The Green Baize on a downward spiral?

Adnan Khurshid

Just last week the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, celebrated 40 years since it first opened its doors to the nation. There is no doubt as to what has been its main source of attention during this period of time, the World Snooker Championships. Since 1977 the arena has played host to some of the world’s most talented and gritty cueists, from the tacticians to the absolute geniuses. It is the spiritual home of the green baize, of that let there be no doubt. The top goal remains the same for all players; to one day win the World Championships in Sheffield. It is the pinnacle of the sport. However the world of snooker itself has somewhat gone into decline; from once capturing the hearts of the nation to now boring many to sleep. It is worth mulling over just why this is the case.

It must be noted that snooker has never been and probably never will be the main sport of the nation; that title is well and truly held by football. Recently cricket has also been raised to higher levels of popularity by the success of the England national team. However there was a time when snooker would give such sports a good run for their money. The 1985 world snooker final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis which went on past midnight was watched by 18million people in the UK alone. It remains one of those sporting events where viewers remember exactly where they were and what they were doing at that time. That is how special snooker was to the nation.

Tactical battles between rivals Davis and Taylor could capture the attention of the public, whilst the raw charisma of the whirlwind; Jimmy White, and the flamboyant nature of the white-suited Canadian Kirk Stevens equally appealed to the snookering world. Snooker was not short of controversy either; Alex Higgins infamously punched a referee and threatened to have a fellow professional player shot. This served to keep the public hooked on the sport, and perhaps that is why snooker is not as popular today, because there simply is a lack of such characters within the sport. Barring Ronnie O’Sullivan there is no one of that ilk, no one that offers controversial moments or pure snookering genius.

The 7 times world champion Stephen Hendry holds virtually all records within the game, any he doesn’t have will most likely be held by Ronnie. But recently Hendry has fallen out of the top sixteen and spoken of his dislike of the qualification process for major tournaments, whilst counterpart Ronnie O’Sullivan has also fallen out of the top 10 and regularly threatens to quit the sport. That would be a disaster, without O’Sullivan and Hendry the modern game would certainly not be as good as it is with them at their peak. They have complied over 1500 centuries between them, an unbelievable statistic.

Slow paced games do nothing for the viewer. Make no mistake there is no joy in watching a player take more than a few seconds on every shot, and that is one cause of the loss in popularity that snooker has seen. Players generally are more interested in winning rather than entertaining therefore breaking the connection between viewer and player and sending snooker on a downward spiral. Modern day controversies in the sport, such as Ronnie walking out during a match and making lewd comments in a press conference have a different effect than the moments involving Alex Higgins. Generally now it is seen as reflecting badly on the sport rather than attracting viewers.

It is not all doom and gloom though; Barry Hearn has injected more cash into the sport, coming up with new innovative forms of the game, power snooker being one such example. Also the emergence of talented players such as Luca Brecel and eccentric left handed Judd Trump, the 2011 World Championship finalist, has offered hope for the sport.

While the likes of John Higgins, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O Sullivan continue to provide moments of magic for the snookering world to admire. One thing is for certain; whilst it may not be the magnificent spectacle it was in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, snooker can continue to provide entertainment for sporting enthusiasts via new forms of the game. Premier League, power snooker and shortened matches can keep the viewer engaged.

Snooker still has some brilliance to offer to the nation, and hopefully to the Crucible theatre for a long time to come.


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