IT WAS in the summer of 1974, over a pint in the Vale, a now-flattened street-corner pub at the bottom of Grimshaw Street in Darwen, that pals Harold Heys and Jim Barnes came up with the idea of a county-wide small table championship.

The Vale were the top team in town in the mid-70s and Jim – known to everyone as “JB” – and Harold played in the team. Harold was secretary of the local small table league and was also a member of the Lancashire Billiards and Snooker Association.

They had the enthusiasm and they had the contacts and they went along to one of the Lancashire monthly meetings, held then in Bolton, to pitch the idea to the county committee.

“Most of the committee had never heard of small table snooker,” said Harold. “ But politically it was a winner. Every pub or club would have to be affiliated to the county association and this would give it a strong hand at the national B&S Control Council.”

Harold outlined the rules they had devised: Table size up to 10ft, best of seven frames and using only ten reds – as a handful of tables (including, as it happened, the Vale) were barely 6ft and it wasn’t always possible to spot the full 15.

A few eyebrows were raised but the prospect of an affiliation boost of more than 50 pubs and clubs – and guaranteed sponsorship – swung the doubters.

About 60 teams entered that first tournament. Blackburn teams were unsure but the Darwen duo knew most of the top players and the word soon got round. The Fylde were enthusiastic from the start but Nelson, a real hot-bed of small-table snooker, reckoned they were too busy.

However, within a few years the tournament was attracting entries of 80-plus. It’s half that now but, considering the hammering pubs and clubs have had to endure in recent years, it’s remarkably healthy.

Sponsorship wasn’t a problem in the early years. Harold had good contacts at Matthew Brown, the Blackburn brewers, and Rothman’s were starting a major promotion in Lancashire. They were both happy to weigh in with prize-money and thousands of cigarettes.

Keighley Green from Burnley beat Blackpool’s New Shovels at Bamber Bridge Band Club in the first final in the spring of 1975. Harold was MC and JB was referee.

It was another packed and noisy affair the following year at Nelson Legion when Layton Institute (Blackpool) coasted home 4-1 against Swan, Lower Darwen. Len Evans salvaged a point when he dismantled Fylde Flyer Rod “The Pot” France.

For the third year the finale moved to St Andrew’s, Burnley, and it was a second triumph for Blackpool when a star-studded team from the Ramsden hammered Darwen’s Vale who never got a shout.

Three more wins for Blackpool sides – Central WMC and two more for Layton, convinced the organisers that it was time to make the tournament a limited handicap affair with every player getting a mark.

“If we hadn’t acted we would have ended up with just a handful of entries,” added Harold. “The average-to-good players would have given up.”

Swan, Lower Darwen, came back to win in 1981 when they beat another Darwen side, Albion, at Stephenson Memorial Club, Accrington.

By 1986 the final venue had moved to the Lion’s Den which was alongside the Matthew Brown brewery and for the first time it was an all-Blackburn affair, Farthings beating King’s Inn.

Claremont Con Club, Blackpool, took over sponsorship in the mid-90s and since then, by tradition, the tournament gets under way in January and in early May come the semi-finals at the Claremont on a Monday and a Tuesday with the final on the Thursday.

Clitheroe teams got in on the act and Abinger Street (St Andrew’s), finally got a second scalp for Burnley when they won in 2009 after throwing away a 3-1 lead the previous year against Feniscowles, Blackburn, captained by Harold Heys who decided afterwards it was time he retired.

In the near-40 years of the Ten Reds honours have been well-balanced between the Fylde and East Lancashire. The event now has a strong committee with Shaun Pendlebury and Neil McGovern representing East Lancs.

Captions: Among the winners of the Ted Reds in the past few years were Feniscowles from Blackburn and the Punch from Darwen.

Lynette Horsburgh, a journalist with the BBC in Blackburn, has played regularly in the Ted Reds tournament. She is a former ladies world pool champion and runner-up in the ladies world snooker championship.