Growing up in a pub gave Dave Preece the chance to shoot pool behind closed doors. What most treat as a hobby soon became an obsession for the teenager, made him a few quid and brought international honours. He’s played with the best for England, and he opened a pool club in Crewe…
“I was about four years old when I started playing pool, as soon as I was able to hold a cue. That was on my dad’s table at his pub, the Old Vine, on Flag Lane by the bridge. I always described it as the Rovers Return of Crewe where you knew everybody else’s business. There were some great characters in there, like Paddy the coalman. He was always black, covered in coal dust. Then one day he came in, washed and scrubbed with lovely silver hair. Nobody recognised him! There was Steve, the bin man, who could sup ale for England, and some really funny guys like Jim Evans, a Scouser, and Steve Willet who sometimes worked at the pub. Still, it wasn’t until I was about 13 years old when my mum and dad let me play in the pub when it was open to customers – usually on Sunday afternoons and, sometimes, if I’d behaved, on a Saturday night. I played for a team with dad and my brother, Mick. They were the main reason that it was such a respected pool pub, as both had been successful in the local area for years. I got a chance because they played friendly games of doubles at the end of the match, called ‘The Gallon’. They don’t do that nowadays, but it was a great way of giving your reserves a run-out if they were not old enough or good enough to play for the first team.”
Perhaps the youngest player in the pub, Dave soon took on the locals and was topping up his pocket money. “I started beating a few people on Saturday nights and even played for the odd 50p here and there. I improved quickly and played my first competition game for the Old Vine in, 1988, aged just 14. I lost to a guy called Keith Fulham – or Fudge, as many locals knew him. Soon after, I was beating my dad and brother regularly. They didn’t say much, but deep down I know they were proud that I’d improved my game. Others, like Dave Mason, were true gents. Even though I’d beaten him a few times and maybe caused some embarrassment, he’d always wish me all the best. That taught me how to conduct myself at matches.”
Then, at just 16, came the major breakthrough. “After 18 months, playing week-in, week-out for the Old Vine ‘A’ team, and playing in a few competitions at the pub (pictured, above), I entered my first Crewe Championships. It was, and still is, the most prestigious competition in the area. I’d just celebrated my sixteenth birthday in January 1990 and I found myself in the quarter-finals. It was a crazy journey, playing against some legends on the local circuit, and I was wondering how the hell I got there? When I reached the semi-finals I’d made it through from 190 entrants. My semi-final opponent was my hero at the time, Andy Mellor, from the Ashbank pub on Pyms Lane. He was the reigning champion, undefeated in the League for about 40 games spanning about 18 months. Best of three, at 1-1 the nerves got to me. I was shaking like a leaf. When the black finally dropped I almost fainted. I was in the final, staged at the Captain Webb pub on Underwood Lane, against Sean Bartley from the Flying Lady. My dad and Mick came to watch, and the pub was packed. I think the crowd wanted an upset, to see a youth beating one of the big guns. They weren’t disappointed. I’d grown in confidence and believed in myself. The match played out like the semi final. All square and down to the last game. I took a shot at the black, a fine cut, and then watched the ball drop as the white travelled around the table and came to rest in a safe spot. I was delighted, the youngest ever winner – a record that stands twenty years later. My dad and our Mick were very proud of me.”
The logical progression for the local champion was to move up to county level. That he did, but the leap onto the international circuit came much quicker than anyone expected. “I picked up a few more trophies and did well enough at county level that a guy called Neil Kershaw called me and asked if I fancied joining the International Pool Tour. I did, and within two years I was ranked number 64 in the world. I was then asked if I’d like to turn pro. I jumped at the chance and embarked on a whirlwind tour of games and competitions. It was a crazy few years, hard work and you made sacrifices, but I was ranked number 33 by the year 2000. It was a great feeling, but for all of the trips and fancy tournaments I always wanted to do something back in Crewe.”
Dave’s dream came true in 2005 when his wife, Jen, suggested opening his own pool club. “It was a busy year, as my son, Harry, was born and I was adjusting to being a parent. At home I’d converted a double garage into a pool room, with a sofa, TV and a fruit machine. I had friends round regularly, but I also started running mini competitions that were well attended. We got 32 players in one night! So when Jen encouraged me to open a business I didn’t have to be asked twice. I took over the old South Street Snooker Club and removed a few of the big tables to put the emphasis on pool. I recruited my good friend Lyndsey Roberts who came in to manage the club. She now plays for England Ladies. I also took on my nephew, Stu Gregory, who is now one of the best players in the region. Within a few months we attracted loads of county players and local teams who all wanted to play at the club. It didn’t cost me a fortune to take the place on and I doubt it will make me rich, but it makes me happy and very proud that I’ve established a good club in the town that gave me a chance. I’ve made sure that the tables are a good standard, but getting the atmosphere right is also very important to players. We called it Dishers, because you dish the balls up when you break at the start of a game and go on to clear the table.”
Although running a club had certain kudos, as well as bringing in money, the spin-off benefit was improved performances for the owner. This would take Dave to yet another level. “What I noticed most was that the extra pool practice was actually making me a much better player. I got my third England trial in March 2006 and, unlike other attempts in previous seasons, I qualified after a tense final round against a Humberside County player called Andy Lakin. I was on top of the world, playing with the most talented players in the country, representing England. All because of Dishers! Since then it’s been a fantastic journey and all of the top players have visited our club on South Street. Recently we had Keith Brewer here and he’s been at the top for 20 years. That was a real honour, and it brought back memories of a frame I was playing for England. All I could here in the background was Keith shouting ‘come on Preecey’. You just can’t buy that…”
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