Q School 2021: 'Back for more torture' – Michael Judge, Alfie Burden and Barry Pinches enjoy golden return to big time
Michael Judge, Alfie Burden and Barry Pinches proved there is no subsitute for experience in sport as the veteran campaigners – all playing seniors snooker in recent times – reclaimed their respective places on the main World Snooker Tour by sealing new two-year cards in some style. Craig Steadman is also back among the snooker elite after a dramatic final day at Q School event two.
Alfie Burden of England reacts during the first round match against Judd Trump of England
Michael Judge has sealed a remarkable return to the World Snooker Tour a decade after quitting the game with fellow seasoned competitor Alfie Burden also reclaiming his elite status a year after contemplating retirement when he was relegated from the professional ranks.
And in a memorable day for the sport's golden generation, 50-year-old Norwich professional Barry Pinches – who first turned professional in 1989 when Steve Davis was world champion and reached 18 in the rankings 15 years ago – completed a dramatic 4-3 victory against Sanderson Lam to secure his new two-year tour card.
Elsewhere, a rejuvenated Craig Steadman held off Hammad Miah in a 4-3 success that guaranteed his return after reaching the Shoot Out last four as an amateur last season.
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Dubliner Judge, 45, quit the main circuit in 2011, but is back in the big time after a 4-0 victory over Kuldesh Johal in event two of Q School that included breaks of 43 and 45 at Ponds Forge in Sheffield.
The former world number 24 won six matches in event two to secure his playing rights for the next two years, including a 4-0 win over young Northern Irishman Robbie McGuigan earlier on Monday that saw him contribute knocks of 69 and 71 in the last 16.
Judge has been competing part-time on the seniors circuit in recent times where he overcame Jimmy White 4-2 to lift the UK title two years ago.
“It feels great,” said Judge, who turned professional in 1992 before his second coming almost 30 years later. “After I fell off the tour ten years ago, I put the cue away and sorted out my life. I was doing a bit of work at the Q Club in Wicklow.
"I played on the amateur scene just for the enjoyment, and after five or six years I decided to give it another go. Then my wife had a baby boy so I put snooker on hold for a couple of years.
"During lockdown I was thinking I wouldn’t mind giving it a go, and a friend said he would back me.
I started practising hard and things have fallen into place. Here I am, back on tour for more torture! I always felt I was good enough to get back on if I gave it a proper go. Whether I can hold my own, we’ll soon find out. I’m just looking forward to seeing what it brings me.
“Winning the UK seniors final against one of the all-time greats in Jimmy White in a packed arena really inspired me. That has given me the confidence that I can do it on any stage. I know I can beat anyone on my day once I get sharp. The tour will suit me because there are so many tournaments you don’t need to practise that much.”
Burden, 44, failed to regain his tour card at Q School last year, but has renewed his playing rights for the next two years courtesy of a 4-1 win over Michael Collumb that was boosted by a run of 70.
The popular Londoner – a former world amateur champion – had finalised a 4-1 success against Lei Peifan earlier on Monday with runs of 65 and 57. He first turned professional in 1994, but is relishing the chance to again compete on the main tour.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “I only had three weeks preparation for this so I didn’t have much expectation. I didn’t know how I would deal with the pressure. In this school my experience goes a long way. I have enjoyed being back out there. I didn’t play great, but dug in.
During the pandemic I got very bored and missed the game, so I decided there was harm in giving Q School another try and rolling the dice. I’m looking forward to two more years on the tour. They thought the hell-raiser was gone, but he’s back! I don’t fear anyone, I’ll just enjoy it.
Fomer world number 66 Steadman completed a 4-3 win over Miah to regain his tour card after competing as an amateur last season with world number 100 Pinches avoiding relegation from the WST after recovering from trailing Lam 2-0 in a 4-3 win that saw him compile breaks of 66 and 100. He held his nerve in the decider by slotting blue, pink and black to progress.
“My personal life has been fantastic over the past year as my wife had a baby and I spent four or five months helping renovate the house," said Steadman. "So that took my mind off not playing snooker. But then I started missing it, so I’m happy now that I’ll be back playing.”
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Q School event three begins on Tuesday and concludes on Sunday 13 June when the final places are settled. The next two highest players on the Q School Order of Merit also earn a card.
The new 2021/22 snooker season officially begins with the Championship League on 4 July.