The first ever match in the World Championship was held in November 1926. Melbourne Inman beat Tom Newman 8-5.

They were contesting a silver trophy bought and ultimately won by Joe Davis using half of the entry fees for the tournament.

This trophy is still presented today and represents the Holy Grail for professional snooker players.

There are only 23 names engraved upon it.

Today, in the Badminton Hall of the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, a few short miles from the city’s Crucible Theatre, the 2009 championship gets underway.

These are uncertain economic times. There is no sponsor. The last time the championship failed to attract a backer was 34 years ago when it was held in Australia. The last time it was unsponsored in the UK was 1972.

There are still two months until the televised phase. Let’s hope a replacement for 888.com is found in the interim.

Yet for all the worries about the lack of sponsorship and the message it will send about the state of snooker to the wider world, the players taking part in the qualifiers will be thinking of one thing and one thing only: how to get to the Crucible.

This provincial theatre-in-the-round is, in many ways, an unlikely sporting Mecca. It is small, cramped and seems to belong to another age. No promoter would take snooker’s biggest event there today.

And yet the Crucible is frozen in time for all those who remember the iconic moments it has produced: Alex Higgins in tears after his 1982 triumph; Cliff Thorburn’s painstaking 147 in 1983; Dennis Taylor sinking the black to beat Steve Davis in 1985; Stephen Hendry’s victory as the youngest ever winner in 1990; Hendry’s duels with Jimmy White; Ronnie O’Sullivan’s magical exhibition of perfection in his five minute, 20 second maximum in 1997...

These are highlights from a much, much longer list. For all the grumbles about the Crucible’s suitability, come April 18 everybody wants to be there.

Indeed, a number of those who have helped make the Crucible – and by extension snooker – such a vivid centrepiece of British sporting life will be among those trying to get through to the televised phase this year.

Tony Knowles plays today, White starts out on Friday and John Parrott, Davis, Mark Williams and Ken Doherty are all to come.

The championship would benefit from the qualification of younger starlets such as Ricky Walden, Jamie Cope, Liang Wenbo and Judd Trump.

To be thought of as international it needs non-UK players like Liu Chuang – a qualifier at 17 last year – to get through.

Yet there will be many who fall by the wayside in the hard fought qualifying jungle.

For all but 16 of the 95 players taking part in the qualifiers, the dream of reaching the Crucible will be dashed over the coming fortnight.

But dream they will until the point in which the last ball is potted and their challenge is snuffed out for another year.

For snooker players, there is nothing like the World Championship and nothing like the Crucible.


Anonymous said...

I hear on the grapevine that 888.com want to get involved, but at a reduced rate. Look out for the 8.com Championship. Failing that WS can always get in touch with Alan Stanford.

Anonymous said...

betfair have been approached and are considering it.

Anonymous said...

I know someone who works at Betfair and apparently the price they've been quoted is incredibly high, so they're just not interested

Claus Christensen said...

Long live the Crucible. However, I think only the british worry about snooker being too british and that it needs more quirky names on the ranking list. All my snooker mad friends, of which many like me have never visited Great Britain, have never even considered the origin of the players being relevant in any way. I personally love the snooker greats, past and present, and they just happen to be british and Irish for the most part. And I am still to hear any positive feedback regarding the chinese invasion that may or may not arise. So continue to dominate dear brits.

Sammy said...

Come on Holty!