Earl – I’ll make the difference!

The biggest story in the pool world this year has surely been the recall of Earl Strickland to the American side at December’s PartyPoker.net Mosconi Cup. Without doubt the most controversial and according to the stats, greatest player in the 20 year history of the event, Strickland last appeared in action in Malta in 2008 when the USA suffered their heaviest-ever defeat as they went down 11-5 to a rampant European side.
Since then, the 53 year-old from North Carolina has continued to ply his trade and over the past year has hit a vintage vein of form culminating in an imperious win at Turning Stone in September. Strickland returns then as part of the ‘dream team’ of Mosconi legends that includes Johnny Archer, Dennis Hatch, Rodney Morris and Shane Van Boening.
It will be Strickland’s 14th appearance in the transatlantic team tussle and with a 65% win rate (41 points from 63 matches) he is the most successful player in the history of the event.
To celebrate his return to Mosconi Cup action, Sky Sports have produced a memorable one hour documentary entitled ‘The Strickland Story’ which debuts on Sky Sports 3 at 9.00pm on the evening Sunday 1st December.
The Mosconi Cup all started for Earl back in December 1996 when a team selected from the recently-founded PCA, arrived at the Goresbrook Leisure Centre in Dagenham, East London for the third running of the Mosconi Cup.
“That was a pretty memorable moment, my first one,” said Strickland.
“I was playing a doubles match with CJ Wiley and we were tied, 13-13, and I was playing a shot. I played a really careless one and I snookered myself.
“Back then we were playing alternate visits rather than alternate shots and I played a really stupid shot and then I kicked the ball along a rail. If we had lost that game we might have lost the Mosconi Cup that year, but we wound up winning the match and went on to win 15-13.”
That was the first in an uninterrupted run of 13 consecutive appearances for the mercurial star, resulting in nine Mosconi Cup wins, a record equalled only by Johnny Archer.
“I enjoyed that the tournament was named after Willie Mosconi, because that is a nice name and he was a great player,” said Strickland, as he contemplated his favourite moments over the years.
“I have liked some of the great venues we have played in around the world and the York Hall is a very tough place to go. My favourite win though, was the year we had the red, white and blue shirts on, I don’t remember the year (it was 2000).
“I made the 9-ball to win it, and that was an honour to get to make that last 9-ball. That was the year I got to do it and that was my favourite moment, making that 9-ball with those shirts on.”
Over the years Strickland has ‘enjoyed’ plenty of banter with European fans and at times it has threatened to over shadow his talent on the table.
“I have always been a golfer and I have always thought that pool fans should behave like golf fans but I guess I am wrong about that. I was always told golf is harder than pool but I think pool is harder.
“Now, looking at golf, it is like walking a dog in the park compared to pool. Pool is a pins and needles game, like you’re walking on glass. The Mosconi Cup adds that much more pressure because you are playing for your country. You have team-mates to play well for and there is a lot more to play for in an event like this.
“You are a lot more nervous in this event than you are when you play on your own. I always felt the fans in pool could have been a little more sympathetic. The Mosconi Cup is different from other pool events, that’s for sure.
“European fans are different from other pool fans, they act differently to the Americans and you have to learn how to handle that.”
 “Pool is an individual game and has been for 200 years. I have recently been getting some experience of the team game; in that of playing with other players.
“I think I can add some morale to the players. I am a lot older than them and I have been there before. I am not 35 anymore, so I get a little more tired than I used to. I will be in good shape and hopefully I can contribute to the team. It is a team effort, not an individual event.”
Strickland is also very comfortable with his four team mates: “I played really well with Rodney, years ago when we were teamed up in the Mosconi Cup. I had some good success with Rodney and we were very difficult to beat at times. I would say Rodney is my best doubles partner but we have good players on the roster this year. In fact, every player this year is a good partner as far as I am concerned.”
In recent times Strickland has relocated to New York where he is a regular at Steinway Billiards in Queens.  
 “I love it here in New York City, it is about the only place I can make a living right now. I think New York would be the most fabulous place to have the Mosconi Cup. There is no doubt on my mind that if the Mosconi Cup was in New York there would be a riot, it would be great!
 “I commend Barry Hearn as he took on a game where he probably didn’t care too much for at the time and he is a great man, he has offered players an opportunity to play in events; the World Pool Masters, World Cup of Pool, and for years they held the World Pool Championships.
“Barry understands pool, he understands that it is not a disease, it is a great game, and he doesn’t even play pool.”
The question on everybody’s lips though, is whether Earl can reignite Team USA at the Mirage in December and help stop a dismal run that has seen just one Mosconi Cup victory in seven years.
“They have changed the break a little bit (9-ball on the spot, four inch break box) so that is going to be different this year. It is going to be a lot more demanding and I don’t think you’ll be able to get balls in as comfortably as you have been able to in previous years. There might be a few more scratches on the break and I think this works better for us.
“I think we stand a good chance. We will have to play well though. They are a younger team than we are, but we have more experience. I am looking forward to it and I just hope I can contribute to the team. I hope I play well and make a difference for us. Hopefully I can give the team some of the morale they haven’t had for the last five years. It is important - they need some extra morale somehow.”
Who knows which Earl Strickland will turn up in Las Vegas? The majestic shot-maker or the surly rebel? The motivational team player or the lone wolf? Probably all of them but one thing is for sure – the 20th anniversary PartyPoker.net Mosconi Cup couldn’t take place without him.