jubilee billiards. The only snooker room in Vancouver with a 24 hr licence, a smoke filled hall boasting 12 beautiful 6’ x12’ snooker tables.
At 13 I didn’t have a curfew and often joined friends to go up and play snooker until very late in the morning. I was playing a game now that was so exciting I couldn’t sit still on the days I knew we would be going up there. In order to get cash for table time I would save birthday money, Christmas money, take in bottles and even wore my lacrosse jersey to go house to house looking for donations to team tournaments that didn’t exist. On days I made enough I would tell my friends to leave me in the pool room at 3 or 4 am and I would take a bus home. I would play until I ran out of money and then brush tables for more practice time. I was not yet playing well but was quite determined. Many occasions I got to watch some of the top players on the front table; this would just inspire me more. I remember once traveling on the bus and whenever I could see my reflection in the windows I would stand, take my snooker stance and stroke looking behind in to the reflection to see if I was cueing straight. Many a bus driver had to wonder what the hell this skinny kid was doing.
By the time I was 15 going on 16, I had left home and in to my first apartment in White Rock BC. My landlord knew I was under age and that I was lying about my age but seemed to like me. I had a mattress, a small tv, 1 pot 1 pan and cutlery for 1. In the town was a small pool room with one snooker table and the rest were 5 x 10’s. No one played on the snooker table so the owner let me practice on it if I kept it clean and freed it up should someone wanted it. Within a couple of months my landlord offered me his push button Valliant if I would put gas in it…back to Jubilee. I played some of the locals and faired ok but then early one morning I was practicing on the front table as there was no one else around. A young oriental guy named Danny Dee stood watching me; I asked if he would like to play. He said no thanks, but this guy will. This was the first time I met Tommy Lee…we played for 2 dollars a game. I remember thinking “wholly crap, this guy only shoots black balls”. I was a quick study so Tommy only took 4 dollars from me and I paid $1.80 in pool time. I began to play him every chance I got and even moved closer to Jubilee so I could bus or walk to the hall. I played with Tommy for 2 solid years and became a first class ball spotter and my math was fast and accurate. Two of the most dominate things in my game came out of the beatings I took from him, one was my long potting game as it was the only way I ever got in. The 2nd was learning to make everything possible when I got in because there was seldom a chance I would get a second opportunity in the same frame. I cannot count the amount of times I had breaks of 60 + points and lost the frame. Over the next 4 years there were endless games of cut throat (or follow) the last whole evenings or sometimes days.
Around my 17th birthday I was playing a set on a Friday night with Rene Gauthier (The younger brother of Tom, a very well-known cue maker). The match started out as any other with Rene a very competent potter, missed a first red in and I compiled my first century break of 108. I had worked so hard at achieving this I couldn’t believe it. To me, running a century meant “you are a player”. It was possibly one of the greatest nights of my life; I still wonder if I knew how many points I had through the run would I have been able to break the barrier. I kept the same shirt I was wearing that night for 36 years. Now I wanted every possible century break available, always keeping an eye out if there were 10 or more reds on the table. Always keeping an eye out to clear the black if was hung up somehow because there was a never ending goal in mind. The second century seemed even harder, but more importantly I was breaking many more 60’s 70’s and 80’s. Now you couldn’t get me off a table with a whip and a chair. Over the next few months I had met Brady Gollan from Kelowna who was 15 at the time. We got along well and I had a car…we spent a lot of time together when he was in town visiting different clubs. Around that time I believe he had just won the Jr and under 21 Canadian championships. He was incredible, one of the most naturally talented snooker players I have ever met with an insatiable hunger for action. This is a whole other story.
At the age of 19 I was beginning to enter local tournaments and joined the BC Snooker association. I did ok at starting rounds but up against the stronger players still around like Tommy Lee, Jimmy or Johnny Bear, Jerry Kapchinsky and many more I was a little fish. As I continued to practice, play and gamble the game of snooker was sliding away in interest. Tournaments were getting less all the time; the top players were no longer around or just not playing. It seemed I and a few others were the last of the new generation. There was some action, a few tournaments and the odd head to head matches but nothing compared to earlier years. I was now in my twenties and compiling quite a number of centuries but not against the players of yesterday, this was disheartening as it felt like I missed the opportunity to push past the cliff of being in my mind “average”. So snooker maintained at this “average” for a few years.
At the age of 26 I started to have some tingling in my hands and sore joints, not understanding what the cause as I was in quite good health considering how much I smoked over the years of playing snooker. After 4 months of testing it was concluded that I had a rare spinal disease that was at that time 1 in 900 thousand that were affected. The disease had “no cause and no cure” With an expectation of much pain and an eventual wheel chair. Sometime later I began to lose sensitivity, strength and feeling in my hands and legs. The night before the surgery I had to sign a waiver that because they were working so close to my central nervous system I may permanently lose the use of my legs. Funny that in all that, the only thing I could think of was losing the ability to play snooker. Nothing meant more to me.
