My Crucible A-Z

2012 will mark my eighth year of making the annual Crucible pilgrimage and as the tournament draws ever closer, here is the first part of my A-Z of elements that help shape the experience for me and those other things related to the tournament…

A…is for all of the hundreds of Autographs that will be signed during the 17-day Crucible marathon by the players, media and referees alike. During my first few years of attending the tournament prior to starting this blog, the fun of getting programmes, photos and other bits of memorabilia signed between sessions was a much a part of the experience as the snooker itself and while I don’t tend to get them these days, there will always be plenty who will.

Most memorable of all on a personal level, back in 2007 I found myself on the front row for Stephen Hendry’s 10-7 victory against David Gilbert and as he walked out of the arena following the win, I was lucky enough to have him sign a copy of his autobiography for me. Catching Mark Williams just minutes after his maiden Crucible 147 back in 2005 was also a memorable moment.

B…is for the BBC, who while they only cover three major tournaments these days, never fail to pull out all of the stops at the World Championship. With their studio either in the Crucible, in a marquee or in the Winter Gardens in recent years, their broadcasts are always a focal point for fans around the venue between sessions and more importantly, their coverage ensures that everyone at home away from the Crucible is able to keep right up to date.

C…is for the so-called ‘Crucible Curse’ which refers to the fact that to date, no first-time winner at the Crucible has successfully defended his title the following year. Joe Johnson and Ken Doherty remain the two that have so far come the closest, each reaching the final during the following year, while the last first-time champion Neil Robertson fell at the first fence to Judd Trump in 2011.

D…is for Deciders, of which there have so far been 125 at the Crucible. The player involved in the most deciders is Stephen Hendry who has contested 11, in recent years especially making a habit of going the distance during his first-round matches in Sheffield. In 2011 there were four final frame wins for Hendry, Mark Allen, Barry Hawkins and Ding Junhui during a thrilling tournament.

E…is for Everton, Clive Everton, who as the BBC’s lead commentator for many years, has become regarded as the ‘voice of snooker’ to many snooker fans in the UK since the tournament moved to the Crucible back in 1977. In recent years though he has of course seen his role gradually reduced and as such I expect that we be more likely to hear from him commentating on the live stream for than we are on our television screens.

F…is for Finals. Since 1977 there have been some truly memorable Crucible finals, none more so than in 1985 when Dennis Taylor famously defeated Steve Davis 18-17 on the final black to lift the trophy. Other classics were deciding frame victories for Stephen Hendry and Peter Ebdon in 1994 and 2002 respectively, while 2011 saw arguably the best final since 2003 with John Higgins’ 18-15 triumph against rising star Judd Trump.

G…is for The Graduate. While this choice does not directly involve the snooker, the Graduate pub across Tudor Square in Sheffield is the first stop for many Crucible regulars following a day’s play and in my personal experience has set the scene for many an intense discussion on the day’s action. That and a few classic pool matches on tables of varying quality anyway. With fans, players and referees alike all to be found, anyone paying the Crucible a visit is advised to drop in on at least one evening, even if just to buy me a Pepsi.

H…is for Hendry. Seven-times champion Stephen Hendry is with more titles, more frames won, more centuries and more prize money earned that any other player at the venue, the undisputed ‘King of the Crucible.’ On a personal level however, as impartial as I try to be on this blog, from a fan perspective Hendry has always been the one to watch for me and in recent years while not coming close to winning the tournament, he has been a part of a number of thrilling matches, four deciding-frame finishes since 2006 in addition to a 147 break against Shaun Murphy in 2009. Of course he is not yet guaranteed to be at the tournament in 2012 having lost his place among the top 16 earlier in the season, but I for one hope that he have not yet seen the last of the Scot at the Crucible.

I…is for Intervals and the mad rush to get the aisle and dart up the stairs as the final ball of the fourth frame is potted. Lasting for approximately 15 minutes, the interval provides a much-needed chance for spectators to get a bit of air and in my case, run to one of the many Greggs bakeries in the city centre and buy a timely snack. From a playing point of view, there have also been many matches that have turned on an crucially-timed interval…

J…is for Journalists, who as I learned last year having spent the last six days of the tournament in the media room, have a long day generating the stories that you will read on your computers and in your newspapers the following day. Hopefully I will be able to spend a few days in amongst them once again and bring you an interesting snippet or two from the post-match press conferences in 2012.

K…is for Knowledge, of the many spectators who have been attending the tournament for several years and for whom like me the venue has become almost like a second home. As mentioned previously, one of the things that I most enjoy about the tournament is being around people who know their snooker and I look forward to catching up with everyone again in 2012.

