2.4.12

POST 2,000: BRING ON THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

This is the 2,000th post I have made on this blog since I started it six years ago and it seems apt that it falls just in time for the start of the Betfred.com World Championship, the qualifiers for which get underway on Thursday.

Because as much as we all follow the twists and turns of the circuit, there is nothing in snooker to compare with the 17-day soap opera that is the World Championship.

The countdown has begun. For snooker fans it’s like waiting for the last day of the school term, or Christmas, or your summer holiday.

And it’s the continuity, the familiarity, of the World Championship which is its greatest strength.

Most people reading this now will not remember the tournament when it was played under any other format. The current one came into effect in 1982 and aside from an (unnecessary) tweak of the semi-finals from best of 31 frames to best of 33 in 1997 has remained constant.

Every player in the last 30 years has faced the same test, the same tensions, the same pressure.

The tournament has not made any concessions to the modern age or the lowest common denominator. There are no silly gimmicks like shot-clocks or, God forbid, a ‘power zone.’

It is snooker as it should be: raw, hard and demanding of its competitors the very highest levels of skill, concentration, discipline, patience, nerve and stamina.

The long matches are what make it so special. There is time for so many shifts of momentum, for doubt to creep in, for implosions to happen. There is time for heroic comebacks and bitterly disappointing collapses. There is time for reputations to be cemented or destroyed. There is time for redemption for past failures.

As Barry Hearn himself has said, “it’s a bizarre format but it works, so why change it?”

The World Championship is a long slog, and not just for the players. At the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield each year a community of dedicated people come together to make it happen. Most are not household names but snooker could not function without them.

There’s the officials, the table fitters, the TV crew, the journalists, the hospitality staff, sundry backstage personnel and, of course, the fans.

For many, April in Sheffield represents an annual pilgrimage to the sport’s own Mecca. It is a chance to renew old friendships and experience the greatest snooker show on earth, to be part of it.

I first attended the Crucible 22 years ago. I’ve worked on the last 15 World Championships and commentated on the last six, but my World Championship memories stretch back much further.

We all have our favourite matches and moments. In the 1980s, snooker was everywhere. The BBC showed hour upon hour upon hour and it chiefly revolved around whether anyone could stop Steve Davis winning.

In the 1990s, I remember following the drama of the Hendry-White era hoping against hope that Jimmy would finally do it.

I had nothing against Hendry. I respected him and came to respect him even more after getting to know him. But it was easier to support a man with obvious flaws against a man who seemed to have none.

I was there when Hendry won his seventh world title. Indeed, I had to hold his cue while he did a radio interview afterwards.

I couldn’t move. I thought, if I somehow break this I will surely be taken to a place of execution (it was of course broken a few years later by less reverential baggage handlers).

That was a great tournament. I remember standing in the photographer’s booth as Ronnie O’Sullivan missed the pink on 134, his look of resigned anguish.

He played his part in a new era for the championship, which was dominated by him and his contemporaries, John Higgins and Mark Williams.

In Mark I saw someone for whom winning and losing was not everything. Even when he won the title for the first time in 2000 he was measured in his celebrations.

Higgins always had his family with him and they knew how to celebrate. When he won for the first time in 1998 he seemed certain to win several times more. As it transpires he has done, but few thought it would take nine years between first win and second.

For television viewers, many moments have become iconic: Alex Higgins beckoning his wife and baby on to the stage, Cliff Thorburn sinking to his knees after his maximum, Dennis Taylor’s black, O’Sullivan’s record 147...

But many of our memories are more prosaic. For some reason I can’t shift the image of Terry Griffiths knocking the Embassy globe from its moorings in the 1988 final.

There was a strange anticipation on each Thursday of the tournament while waiting for the BBC’s ‘Snooker Break’ segment in the days when features were limited to when there wasn’t any play going on.

It’s almost a cliché to become nostalgic for Shot of the Championship and the final interval musical pieces but they were as much a part of watching on TV as the matches.

Since working on the tournament, my perspective on it has become less about the snooker and more about the experience.

When I started in the Crucible pressroom it was like an ashtray: full of smoke, all free courtesy of the sponsor, with a complimentary bar much patronised by the journalists.

It was an incredible buzz to have gone from watching the event on TV to being there, inside the ropes, part of the backstage drama, which was every bit as compelling as the snooker itself.

