By David Lugg

As a boy, André Santos would watch his father play pool at a local cafe in Lagos. He was immediately fascinated by the skill and strategy required to play the sport. But it was watching the great Ronnie O’Sullivan play snooker on Eurosport that truly captured his attention and this was the beginning of a love affair that would subsequently shape his future.

In 2015, André was forced to relocate to Lisbon as, sadly, there are no public snooker tables in the Algarve. Speaking to him today, he is acutely aware that Portugal is not the first country that comes to mind when you think of snooker. He also readily admits that without the Eurosport coverage he would probably not even know the game. 

“There used to be tables (in the Algarve) a few years ago but now there isn’t one. In Lisbon, there are one or two clubs to play snooker but there are many more in the north (of the country). That’s where they mainly hold the national competitions.”

I put the question to André about how he became a snooker referee and why he chose to officiate the game rather than play. 

“2014 was a big year for me because I got my driver’s licence, I became a referee and I finished my degree (in Communication) at the University of Algarve. I went to an event in Estoril with my brother where I met a snooker coach called Nelson Batista. I told him that I am not that good at playing but I have always had an interest in becoming a referee. He said to attend a two-day seminar where I would be examined and that’s how it all came about.”

André explains how snooker referees have a rating system that allows them to progress through to the top level of the professional game. They must first pass a theory exam before taking a practical test on the table, making decisions upon hypothetical game situations. Last year, he progressed to level two. 

I ask him if the end goal is to become a TV referee within the World Snooker tour? “Yes it is. I’ve been on TV a couple of times and also on live streaming services, but it is not easy within World Snooker. There is a lot of competition and you need the experience of refereeing important games with more important players. Slowly and surely I’ll get there.”

Would André leave Portugal if it would help further his career? “Yes, I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about moving to the UK to progress within the professional game. World Snooker is the top echelon and that’s where you want to be. But right now it is harder to move to the UK.”

Which brings me to the question about what more he thinks can be done to improve awareness of the sport in his home country. “They need to advertise it more. It is a hard sport, but you need to start young and advertise it to young people. With the right attitude you can progress. And also, if they had more tables in public spaces, not just clubs, but maybe in shopping malls for instance, so that the average person can have an interest.”

One glaring issue is the lack of top Portuguese players at the top of the game. If the young players had a national role model to look up to then there would no doubt be more interest.

“We have Tiago Teixeira, who is one of the best young players that we have right now. He is only nineteen. But let me say this. Snooker only really started in Portugal in 2010. I think in eleven years, we have made a lot of progress. The federation has not done a bad job and we are slowly progressing.”

We discuss a little about his lifestyle within snooker and he explains about the referee community that exists within the sport. “It’s a very friendly environment with almost all of us. We go out together at the competitions. We speak about everything. It is like a family.”

I mention to André about how good it is to see an increase of female referees in the past few years. “Absolutely. And many are top referees like Desislava (Bozhilova), who is my age (twenty-nine) and is one of the top ladies in World Snooker.”

So what next for André Santos? “I am the only Portuguese ref that has done so many professional events. I have reffed some of the best in the world – Judd Trump, Sean Murphy, Mark Williams. But next, I want to become a class 1 ref and continue to progress within World Snooker on television. I want to inspire others.”

He is already an inspiration and we wish him every success.