FEATURE: A special friendship forged by snooker
In the busy bustle of a city centre restaurant, two ladies raise glasses of champagne and toast one another, in a nod to nearly two decades of friendship, funny stories and happy memories.
Alex Gardner and Bev Price have done this every for the past 17 years - on the same day, in the same place.
Amazingly, they have only ever met 17 times, once a year in Sheffield, when they come together to watch the snooker.
“It all began in 1999,” explains Alex with a smile.
“I was at the Novotel bar with some friends before the snooker when I saw this lovely lady in a wheelchair trying to get the attention of the bartender, but her head was below the bar, so she wasn’t having any luck.
“I went over and ordered her a drink and introduced myself and we got chatting. She was in the city on her own to watch the snooker, so I invited her to come and have a drink with my friends and I.
“We got on really well that night and, later on, we swapped numbers and said we should meet up the next year when she was in Sheffield again for the snooker. We kept in touch and, sure enough, when the next year rolled around, we arranged to meet for lunch and then went to watch the snooker final together.
“It became a tradition and, as the years have gone on, we meet every year - we have lunch, go shopping, get a bit squiffy and watch the snooker final. It’s the only time we see each other, as Bev lives in Cardiff, and I know we both look forward to our meeting all year round.”
Bev confirms: “It’s the highlight of my year. Alex is such a good friend to me and she never lets me down, she’s always there waiting for me and we have such a good day together.”
And Alex says that it’s amazing to consider two friends who have seen each other through so much have only ever met 17 times.
“We’ve seen each other through everything,” she reveals.
“She saw my marriage come and go, she saw the arrival of my two children. Our meetings have become real life markers for us.”
Alex admits the pair have now even gone as far as to try and predict what will happen in the 12 months between their get togethers.
“We try and guess what news we’ll have to share,” laughs the 46-year-old, of Totley.
“We push each other to try and make things happen in our lives before we see each other next, it’s really motivational.”
Bev, aged 51, adds: “It’s true, we’ve seen each other through a lot. I have cerebral palsy and Alex has been there for me through all my health difficulties, including a breakdown in 2004, so I’m extremely grateful for her friendship and support. She’s a lovely woman and I’m proud to call her my friend.
“I think our friendship is quite unique, it’s amazing the way that snooker brought us together.”
But while Bev is a hardcore snooker fan, regularly attending competitions, Alex admits she prefers to save herself for the big events.
“My step-dad got me into it when I was young and I’ve always loved it,” she says.
“Of course these days it’s a bit more of a serious sport, I enjoyed the days when the big personalities like Alex Higgins were still around.
“I get a great deal with Bev though. Since that second year, I’ve attended the snooker final as her carer and we get big spacious seats down near the presenters so it’s wonderful - and we’re nearly always on the telly!
“She buys the tickets and I buy the lunch. Mind you, don’t think I haven’t noticed her ticket prices never change, whereas she gets to order all the lunchtime champagne on me!” laughs Alex.
“But seriously Bev is so much fun, we hit it off from day one and I think she’s an absolute star. I think part of our charm together is that I don’t take her rubbish and she doesn’t take mine, we just have such a giggle together and get on like a house on fire.”
Alex is also quick to recall what Bev was doing the very first day they met.
“She was at The Novotel that day, because she knew that was where Jimmy White was staying, and she was stalking him!” she laughs.
“She’s a complete snooker stalker. We usually go to the Crucible in the afternoon to watch some of the interviews, but I end up dragging her away because she’s embarrassing me shouting out to all the players.”
And as a special treat for her friend, Alex, who runs a business in the city called Smile Business Services, organised a private tour of the Crucible this year for the two of them, ahead of Sunday’s final.
She shrugs, saying simply: “I wanted to do something special for my friend.”