Pool players rally around ailing former pro

Pool players rally around ailing former pro

He was an ace pool player in his heyday, part of the nine-ball team that won Singapore's first SEA Games gold medal in billiards back in 1995.

But after being diagnosed with mouth cancer recently and starting treatment for it, former professional Sonny Tan, who used to coach for a living, can no longer play or work.

To raise funds for the ailing 50-year-old, the pool community is banding together to organise a pool tournament next month. All proceeds from the competition will go towards Mr Tan's daily expenses. It will cost $25 to join.

"We are targeting to raise $10,000," said Mr Desmond Loo, 38, a pool tournament organiser.

Mr Tan, a familiar face in pool halls here, was diagnosed with stage four retromolar tongue cancer in February.

The tumour was removed in a successful operation in September, and he started both radiotherapy and chemotherapy last month.

The treatment has wiped out his Medisave, said Mr Tan.

"Doctors say I have at least another six months of recovery ahead of me," he told The Straits Times.

The operation removed part of his lower right jaw and left him on a permanent liquid diet, with limited mobility in his right arm and left knee.

Mr Tan is currently on public assistance, which is paying for his hospital bills and treatments - these are expected to amount to $70,000.

But he needs help for other daily expenses. For instance, he spends $680 a month on a special liquid diet, which he ingests through a tube from his nose.

"I cannot play pool anymore," said the divorcee, who lives alone in a one-room rental flat in North Bridge Road. He used to make about $1,000 to $2,000 a month coaching pool.

Mr Tan has a 23-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son whom he is on cordial terms with, but he said he does not want to ask them for money.

His friends from the pool community decided to step in to help after they saw his status updates on Facebook in August.

"I organise tournaments in my spare time and Sonny would take part," said taxi driver Ng Kok Chye, 48. "What happened to him could happen to any of us, so I thought of how we could chip in."

Mr Tan stays over at his older sister's flat in Chai Chee occasionally so that relatives can take care of him, and pool players such as Mr Ng ferry him to treatments in their spare time.

"He taught a lot of us, so we want to help him out now," said Mr Loo, who met the former pro in 1997 and knew him as the player with a killer jump-shot who was always calm under pressure.

Mr Tan is grateful for the help. He may not be able to play any more, but still enjoys visiting pool halls when he can.

"I like coming here to watch people play; all my friends are here," said Mr Tan, speaking at the Klassic Sports pool hall in Jalan Besar. "My whole life has been about pool."


This article was first published on Dec 6, 2014.
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