Allison Fisher: Remember The Name
To watch any athlete in the throes of passion – performing the sport they love with flawless execution and an expression that dares defeat to cross their path – this is the thrill we so enjoy as spectators. For Fisher fans, this thrill is multiplied, each and every time she chalks up another victory. Allison Fisher embodies the indomitable spirit of the consummate athlete. Forget that she’s brilliant at the table. Forget that she’s the most consistent player in the history of pool. Watching Allison defeat an opponent is memorable for so many more reasons: her precise mechanics, her deadly aim, the incredible planning that goes into a perfect run-out, and the patience of a hungry predator as she waits to make her move.
She’s been called the “Fisher Queen,” the “Barracuda,” the “Duchess of Doom,” and yes, even “Alli the Bug” (by a big brother when they were kids), but the truth is, none of the nicknames quite fit the personality of this resilient champion. “I don’t like nicknames personally,” says Allison Fisher. “I am my own brand in my eyes.” Countless opponents have felt the sting of that brand. But at the end of the day, Allison Fisher wants to be known simply as herself, for her real name, and her real game…
Born of Passion
Allison was just seven years old when she first picked up a cue. “I watched Snooker on TV with my Dad and liked the look of it. I asked for a small table and I got one that Christmas.” It was love at first strike. Shorter perhaps, but no less deadly at the table, Allison was soon challenging anyone who came through the front door. But then as Allison tells it, she was competitive by nature, and not just on a snooker table. “I liked playing soccer and I remember kicking a ball against the front wall for hours when I was younger,” says Allison. “I played it at school with the boys and a couple of girls. When I was older I played field hockey, netball, basketball and threw the javelin. I was very competitive and loved sport. I went for county trials at hockey and the javelin.”
A natural athlete, Allison soon represented her school in all sports and typically played with teams a year ahead of her. But besides her gifted physical prowess, her successful athletic endeavors as a student were an early indication of an indomitable spirit, her will to win. And it was snooker that captured her heart and imagination above all other sports. “I would come home from school and play. I remember being around at my friend’s house and my Mum called and offered me a chance to go and play Snooker down the pub. I immediately left and went to do that.”
Pursued with Obsession
Her desire grew with every new shot learned. “I definitely skipped weekends with friends and missed parties,” says Allison. “Some would say I made sacrifices in my childhood but I was really doing what I wanted to do! At school the teacher made me choose between an athletic meet and a Snooker competition. I chose Snooker and I think it was on that day that I decided to commit to one thing.” By the time Allison had reached the ripe old age of 14, the passion turned obsession had formulated into a possible vocation. “I was asked what I wanted to do when leaving school and I declared that I wanted to be a professional Snooker player.” It was Allison’s “aha” moment. She bulldozed her way through a range of obstacles that included little financial reward and pervasive sexism. “Because I started as a kid playing the game I didn’t consider being female as a big deal. It started to become a deal when I wasn’t allowed in some pubs to play in league teams because I was a female!”
But no one was going to tuck Allison Fisher into a tea party corner. As she continued to excel at the game and became the woman to beat at snooker, contemporaries began to wonder: How would she fare against the men? “There was the talk of me versus the men and that created a big buzz of attention for many years.” Unfortunately not enough to be of benefit to the young Fisher, whose talent may have been as big as her male counterparts, but whose financial rewards continued to be a fraction of the men’s purses.
Honed by Experience
By her mid-twenties, Allison had no one left to beat in women’s snooker, and no upside to playing the men. She’d won every title there was to win in snooker, but while trophies and titles cluttered her rooms and her resume, her considerable talents went unnoticed on the global sports scene. Men’s snooker purses skyrocketed into the millions and TV coverage was nearly a daily affair, while women's events were sparsely attended sideshows with little coverage and less promotion. In a happy coincidence, the Women’s Pro Billiard Tour in America had begun to pick up global steam and media attention with the launch of its 1993 Classic Billiard Tour. By 1995, women pool players in the States were earning bigger purses than the men; they owned the bulk of the TV coverage given to pool; they grabbed the lion’s share of industry sponsors and endorsement contracts. Allison, like many European players, saw the WPBA as an opportunity for a serious career in the cue sports. She knew nothing about the game but figured, “How hard could it be?”
And with that same indomitable spirit that launched her into the world’s #1 snooker player, she did what most twenty-somethings would find beyond intimidating: She uprooted herself from her family, her city and her country, and traveled alone, across the Atlantic, to begin learning a new game. At age 27, this was a feat typically unheard of in the annals of professional sports. A modest Fisher downplays the move, insisting American pool and players made the transition easy for the young stranger from across the pond. “I immediately felt at home as soon as I walked in to my first event at Mother’s Billiard Parlor in Charlotte. “And I liked the professionalism and the attitudes of the players. The sites were great and we were always playing on excellent equipment. I felt it was very professionally run and everyone was there to win.”
