You may have asked this question once or twice: How did the Latrobe Valley 8 ball competition begin? Well, we have to go back to a time when most of us were not playing 8 ball (perhaps with the exception of Teddy), in fact many of us were not even thought of! Back to the 1960’s is where it all began. Whilst billiards and snooker were already well established competitions in the Latrobe Valley, people only started playing 8 ball during the sixties, because this was when the tables were introduced into the hotels.
The game as we know it now was quite different back then. For starters, it was known by a few different names including miniature billiards/snooker, and that’s obviously because of the size of the table. It was also known as ‘Kelly pool’, because of the object balls being numbered 1-15, the same as in the game Kelly pool. Another interesting name was ‘overs and unders,’ because you were either on numbered balls over the 8 ball (9-15) or under the 8 ball (1-7). Then of course there was ‘bigs and smalls.’ Now with the new rules, we have ‘reds and yellows’ or ‘tomatoes and bananas.’ So nothing much has changed there, the terminologies are all relative!
The competition started in much the same way that most of us started playing 8 ball, by playing games down the pub between friends and other patrons. Challenging whoever held the table, sometimes playing for a pot or two and then dare I say, even a few dollars! Patrons from the Crown and the Royal Exchange including George Bell, Ray Brand and Jim Duncan got together with Alan Beechey (former manager of the Royal Exchange then Publican of the Crown Hotel) decided to start a competition between hotels. Alan Beechey was friendly with the Rossmore Hotel (Yallourn North) Publican Frank Meadows and along with players like Frank O’Donnell got the Rossmore Hotel involved. Harold Kemp (publican of the infamous Blood House Hotel) and the publican and players like Ray Mellon from the Newborough Hotel also became involved.
The first year of competition begun in 1968, but in 1967 and even earlier games were being played between hotels in Traralgon and also between Yallourn North and the Moe hotels. In September of 1967 Ryan’s Hotel defeated the Crown Hotel in a friendly game, which it was noted in the Journal that this could lead to a weekly competition, in which it did with the start of official competition the following year. Even a tournament for charity was played over the summer of 1967-68 in which 63 people competed (entry fee $1) at the Crown Hotel with Alan Beechey being the eventual winner and $64 being raised for the Cooinda Hill Centre. There were 6 teams in the first year of competition, 4 from Traralgon and 2 away. The teams were: Traralgon - Royal Exchange Hotel, Crown Hotel (centre pub), and Ryan’s Hotel and the Grand Junction Hotel. The away teams were the Yallourn North Hotel (Rossmore Hotel Bombers) and one from Morwell possibly called the Morwell Tigers from a hotel in the main street, which has now closed down. The Yallourn North Bombers won the championship in the first year of competition (1968) with the very first Presentation Ball held at the Traralgon Golf Club. The following year the Newborough Hotel (Newborough Tans) got involved and won the Championship, later on a second team called the Newborough Blacks. There was possibly another team that may have played out of the Merton Rush and even later the Top Pub. Next came teams from the Trafalgar Hotel and the Thorpdale Hotel and in 1972 the Mirboo North Hotel joined but these three teams only competed for a short time. Teams playing away at Thorpdale sometimes had to stay overnight because of the thick fog!
There were two teams also from Moe, one from the Lions/Baw Baw Hotel (Moe Lions and later Baw Baw Panthers), and the other from the Blood House Hotel. The Blood House had two bars, the Olympic bar and the Blood House bar. Whilst the team was known as Moe Olympic, they in fact played out of the Blood House bar, as that’s where the table was. I have been told it was a well-known bar; let’s just say it was a bit on the shady side of town. Beware entering that place! However, I have also been informed on good authority, that the 8 ball teams were treated well when visiting there.
There was of course no Association in the first few years and the competition was run by some of the patrons already mentioned. Later, Jim Hills became President and it became an Association which formalised the rules and regulations. The competition became known as the Latrobe Valley Inter-Hotel Pool Competition.
At first, only the hotels were involved. The clubs such as the RSL became involved later on. The competition was split into two divisions: the East division (Traralgon, Morwell and Churchill) which later became the LV8BA, and the West division (Moe, Newborough and Yallourn North) now known as the MG8BA. The best team and player from each division would have a play off at the end of the season, which we now know as the Super Grand Final where Latrobe Valley vs. Mid Gippy. There was also the Annual Presentation Night held at the Traralgon High School hall and later Shaw’s Ballroom in Moe. Christmas break ups were also held. The first year at Traralgon South and then at the Yallourn North storage dam with ice creams for the kids being very popular.
