Tom Robertson meets one of Oman’s top snooker players leading the charge as the sport gains a new popularity in the Sultanate
There’s a certain pose that snooker players strike as they line up their shots.
With the front leg slightly bent, back leg straight and chin dipping right down to the cue, it’s a stance that says “I am balanced, I am poised to strike”.
And strike is exactly what Yousef al Foori does. Taking the break, he launches the opening salvo as I face one of the top-ranked snooker players in Oman.
Strolling to the table in the Abdullah al Ghafri snooker club in Madinat Qaboos, I have one aim – to make sure that I don’t embarrass myself. Winning is out of the question, of course.
Hands slightly shaking, as some of Yousef’s contemporaries are looking on, all I want to do is strike the ball cleanly. The cue slides through with a satisfying clunk of the tip striking the white and, blow me, it’s a half decent safety shot.
From there, of course, it is entirely downhill for me. I make the mistake of splitting the pack of reds, which elicits a grin of delight from the skilled dueller as he realises that the game is there for the taking – as though that was ever in doubt.
He plucks off a red, then sinks a black. Scalps another one pointer, then holds the cue ball with a bit of backspin to line up for another seven pointer. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until it’s game over.
Consistently ranked in the top four in the country, the 37 year old from Muscat practises up to five times a week to keep himself placed in the rankings. And it shows as I cringe at the thrashing just administered to me.
At least we can sit down and do the interview now; I’m a journalist, after all, not a full-time snooker player. But then again, neither is Yousef. Normally, the delicate touch that Yousef demonstrates with the cue is put to good use as a professional flautist with the Oman Symphony Orchestra.
It was partly that music, sprinkled with a bit of misfortune, that led him to the allure of the green baize.
“I had a bad injury to my leg when I was playing football. I was about 20,” recalls Yousef. “I was looking for something else to do, a hobby to take up. That’s when I started playing with my friends in a club in Al Khoud.”
But it was also music that would propel Yousef to the forefront of Oman’s snooker scene.
“It was while I was studying music in London that I spent a lot of time in snooker clubs around Victoria and Tooting,” he says. “I became friends with a lot of really top-class snooker players. They coached me and taught me how to play properly.”
Soon enamoured with a game that Yousef says anybody can play – from the very young to the not so spritely – it wasn’t long before he started to play competitively.
“There was a small competition in Al Khoud which I used to play in and it went from there,” he says.
One of the most competitive snooker tournaments in Oman is held twice a month at his home club in Madinat Qaboos, organised by Hanif al Balushi. Taking place over two evenings, 32 of Oman’s top players battle it out for a place in the final held on the third evening.
But it’s not all about the competition insists Yousef. “I just want to make sure that I can keep playing, not necessarily to always win. Sometimes it’s a game that relaxes me, sometimes it makes me mad. But I always play to enjoy.”
But with just a handful of clubs in the Sultanate’s capital, snooker isn’t a sport that enjoys a great deal of popularity in Oman. But why?
“I think that youngsters don’t really have the money to pay for a couple of hours on the table. Clubs also don’t advertise that much, so people who want to play can’t necessarily find the clubs.”
“But the sport’s popularity is growing and the future’s looking good,” he insists. “We’ve just started a snooker association, the Oman Billiard and Snooker Committee, which will organise tournaments and has support from the Government. We also have some impressive juniors coming through. One of our younger players, Omar bin Sultan al Busaidi, recently won gold at the 16th GCC Snooker Championships in Dubai in December.”
Now our chat is over, it’s time to get back to practice as Yousef has a match later that evening. And what better way to warm up than to head back to the table to give me another thrashing.
“Do you want to break or shall I?” he asks.
“I had better,” I insist.“I get the feeling it’s going to be the only shot I’m going to take.”