I hate this day. This particular day. The day after the May Bank Holiday. Why? Because it’s the day after the Snooker World Championship has finished. 17 glorious days at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the tournament is over and I am bereft.
This year was a particularly superb championship which culminated in a cracking final and a new champion, 28-year old Luca Brecel of Belgium, the first winner from mainland Europe and only the fourth non-British winner. Prior to this year, Brecel had never won a match at the Crucible. He’d qualified five times before and been knocked out in the first round each time.
This time, though, he managed to scrape through the first round before turning on the style to beat Mark Williams, a three-times world champion, and Ronnie O’Sullivan, the seven-times world champion, current number one and arguably the game’s greatest ever player. In the semi-final, Brecel was 5-14 down to Si Jiahui, the 20-year old qualifier from China who had been the story of the championship so far, but won eleven frames in a row to beat Si 17-15.
Watching snooker with Dad
I’ve been watching snooker since my Dad introduced me to it in the late ’70s. In those days, there were far fewer tournaments and even fewer on the telly, but the World Championship, which moved to the Crucible in 1977, became one of our highlights of the year.
We applauded the dominance of Steve Davis in the ’80s, were glued in 1985 when Dennis Taylor won the famed black ball final that finished after midnight and then marvelled at Stephen Hendry’s five wins in a row and seven altogether in the 90s. At the same time, we commiserated with Jimmy White, who lost five finals in a row from 1990 to 1994.
Our favourite player was Ronnie O’Sullivan. In my case, it still is. A bit of a troubled soul at times, he’s snooker’s number one draw and has been for 30 years. In his younger years, his speed around the table and his maverick nature were an intoxicating combination. In 1997, at the World Championships, Ronnie made 147 – a maximum break – in 5 minutes 8 seconds. Given how hard snooker is, it was a truly remarkable achievement. In fact, merely writing those words does not do it justice. Go watch it on YouTube.
If you don’t know snooker, you may not quite appreciate O’Sullivan’s genius. Take it from me, it’s breath-taking. Maximums are more common these days – there were two made at the World Championship this year, including the first ever one in the final – but none come close to Ronnie’s record-breaking time. And probably never will. My Dad died in late 2001, but at least he was able to see Ronnie win his first world title that year.
What’s the appeal?
So what is it about snooker? It’s both soothing and nail-chewing. It can make you gasp at the skill of the top players. It can make you gasp when the tension of a tight match makes even those top players miss shots that I reckon I could get. (This is obviously a complete lie. As I mentioned earlier, snooker is frustratingly, stupidly, awesomely difficult.) It’s a sport where 15 minutes of safety play, during which seemingly nothing much is happening other than balls being shunted around the table, can be gripping.
And like the best sports, snooker is played so much in the head. Because it’s a close-up game, where the cameras are all but next to a player, you can almost watch the players’ minds whirring as they weigh up the pros and cons of a particular shot; what might be the repercussions if they miss it and what might be the rewards should they pot the ball. Sometimes Mark Selby will be thinking of the shot that is the one his opponent least wants him to play. Sometimes Judd Trump will come to the conclusion that potting that ridiculous long red is simply the only way forward. Sometimes Mark Williams will just come up with a shot that neither you, the commentators or anyone in the audience will have even thought of.
Fortunately, for the millions of snooker fans around the world, there are many more tournaments these days and almost all of them are on the telly. It’s also inclusive. Four of the top women players played in the World Championship qualifiers. None of them got through to the Crucible, but it is only a matter of time.
For now though, the season has ended and I have to rely on YouTube for my snooker fix. But come July it’ll all kick off again. Can’t wait!