L…is for Late nights, of which there are many at the Crucible. With evening sessions getting underway at 7pm, it is not unusual for sessions to be in progress as the clock strikes midnight, or even beyond as has been the case most famously in the 2006 and 2007 finals in recent years. As well as those two, other late finishes to spring to mind include Steve Davis’ 10-9 victory against Gerard Greene in 2005 when frustratingly I had to leave at 9-9 to catch a bus, as well as Neil Robertson’s victory against Graeme Dott in the 2010 final.

Perhaps most memorable however was Graeme’s semi-final victory against Mark Selby that year as I pulled my phone from my pocket to see a text message linking me to the News of the World story concerning John Higgins. Now that did prove to be a late night as we tried to absorb what we were reading…

M…is for Maximums, of which there have been nine at the Crucible, the first coming back in 1983 as Cliff Thorburn famously completed the break during the fourth frame of his second round match against Terry Griffiths, with the most recent being Stephen Hendry’s effort at the same stage of the 2009 tournament. Again on a personal level however, it is Mark Williams’ 2005 maximum against Robert Milkins which stands out and remains the only maximum that I have seen live, strangely enough at my first tournament.

N…is for Nerves. While far from unique to the Crucible, the intimate nature of the venue makes it hard for most débutantes to settle, indeed we have seen nerves get the better of even the most experienced players in the game down the years. Simply put, there is no place like the Crucible in snooker and the tension present during a close match is something that has to be experienced to really understand.

O…is for Overseas winners, of which there have been just two, Cliff Thorburn, and Neil Robertson the only champions to come from outside of the UK and Ireland.

P…is for Photographs. While I might not be too bothered about collecting autographs these days, I can generally be found with my camera in my hand and looking to take a photo of something or someone. The strange thing is that each year the Crucible Theatre is (inside at least), largely the same, save for a sponsor change or two, but I still can’t help but take more photographs with the arena before me, simply because it is there. Visit my archives to view the best of my photos from the past three years.

Q…is for Qualifiers. Just two men have won the World Championship at the Crucible as qualifiers, the first of whom was Terry Griffths back in 1979 before Shaun Murphy repeated the feat in 2005. A further five players have reached the final as qualifiers, interestingly, three of those within the last six years.

R…is for Refurbishment, after the major works carried out to the venue between 2007-9 which transformed the exterior, while also helping to bring the interior into the 21st century. As significant as some of the changes have been however, the Crucible has lost none of its character and remains the magical venue that it always was.

S…is for Stage Door. see A for autographs, the Stage Door is always a good place to start for anyone hoping to get an autograph or a photo with their favourite player. Having spent a lot of time out there in years gone by, it was a surreal experience in 2011 to be going in that way as part of the media!

T…is for the Crucible’s famous Twinkle lights. Players come and go, but it is always special to see the winner lift the trophy under those magical lights.

U…is for Upsets. As you would expect there have been several great upsets down the years, Tony Knowles defeating defending champion Steve Davis 10-1 in the first round back in 1982 and Stuart Bingham’s victory against defending champion Stephen Hendry back in 2000 to name just a couple. It is a cliché, but if we knew what was going to happen then we wouldn’t watch and it will be interesting to see where the shocks are going to come from this year.

V…is for Victory. So far there have been 18 different champions at the Crucible, John Spencer being the first back in 1977 while Neil Robertson became our most recent first-time winner a couple of years ago in 2010. Among the most memorable victories are those of the qualifiers Terry Griffiths and Shaun Murphy, the overseas players Cliff Thorburn and Neil Robertson, and of course those coming through deciders such as Stephen Hendry, Peter Ebdon and of course, Dennis Taylor.

W…is for the Winter Gardens. Situated across the road from the Crucible, over the years the Winter Gardens has become almost an extension of the venue, previously being utilised for events such as snooker art exhibitions and more recently the home of the BBC television studio/Cue Zone. Perhaps most importantly of all however, it is particularly handy for keeping dry during a spot of rain!

X…is for X-rated. While this could be reserved for some of the shots played by those struggling under the biggest spotlight in snooker, perhaps it is most appropriate for the streaker who interrupted the start of the final sessions of both the 2004 and 2008 finals, both won by Ronnie O’Sullivan. Will this year see a hat-trick?

Y…is for Yellow suit. For those of you completely confused, just take a look at the attire of the referee during this memorable ton compiled by Fred Davis at the 1979 World Championship. How much would Jan Verhaas have to be paid to wear something similar I wonder?

Z is for…Zzzzzzzz. While I consider myself to be a relatively committed snooker fan, during a during a long session, particularly sat among the first few rows of seating under the bright table lights after night of little sleep previously, there have been occasions where it has been something of a challenge to stay awake. That said, I haven’t ever actually fallen asleep, but I am sure that there will be more than a few out there who have at some stage, indeed MC Rob Walker has to comment at least 27 times a year on the fact that veteran Australian snooker fan David Jackson once fell asleep on the front row at a crucial time of one particular match.