Being at the Crucible for 17 days is like being in the Big Brother house. You are effectively hermetically sealed off from outside reality. Everything exists in its own bubble.

The days are long and people get bored. I’ve been involved in many childish pranks backstage to pass the time. I’ve been wildly drunk after hours. I’ve had far too little sleep. I’ve eaten badly. I’ve had pointless arguments. I’ve listened to the same old stories and same old jokes. I’ve dashed to press conferences to hear tales of joy or despair. I’ve bashed out stories which seemed incredibly important at the time but which now look rather desperate.

I remember the Saturday afternoon of the semi-finals in 2003. Paul Hunter led Ken Doherty 15-9. A colleague of mine had gone off to do football and landed me with his newspapers to do, with the cheery comment that “it’ll all be over in good time for deadline.”

Of course, Ken came back to win 17-16, leaving me scrambling round trying to get the various stories sent, juggling quotes and then doing full rewrites.

I’m sure I complained bitterly at the time but these are the afternoons that get the blood flowing, and the graciousness with which Ken won and Paul lost was special to witness.

These days I commentate for Eurosport. This is a different experience because it demands full concentration.

Not every match is a classic by any means but they each contribute to the overall narrative. There are many threads to be pulled together until the champion is crowned.

Good luck to all those starting out on the road to the Crucible this week. The qualifiers themselves contain much of the intrigue associated with the final stages. To be at the Crucible or to miss out and know it’s going on without you is one of the season’s big disparities in emotion.

There will be much heartache before the night of May 7, much excitement too.

There is nothing in snooker to match the World Championship and long may it continue to entertain, to enthral and to thrive.

41 comments:

147 said...

Great piece Dave and looking forward to your blogs as the chanpionship nears.

snookerbacker said...

Great piece Dave, shame you won't be backstage this year, but having only done the one I can totally empathise with the late nights and bad eating. Not so much the arguments, but there's plenty of time for those! Do you remember the old Frame of the Day on BBC2 with the cracking theme tune by Vangelis 'To the Unknown Man' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Hi26f-NQe0 Fantastic...

Anyway, congrats on the 2000 and maybe one day you can buy me that beer you owe me.

Anonymous said...

Hope Davis qualifies. Be great to see him at the crucible one more time.

Gerard said...

Wow. Very nice piece Dave. All the memories get my blood pumping faster and makes it nearly impossible to wait.

I want a time machine to

Wolfgang said...

Goosebumps. It's pieces like this that keep me reading this formidable blog. Thank you Dave.

Anonymous said...

I have a time machine. It's £20 casio from Argos.

Anonymous said...

Lovely piece Dave. Getting really excited now, it really is a special event isn't it. And I know this seems to get said every year but I do think it's very open this year, impossible to call a winner. I do miss the BBC's musical montages though - the "Memories" one was the best.

wild said...

Every April people who arent snooker fans the other 11 months becomes not only Fans but experts.

if shortening matches is the key to atracting new fans how come these Every april snooker fans aint interested.

theres too much shortening of matches its getting "samey" to quote Barry Hearn. the World Championship needs to continue to bring Excitement that builds to a peak over sessions THAT WHAT PEOPLE TRULLY WANT.

of course you need variaty but where is the variaty ?

every chinese event same format, Best of 7s coming out of our ears, The World Championship gives the sport the variaty because theres nothing else like it in our sport.

JAMIE O'REILLY said...

Hi David. Very apt, indeed, in my view, that you're 2000th post on this blog, is related to the World Championship. A great milestone, about a great event.

My friend and colleague, Joe Johnson, will tell you that I am a die-hard snooker fan.

Thank you for producing this, and the enjoyment that comes with it, same goes to everyon at Snooker Scene, Clive Everton, Phil Yates, yourself, and others. It is a great invention and long may it continue.

Thank You again, David. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

There are no silly gimmicks like shot-clocks or, God forbid, a ‘power zone.’


----

david hendon is god!

Richie Segal said...

What was the match you saw in 1990 ?

I am guessing Tony Meo vs Wayne Jones ?

Anonymous said...

Have a look at the BBC coverage for the opening day. Absolutely rubbish.

Dave H said...

No Richie, it was John Virgo v Gary Wilkinson

You have to start somewhere

jamie brannon said...

A brilliant piece that totally captures the true meaning of what, for me, is still the greatest annual event in sport.

The draw for the opening round will be live on Talksport, from 1.30pm, with analysis via Barry Hearn and Judd Trump.

