Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on June 8, 2015
Billiards was probably the last thing on Sinatra’s mind, when he sang that immortal line. But it sums up the AEJ/Dallinga season, if you only look at averages, records and titles. Was there a shadow side? Yes. The sponsor had bitten off more than he could chew, could not keep his promises. He did not pay his four star players in full, several event organizers did not get paid at all; the three year commitment will now end after a single season and the dream team will split up.
This is from my column of April 2014: “Hanze Catering (2007 – 2008, Blomdahl, Jaspers, Horn, Koorevaar) did not make it through its second season, and my gut feeling is, neither will AEJ. Trust me, it’s not what I hope, it’s what I fear.”
You’d be right if you said: “these players have shown remarkable naivety”. But you would not do them justice if you didn’t add: “but boy, have they ever made the best out of a bad situation!” All four have bent over backwards all season to avoid bad publicity, there was never a complaint in the press, there was superb team spirit. They’ve played like professionals, coping with the usual 3-cushion pressure and the added burden of always being expected to win. As billiard players, they haven’t put a foot wrong. They just need a business manager. If it’s a good one, he charges 15 % of their income and earns that back by bringing in additional sponsorship. More importantly, he makes sure the other 85% actually get paid.
This is nr.1 of the team’s four tasks for 2014 – 2015: the Belgian title. It proved to be the easiest one. AEJ was certain of the league win with a few months still to play. Runner-up was the team from Op De Meir (Leppens, van Beers, Uytdewilligen, Stitchinsky) third place for Deurne (Blomdahl, Philipoom, van Erp, van Havere). Both could not break the 1.4 team average barrier, while AEJ cruised to 1.736 for the season. That’s a huge gap.
Second on the list was the Dutch team Cup. Played in sets, in a single weekend, with eight teams in two flights, the risk factor was obviously a bit higher. But the dream team was never really in trouble, even though Jaspers conceded two sets to Jean van Erp and Merckx was surprised by Jens van Dam. Caudron was rock steady: five wins and 2.115 general average. The final was played on four tables, and stopped when FC and DJ had won, with EM and JP in the lead, no way for the opponent (Pressplate, with Forthomme, P. Ceulemans, van Beers and Groot) to catch up.
AEJ was naturally as much a favorite in the Netherlands as it was in Belgium, but there is a big difference: Holland has play-offs to follow the regular league season. The nrs. 1 and 4 meet, as well as the nrs. 2 and 3. The winners play for the title, home and away. So a huge lead after 22 rounds of play means little or nothing: you have to win that one cross-final and that one final. And so they did, first getting the better of Biljartcafé Jorissen (Hofman, van Erp, Jorissen, van Daalen) with 6-2 and 8-0 wins, then copying that score line in the final against Pressplate: 6-2 and 8-0.
Fourth and possibly highest on the wish list, was the European team title. For many years it was private property of the Agipi team (Caudron, Zanetti, Bury, Roux), but in 2013 and 2014 it had been won by the strong Turkish foursome of Bahcelievler, consisting of Tasdemir, Coklu, Cenet and Yüksel. This time, the Turks surprisingly lost in the semi, to Andernos from France. Kasidokostas (lost 24-40), Forthomme (20-35), Barbeillon (17-40) and Connesson (30-30) could not cope with AEJ’s power, and the final was terminated with two matches still in progress.
Was this season, AEJ’s season, good for billiards? I’ll say it did some good, and it did some damage. To see four players produce 200 points in 77 innings (2.597, new world record) is brilliant. To be robbed of so many encounters between Merckx and Jaspers, Caudron and Merckx, Jaspers and Caudron, is cruel. And de Bruijn of course, should not (have to) waste his time on players who average below 1.000.
AEJ has caused a lot of debate in the billiard world, and the team members were even blamed for the declining interest in the league matches. That is poor judgment. They didn’t “empty” other billiard rooms, they just filled up their own, tried to play well and make an honest buck. We should blame bad leadership, because that’s what we’ve had in the past two decades.
This is one of the main problems of 3-cushion today: professional players and recreational players are performing in the same circus. Werner Bayer understood that, separated them, and for 15 years our game was a sport. The product Bayer sold then is still here, it has only gotten better. But it’s not being marketed. The amateurs are firmly back in charge, the money is gone, the TV is gone. The kids are playing pool and darts, 3-cushion (like its governing bodies) has arteriosclerosis and a bad prostate. What should we do? Get rid of our Blatter, that would be the start I’d recommend.