What was less likable was the contrast of a quiet, polite and well-mannered game of snooker to the American pool scene that introduced Fisher to a whole new world of gamesmanship. That will to win among her American opponents often manifested itself in behavior Allison hadn’t experienced on foreign shores. “The only thing that I didn’t care for was some players pulling moves during matches. I didn’t care for the lack of sportsmanship. I had been brought up in a game where players had good etiquette.” Allison pursued her passion without bypassing her table manners, and she quickly became a fan favorite. Class, elegance and a serious attitude about her sport on the table, combined with her grace and easy grin off the table, soon made her a sought-after commodity. “Most of the players on tour welcomed me immediately. That is what made it so much fun for me being new in another country. I felt accepted and I think part of that came from my attitude and who I was as a person.”
Fisher won two events that year. Within a year, she’d won seven more major titles. American players had not only accepted Allison, but soon had to accept their own fate: The tour’s top players found themselves vying for second place in any event Fisher entered. Accepted or not, fellow top players joked – not always kindly – about buying Fisher a one-way ticket back to Britain, but the truth was, the level of the women’s game as a whole kicked into a higher gear. Players worked with coaches on the ultimate question: ‘How do I beat Allison?’ Nobody has yet found a simple answer to that question, but the level of play among women professional pool players is now on a par with the world’s best men players. Thanks to Allison and her endless winning streak, practice routines stepped up; women sought more and better instruction and the dedication to their sport became a greater priority for more female athletes. In a sport so long dominated by American players, European and Asian aspiring players followed Allison’s example and honed their own games to be able to compete internationally.
With all her contribution to this growth of women’s pro billiards and the increased talent among its top professionals, Fisher received the just rewards that had long eluded her in snooker. Cuetec Cues became her first sponsor. “I was in fact supported by Cuetec just prior to arriving in America, which made everything a little easier to have a sponsor in place. “I have had an amazing relationship with Cuetec, Jones Chang, and especially Janet Shimel for many years, She has become a friend and I am grateful for what she and Jones have done for me. I am like family and that’s rare in this industry.”
Other sponsors were to follow: Allison was picked up by Kasson Tables, Championship cloth, and later as spokesperson for the American Poolplayers Association. But the rigors of serving too many masters, as well as tending to an ailing father, proved too much for Allison. She suffered through a single losing year in 2000, the same year she lost her father, the affable Peter Fisher, to cancer. Fellow U.K. snooker transplant Karen Corr swept the Classic Tour that year and some said that the reign of the Fisher Queen was over. They didn’t know Allison Fisher.
Allison regrouped and rededicated herself to pool. In some ways it was cathartic, a distraction from the grief over losing her father, as well as a chance to honor his memory with her continued success. Soon she had regained her #1 ranking, as well as some control over her schedule. She bought a home in Charlotte, North Carolina, resumed her love for gardening in her off-pool hours, and eventually trimmed her business dealings down to her core sponsor relationship with Cuetec and further development of the Allison Fisher brand.
Allison’s schedule remains brisk, but it’s now an itinerary of her choosing. She performs in corporate exhibitions when not on tour here or abroad, and is quick to say, “Absolutely” to a variety of charitable causes, from helping raise money for victims of 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina, to participating regularly in charity pro-ams that benefit everything from cancer-awareness programs to children’s charities. Her private and small group lesson clinics are highly sought-after, and her patience and infectious enthusiasm leave every student feeling like a champion. But don’t for a moment think she’s resting on those considerable laurels…
Defined by Joy…
Today, Allison Fisher continues to add pearls of victory to an ever more valuable string, leaving a legacy that is unlikely to ever be matched or exceeded in sports. An induction into the BCA Hall of Fame, placing her among the sport’s greatest men and women players in history, will take place this October (and has taken this long only because Allison had yet to reach the forty-year-old age requirement set by the Billiard Congress of America). Fact is, Allison Fisher has nothing left to prove. Not in snooker, not in pool, not to herself, not to her sponsors and certainly not to her millions of fans worldwide. And yet, she continues to win.
That, fellow fans and all you lucky-to-have-seen-Allison-play spectators, is true passion, something we can all aspire to– on the pool table and off. For Allison plays to play, for the pure joy of the perfect collision between cue ball and object ball, the meeting of an object ball with its intended home deep in a soft leather pocket, and the precise arrival of the cue ball at its ultimate destination, ready for its next task from a gentle but demanding master.
Who needs a nickname when you’ve got all that?
by Shari Stauch, Pool & Billiard Magazine