Snooker at the Crucible: high50 heaven
April 9, 2014 | By:

Sports correspondent Kate Battersby on why she's so looking forward to the World Snooker Championship on 19 April, and why the Crucible in Sheffield is the perfect venue for it

Snooker at Crucible Sheffield 2013_620 Corbis 42-34226327

So close you can feel (and hear, and probably smell…) the tension. Photo from Corbis

April is a difficult month. Sure, the clocks have gone forward and the days are longer – but you can keep all that.

From 19 April, what I really want is to be closeted in a darkened windowless place, all day long and throughout the evening too, and then – if I’m particularly lucky – into the small hours, for 17 glorious days.

Give me a spot of late-night extended safety play, and I’m a particularly happy woman. So long as that safety play is at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, sacred home since 1977 of the World Snooker Championship. 

Reader, indulge me. Back in the day, I got about a bit. Travel was part of my job. During my first six weeks as a sports writer on one paper, I went to events in Milan, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Hong Kong, Beijing, Perth and Sydney.

But of all the sporting venues I visited in those years, the Grade II-listed Crucible is among those of which I think most fondly.

Of course there are those who argue that snooker barely qualifies as a sport, since it constitutes the occasional short stroll punctuated by a bit of stick prodding.

Ignore these people. Those of the spectating persuasion feel we capture the true spirit of the game by sofa-slobbing for half a month and more. Snooker’s sheer inactivity makes it the champion of 50-plus sports.

And nowhere is better for it than the Crucible. Rare is the sporting arena where the front row of the audience is constantly within touching distance of the players.

Moreover, it is a splendidly peculiar fact of the Crucible that no one in the 980-strong audience is ever further than the length of a cricket wicket – that is, 22 yards or 20 metres – from either a performer (for the 49 weeks of the year that it is a theatre) or a player, when it becomes snooker’s hallowed cathedral.

Hence, a player’s concentration can be ruined by as little as a spectator attempting to ease their sitting position by shifting from one buttock to another.

This can be particularly testing for members of Her Majesty’s Press, who are seated – for those of you familiar with the layout from television coverage – on extraordinarily uncomfortable jump seats, either side of the short staircase down which the players enter the arena, in front of the commentary boxes.

It is quite common for players to glare up at those on the microphones, whose reverent murmurs can seem to echo round the hushed auditorium.

Indeed, I was told that a match was once halted because a player was disturbed by the intolerable racket of a reporter’s pencil moving over the paper of his notebook.

For me, this is what makes the place so civilised. And it doesn’t matter who you are, VIP or paying customer: if you attempt to enter the arena at the Wrong Moment, you’re not getting in.

Just ask Samuel West, son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, who spent 2005 to 2007 as artistic director of Sheffield Theatres (which is to say, the three-venue complex including the Crucible). 

“During my first year, I was watching the snooker and took the least well-timed pee break in history,” recalls West.

“I went out just before the frame where Mark Williams got his 147 [only the sixth maximum break in Crucible history]. They were very proper and right on the door about not letting me back in.

“I sat in the corridor, watching on the monitors what was clearly going to be a 147 from about halfway through the break, standing next to a couple of guys who had been coming to the snooker for 15 years and never seen one.

“But I was allowed in to see the ovation.”

Despite that 147 and his world titles of 2000 and 2003, Williams tweeted two years ago that he ‘hated’ the Crucible. Inelegantly describing it as “rubbish” and a “sh*thole” (his asterisk), he expressed the desire that the tournament should move to China, adding: “Rather play at Pontins.”

The public response apparently took him by surprise. “Wow. I’m in trouble,” he later tweeted.

At one time, he could have been in luck. For a while, in the late 1990s, there was a suggestion that the World Snooker should have no fixed venue and instead tour the country, or possibly the globe, going from one faceless venue to another, year by year.

Funnily enough, the idea didn’t catch on. thank the Lord. And Barry Hearn understands why. World Snooker’s chair says he wants to see the tournament in its rightful venue until “the day I die”.

Mr Hearn, may yours be a life of unequalled longevity.