The surgery was successful and relieved much of the pressure in my spine; however recovery was about 18 months…no snooker with stitches from the base of my neck & halfway up my skull. As soon as I could walk and move around I would go up to the snooker club to sit and watch all day. This was more painful than the surgery to watch others play; at times I just wanted to jump up, grab my cue and push someone aside off the front table. About 14 months later I would stretch as much as possible, each day trying to get a little further over the table. A total of 18 months later I could get back to my physical form over the balls, but couldn’t play. It felt like starting over and could only stand a couple of hours a day at most. About this time a small golf shop opened next to what was now the new Jubilee, a gentleman by the name of Doug Bogle worked there and was often in the club for coffee. It turned out not only was he a player from the old days of snooker but had spent quite a bit of time with Cliff Thorburn when he was in his prime. I got talking with Doug and it turned out he was monumental for my recovery; he was a great snooker coach and golf coach. He spent many hours in repositioning my body to combine comfort and freedom with a solid platform. It took about 6 months of which time I had never felt so grateful to continue playing this incredible game again, to not only achieve the level of game I previously attained but now starting to surpass it. I had been studying snooker by video tapes for almost 2 years (and actually wore 3 tapes completely out) and was now beginning to learn to apply some of what I had learned to my own game. In 9 months I was playing to a level I had yet to achieve. I was 28 and compiling centuries to the level I quit counting.
At this time I woke up every single day gracious, but again there was not much going on for snooker. I had gone back to work for the most of a year and saved some money. My mother had recently passed and I had a small inheritance so with this combination I was by no means wealthy but didn’t have to work immediately. I thought I may have reached a plateau as I was headed to Calgary to play a tournament at the Crystal Palace, the night before leaving had 2 century breaks over a 2 hr session against Wade Bryant and 1 against Tom Gauthier at the original Alpha billiards in New Westminster BC. Back in Vancouver I was sitting in the Jubilee snooker club daydreaming about when I was 11 or 12 watching snooker on TV and how I had always dreamed of going to England, the home of snooker. The next morning I went to the passport office to get a passport as fast as possible. In such short notice they would only grant me a 6 month passport. 3 days later I was on a plane. I had no hotel or accommodations booked nor did I know anyone. I had a suitcase, a snooker cue with a Canadian flag on it, and on arrival at Heathrow had nowhere to go. Come to think of I had not told anyone I had left. Two weeks later I was playing in a house tournament against Peter Ebdon at Kings Cross, of course not knowing who he was. (He was the #1 amateur in England at that time). From there was 5 months of snooker heaven, playing in sometimes 2 tournaments a day. Peter was such an incredible host…so much more to tell.
Almost to the day…6 months later I was home. I kept a pair of 6 month old low heeled shoes as a souvenir as they were most comfortable for playing long hours of snooker. 4 months after buying them I had played so much snooker that I had worn completely through the leather on the right outside portion as this was a pressure point in my stance. My baby toe was sticking through the shoe. Well again, there was not much going on for snooker in Vancouver…but it no longer mattered. Looking back I was fortunate enough to play against these younger players and got a firsthand look at the quality of the amateurs that were on their way up. I won a number of matches based on experience and being on form that day but also lost many matches simply by being outplayed. I was so overwhelmed at how talented and deserving these players were. Their achievements came from nothing short of hard work and dedication. They wanted every point available but played with the discipline in making good choices. The first lesson that came my way was in modesty. Was I disappointed in my outcome, absolutely not…I didn’t go to England in hopes of turning pro, I went to find out what my best was and could be. And I did. After playing on the conditions of English tables that were for the most fantastic and consistent, then coming home to Brunswick Anniversaries where your fingernails were dirty after 2 frames and no one to play…I quit.
A few years later, friends that had a club in Port Moody BC called me up and asked if there was any chance I could come down on the Saturday to their Snooker hall. I said that I wasn’t playing and had a date that night. Bob the owner said “were not looking for you to play, there’s a kid down here we want you to look at, he had to ban from the junior tournament. He’s 13 and knocking in 70 breaks. No one else wants to play”. I immediately considered my date secondary, cancelled it and went down to the club that Saturday night. As I walked in I saw a very typical looking Chinese man with a kid next to him. Bob said “Tony, I’d like you to meet Marco Fu and his father Willie” We chatted for a few minutes, Marco’s English was much better than Willie’s but both were very polite and I enjoyed speaking with them. We decided to have a game on an 18th century Samuel May table. I watched as Marco pulled out a 15 oz snooker cue with about a 8.5 or 9mm tip. The butt looked like a weathered fence post as the stain had worn off. We played a few frames and ended up pretty much even, I wanted to play snooker again. I began to meet Marco for practice sessions (watched intently by his father Willie). Marco was all about offence, not surprizing the way he could pot. Willie asked me to work with Marco but in a very short time I felt I had reached my limit as I too was very much a feel player and had limited teaching capabilities. After watching Marco long enough to know he was something special, there was another strength which was his maturity and ability to concentrate to a level beyond his age. At that point I did not want to cause any complications with Marco’s progression and thought it best I introduce him to Tommy Lee. Much more to tell, but about 18 months later Marco and I both played at the Canadian Championships in Guelph Ontario where Marco was the youngest qualifier ever to play in the event. Marco was not allowed to attend the dinner where there was an honorable mention in his name as his mother heard there was alcohol present.
