I didn’t know what to expect as I approached the entrance to EventCity, the ‘box’ across from Trafford Centre and host to the first English Open, as part of the new Home Nations Series. Yet, from a distance I noticed, what looked like, several seemingly heavy smokers by the entrance. Of course, there were casuals. However, one man was dressed in referee attire. (Except there was no white glove in use. Nothing to separate the cigarette and the skin of the man’s hand.) Another seemed uncomfortable in his silk waistcoat. Yet, I ignored the occasional uncomfortable shift and pulling down of the waistcoat, so as not to show his belly. Instead I was focused on the cue case leaning on the wall next to him. It was this prop that made me realise who this character was; a snooker player.
Now, this was my first snooker tournament. I walked into that event hall having picked up an understanding of the game from listening to BBC Sport snooker commentary whenever I chose to study. Put it like this, I had to remind myself what order the higher value coloured balls had to be potted in at the end of a game. (It’s yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, then black by the way.) So, naturally, when The Mancunion asked me to cover the tournament, I couldn’t resist.
Anyway, as I passed that superhero who wears that silk suit instead of a cape, I was pleased to find myself in the midst of day one of the tournament. But it certainly wasn’t as busy as expected. In here, more referees and snooker players strolled through the lobby than casuals; much to my pleasure! I went up to the desk to my right and asked the elderly man behind it where I could pick up my press pass for the week. Here, I was told. I told him my name, and he began to frantically shuffle through the spread stack of papers in front of him. Out of the corner of my eye I pointed out to him an envelope with the word; ‘Mancunion’ on it. No pass with my name in there though. So the man printed one out for me. But a second attempt was required. The first had printed a pass from a previous tournament, when Betfred, not Coral was sponsor. Whilst I waited, different men came up to the man. It was when one commented to me how bad of a referee the man had been when I realised how communal the atmosphere was here.
This became even more obvious as I explored the venue. As I walked into the press room, I was greeted by quiet. Everyone was focused on the games, populating several television screens. The only sounds were those of the gentle taps of fingers on keyboards, and the hum of the flame heating the journalists’ lunch. A player’s lounge was open to the public. I was astounded. These sportsmen who were so idolised (as any sportsman is) were here, drinking cups of teas and picking crisps out of McCoys bags.
What was so surprising is how these men played snooker; one of the world’s most skilled, absorbing and tactically subtle sports. When you watch the game live, this becomes clear. It’s different to watching it on a screen because it forces you to realise how tough a sport this is, in comparison to your rubbish performance the last time you decided to have a game.
These men seem to control every aspect of the game. From the different coloured balls to the tables they inhabit, as a snooker player you have got to not only think about what to do, but do it well. Ronnie O’ Sullivan was the best example of a snooker player according to what I saw over the course of the tournament. Snooker halls brim with the sounds of those coloured balls cracking together, either as the referee sets up the next frame, or as a cue tip strikes that white balls, often interrupted by an (often muted) applause or a suppressed cough. It’s this that made me fall in love with the game.
My point is, it’s important to note a certain romance in attending a snooker tournament, and it seems to stem from the working man’s embrace of the game. This sport isn’t commercialised and it reminds me of, what some would refer to as ‘good ol’ days of sport’, when players were respected by the audience, respected each other, and respected their profession. Crucially though, these are key aspects of the game and it doesn’t seem like they’ll ever disappear. So if you’re looking for a game like the one I’ve described aspects of, then look no further: snooker is your sport.
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