David may have beaten Goliath according to biblical myth but victory for any of the four amateurs playing the top four seeds in York today would make that particular result look like a lot of fuss about nothing.

Shane Castle is only 15 but faces Mark Selby. Rhys Clark will play Ronnie O’Sullivan. Dylan Mitchell tackles Neil Robertson. Antony Parsons takes on Ding Junhui.

There’s no reason to suspect these four televised matches will be anything other than walkovers given the gulf in experience and achievement between the players but the same could be said for Marco Fu’s contest yesterday against Mitchell Travis, another amateur. Travis won that one 6-5, albeit it wasn’t televised.

It’s now 20 years since O’Sullivan won the first of his four UK titles and, remarkably, he is still at the top.

Back then there were 700 professionals. When O’Sullivan turned pro the previous year he had to plough through something like ten qualifying rounds to reach the final stages and did so without complaint.

Doubtless today all 700 players would be brought to the final stages to make everyone feel good about themselves and the matches played on six foot tables over the course of a month.

The UK Championship will be the first tournament broadcasted by the BBC since the World Championship last May.

But for the BBC, the professional game would never have become what it has. When snooker was going through dark times the BBC stuck with it, unlike ITV and Sky, who dumped it when it had served its purpose.

Quite simply, the BBC kept the sport alive. Without its backing in the early years of the 21st century it would have gone under.

Exposure on terrestrial television is important for snooker in the UK. Traditionally clubs fill up when mass audiences are exposed to the game.

Those audiences have grown around the world, most notably because of Eurosport and Chinese TV.

These events are now watched by far more people than 20 years ago, which can only be a good thing.

But if you think the BBC coverage was all better in the old days then here’s the opening day schedule from this tournament 20 years ago, in 1993:

BBC1: 3.50-4.35pm
BBC2: 6.35-7.05pm, 11.45-1.40am

And, er, that was it. No red button. No website. No satellite alternatives.

There’s no coverage of this year’s morning sessions, presumably because the BBC budget is the same as last year when there weren’t any.

This is a shame, but it’s also absurd that the much vaunted liveworldsnooker.tv can’t show them.

That particular service has not had a good week, with the decision to stream matches not from the main arena – where all the attractive ties have been staged – but in the Sports Hall.

This led to the situation on Thursday when matches involving Mark Williams, Mark Allen, Jimmy White, Judd Trump, Stuart Bingham and Barry Hawkins all went unstreamed.

It’s been a hectic start to this UK Championship and the last 128 round hasn’t even finished yet.

Stephen Maguire yesterday joined the chorus of complainers among the top players, saying: “the guys that walk about in their suits and put gel in their hair and go for fancy meals at night with nice bottles of wine should sit down over that wine, as there are a few of them here, and try to fix this tournament because it is ruined.”

Those of us with scarcely enough hair to justify any gel may raise an eyebrow at this. More seriously, few work harder for snooker than Jason Ferguson, the WPBSA chairman, who does indeed wear a suit and who was yesterday named as one of 20 Sports Innovators of the year by industry magazine SportBusiness International.

Ferguson said yesterday that he was listening to the complaints but the truth is there has been a wide range of views expressed and by no means is there a majority against the changes.

Anyway, back to the snooker. Not least because I get the feeling that once this event hits its stride the controversy of the first few days will be a distant memory.


JIMO96 said...

All 700 at a venue? 6ft tables? You've made your point about how ridiculous you think the new era of "fairness" is already many times, Dave. I don't think you need to resort to childishness about it.

O'Sullivan may have emerged out of the qualifying mire without a moan, but he's eclipsed that with some of the crap he's came out with in the rest of his career.

Oh, and when there's 700 pros, there'll be about 400 easy draws, especially for players like O'Sullivan, so your comparison is without merit.

Bogdan said...

Selby is boring !!!

Wolfgang said...

The problem with the flat draw is that people pay to watch Ronnie play, but they don't really get a high quality match when there is a chasm in the respective abilities and experience of the players. I don't see the problem with having rookies playing a couple of qualifiers to earn a tie with a top player. The German Masters had the right balance: 64 player tiers, and maybe hold the top 16 matches over to the venue. I don't see why we have to go from one extreme to the other. That way the players get a fairer system, the sponsors and broadcasters have the top players guaranteed for the venue and the punters get a match instead of a walkover. I turned off the snooker today because it just wasn't competitive. Barry Hearn is meant to be promoting a professional sport not organizing a school sports day.

The Blog said...

I tend to agree with Stephen Maguire. Can't say I like the 'school canteen' atmosphere of the event. Four tables (and four not shown on tv) with lots of noise and movement. I think snooker works best in a quiet environment.

Hearn and Ferguson should bring back the wall petition. If players have to play alongside other tables and matches, give them some privacy. They don't have to be distracted by other matches. Grant them that small gesture.