“They weren’t happy to see me back.”
That’s understandable. The re-emergence of one of the greatest snooker players that Canada has ever produced would tend to alter the competitive landscape in his home province of Ontario.
In fact, Sudbury native Bob Chaperon, now 61 years old, went on to capture five of the six tournaments that he played, beginning his comeback to snooker in 2007.
This past fall, the local legend cracked through the upper echelon once again, capturing a qualifying tournament in Toronto, besting a field of 56 players and earning his spot at the ROKiT 2020 World Senior Championship, next August, in Sheffield, England.
The event will take place at the Crucible Theatre, the site that has hosted the World Championships every year since 1977.
“It’s the home of snooker,” said Chaperon, who played professionally in the U.K. from 1984 through to 1995. “I’ve played there three times in my career.
“It’s a very difficult place to get into it.”
Simply sharing his thoughts on the venue rekindles the excitement and passion that marked Chaperon’s early years in the game, from his start at just 13 years of age, cutting his teeth in the basement setting that was the New City Billiards on Elm Street.
“I used to rack the balls for Sergio, the owner, and he would let me practise,” noted the eldest of two boys in his family. “Within a month, I was running the colours and showing some potential.”
A scratch golfer as well in his youth, Chaperon acknowledged that there was no magical formula to success as he began to weave his way along a pathway that reached its pinnacle in 1990, when the Canadian laid claim to the British Open, vaulting him into very hallowed grounds in his sport.
“I used to put in four, five, six, seven hours on the table by myself,” he said. “It’s not like work, it’s the pleasure of working on your game. It’s repetition and mechanics. The more you practice, the better you get, and the luckier you get, it seems.”
By his mid- to late teens, the Sudbury product was making a name for himself, not only in Ontario, but right across the country.
“Winning plays a big part,” he recalled. “If you never win, you are never noticed. I got good enough that I started travelling a little bit, started going to Toronto.”
“There were a lot of players there, a lot of money, at that time. Today, it wouldn’t pay one night’s hotel room,” Chaperon added with a laugh. “Once I got even better, I would travel to Vancouver, and stop in Thunder Bay, and stop in Winnipeg and Regina and Calgary.”
In 1981, he won the Canadian Championship, a feat that he did not repeat until 2019, albeit largely because he only subsequently entered the competition seven more times. There were bigger fish to fry, and his skill set was drawing international attention.
“I had good hand-eye co-ordination, good vision, good nerves, and good concentration,” said Chaperon. “A lot of it is good concentration. Even the average player or the mediocre player will have some nights where their concentration is on and they are making everything. The next day, they can’t make anything.”
Comfortably into his professional career in England, Chaperon enjoyed one heck of a magical ride at the 1990 British Open.
“I had just gotten a new cue and had practiced my butt off,” he reminisced. “I had told the kid in the pool hall that I was going to make a 147 (perfect game) with the new cue — I had never made one — and I said I was going to win a major event.”
Three days later, Chaperon ran the table, registering his very first score of 147.
“A month later, I was plodding my way through the British Open – I wasn’t expecting to win.”
In a tournament that was marked by the early eliminations of some big names, Chaperon faced The Hurricane, Alex Higgins, in the final.
Tied at 8-8, Chaperon overcame the nervy affair, beating the 150-to-1 odds that he faced to record one of the most surprising wins in professional snooker history. He also teamed up with countrymen Cliff Thorburn and Alain Robidoux, walking away with the World Cup title that same year.
“I would not have been upset to never win a major, there’s many great players who play 20 years or more, and never win a major,” said Chaperon. “The money is all spent, but the memories will last a lifetime.”
Returning to Sudbury in the late 1990s, Chaperon faced the challenges that Father Time will inevitably throw our way.
“I’m in my forties by then, my nerves are not as good, I didn’t have the same determination I had as a kid — I was just tired,” he said.
“If I can’t play the way I really know how to play, I don’t feel like playing. And the only way I can play to my expectations is by putting in hours and hours of practice.”
Three years away from the game did wonders. Come 2007, Chaperon was back.
“I think it was a good rest,” he said. “It gave me time to think. But if it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. I think I evaluated what I had to do, and if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right, or not at all.”
These days, Chaperon hones his game at the YMCA Older Adult Centre, the sole location in town that is home to three quality snooker tables, courtesy of the fundraising efforts of the late Merv Gribbons. It turns out that Chaperon still has game.
“I can’t compete against the kids that are playing now, but I can still play.”
And for a man whose love of snooker is unquestioned, his play has opened the door to one more special opportunity, part of the very select field at the 2020 World Seniors Championship.
“It’s going to bring back memories,” stated Chaperon, who last played in the United Kingdom in 2003. “I will get to meet a lot of people that I have crossed paths with years and years ago. And the Crucible is not a big arena, so the atmosphere is electric.”
“It’s just a thrill to play there.”
Randy Pascal is That Sudbury Sports Guy. His column runs regularly in The Sudbury Star. Contact Pascal at email@example.com.