Anonymous said...

Lovely warm up article

Here's a question I don't know the answer to - has the winner of Semi Final 2 on the Saturday night ever won the final on Sun / Mon?

Captain Hawkeye

William said...

great article Dave, love the World Championships, always wanted to go to the Crucible one day, was intending to go this year but never got round to booking tickets. My early memories of watching it on TV always come back to the late, great David Vine, especially on finals night when it came for the money I think he would say something like 'it's pay day' or something similar. Looking forward to this year's event, keep up the great work Dave and to Clive with the great magazine

Anonymous said...

@Captain Hawkeye

Well it happened last year.

Bryan said...

well looks like the BBC is finished with snooker. There opening day coverage is a disgrace. Then it appears that the red button is only available from 10-1 everyday.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/snooker/16659380

I hope this is not the case Dave.
Thank god for Eurosport!

Anonymous said...

Also to Captain Hawkeye - just thinking back over the years, I think it happens about half the time.

It probably doesn't make much difference to have played on the Saturday night.

Think of Peter Ebdon 10 years ago, who went to the deciding frame against Matthew Stevens on Saturday night, then came back the next day and made a great start to the final. Which, of course, he went on to win.

Anonymous said...

Yes great piece Dave,like many,starting to look forward to it and reading your article just gave me a little shove to looking forward to it even more!

Anonymous said...

is the bbc red button really only from 10am to 1pm what about evening sessions only late highlights.

bbc = joke

Anonymous said...

Really hope that the timings showing on the BBC Website aren't for real - if so it is unbelievable that they have decided to cut down coverage for the biggest tournament.

Unbelievable that they spend £1bn on moving BBC Sport to Salford, then basically dump their biggest sports (F1 coverage is now almost non-existent, horse racing has been dropped completely (bad news for JP, who'll now have to pay his own way at Ascot and Aintree). But at least they are meeting their commitment to public service broadcasting by commissioning new series' of "Hotter than my Daughter" and "Snog, Marry, Avoid"

For the benefit of people reading the blog outside the UK, the hand-wringing about the BBC isn't just sour grapes - the BBC is paid for by a compulsory licence fee (you can be prosecuted and jailed for not paying it) yet it makes its broadcasting decisions on basis of the worst kind of lowest common denominator principles.

Anonymous said...

Im afraid its 100 % accurate typical BBC

Dave H said...

I would assume the BBC will show both tables on the red button all day as there's no reason not to do so. This doesn't apply to Freeview though where there is only one channel available.

Johan said...

If you want to follow all the action, subscribe to the Eurosportplayer :-).
2 tables available and all matches (I hope).

Anonymous said...

johan, having already had to fork out for a bbc, sorry tv, license, i cant afford es player.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, both tables WILL be available this year on the Red Button if you are watching BBC on UK satellite, or via the web.

If you watch on UK Freeview, the Red button is a single channel shared between many sports, not just snooker.

However if the BBC cutbacks go ahead, as per their 2011 consultation, this is the last year you will get a choice of table on UK Satellite, as multi channel red button options ends after the Olympics.

The situation re 2 tables via the web for 2013 is not clear - maybe somebody from BBC could clarify.

jamie brannon said...

Aside from the red button times, which I doubt are correct, there is a not lot to get in a stew about.

The afternoon coverage is back to the usual length, with transmissions running through to 6pm at times.

In addition, there is comprehensive coverage throughout online.

One other thing to note: the start time for final session has been pushed back to 7.30pm.

Anonymous said...

jamie, the bbc and its "bbc license" are a disgrace. if people want to get in a stew about something its not up to you. you fancy the bbc and are part of the ronnie police. we dont like the bbc, making us pay its license and reducing the amount of red button viewing (on freesat) and want to air our view. let us. dont tell us were moaning about nothing. we arent. the bbc sucks. id watch it all on eurosport if their commentators were any good (a couple apart)

jamie brannon said...

You're not forced to have a TV.

In fact, there are some good sites knocking around to avoid having to fork out for any channels.

Can't put the links on here but if you do your research then you can get some good stuff. One of the sites is called Coolsportz, though some computers can be sensitive to the sites.

I'm not saying you can't stew over it but I don't share the sentiments, but will be annoyed if red button times are correct.

Anonymous said...

You're not forced to have a TV.

In fact, there are some good sites knocking around to avoid having to fork out for any channels.

