Pooling talents as former champion Melling turns to snooker

When Chris Melling steps out at the Barnsley Metrodome next week he is hardly likely to be greeted by hundreds of fans chanting his name.

Chris Melling.

For the 35-year-old from Keighley will be taking part in the qualifying rounds for snooker’s International Championship.

It will be a far cry from the passionate cauldron of pool’s Mosconi Cup, where Melling – who has twice been crowned world pool champion and a former world No 1 in the eight-ball format – featured in Las Vegas (2011) and London (2012).

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The Mosconi Cup is the Ryder Cup of pool, and Melling starred for team Europe against USA in 2012, earning the tag of MVP (an Americanism, meaning most valuable player).

But the Keighley cueman has now turned his back on pool, in an attempt to break into snooker, and has already earned a two-year Tour card after qualifying through Q School this year.

And judging by Melling’s early success – where he chalked up a maximum 147 break in just his third day on a snooker table – the future certainly looks bright.

He said: “I bought a snooker cue, and on the first day back playing snooker I was practising and in the fourth frame I made a century break.

“I had not played for about five years, didn’t have a cue. I had stopped completely because I thought if I carry on it’s going to ruin my pool game.

“The third day, I made a 147 and thought ‘I can still play’.”

This is not the first time Melling has tried his arm at snooker, but a decade ago, pre-Barry Hearn – the game’s supremo who has transformed the sport – the Yorkshireman struggled to survive financially, and reverted to his first love of pool.

But with an extended tour in snooker, and increased prize money, Melling believes this time will be different. “I have always had snooker in the back of my mind,” he admitted. “Years ago when I played on the main tour, there were only six tournaments a year and the qualifiers for them were held in Prestatyn. You had to win four or five matches just to get in the money.

“It wasn’t really financially viable for me, so I had to keep playing pool. That was a bit of a downfall for my snooker game, but I was quite successful at pool.

“Now Barry Hearn has taken over World Snooker, the prize money has gone from £3.2m to £8.3 in three years. You can clearly see, with what he has done for darts, too, everything he touches turns to gold.”

Bradford’s former Crucible champion Joe Johnson has been helping Melling make the transition to snooker, and he has already taken notable scalps this year in Joe Perry and Matthew Stevens.

“Joe Johnson has been helping me quite a bit,” he said. “He’s been giving me a few routines, which I have never been shown before. Being from Keighley, there’s not too many top-quality players.

“You get three or four chances a frame, but when you play the top boys you have to take your first chance, or you get beat.”

Melling will be in the spotlight at Barnsley, where he will be playing alongside many of the world’s top stars from Monday to Thursday next week, but pressure is something he thrives on.

He added: “I am pretty good under pressure. After playing in the Mosconi Cup at pool, I don’t think there’s much more pressure which can be put upon you.

“I love playing under pressure. It was crazy in the Mosconi Cup, the atmosphere was unbelievable.

“There must have been 700 people in the crowd chanting your name, singing songs, like a football match.

“It was so loud, and luckily enough for me I ended up winning the MVP (most valuable player).”

Tickets for the International Championship qualifiers at the Barnsley Metrodome from September 22 to 25, are just £5 a day, for details see www.worldsnooker.com/tickets