Review of 2011, Sep - Dec: Snooker ace a big hit lining up high hopes for 2012

Yang Guang settles in
Yang Guang settles in
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As well as sporting drama, the last 4 months saw a demolition, a talent contest win, an Olympic row and pandas moving in...

As the old year prepares to take her final bow, her fresh-faced successor waits patiently in the wings to make her grand entrance. It’s a time when most of us reflect on what’s been and what might come, one eye fixed on the 2011, the other gazing towards 2012.

Highs and lows, good and bad – for some who have had to endure life’s inevitable challenges, it’s probably good riddance, for others the old year may just be the springboard to bigger and better.

For teenager Michael Leslie, the year that’s gone was one of particular highs and one painful low but, most of all, it saw him come within touching distance of his lifelong dream.

And now, as the young snooker ace looks forward to a new episode in his career, it’s in the hope that 2012 will be the year he earns his professional stripes and joins the top tier of the sport he’s played since just a boy.

In September, he made headlines after posting a video on YouTube that showed him achieving a stunning 147 break in under eight minutes – the first Scottish amateur snooker player to do so.

His video of the feat, all the more impressive as it was played out with thumping music in the background courtesy of MTV, attracted more than 6000 hits and comments of support from fans amazed by his speed and accuracy.

“To be honest I was half way through the break before I realised what might happen,” reflects Michael. “And I hadn’t even been playing that well that day.

“My dad’s always telling me not to play with the television on because it doesn’t help you concentrate – he can’t say that now.”

The high of achieving that impressive break came just after he’d suffered the shattering low of being narrowly beaten in the final of the European Under-21 championships, in Malta. It was a painful defeat – a win would have earned him a ticket to turn professional.

“He was unfortunate,” agrees dad Mike, who runs Bonnyrigg Snooker Club with wife Tracey.

“He was devastated, but it was still a great achievement.

“He got the highest break in the tournament, the only one to have a century – he got 113 – and was runner up at 18 years old. It’s unfortunate he didn’t win, but may be for the best. You see players get promoted and they start losing and then their confidence goes and they’re relegated.

“It might have been a blessing in disguise.”

Mike and Tracey nurtured Michael’s love of snooker from the age of six, even going so far as to create a £40,000 snooker room in their Bonnyrigg home.

Now the hope is that the coming 12 months could see him make the leap from amateur level to become one of the select group of UK professionals – something that can only be achieved by winning and achieving promotion to join their ranks.

Getting that good takes natural ability, but as the teenager points out, it also comes at a price. “Four days a week I get up at 7am and make my way to Cumbernauld where my sponsor, Billy Stirling, has his club. I usually start practising around 11 and that’s me until I leave around 7pm. I’m usually home at 9. It’s like going to work,” he adds.

Michael’s rollercoaster year reached another high in October when he was named Senior Sports Personality at Midlothian Sports Awards.

So, who else got the big breaks this year and who was left licking their wounds? Here we recall the pick of the headlines from September to these closing days of 2011.

SEPTEMBER

Footballer Scott Brown was said to be horrified when we discovered that a picture of him posing for “fans” was actually being used by the far-right Scottish Defence League on its website. The image was posted on the group’s Facebook site and claimed the Celtic captain was a “new member of the SDL”. It was removed after our story.

We revealed how an investigation had been launched into the death of a man after the ambulance sent to help him was delayed – because of a fault connecting the crucial 999 call. An ambulance took longer than normal to respond to the heart attack victim because of a delay in connecting the call to the ambulance control room in Edinburgh.

The new sign at the Chalmers Sexual Health clinic was just a little too bold for some. We reported fears that it would put off people visiting.

The Evening News highlighted the case of Chan Wright, 39, – a convicted rapist from Jamaica who previously escaped deportation because he had not been deemed at risk of reoffending.

He was jailed in September for sex attacks including two rapes in the Lothians, which sparked calls for an inquiry.

The 16-storey North Sighthill tower blocks were demolished this month in front of a huge crowd of onlookers who had gathered in Sighthill Park. Nine-year-old Lewis Reynolds won the right to push the plunger.