I played over the next few years as new members on the BC Snooker council were getting more tournaments together. In a practise session at a new club Embassy Snooker where I met Marco for an afternoon session, I expected Marco to beat me up a little as he was starting to excel again. But today was a little different, I broke and he broke his first maximum break…I think he was 15. At this point Marco was winning every match and tournament he entered, at one point I believe Marco had gone 34 matches without a loss. For me it is worth mentioning that Marco ‘s winning streak ended when I won 5 to 3 over him at Western Canadians in Vancouver. The last game came down to a final black. After 3 well played safety’s on Marco’s behalf, I was left on the green side of the table with the cue ball 2 inches up and 1 inch off the side rail and the black 3” up from the top rail and an inch off the side rail. Safety was marginal at best, so bridging over the corner pocket I released my cue as if the black was over the pocket. I did not see the black disappear…but it sound like someone snapped a piece of wood. I would have to say this was a tournament best for me based on Marco’s performance over the last months without a loss.
Over the next few years I had played at the Club 147 in Langley BC on a gorgeous BCE Westbury with a gentleman named Bill Beatle. Bill was from The 70’s and knew Cliff quite well. This table was identical to those played at the World Championships, including the cloth. Bill was a great player and an expert at everything he did – world class target shooter, jewelry maker, wine coinsure and a hell of a snooker player. This club was the last I played regularly at, had quite a number of centuries on this table as well. The last larger tournament I played was at the Western Canadian Championships in Winnipeg Manitoba. I was happy to finish as a quarter finalist with my health again becoming challenging. A thousand dollar check was a nice added feature to the trip. Over the last couple of years of play I had Marco Fu join me in an exhibition match with proceeds going to a local hospital. This was quite close to the time Marco was leaving for Hong Kong and then England. Great to watch his progression over the years, I am not surprized at his success whatsoever.
Summary: Shortly after I met my wife, changed careers and had kids… snooker began to show up in the rear view mirror. I play now and again at Kevin Deroo’s home about 20 minutes from mine, but it feels like little gas is left in the tank. I’ve gained some weight, eyes going and have somewhat taken a spectators seat. I look back at my life in snooker at 55 and feel so incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I have with the sport I love. Having the privilege in meeting and playing with professional players like Cliff Thorburn, Bill Werbenuik, Jim Wych, Kirk Stevens, Peter Ebden, Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorn, Brady Gollan and Marco Fu as well as a number of the top Canadian players was amazing. The time spent playing the game of snooker and the experiences of what comes with the clubs, the people, the gamble and the never ending curiosity of what the next day brings is hard to put in to words. I always said if I put the effort in to anything else as I did snooker I couldn’t fail. This is true as like the game of snooker only gives us what we put in; it forces us to be honest with ourselves in order to make it to each next level.
Stories you can ask me about
- The longest follow game I ever played – 42 hrs 7 different players
- Jubilee Billiards – Standard Sat. night raid
- Tommy Lee – falls asleep on a perfect game of blues
- Tommy Lee vs Jim Wych – Seymour billiards – penalty frame
- Brady Gollan – follow game in Port Coquitlam. Paul Stanton, Reed Unger,
- Brady Gollan vs Bill Werbenuik
- Brady Gollan Vs Tom Finstad – Western Canadians Washroom break(Jerry Kap)
- Bill Werbenuik – pints of lager Ace Billiards trick shots
- Crystal Palace – Russ Schuster Pranks
- Jubilee – newspaper set on fire – bet
- The flight to England – almost kicked off the flight
- First day in England – Ritz snooker club
- Meeting Peter Ebden first time in final of house tournament (breakfast)
- Kings Crossing – Kids & practice
- Snooker clubs in England – private rooms, sound proofing, tv waiters, block irons
- My snooker cues stolen and retrieved
- Baz Nagle & Willie Mosconi
- My buddy Charlie Brown – gambler, rounder – cards, snooker, 9ball, golf
- Brady Gollan – Little Paul snooker and golf 400.00
Ton Fun’s Achievements
- Qualified and played at 2 Canadian Snooker Championships
- Guelph Ontario, Vancouver BC
- Qualified and played at 2 Western Canadian Championships
- Vancouver BC, Winnipeg Manitoba Finished ¼ finals
- Qualified for pro am Vancouver BC
- Including Cliff Thorburn, John Bear, Brady Gollan
- Won BC Tournament at Chenier Billiards
- Placed 1st in BC Qualifiers for the year 1995
- Century breaks – unknown played 13 years after my first
Thank you for reading!
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