The last two weeks have seen the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield. The Embassy, as it used to be known during my childhood has had to ditch its long term sponsor and is now known as the BetFred.com World Championships – gambling being a much more socially acceptable vice than smoking.
The annual event at The Crucible is ingrained into my childhood memories like steam pudding, grazed knees, and nits. I used to watch it avidly in the eighties, but I must confess I have lost touch with it in recent years (well, recent decades, actually). As a result, aside from the names such as Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, whose fame has transcended the sport, I have no idea who the current players are, although I was pleased to see Stephen Hendry still going strong, and with better skin.
I settled down this morning to watch some semi-final action between Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson, and I must confess, I really enjoyed it. For someone whose skill levels never went beyond playing pound-a-frame pool at college, I am full of admiration for their talent.
Shaun Murphy looks like a poorly inflated bouncy castle. I don’t want to rehearse the old argument as to what constitutes a sport, but even the biggest snooker fan would struggle to refer to Murphy as an athlete.
Neil Robertson is an Australian chap who has a ridiculous blonde Vernon Kay haircut that makes him look like he should be playing for Exeter City. I wonder what happened to him at school in Melbourne, when the lads were specialising in Rugby and Aussie Rules, to make him settle on snooker.
This is the thing about snooker players, especially Australian ones, but generally all of them. They are, basically, complete nerds. The skills are amazing and the dedication admirable, but there is a constant undercurrent of tragedy surrounding the entire venture. When I look into Shaun Murphy’s eyes, I don’t see happiness. Even when he is winning a frame, all I see is hopelessness and darkness.
What is interesting is how the TV coverage has changed in twenty years. Not just the inevitable technical advances – more camera angles, computer generated table shots showing the various angles – but also the human coverage is very different. For example, after he missed a crucial yellow, we were treated to a slow-motion replay of Neil Robertson’s disappointment-etched facial reaction. That owes much to the sports production of football where replays of goals are followed rapidly by reaction-shots of both managers.
I’ve been watching for about an hour now and, I admit it, I’m starting to get a bit bored. I reckon I will revisit this next year, even if it’s just for a random hour.