On a swelteringly hot Saturday morning I found myself glued to the World Championship snooker on BBC for longer than I’d like to admit. I justified this decision to myself by saying that I was just waiting for the chickens’ house to dry after I’d cleaned it out.
These days, I’m the same every year when the snooker comes round.
Day one: Urrrgh, snooker. I hate snooker. It’s so boring and I don’t know any of the players.
Day eleven: I can’t believe he missed that red but if he can get among the balls again he can stil win this. I’ll stay up for one more frame.
I am a member of the ‘Black Ball Final’ generation, in that I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch the 1985 World Championship final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis. Not late enough to see it reach its conclusion, admittedly, because it was school the next morning.
I got up early to check the result on Ceefax [which was a bit like a website on your telly, only the pages changed when you weren’t ready unless you pressed the ‘hold’ button – basically the opposite of clicking on a link]. Then I saw the brief highlights on breakfast telly – Davis’s under-cut shot followed by Taylor’s long winning pot, his victorious grin under the upturned glasses and the now legendary fingerwag at the trophy.
Such was the grip ‘the Embassy’ had on me each April it’s a wonder I’m not a 40-a-day chainsmoker now.
I then spent years hoping Jimmy White would win the title just the once. More recently it’s become one of those sporting events I get sucked into when it’s on although I don’t really identify with the players as much as I used to. I know the defending champion Mark Selby is nicknamed the Jester From Leicester, but I’ve never seen him do anything remotely funny.
Snooker is not cool these days. They’ve tried to cater for the attention-free generation by introducing a shot clock system at some tournaments but what I like about the World Championships is the sheer relentlessness of it all, especially when it gets into the latter stages and the matches last days.
These early days are just as good, though. The arena is split in two by a screen and when you’re watching one match you can hear the clicking and clacking of balls and sporadic applause from the other side. It always seems like they are watching the better match.
It’s the BBC at its best and worst. Everyone is a credit to their sport. The atmosphere at The Crucible is electric – which seems strange to me when it’s basically just silence and coughing. And it all ends with a three-minute montage of the best bits, which involves a clip of every time the cue ball bounced off three cushions and into a pocket and that time Ronnie O’Sullivan puffed out his cheeks a bit when a red clipped the pink and ran safe.
There’s something incredibly captivating about those evening sessions when everyone’s gone home and Peter Ebdon is taking 90 seconds between shots as he grinds his way to a gritty 43.
I Tweeted something similar earlier today and to my delight someone called Jack Billyard liked it. As I said in response to that, all I need now is for Colin Baize, Jane Chalk and Ron Screwbackbehindthegreen to see my original Tweet.
If you’ve read The Cycling Podcast’s book or listened to our Friends of the Podcast Road Trip episode from last year’s Tour de France you may be familiar with the fact that when I was a child I used to organise my own stage races during the school holidays. It is how the Sex Shop Time Trial was born. (You’ll have to buy the book or listen to the episode if you don’t get that reference).
Well, around the same time, perhaps a bit earlier, Simon the Photographer and I held our own snooker tournament in Simon’s dining room on his miniature 3ft x 2ft table. I say tournament but there were only two entrants which meant we could do away with the tedious early rounds and get straight to the final.
As I remember it, we made posters and tickets and forced our parents to attend, making sure that they upheld the very best of order and didn’t put off the players by tutting and looking at their watches.
Just as we were preparing for the electric atmosphere of a suburban 1980s dining room on finals night, Simon’s dad gave us each a ludicrous velvet bow tie, which we clipped on round the necks of our white school shirts.
Once in the auditorium, we each poured ourselves a glass of water from a jug, tossed a coin and then one of us or other broke off for the best of 19 frames match.
The tiny balls were incredibly reluctant to go in the pockets and so the first frame lasted about 20 minutes. Our parents, confronted with the prospect of this match finishing even later than the famous 1985 Black Ball final, insisted we reduce proceedings to best of three and Simon won 2-0 with a maximum break of about nine.