Mark Allen admits that not only has his preparation for this year’s UK Championship been the worst imaginable, but that he is going day to day under the cloud of knowing one ‘bad news’ phone call from his lawyers could see him having to withdraw from the first major of the season in York.
The former Masters champion from Northern Ireland has been mired in off-table problems and legal issues for many months, having declared himself bankrupt and become embroiled in divorce and child support proceedings. Things are coming to a head, so much so that two-time UK finalist Allen, 35, was forced to pull out of his title defence at the Champion of Champions in November.
It was touch and go right up to the eve of his first-round match at York’s Barbican whether Allen would get the green light to line up at the first major of the snooker season, and after a scratchy 6-2 win over Ireland’s Michael Judge the world No11 from Antrim prayed he would get to play his second-round tie against Joe O’Connor on Saturday night.
Allen said: “I really hope it doesn’t happen, that I am not allowed or able to see out the rest of the UK Championship having made the decision to come. I can’t rule it out, if I’m honest. I don’t know what the next days or weeks will bring. Ultimately I have to just go out and try and win snooker matches. And if I get a phone call giving me bad news, then so be it. I am here to try and win the UK Championship and unless I get bad news that won’t change.
“But quite possibly I could get a call before my second-round match or later in the event and not be able to continue. Jason Ferguson at the WPBSA and others in the game involved are fully aware and up to date with the situation and what is going on, and would fully understand if that happened. I hope it won’t, the solicitors are more hopeful, but I have had so many setbacks that I can’t get my hopes up too much.
“Going forward if I get a phone call I don’t want it might stop me playing in the Scottish Open, if I don’t I should be able to play in that one. Going forward if it goes well on the next deadline in the process of December 10th I should be able to continue. And you have no idea how much of a relief that would be – there would be tears shed to have light at the end of the tunnel.
“If it was my own decision and not my legal people for this one I might have pulled out of the UK, but they are a lot more confident going forward than I am. You have to trust them, they know the legal profession much better than I do and all three solicitors involved said they thought I should play and it was around 8.30pm on Wednesday I got that text.
“A lot of people behind the scenes have really helped me. I can’t wait until it’s all over and I can tell people what is going on because you could literally write a book about it. Not many people might buy it…but you could write one. It has been one of the toughest years of my life.
“I hope I am getting closer to a resolution, I was hoping that might be Thursday but now there is this new deadline of December 10th to get some things sorted, there are many things coinciding at the minute. So all eyes on that day to progress things. At the moment I can’t see an end on any front which makes it very difficult.
“The hardest thing ahead of my first-round match on Thursday was that I didn’t really know if I was going to be playing until late on Wednesday night with some of the stuff going on. So that wasn’t the best mental preparation with the unknown, and I wasn’t mentally ready for my match when it came upon me.
“I was gutted not defending my Champion of Champions title but it was a decision I was forced to make, I can’t go into details at the moment but it was the right decision at the time. I was devastated to miss it, it is one of my favourite tournaments of the year and you always feel like you are part of a massive event being involved, you have to win an event or be high-ranked to get in.
“So it is an achievement in itself to get in and especially being defending champion it was very hard to pull out, but I was left with no choice.
“The uncertainty is desperate, I spent all day on Wednesday on my phone trying to get answers, flying over to England at 10am and then knowing if I got bad news I would have to turn round and fly home again. It’s hard because I have been mentally preparing to play in the UK and practising very hard, but as that deadline approached on Wednesday it was gruelling, refreshing emails and checking phone calls. You try and put things aside but sometimes that is easier said than done.
“It was all about getting through in the first round and scraping through. I should have been 3-1 down, I was very poor but played better after the interval. And it’s all about getting through in the early rounds, you can’t play well when you’re sitting in the house so hopefully I will play better in the next round.
“There have been some strange results already with Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson going out to amateurs. And you don’t really feel part of the tournament until you are past the first one and the TV arrives at the weekend.”
The first week of the UK has been dominated by Murphy’s outburst after losing to amateur player Si Jiahui, with the former world champion insisting that those without full professional status should not be allowed to play even as top-up players in the biggest tournaments.
Allen has often shot from the lip in his career and as a result occasionally become embroiled in controversy himself – and admitted that Murphy had actually sought him out over dinner in York and asked for advice about how to cope with being in the eye of a snooker storm.
Allen added: “It is interesting. I went out for dinner with Shaun and I was winding him up about it, he was asking me how to deal with controversy in the tabloids because I have some experience of that! I don’t really have a strong view about amateurs in the draws as top-up players. I have seen the pieces with Shaun and the backlash he has received on social media.
“But what is the alternative? I would rather have amateurs in the draw than have byes, and these are some of the best amateurs out there. If we as a tour can’t fill up the whole 128 places with professionals then I don’t really have a problem with opportunities for amateurs.
“I can understand then views of Shaun, Neil Robertson and Mark Williams but I would still rather play an amateur in round one than a pro, you should win the match. But it has got people talking about snooker, and I’m sure those running the game are delighted about that.”
*18+ | BeGambleAware