A week into the UK Championship and talk remains centred around the format and, more particularly, the venue.
It seems to me the Barbican Centre is being set up as a kind of patsy to be blamed for all the complaints about the format and playing conditions.
World Snooker has started making noises along the lines that the event will go elsewhere next year. Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, which hosted the recent Champions of Champions, has been mentioned and this is indeed a first class facility.
But York is a lovely city and the Barbican a great venue. Crowds are always good. On the second night of the tournament when there were no star names playing World Snooker had to install extra seating in the Sports Hall to meet demand.
Is York really so bad? It’s a little cramped, sure, but the complaints have not been as widespread as all that. All through my career, every event and every format has attracted criticism for varying reasons. It comes with the territory that someone, somewhere, will always be annoyed about something.
There’s another point to make. I think it enhances a tournament when it is established in a particular place rather than being constantly moved around. When the professional circuit was being built up 30 years ago events became synonymous with their sponsors and their venues: the Rothmans Grand Prix at Reading, the Coral UK at Preston, the Embassy World Championship at the Crucible, the Bensons at Wembley.
Now, the only venue that means anything is the Crucible. To leave somewhere which attracts strong crowds who have supported the UK Championship would be a shame.
The main problem with the format is that there are so many interesting matches that TV viewers can’t watch.
Comparisons have been made to Wimbledon but there the BBC televises something like seven courts. That’s not going to happen for the UK snooker Championship.
It’s the sort of format which would have suited Sky Sports a decade ago when they pioneered interactive snooker, showing a choice of three tables. However, Sky has lost interest in the sport beyond their novelty events.
The top players rightly take centre stage on TV but there has so far been a dearth of close matches of the sort which draw and keep audiences, though that will change as the big names start to play each other.
Barry Hearn told the media this week that he was fed up with ‘whingers’ moaning about the format changes.
He said: “People are forgetting that snooker was dead in the UK. Players and purists have this attitude that I’m messing with a great event. That is rubbish. We are keeping it alive. We know the venue is not right and we have made some mistakes, next year that will change but we were committed to York.
“The 128 draw stays, get used to it or get another job. I am fed up with listening to whingers who were themselves culpable of helping destroy this game. My advice is put your heads down, play snooker, earn your money, and leave it to the experts.”
I can see both sides here. Hearn is absolutely right to point out that some players and, more specifically, ‘managers’ were the very people who almost brought the game to its knees. He and his team has worked extremely hard to increase the number of tournaments to an almost unimaginable level and with it more than double the prize money on offer.
However, that doesn’t mean all criticism is unjustified. Players and anyone else should be allowed to question and complain, although some may wish to consider the manner in which they do so.
There has to be a better response to these complaints than: “If you don’t like it, get another job.”
One player who might have had to do that was Neil Robertson after he dropped off the tour as a teenager. But he worked hard and now he’s world no.1, and a very eloquent one at that.
Robertson’s ability on the table is obvious but he also seems to understand his responsibilities off it too. He speaks positively about his sport and clearly uses his own experiences to gain perspective.
The Australian is one of a number of big hitters still going strong in York as the last 32 is completed today.
Also still in the hunt are defending champion Mark Selby, world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen and Judd Trump, who last night compiled three centuries to see off Xiao Guodong.
When Trump came to York two years ago he was flavour of the month following his excellent performance in the World Championship earlier in 2011. He won the UK title but it doesn’t take long for the knives to come out when players start to become successful. Trump came into this year’s event with the world and his wife offering opinions about his game and his lifestyle after a disappointing start to the season.
This is part and parcel of life as a top sportsman but can seem unfair when coming from people who don’t actually know you, or the factors in the background which, unknown to them, are affecting your performance.
The best way to answer all of this is on the table. Trump looks to be coming good again. His problem, though, is that so are so many others.
There’s still six days to go and all signs are that it’ll be a high quality end to the tournament which may still yet be remembered for the right reasons.