An incident occurred once when the Yallourn North Bombers played the Royal Exchange Hotel, with the table then being in the Sports Bar of the Exchange (now the pokies area), and the entrance being on the corner of the hotel. Whilst the game was being played a small truck for reasons unknown came off the highway and attempted to go through the front doors of the Sports Bar! It did hold up the games for a little while with the damage to the front entrance, table was ok, the games continued on with no one hurt.
The competition grew steadily in numbers until it grew to 25 teams, the growth due to most venues supporting more than one team. In 1976 there were meetings held between publicans and players at Leggies (Moe) and another in Morwell (possibly the Top Pub) concerning the size of the competition. Concern was raised that the competition was too big; however I would think that if that was the only issue they could have thought about two divisions. Perhaps the main issue of concern was the travel involved, as teams were travelling as far as Trafalgar, Thorpdale and Mirboo North. Teams were travelling late at night on highways such as the Strzelecki, which was dangerous due to the wildlife. At this time, 0.07 blood alcohol level had been introduced and this was also posing problems. Teams’ car pooled and shared taxis to venues; however it was costing players a few dollars. So a decision was made that in 1977 the Association would split into the LV8BA and the MG8BA.
The LV8BA started with a 10 team competition. Teams were from Traralgon, Morwell, Churchill and then later Glengarry, Cowwarr, Boolarra and Yinnar. Players remember some interesting stories from these years, for instance the Station Master at Cowwarr played in the competition and he would have to take a break during his game if the train was coming through to do the mail run. I am also told that the room used at Glengarry was too small which caused quite a bit of discussion at committee meetings. Apparently players would have to open a window on one side of the table and stick the cue out the window to have a shot! The white ball was left on the window side more often than not! Finally it was decided to move the table between rooms on the night of play, which caused another problem of the table rolling. Personally, I would have not been too keen lifting the table around in the first place! So perhaps we should not complain too much about today’s minor issues when compared with some of the issues players faced in days gone by!
In 1992 a second split occurred due to the introduction of the world rules, which were very different. Some talk from Melbourne may have also contributed to the split. So the Traralgon 8 Ball Association was started, however it came to an end around 1999. The teams from that league either folded or joined the LV8BA. The League had capped itself to 12 teams with a final 4, but allowed itself to grow to 14 teams when the Traralgon League folded.
Kenny Krieger and Peter Simpson in 1998 took the initiative and got a Summer Competition going which came under the league banner in 2002, growing in size due to the popularity of the competition and the different format. Though Jim McCluskey started a Summer Competition out of the Royal Exchange Hotel through the Cork Club back in the 70’s which he ran untill 1997, ending with his passing in 1998. All money raised during those Summer Competitions was donated to the Royal Children’s Hospital.
The League in 1999 through Peter Simpson started up a Single Championship which is still being played out today in what is now an annual event. Along with Alan Greenwood he also started up the Rising Star award that same year which an annual award is given at the Annual Presentation Ball. Again singles and doubles tournaments were played in the 1970’s, in which money was raised, again for charities like Quinda Hill and the Royal Children’s Hospital.
By 2001 the LV8BA had grown to 19 teams with a final 6. In 2002, two divisions were created consisting of 9 teams in each division with a final 4. By 2005 and 2006 there were 23 teams in the competition with 12 in division one and 11 in division two. There were over 190 players on the books in 2005/06. Pool had become very popular, in fact at that time it was the fastest growing sport in Victoria. Since then player numbers have fluctuated. In 2012 the Association winter competition went to 3 divisions for the first time with a 25 team competition with 206 members in total. The 2012/13 summer competition was divided up into 3 even groups with 27 teams and a total membership of 225 people. And it just keeps getting bigger with 28 teams kicking off the winter competition for 2013, that’s 3 teams more than the previous winter competition, pool remains popular and its future looks bright.
Last of all a big thanks to all the past players that I contacted who contributed to this little bit of history. To all the people who have made this Association what it is today, thank you!