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The Worthiest Scottish Champions

An inside look at St Andrews Pool Society’s success and its non-relationship with the AU

Any visitors of the St Andrews Union will know about the two pool tables. They are certainly humble, and probably the recipient of many a fresher’s spilt drink. However, these infamous landmarks of the Union are, in fact, the home of the St Andrews Pool Society, who this year were crowned Scottish champions at the alumni-run Student University Pool Championship (SUPC). Their sweeping success at the tournament included victory in the women’s singles final for Heather Curtis, a second place in the men’s singles final for Greg Georgakopolous, victory for the First Team in the Championship division, and for the Second Team in the Trophy division.

This would be cause for celebration for any student Pool Society, but it’s far from a one-off. The University’s pool society has a history of success and since the first COVID lockdown, that success has only increased. The progress over the last few years has been stark and the society’s efforts are reaping rewards.

I visited the St Andrews Pool Society on a cold Wednesday evening to speak to those involved, amongst them President Isabella Silvers, First Team Captain and External Tournament Director Matin Moors, and Greg Georgakopolous, who finished runner up in the men’s singles at this year’s SUPC. I witnessed a society thriving due to a welcoming atmosphere, a rigorous culture of self-improvement, and fantastic efforts towards inclusion and gender diversity.

It speaks for itself that Isabella Silvers, the current President, only joined the society in second year and had no prior competitive experience with pool. She described how open and encouraging all the senior members of the society were, and how easy they made the transition from social to competitive play. David Mortimer, the joint MVP at the SUPC, also joined in his second year and had no prior experience in pool. Greg Georgakopolous had also never played competitively before joining the society. Their rapid improvement is astonishing.

Pool Society is significantly cheaper to join than any other sport society, costing only £3. Isabella credits the fantastic good-will of the Union staff, including bar manager Susan McCulloch and the cash office, in allowing the society to operate in its current form.

It is also no secret that pool is a male-dominated sport. Almost all female players cite experiences of misogyny in the game. The society has helped to combat this by starting a Women’s and Non-Binary Pool Session on Mondays. Their accessibility and inclusivity have contributed to the unrivalled success of the Women’s team, who are current British champions. Many pool societies will not even enter a women’s team to tournaments.

But the society’s successes, of which these are only a few, are even more astonishing considering the odds. The St Andrews Pool Society, who are Scottish Champions and compete in annual BUCS tournaments, are not affiliated with the AU (Athletic Union).

The AU are responsible for funding sports societies at St Andrews. The funding afforded to physical sports can be lavish. It wasn’t always like this. Pool Society received funding from the AU for many years, but this ceased in 2020. They reapplied to join the AU last year, requesting only a fraction of the funds provided to less successful sport societies. However, the relationship was not renewed.

How do we measure the ‘success’ of a sports society at St Andrews? Luckily, we have an available metric: BUCS points. Societies compete in BUCS tournaments, which award points for successful competition. These points are not just for adornment: they directly contribute to how much funding the St Andrews AU receive. In other words, successful sports societies quite literally fund the AU.

Last year, Pool Society achieved a tally of 66 points. They brought in the seventh most points for a pool society in the UK and the most from Scotland. This was considerably more than many other societies which are affiliated with the AU. Cricket Society, for example, received funding from the AU and only managed 52.5 BUCS points. Badminton only received 28.5. Almost every single sport society in St Andrews is affiliated with the AU — except Pool. And Pool is more successful than ones that are.

Pool Society helps to fund the AU, yet receives no funding from the AU. This can generously be described as backwards.

In one of the most shocking moments of my visit to Pool Society, Matin Moors emphasised the necessity of saving up in order to attend BUCS tournaments. He explained that each member of the society must subsedise competition costs out of pocket.

For example, to attend the annual BUCS 8-Ball Pool tournament, the team must travel to Stoke-on-Trent. Matin estimated that the amount of money a person must pay to compete at BUCS — covering travel, accommodation, food, and registration expenses — is around £140. Pool Society members must travel to a different country, at their own expense, to win money for the AU and, of course, for their own love of the game.

Again, the AU doesn’t affiliate with them. Nor do they fund them.

When I visited Pool Society, what I saw was an inclusive, accessible, and successful sports society in its element. But I also saw a society fighting against the current. I asked Isabella Silvers, the President, a question: “Would your society be more successful with the help of the AU?”. I received a telling response: “Not necessarily, but it would help!”.

Pool Society competes for the love of their sport and the love of their society. To claim they would be infinitely successful with AU funding is, in some ways, to discredit the individuals who work and train to keep this society afloat.

I think very few could argue when I say that St Andrews are worthy champions. That title isn’t a coincidence, but without the proper support, it can only ever be temporary. Surely a little help wouldn’t go amiss?

Image: Joe Mitchell

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