I want to use this pointless landmark to stick up for snooker.
Is there any mainstream television sport that regularly takes such a battering?
Yet it continues to weather the storm and defy the merchants of doom.
Snooker the game is a bit like the blackbox recorder on an aeroplane: even when the rest of the aircraft is destroyed it’s still intact.
So what is the current state of snooker?
The answer is in two parts. Most people in the UK think only of snooker in the UK, where it has undeniably declined in popularity over the last 20 years.
But this is starting from an unbelievably high watermark. Snooker in the 1980s regularly drew television audiences of more than 10m, a very difficult figure to maintain.
These days it’s generally 2-3m. TV has changed and so all audiences have come down. Also, no honeymoon period will last forever. Snooker’s viewing figures in Britain are satisfactory but not extraordinary.
However, snooker clubs have shut down at an alarming rate, to a large extent because of the smoking ban. Snooker is no longer seen as being fashionable and fewer young people play it compared to the boom years.
But there’s a whole world out there. In China, there is a boom and it’s resulted in two fully funded world ranking events. In Europe, the TV coverage from Eurosport has created a huge market of new snooker fans, which for reasons unknown is not being exploited by the governing body.
In short: snooker in the UK is struggling a little; snooker around the world has never been so popular.
That won’t stop newspaper columnists sneering at the sport from afar. Some hate it because of its working class image. Some hate it because they don’t consider it a sport. None of them ever come to tournaments to see what it is like up close.
Many sportsmen have gone to the Crucible over the years to watch the World Championship and they are always in awe of the skill on show. Snooker gets the respect from other sports it lacks from the media in general.
I like Andy Murray and shall support him at Wimbledon. He is on the front cover of this week’s Radio Times. Indeed, he’s everywhere at the moment.
Yet his victory at Queens Club last week attracted a peak viewing audience of 2.6m. Last season’s Wembley Masters final peaked at 3.1m, but try telling newspaper sports editors that.
The space they give to snooker in British newspapers has declined to such a shockingly low level that it has disappeared beneath the radar.
You often hear that there are ‘no characters any more.’
What does this actually mean and why does it matter?
Sachin Tendulkar is a great batsman. How is he a ‘character’ and why does he need to be one?
Let’s take a name from the 80s – how was Tony Meo any more of a character than, say, Ali Carter, who has been successful despite suffering from Crohn’s Disease and is a qualified airline pilot?
When people talk about ‘characters’ what they actually mean are people they recognise and can relate to.
It is true that if you are a casual viewer you may be confused between today’s top players. This is because they all pretty much play the same way. They have all modelled their games on the way Stephen Hendry played in the early 1990s. There are differences between individual technique but almost all of today’s top players are ultra attacking and can be hard to tell apart.
This is why their individual personalities must be encouraged to come through. Threatening players with disciplinary action for speaking their mind works against the interests of the sport.
I’d like to think snooker has a golden future but it’s impossible to make such a prediction.
It remains a fascinating game. It has touched the heights of popularity with the viewing public that many other sports can only dream of. When have golf, tennis or cricket ever got 18m viewers?
It’s has been big before and it can be big again, maybe not in the UK but as a global sport.
That’s what everyone who reads this blog wants and that’s why we should all continue to stick up for snooker.