Northern Snooker Centre celebrates 46 Years in business 1974-2020
World Snooker Champion Shaun Murphy recently said about the Northern Snooker Centre,
" As far as snooker goes and the snooker family, this club does not get beaten anywhere in the world. It is spoken about highly all over the world"
Over 46 years ago, the Northern Snooker Centre rose from the ground on an industrial plot next to the A65 known as Kirkstall Road. The first purpose built centre for snooker in England. People travelling in and out of Leeds may have noticed the frontage of the building updating with the times but few will realise just how much this tardis has grown over the years. From 9 snooker tables with 1 bar on the ground floor in 1974 to 27 snooker, 17 American pool, 6 English pool tables, 3 bars and lounges to date.
The heart of Northern Snooker Centre is the people. The Williamson family who still own and operate the 'Northern', as it is affectionately known, the team of staff who cover the operation 365 days a year and most importantly the customers. Customers, who have been part of the 'Northern' community since it began; some introducing children and grandchildren to the club. Influxes of students who make Leeds their home for 3 or 4 years. Weekend visitors to Leeds staying at nearby hotels. Players from all over the country and, indeed, the world competing in matches. Despite the size of the premises, the feeling of a 'local' is apparent with many customers who are 'regulars' providing a real sense of community.
The clientèle are diverse in all senses of the word. For instance, a range of ages from a junior aged 6 with special attachments to his shoes in order to reach to cue to 70 plus years enjoying special discounts on OAP day. Companies enjoying social group bookings, dads and mums having a coffee during junior coaching sessions, local lunch trade having a bite to eat and perhaps catching some sun on the terrace. Tradesmen or Headingley cricket supporters rained off calling in for a game and a drink. Stag parties playing pool before heading off into Leeds centre. University pool teams meeting to play and resident professionals perfecting their game.
In the early seventies the 'Northern' was the venue for the Pro-celebrity Snooker programme televised by Yorkshire TV in the centre arena with celebrities such as Les Dawson, Fred Trueman, Bill Maynard and Kenny Lynch. There was always a demand to sit on the front row in the hope of being seen on television and also to be closer to the stars.
Northern Snooker Centre operates on a local, national and international basis. Contributing to the local community by sponsoring most of the snooker, billiards and pool events at both the Leeds and Yorkshire levels. Also nationally and internationally hosting events such as the World Ladies Snooker, the Home Internationals and the World Billiards bringing people into Leeds from over 40 countries for up to 2 weeks at a time.
Over the 40 plus years the club has welcomed most of the well known snooker players from Fred Davis, Ray Reardon, Alex Higgins, Cliff Thorburn, Dennis Taylor, Jimmy White, Stephen Hendry to more recently Ronnie O'Sullivan, James Wattana, Neil Robertson and Judd Trump. To celebrate the 40th anniversary, six times World Champion Steve Davis returned to the 'Northern' to play and rename the centre arena as 'The Paul Hunter Arena' in memory of the late Leeds snooker hero. Paul started his snooker career playing as a young boy at the club and movingly, the Hunter family donated the marvellous Masters trophy won by Paul to the club to display.
When Steve Davis returned to the club recently, he remarked about how much it had changed since he was a young lad playing the circuit. He even remembered all those years ago walking into the lounge and meeting the family dog, a big friendly Bull Mastiff named Nelson, who had a penchant for pork pies. This was back when Jim and Joy Williamson and their six children (Chris, Steve, Ian, Vanessa, Jane and Robert) lived upstairs. Jim, Chris and Steve were the main workforce along with Aunty Betty and Uncle George who were regular helpers on the bar back then. You will still meet Chris, who is Managing Director and has worked in the business since it started, his wife June, Company Secretary, who joined in 1988, Vanessa, who will be found welcoming you on the door and Ian, who coaches all ages and abilities and, who knows, perhaps the next champion. Third generation Williamson family (Zach, Rory, Eloise and Laura) have also worked on the bar to help fund their university studies. But all who work and play at the 'Northern' are regarded as extended Williamson family.
Leeds professional snooker players Peter Lines and David Grace play from the club and now, Peter has been joined on the professional circuit for the first time by his son, Oliver, who is the European Under 21 Champion and has qualified as a professional. Making history, it is thought, for the first time a father and son to be on the professional circuit together. The 'Northern' truly is a family affair.