The Malta Independent 19 September 2020, Saturday

50 Shades of Greats: ‘Sport educated me and took me to places’ - Alex Borg

Simon Farrugia Wednesday, 9 September 2020, 11:01 Last update: about 10 days ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday meets ALEX BORG, a Maltese sports ambassador in the world of Snooker. He speaks about his local achievements, his professional career and moments that he will never forget.

Snooker player Alex Borg was born on 5 June 1969. He lives in Mellieha with his partner Michelle and has two children, Shanice and Isaac.

Alex started our conversation by describing his childhood days back in the early 70s. I used to play a lot of football in the streets with other children when most of our roads were nearly free from cars during those days. I liked going with my dad who worked as a kerosene hawker around the streets of Mellieha and Manikata. When we finished early I enjoyed going with him fishing.

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Alex started school at the Mellieha Primary and attended Secondary School at the Rabat Seminary. After finishing his secondary education he went to the Sixth Form at Msida.

Snooker is a game which is practised in clubs. But did Alex start that way? How did his interest in snooker begin? Was he interested in some other sport? And what age did he start practising? I used to go to the Imperial Band Club in my village with my dad. They had a snooker table there and it was love at first sight with the table. As soon as I saw it I wanted to play. In the beginning they didn’t let me play because I was too young, at that time I was only eight years old, and thought that I would damage the cloth. During this time I also liked to play football like many other children my age. I started to practise snooker seriously for long hours when I was 11. The president of the Labour Club in Mellieha, Michael Buttigieg offered me to practise free at their club because they also had a snooker table. I took up this opportunity and started my practice. I owe a lot to Michael and the committee of that time at the Labour Club. These were the formation years for me as a player and so the most important.”

And what does it involve to reach certain heights in snooker? In most sport you need physical training, stamina, strength and much more. Is snooker different since it is an indoor game of sport? “It certainly involves lots of practice and dedication. I used to train between eight to 10 hours a day Monday to Sunday. I was still at school at the time but I used to keep practising until the early morning. You have to find a balance in life. But I was always committed and fully concentrated. I always believed that one day I would make it at the top level of this wonderful game.”

Alex went into detail and described his local and international achievements.I won the Malta Championship 13 times including seven consecutive years from 2002 until 2009. In 1990 I won the first Rothmans Pro-Am tournament organised by the Malta Billiards & Snooker Association. The final was played in front of over 2,000 people at Corradino Sports Complex. I was on top of the local ranking list between 2000 and 2016. I also hold the highest breaks in the National Snooker Championship and ranking events when in 1997 I made a 143 break and two months later I broke it again with a 144.”

“Internationally I won the European Snooker Championships (Singles) in 2005 and 2006. I was also finalist in 1998 and 2004. I won the European Team Snooker Championships four times and the Continental Team Cup three times. I also managed to win the Mediterranean Cup in 2005 and was the winner of the highest break in four European Championships and in the 2007 IBSF World Championships.”

During his time there were players such as Paul Mifsud, Guzi Grech, Tony Drago and a crop of excellent players. Did this make it more difficult or did it help in being more motivated to succeed? “Definitely! It motivated me to work harder as these three players were not only good locally but also on the international scene where they achieved excellent results. I always said at the time that if I manage to reach their level and start competing with them I will have a good chance when I go and play abroad. I was a keen fan of them and from each player I learnt a lot. The competition they created helped me in being able to make the grade since the level was very high at that time.”

By winning 13 local titles and being finalist for 10 times, do you consider yourself as being a dominant player or was it that you were unchallenged? I think I reaped the reward for the hard practise and dedication I committed to this sport. It was never a stroll in the park but with many sacrifices and long hours of practice I managed to play good snooker and dominate for some time. Snooker is a game which can go either way following a miss or a miscue but I was always fully concentrated on the job.”

Borg turned professional in 1991 and is still playing on the Main Tour of the World Snooker Association. How is the experience between being an amateur and a professional? “For both you have to train hard but in the professional circuit every match is difficult because you are competing against the best in the world. The playing conditions on the Main Tour are the best. The coming season is going to be difficult for me because many tournaments are going to be played in the UK and at the moment I have to do the quarantine every time I go there. The organisers in the world of snooker are trying their best to arrange this situation with the authorities concerned.

Good moments are there to savour and bad moments are there to reflect and learn from them. “Winning my first Malta and European championships together with being awarded the Gieh ir-Repubblika were the best experiences of my snooker career. As a bad one I mention the 2004 European Championship final which I lost against Mark Allen 7-6 on the final black ball.

Having been at the top of Snooker for such a long time Alex was honoured locally by journalists thanks to the Għażliet Sportivi Nazzjonali. Moreover, he was given a recognition by his howetown Local Council as an appreciation for his achievements. And to cap it all the state also deemed it fit to recognise the cueist’s contribution. “I won the Sportsman of the Year, which is a big feat, and this made me and my family very proud. Apart from the Sportsman of the Year, I was also awarded Gieħ ir-Repubblika and Ġieħ il-Mellieha. It’s a great honour for me and my family to be included on these lists and I thank everyone who helped me achieve this.”

For Alex, apart from these local achievements, particular moments are still encrypted in his mind and can never be forgotten. “The first was when I beat John Higgins in 1998. He was the current world champion and World no. 1 at the time. Another particular moment was when I won my first European Championship in Poland in 2005, two weeks after my dad passed away. I felt that I wanted to dedicate this honour to my dear dad who always was on my side to succeed in anything I was up to.

Snooker is a game played in the centre of our towns and villages. The introduction of the Academy is trying to lure more enthusiasts of this game to start practising from a tender age. In this regard how does Alex see the future of snooker in Malta? “With the opening of the Malta Snooker Academy we now have a solid base to promote our sport and encourage young children to start playing snooker. I hope this will help youngsters to improve in the game and hopefully they will become strong international representatives in our sport. At the Academy you find coaches who can help you during your formation years. Much different from how we were brought up in the village clubs.”

To achieve success you need the backing of your family and for Alex it was no exception. “My family is very important to me. They made everything possible to help me in my snooker career and without their help I would not have achieved what I did. I always cherish the moments when we are all together. Sometimes, not often, they travel with me for tournaments abroad and I feel really inspired when they’re watching me play. Having been to many countries around the world and experienced different people and cultures, I always tell my children the experiences I had, the good and the bad, so they will learn from them and grow into better people.”

Alex’s tastes tend to be patriotic since he has a passion for Maltese food. In fact he mentioned his love for the traditional Maltese dishes. But apart from that he also loves to eat Indian food. And this is derived from his favourite travel destination. I like the Far East because I like these countries and their people especially Asians.

As a hobby he loves to venture on a fishing expedition. But hobbies aside what does Alex do when he’s got some free time on his hands? “I like to watch football. I also like to find some time on my own, have a coffee outside and read some interesting articles.”

Finally Borg wanted to pass on a message to the young generation about Snooker and sport as a whole. “I encourage youngsters to take up snooker or other sports because I found that sport educated me and took me to places that I never thought I would ever visit in my life. I would like to thank all my family, sponsors and those who helped me achieve my dreams. I would also like to thank the Maltese snooker enthusiasts for all their support. If they have the privilege, like I had, to represent my country, I’m sure they will be very proud. That is an indescribable moment which no words can express.

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