The World Snooker Championship starts tomorrow and I had intended to do some kind of preview, maybe looking for a potential winner, first round upsets and that kind of thing, but if I’m being honest I’ve just not watched enough lately to offer any real insight.
That’s the problem with writing about sport, sometimes you have to cover an event that maybe you don’t know too much about. A lot of the time the audience is probably more clued in than the writer, especially in niche stuff like snooker.
I get caught up in that fairly often in my job, Formula 1 would be the main contender there as I’ve totally lost interest in it as a fan, meaning I only ever watch the racing at work but anyway I digress. The key point being I didn’t want to pull that kind of shit on here.
So instead I’m going to take a look at some comments made to Press Association Sport by Mike Watterson, a former player himself who worked as a promoter and brought snooker’s top prize to Sheffield.
“I don’t think it’s more professional at all. The old pros like John Pulman, Fred Davis and John Spencer, they were playing in working men’s clubs for £40 a night, they were entertainers. If they weren’t making big breaks, they’d be doing trick shots.
“These days they’re just po-faced kids. It all goes back to Steve Davis, he started the rot. We used to call him the Romford Robot. He’s a very nice guy and he was so professional in a playing point of view.
“The other lads would show a bit of character and personality.
“Then of course you got Stephen Hendry. He was very shy and he was a follow-on from Steve Davis.”
Watterson is 73 now and this could quite easily be written off as a ‘things were better back in my day’ kind of rant from an old-timer. But in fairness there’s more than a smidgen of truth in his observations.
Davis is a great pundit; he’s insightful, quite the raconteur and a big personality – but as a player he was boring as hell. It is easy to forget that when he’s having a chinwag with Hazel Irvine on a BBC couch. Hendry was slightly more enjoyable to watch around the table but he’s a truly awful pundit, devoid of charisma. Both were exceptional ‘match players’, by that I mean winning is all important and how you do it is almost irrelevant.
There are loads of guys around now who loosely fit that mould, going through this year’s World Championship draw I’d pick out Ali Carter, Martin Gould, Graeme Dott, Peter Ebdon to name a few and, of course, the masters of ‘match play’ Mark Selby and Neil Robertson.
I don’t necessarily think all of these guys are boring, Robertson for example can be exhilarating when in full flight. But for these players and countless others, results are the be all and end all and the spectacle is often sacrificed.
The true entertainers are those who don’t mind taking the odd risk to get a frame smashed off quickly. The guys who see safety shots as a last resort and will blow the reds open at the earliest opportunity. The Jimmy Whites, the Alex Higgins characters and the Tony Dragos…. Obviously Ronnie O’Sullivan fits the bill and Judd Trump with his ‘naughty snooker’ definitely goes into the ‘entertainer’ category but aside from those two, who are we looking at?
John Higgins has drifted more into the pragmatic type these days. That’s fair enough, he probably wants to stay at the top level for as long as he can and has decided that’s the best way to do it. Mark Allen, Ding Junhui and Stuart Bingham, the current world champion, probably deserve a mention but no more than that.
I’ve always been more of an occasional than hardcore snooker fan. I make an effort to watch the ‘Triple Crown’ events but the others I can take or leave most of the time, usually my interest builds ahead of the Crucible but not so much this year, and perhaps that’s due to a lack of players on the tour who are genuinely looking to put on a display as well as winning titles.
Maybe they are just “po-faced kids” but regardless I’ll still be watching the World Championship. I suppose if World Snooker want to make the game more entertaining and encourage risks there has got to be some incentive to do so, and ten grand for a maximum apparently doesn’t cut it anymore.