OCTOBER

An Evening News exclusive revealed how a world’s hottest curry eating competition had left two people in hospital. The Kismot Killer curry lived up to its name but the competition organisers came under fire after two ambulances had to be sent to the venue.

Meanwhile, we had the dramatic story of a three-year-old who survived, but suffered serious injuries, after falling 15ft out of a window at his home in Portobello into a basement below.

The Occupy Edinburgh movement set up camp in St Andrews Square in mid-October. Its members pitched tents as part of the global Occupy movement which had seen similar occupations in London and Glasgow, New York and San Francisco, all aimed at highlighting economic and social inequality.

Hearts announced they were to work with the city council to investigate the possibility of a joint community stadium. There was talk of a groundshare deal with Edinburgh Rugby at a new stadium or redeveloping Tynecastle – either way, news the council was contributing to the £30,000 study led to fury and claims of bias from Easter Road fans. The month drew to a close with news that Hearts players had not been paid their October wages.

An East Lothian youngster with a huge voice scooped the Evening News Edinburgh’s Got Talent title. Caitlyn Vanbeck, 13, who goes to Ross High School, in Tranent, brought down the house with her emotional rendition of Adele’s ballad Don’t You Remember. The final, held at the Playhouse, was a night to remember for Stephanie Ternent and Rebecca Traynor coming in joint second place, just one point behind the winner.

Sometimes in entertainment you just have to roll with it, unfortunately ex-Oasis star Noel Gallagher’s team found an album review by the Evening News writer Gary Flockhart too honest for their liking and slapped a ban on him reviewing the rock star’s Usher Hall gig.

World events were dominated by Libya, and the very public death of leader Muammar Gaddafi.

NOVEMBER

A row flared over plans to attach giant Olympic rings, 26ft tall and 19ft wide and visible from the Royal Botanic Garden, to the side of Edinburgh Castle. The plan was to highlight the London Olympics. Instead it created fury among protesters, who said it would simply blight the historic castle and remind everyone that the bulk of the Olympic games were taking place 400 miles away.

The plan was eventually ditched.

The city’s two football clubs were not without their problems. At Easter Road, manager Colin Calderwood was shown the door a year into the job and was fairly quickly snapped up by Birmingham City as their assistant manager. He was replaced by Pat Fenlon.

And while Hearts players waited patiently for their wages, owner Vladimir Romanov confirmed that he is seeking a buyer for the club, citing “growing disillusionment with Scottish football”. The club was said to be carrying £30 million of debts and had just settled a £1m Revenue and Customs bill.

Public workers, including health staff and teachers, walked out on strike for a day, which led to school closures and hospital appointments being cancelled. The action was a protest over pensions.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery reopened after a £17.6m revamp which earned it five-star reviews. It was the second major museum to reopen – £47m was spent completely revamping the former Royal Museum at the National Museum of Scotland.

DECEMBER

The month began with news that four council workers had been sacked in connection with an alleged multimillion-pound housing repair scam.

The move followed the launch of a £1.8m probe two months earlier into contracts awarded to some private contractors under the city’s statutory notice scheme.

About 500 people have complained about statutory repairs and raised concerns about costs and work they deem unnecessary.

We’d waited all year for them, and our two special guests from China finally made their appearance earlier this month. Yang Guang (Sunshine) and Tian Tian (Sweetie) became the first giant pandas to set up home in the UK for 17 years.

Frustrated motorists who have endured years of disruption learned that traffic could be banned from Chambers Street, one of the busiest routes through the Old Town.

Meanwhile the weather was back on the agenda as Scotland was whacked by winds of up to 160mph bringing disruption and damage in their wake.

Thursday, 16 December, will go down in history as the day the trams finally got moving. It was, however, just one tram with two passengers – transport minister Keith Brown and council leader Jenny Dawe – and the journey was just 470 metres on a test track, but you can’t have everything.

Rod Stewart probably could have almost anything he wants, but he chose St Andrew’s and St George’s West Parish Church in George Street for his son Aiden’s baptism.

On the global stage, the US declared war in Iraq was over while the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il brought uncertainty.