Legends Fade to Gray in Solihull

Mark Gray casually strolled out through the exit doors at Riley's Solihull this weekend an extremely happy man - it was the only strolling seen all weekend. He carried with him the BPPPA Solihull Open winner's trophy, a thousand pounds in prize money and surely the biggest of all - the satisfaction of coming away the champion from arguably the BPPPA's strongest field to date. The final saw Gray meet the talents of Steve Higton and it was Higton, fresh from some great performances throughout the day, that was out of the blocks the quickest, taking an impressive 5 - 1 lead. Gray though, soon found form and came back to level at 9 - 9, Higton couldn't find another gear and Gray eventually shaded the contest 11 racks to 9. Gray's excellent show in Solihull gives him his fourth BPPPA title and more valuable ranking points, having already taken the Redhill Open, Basildon Open and St Albans 8 Ball Open.

Our hosts in Solihull, Rileys, one of the three largest clubs in the country, housed an amazing Tour Stop on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st August 2005. The 'who's-who' list of pool players from the not-so-distant past and present (and no doubt future) included past representatives of Europe in the Mosconi Cup, Tommy 'The Disher' Donlon and 'The Rocket' Andy Richardson, the once familiar figure of John Beesley brushed the dust from his playing cue for the first time in years, Kevin Uzzell who made the last 32 at the recent World Pool Championships put in an appearance, Craig Osborne was trying to make it two in two after winning the Bristol Open last time out in his maiden BPPPA event and Snooker Pro Nick Dyson put his 9-ball hat on. Add these well known names to the regular big guns and past BPPPA event winners that made the trip to Solihull, Daryl Peach, Imran Majid, Raj Hundal, Mark Gray, Steve Higton and David Walsh, it goes to prove how big a draw the BPPPA is.

Peterborough's Mark Gray should take a lot of pride in coming out on top in Solihull, his transition from snooker to pool has looked smoother than the 'proverbial'. He set to the job, as all do, with Saturday's double elimination stage and victories over James Popplewell, 9 - 3 and Tony David 9 - 2 saw him qualify for the last 32 and Sunday's straight knockout play. Gray saw off Chris Cowie first of all on Sunday, giving Cowie the pleasure of just a rack and a hand-shake, 9 - 1 the score. Stewart Colclough put up more of a fight but was on the wrong end of a 9 - 6 scoreline to Gray in the last 16. BPPPA Number 1 Daryl 'The Dazzler' Peach was next on Gray's hit list in a match up that promised much but never really delivered, neither player finding any rhythm, Gray running out a 9 - 3 winner to make the semi finals.

The top players waste as little time as possible on Saturday's play; Steve Higton is a top player. He qualified for the Sunday via the winner's side of the draw, beating Patrick Burke 9 - 1 and in a close battle, the returning John Beesley 9 - 8. Eddie Cooper fell first to Higton 9 - 5 followed by a good win over 'The Shotgun' Craig Osborne 9 - 6. A tight quarter final between Higton and the consistent as ever Andy Worthington ended in a 9 - 7 score to Manchester's Higton who cleared after a miss by Worthington during his attempts to level at 8 apiece.

Both semi finals were enthralling. Mark Gray faced Martinjo Correia in the first. Correia had been in fine form throughout the day, making the semis courtesy of a 9 - 2 result over Steve Brown in which he hardly missed a ball. If the Pool Gods actually played the game rather than hand out the luck, they'd no doubt have Correia's cue action; he's a joy to spectate. The semi final never had more than a two rack cushion for either player and at 8 - 8 in the race to 9 match, it would have taken a brave man to pick a winner. It looked like it would be Correia in the final when he made a breath-taking jump shot to make the 1 ball which brought spontaneous applause from everyone watching, but Gray got back to the table after Correia missed a thin cut on the 4 ball into a blind pocket and Gray cleared to reach his sixth BPPPA final of the season. Raj 'The Hitman' Hundal was Higton's opponent in the other semi final and Hundal, notorious for bullying his challengers with endless break and runs, great pots and all-round skill, received a taste of the medicine himself. Higton was superb as he cleared the remaining balls at almost every opportunity he got, no matter what the layout of the table. Hundal didn't lay down for him and showed character to make a mini charge at 8 - 4 down to win three consecutive racks but Higton had the grit to see off the match with a 9 - 7 victory to make his first final since winning the BPPPA Manchester Classic in February last year.

After Mark Gray's previous win at the Redhill Open he was compared to a student becoming a teacher - Solihull was a teacher's conference. There is no doubt our game is the better for having Mark Gray competing. Since his first BPPPA Tour Stop in January earlier this year he has never once failed to make the last 32 stage and has always played the game as any sportsman should, gracious in both victory and defeat. Interestingly, the title also puts Gray right up there regarding 'most successful' players in BPPPA events. Gray's impressive statistics now read 4 titles and 2 runner ups. This falls short only to Imran Majid's 5 titles and 0 runner ups and Raj Hundal's 4 titles and 3 runner ups. Nevertheless, the rankings are there to decide these matters and they say Daryl Peach is still shouting "catch me if you can" from the distance. Next month's Tour Stop in Guilford cannot come soon enough.