Blind Inspiration on the Pool Table

On and off for just over 20 years, I have played English 8 Ball Pool in local leagues and represented one of the leagues in regional and national tournaments. One of the leagues I even helped to set up and am still on the League Committee as Treasurer and Divisional Secretary. It can be fair to say that I enjoy the sport and am a fairly decent player, with trophies to show for it. When my vision loss began I sincerely hoped I would not have to give up something I really enjoyed.

The start of our Summer 2014 season coincided with the start of my vision loss. My dad, who is Captain of the team was away for the first game of the season so I had to stand in and skipper the side. At this point my vision hadn’t reached the pixelated stage, but was merely like looking in to a bright light then away again. Because my eyes weren’t 100% I decided not to put myself in the first set. We won it 5-0 so the same five played again and guess what? Yes they all won again. There was two of us waiting for a game but I couldn’t change a winning formula. In the final set one of the guys let me down but we won 14-1 so I couldn’t complain.

The next week dad was back to Captain the side. I said that I didn’t want to play. I lied, of course I wanted to play but didn’t think it fair for me to take the place of someone who had full use of their eyes. We won again. Over the coming weeks, if I wasn’t working I’d go to the matches, practice with the lads but declared myself unfit to play unless desperate.

This continued for a number of weeks, including the team winning. Every week they’d ask how the eyes were and each week I think they were almost equally as frustrated as me with the progress, or lack of. Naturally there was lots of banter and jokes, which I enjoyed, especially as I’ve always been able to give as good as I get. Some of the funnier moments came when I was asked to look at referee’s decisions that weren’t even close, as I was also a qualified referee. A referee that can’t see sparks off all the usual Specsaver jokes but even they couldn’t help me.

The day after I was diagnosed with LHON we had a match and my dad was away again so I was Captain again. I know, he goes on more holidays than Alan Whicker but he is retired and I guess that’s what retirement is for. There was three games left in the season, we had won all but one of our games and all we had to do was win this one to become the division champions. No pressure there then. Well I didn’t think so until I got to the venue and found we only had a bare five players including me!! I hadn’t even taken my cue. Even though two of the missing players were two of our better players over the season I still felt we had a good chance of victory.

I picked the first set with me at nubbier five, thinking that the others would secure the set, leaving me with a no pressure frame at the end of the set. I did have a no pressure frame but only because the previous four had all lost. So it was up to me, the blind one who hadn’t played all season to turn this around. I borrowed a friend’s cue, my opponent broke and the frame started.

During the season while practising I was learning how to change my game to accommodate my vision loss. I started by looking at my object ball really closely and seeing where I needed to hit it in order for it to go in the direction I wanted. Then I would go back to address the cue ball and using the visualisation from the object ball, point the cue in that direction to line up the shot and hit the cue ball. This had varying success and was more successful over shorter range shots than long ones. When you watch any cue sport you will notice that players generally rest their chin on the cue when taking a shot. This is so they can see directly down the cue to where they want to hit the cue ball and through onto where they want that to hit the object ball. With central vision loss this was no good for me so I decided to raise my head off the cue and look slightly above the balls so they appear in my lower periphery. This again isn’t perfect but nothing will be now. Some balls still get lost in the central vision, in fact sometimes when trying to pot the black, it blends in with the pocket. A nuisance when that is the aim of the game but we now play with a striped black, which helps.

Armed with my new styles of play, it was up to me to start to turn this game around. To start with the frame was quite even but as it went on the pressure of playing a blind man must have started to hit home. My team mates definitely made sure he knew as he kept making fouls shots, giving me two visits every time. I lost count of how many he gave me as I slowly edged nearer potting the black. His downfall came when he missed three very easy attempts to pot the same colour, which really got to him and I finished the frame off, to give our team a more respectable 4-1 deficit in the first set. With my opponent playing that badly, it is a frame I would have won easily with full vision. He undoubtedly got more stick for losing to the blind man but more from my team mates than me. I was far too pleased at just winning the frame to contemplate ridiculing the opposition, besides my team mates were doing a good job. You should have heard the excuses he was coming out with though.

I put myself at five again for the second set and it really must have been blind inspiration as we lost only 1 of the first four frames, meaning my frame would tie the match at 5-5, if I won it. It didn’t start well for me as I gave away a silly foul by accidentally touching a ball near my rest hand. I think I may give away this type of foul more often with my vision loss. He potted a few but didn’t finish the game off so I hung on in there and fought hard, eventually making a great three ball clearance to leave myself with a long, down the rail shot on the black. I lined it up and played my shot but it rattled in the jaws and came out, leaving him with a shot on it. He also rattled the black but this time it stayed over the pocket, which even I couldn’t miss, or could I? My opponent tried a bit of gamesmanship by starting to unscrew his cue. I asked if he was conceding and he stopped. I played my shot and the black went in to tie the match. I couldn’t believe I’d won two frames and I didn’t believe the smile on my face could get any bigger.

I thought I’d call their bluff for the third and final set by changing my position. I also didn’t want the match on my head if it went to 7-7, so I put myself third. The first two frames were shared and I was playing the guy I beat in the first set. This brought all the ridiculing back and he was even more determined to beat me this time. This showed in the way he was playing, concentrating more and choosing his shots more carefully. He wasn’t leaving me much so I was having to play more safety shots. This isn’t that easy with reduced vision, as judging distances is a lot more difficult. but I tried my best. His new attitude seemed to be paying off as he got down to the black, while I still had three balls on the table and they were all on a cushion. My winning streak looked like coming to an end as he got down and doubled the black into the middle pocket. I was about to shake his hand to congratulate him but before I could the cue ball had also found its way into a middle pocket and I had won the frame. All I could do was laugh, after shaking his hand of course. I couldn’t believe I had won all three of my frames. Judging by all the cheers and laughter, neither could most of the other people in the place. You know I said my smile couldn’t get any bigger, well it did. three out of three for the blind man on his first match of the season woo hoo!!!

That frame put us one ahead and only needing one more for the match and the division title. We won the next two frames, making the score 9-6, to take the title with two matches to spare. So it was a great night all round and not the blind leading the blind, as it appeared at the start of the night. I joked with the lads and later my dad that I’d be disappointed if I was dropped next week and it became a running joke but I had a 100% record and I wanted to keep it, even if it was only three frames. In fairness my dad did want to play me but I declined, although I will change my attitude for next season, now I know my sight won’t be coming back. I don’t want to give up something I enjoy if I can still physically do it and I’ve proved that now. It’s up to the Captain now if he wants to play me, so over to you dad!!

To finish off, I normally write a weekly match report for the whole league to give to local newspapers and websites. I’m not normally one for blowing my own trumpet but given the circumstances can you blame me?

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