It’s a long road to the Crucible but not as long as it once was.
In 1992, Spencer Dunn won a record 11 matches to qualify for that season’s World Championship. These qualifiers were, for reasons unknown, played in September – nearer the previous season’s event than the one the players were competing in.
It helped create some surprise qualifiers: Dunn, John Giles and Shaun Mellish, who earned the distinction of becoming the first player to sport an earring at the Crucible.
Among the other qualifiers were Karl Payne, who later appeared on TV singing as Rick Astley on ‘Stars in Their Eyes’, and some teenager by the name of Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Most years you get at least one qualifier who is, even to many snooker fans, a complete unknown.
Last year it was Zhang Anda. In 1992 it was Chris Small, who won eight matches to qualify before beating Doug Mountjoy in the first round.
John Parrott has qualified more often than any other player, a total of nine times. Tony Drago and Nigel Bond can equal this record if they make it through this year.
Were Bond to lose in the final qualifying round he would equal Michael Judge’s record for most defeats – seven – at this stage.
For more – much more – of all this I can recommend Chris Downer’s excellent Crucible Almanac, available through Snooker Scene’s mail order service.
Of course it means a hell of a lot to get through to the Crucible, which is why the snooker is not always the most free flowing.
A decade ago I sat with a handful of other poor saps in Newport waiting for the final match of the final qualifying round to finish.
At 1.40am, Gary Wilkinson duly beat Jason Ferguson 10-9. Their contest clocked in at 11 hours, 38 minutes duration, the longest ever best of 19 frame encounter.
Gary (who won 10-9) is now working diligently backstage for World Snooker – waiting for everyone else to finish – while Jason has become WPBSA chairman.
The rest of us present that night formed a support group and meet regularly in a church basement.
Jimmy White starts out today as he bids to reach the Crucible for a 26th time.
It’s 27 years since White was first in the world final. Many players on the current professional circuit were not even alive.
Some weren’t even alive when he played Stephen Hendry in their first final 21 years ago but they, like Jimmy, are fully aware how special the World Championship is and how much it would mean to be part of that 32-man field when the draw is made on March 21.