Can't put the links on here but if you do your research then you can get some good stuff. One of the sites is called Coolsportz, though some computers can be sensitive to the sites.

I'm not saying you can't stew over it but I don't share the sentiments, but will be annoyed if red button times are correct.

4:45 PM
-----------------

where did i say i was forced to have a tv?

answer = i didnt.

i want a tv. i dont want bbc on it. i dont want to pay for something i dont want!


wrt getting things off the internet. im happy with my tv picture, thanks. your point about fuzzy feeds of the net was pointless.

we all know on here you want a threesome with ronnie and the bbc, but fortunately we are all well balanced on here (and can do arithmetic counting up to 19 all without an abacus)

Anonymous said...

I want to purchase a service from Sky or Virgin then why should I be forced into buying a service from the BBC too? Hardly in the spirit of a free market economy is it? Now the country has gone digital it would be easy enough to encrypt, and those who don't want to pay for this low quality service could opt out. The reason they don't is because they know that most people can live without Eastenders and Doctor Who.

I'm going to watch NCIS this evening on C5 and then Quills on Film 4. So I will have an enjoyable evening of espionage and Mossad assassins, and cap it off with some solid Kate Winslet nudity. When was the last time the BBC gave us an evening to rival that?

jamie brannon said...

There are some really good sites where you get no fuzzy connections, you've just got to do a bit of research.

If you're into foreign football, these links are particularly welcome.

I'm not going to get into another BBC argument, I've promised Dave I will be more sporadic in my defence of the BBC. So only every other negative comment about the BBC!

Anonymous said...

jamie youre missing the point. and that made by the last guy before you.

i dont want bbc

i want a tv

it is a bbc license

i cant have a tv and not have bbc

that is not fair!

now, i know youre a bit slow and find basic arithmetic hard when trying to make up records for ronnie, but nobody can say that is fair. it isnt.

i hate the bbc. i hate the fee for it.

i dont have a choice of bbc or not.

ite either buy a tv and i have to have bbc and pay, or face a fine etc..

please wake up. there, i asked nicely.

the reason dave is probably not happy with your past bbc debates is you just make things up and dig your heels in and dont allow others their opinion.

Anonymous said...

Also, what you are advocating is committing a criminal offence, Jamie. If I watch a live broadcast on a "fuzzy" site, I am not only violating various copyright laws, but ironically I still need a TV licence to watch the live fuzzy broadcast! I may as well just cut out the copyright theft and watch my TV without a licence, and then I'm only breaking one law as opposed to two. Anything that is currently being broadcast for TV reception is covered by TV licensing no matter how you receive it. This does create a loophole however in that you don't need a licence to watch iplayer, provided the programme isn't currently being broadcast on TV.

I once wrote to TV licensing about my Virgin VOD service asking if I needed a licence to watch the programmes on it, and they responded that I didn't need a licence to watch the programmes but I needed a licence to receive the Virgin VOD menu system since it was a "live broadcast"!!!

jamie brannon said...

If there was no licence fee then the BBC would have to use adverts, which would get a complete thumbs down from me, as one of the things that make it the best is the absence of adverts.

Adverts get in the way of the rhythm and the flow of a show.

I only mentioned the alternative links as way of not forking out for Sky, ESPN and Eurosport. I know you need a licence still.

I wasn't mentioning it to watch the free-to-air channels.

Yes, it is a criminal offence but so is illegal music downloading, and there are huge majority doing that. I think the police have bigger fish to fry.

I've not qualms with people watching Sky in this way, not when you consider the criminal activity that the Murdoch's get up to.

I don't make things up, I only support my argument through what I know and my own personal judgement of issues. There is no right or wrong in these kind of debates.

Anonymous said...

yet again brannon misses the point.

we HAVE to pay for something WE dont want (the bbc)

we dont care if you like it.

WE are saying it sucks that you HAVE to pay to have it when all we want is a tv

stop replying as if weve said something different.

we are saying that the bbc isnt worth the fee and we dont think it is fair to pay for something we dont want or rate.

jamie brannon said...

All I'm saying I think it is worth the licence fee.

Anonymous said...

thats a lie
thats not all you said at all

youve been ruined on here!!

Anonymous said...

that is not all you were saying !!!!

Anonymous said...

if thats "all" you were saying nobody would have took apart "your opinion".

it wasnt all you were saying, so you got replies as such...