metropolitan life: polish your cue and line your pockets

For some, pool is a pub game. For others, it is an obsession. If pool's your game, could it also be your new career?
TOMORROW, Jon Davies will carefully pack away his pool cue and grab an overnight bag before taking to the road. The former car sprayer has thrown in his day job to make a living out of playing pool.

He is heading for out-of-season Cornwall, where 16 of the country's professionals are playing in an invitation tournament at 15 pub venues across the county. Food and accommodation is provided and there is pounds 800 for the winner. There might also be the chance for some money matches.

Pub pool may seem snooker's poor relation, but 25 years ago today's snooker superstars would have been eking out a living playing exhibitions at holiday camps and touring the country playing tournaments for small prize money. Where snooker was then, pool is today, and there are those who believe the sport is poised to take off.

This year the professional ranks have swelled to 50. The prize money for the professional tour has risen from pounds 14,000 when it was inaugurated five years ago to pounds 72,500 this year. The Embassy World Championships received extensive coverage on Sky TV.

"Nobody would have believed the game would have got this big in five years," says Alan Bartlett, the tour organiser and England team manager. "There are real characters in the game and every pub player knows if he is good enough he can play for England."

Jon Davies started playing in his early teens, when pool was still just a pub game: "Nobody realised how good I was. There were plenty of pounds 50 and pounds 100 games when I was 15 or 16. I used to chuck a few to keep them interested."

As the years went by, and his pool pickings got richer, Davies realised that the game could be his escape route - out of a mundane job and into the glamorous world of hustling and living on your wits.

A local Bristol club, Pockets, sponsored him and provided free tables for the hours of practice he put in. He now plays pounds 1,000 money matches and has a financial backer. He often travels more than 1,000 miles a week and lives out of suitcase. Last year, he reached the semi-final in a ranking tournament, where he lost to the British number one, Keith Brewer.

The search for rich pickings means the man who started out his pool career taking dinner money off school friends will next month set off on a tour of American cities, hustling. "I've a friend in America who's a former professional. He toured over there and took three years to get back to the city he started out from. He thinks I could make it."

Like any obsession, the game has taken its toll on his personal life. A long-term relationship ended when he went professional. "It was really her or the pool. Unfortunately, the game is my first love. I never tire of playing. As a professional pool player I'm a workaholic."