Betfred World Championship 2009: Day One Blog

Ok well I’m back from an interesting first day at the Crucible. Click below to read the story of my day…

Initial Impressions

Not having a ticket for the morning session I decided to catch the 10am train to arrive in Sheffield for about 11:20am and surprisingly I didn’t manage to miss it or have some other disaster, unlike last year. Upon arriving there I was greeted by the ‘Welcome to Sheffield Snooker City’ signs everywhere and it sunk in that the tournament was now underway, so I hurried along to the Crucible to see how the much heralded improvements had turned out.

And what a change it was, I knew that the exterior would be different and I knew what it would look like, but after four years of seeing the Crucible in its old guise and many more on TV, it was a bit of a shock! Must be even stranger for those who have been going there for far longer than me. Having taken a few photos of that and the big screen (which helpfully seems to have both tables televised on it this year rather than the usual one), I headed towards to CueZone to see whether they had done a good job of it this year.

The Cue Zone

Ultimately though it was almost identical to last year, the studio still being housed at the front, a table being in there as well as the trophy cabinet and some interactive games towards the back. Hopefully I will be able to get in later this week when it is quieter and take some nice photos of the five trophies in there. I have to say that I did prefer it back in 2006/7 when they allowed the natural light to come in, as opposed to the dark, depressing vibe that I get now but that’s perhaps a personal thing.

The Programme

As an aside, whilst in the CueZone I picked up this year’s programme as usual and after a quick flick through I have to say that it is a real improvement on the last few. The content is pretty interesting, there is information on the qualifiers, rankings, decent pictures and finally they have left the draw blank so you can fill in the results as the tournament progresses. A simple change, but a welcome one nevertheless. Add to this a couple of good interviews such as one with Mark Allen and we have probably the best programme since the last Embassy one in 2005, so credit where it is due.

Pre-Match Action

Following my look round the Cue Zone I decided to head round to Stage Door round the back of the Crucible and see what was going on. Often this is a hive of activity as the players head in and out to practice throughout the day, as well as go in to play their matches, but today it seemed to be rather quiet. I did however manage to bump into friends as well as a few member of TSF which was a good laugh.

While walking round though I noticed Martin Gould having a cigarette break outside the front of the Crucible and decided to have a chat with him, having met him at the qualifiers back in February. He said that he was feeling good going into the match and as well as remembering my name, was happy to talk for a bit. I find it really amusing that he could just walk around the front and be recognised by pretty much nobody, while tomorrow everyone will know who he is!

His opponent tomorrow is Mark Allen and coincidentally he was the next player that I was to catch as I saw him exiting the building via Stage Door after a practice session. Amongst other things, as reminded by the football strip that he was wearing, I asked him whether he would be able to watch the football tomorrow after his match as of course he is a Manchester United season-ticket holder (they play Everton in the FA Cup semi-finals). I must admit that a couple of years ago I wasn’t sure what to make of him from the TV but I have definitely warmed to him this season and being a fan of Gould to, I wish them both the best of luck tomorrow.

Other players/commentators around were Graeme Dott (who seemed to be quite moody), Willie Thorne (who told me that he would be commentating on both Hendry/Williams and Ronnie’s second session, adding “not bad eh?” with a satisfied smile), John Virgo, Mark King and Rory McLeod – the latter two having just emerged from their gruelling match at 3-3.

I also saw Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams dart in and out around their matches but Ronnie was not signing a thing, while Hendry and Mark signed a couple of things but also were not exactly hanging around. As I said on my Twitter update, Stephen in particular looked really focused as he headed in.

Venue Observations

Speaking of heading in, that is what I soon did as I had a ticket for the Dott/Hawkins match on Row D. Having said that the changes to the outside of the building were a bit of a shock, those to the inside were strange in a totally different way. As I said to Statman from TSF, the changes were small really and I’m sure that many people would not even have noticed that much, but for some reason they really threw me!

One welcome sight however was that of the betting stand, sorely missed since it was last there in 2005. Don’t get me wrong I am not a mad gambler by any means and am unlikely to use it, but it is a hive of activity and provides useful information on the TV screens (as well as the football on the TV!). As I said a few weeks ago, I do think that the venue lacked something without it and credit to Betfred and World Snooker for bringing it back.

The one place that actually felt the most normal was the arena itself which barring a few extra handrails and some nice new seats, appeared to be almost unchanged. Of course the colour of the set was drastically different due to the change in sponsor, but it was merely a paint job as opposed to the complete overhaul that was undertaken for the 2006 tournament. Still, I do much prefer the blue to the previous green so am not complaining.

The Matches

Rob Walker did his usual thing, hyping the crowd up into a frenzy before the introduction of the players and the referees. Although Walker is not everybody’s cup of tea, personally I like him and think that while he can be over the top at times, he does get your attention and builds up an atmosphere in the arena which is all that you can ask for in my opinion. As the players were introduced I noticed that as was the case last year, Stephen Hendry in particular was given a terrific reception. In the past I feel that he has perhaps been under-appreciated but during the past two seasons as perhaps his form has dipped, it is noticeable that he is gaining the support of the neutral more than previously.

As a Hendry fan today was actually really strange because I was watching the other table, but had my World Snooker radio tuned in to the Hendry match so I could keep right up to date with the match. As a result although I was watching the Dott match, my attention was undoubtedly elsewhere, specifically the commentary box window as I could see the reflection of the other match in it!

From what I could tell, Hendry did not play particularly brilliantly in establishing a 4-1 lead and as soon as Mark began to take his chances and find his form, he began to pay the price. At 4-3 I looked over at Hendry in his chair while Mark was out of the arena and he was as visibly irritated as I have seen him in a while, shaking his head and looking thoroughly fed up. From that point on the only result was going to be 5-4 Williams at the end of that session and it will be interesting to see how that match goes tomorrow.

The Crucible at the close of play

As for the match that I was supposed to be watching, it was an interesting affair with very little at all to separate the two as Barry eeked out a 5-4 lead. The difference I think was that although both were scoring ok in patches, Graeme’s safety play was really quite poor and allowed Barry the chances to move into a slender lead. It was really tight though and despite being played in good spirits as they players shared a couple of jokes, was hard fought too and I can see it going close to a decider.

The most bizarre incidents in the match actually came from the crowd as firstly a spectator at the back of the arena kept shouting randomly, his last statement of ‘God bless you’ earning a scowl from Graeme and a warning from the referee.  Then for good measure, someone with a camera on Row D repeatedly took photos of the players as they were down on the shot and finally was ordered to put it away by a steward.

Post-Match and Summary

Following the climax of that session I took the opportunity to take a few photographs of the arena while almost empty and headed out to see who I could see round at Stage Door, but again it was very quiet. In fact the only player that I saw there was Gerard Greene who happily stood signing items for a good while before heading into the building. As a result I decided to head off to the train station at about 18:30 and bring to a close the opening day of the World Championship for me.

Overall it was an interesting day without being an amazing one for me as I did not see as many players as I would normally on the opening day and the action that I saw was no more than decent I would say. Still though, from the scores it looks like Ronnie has started ominously well (securing his world number one status for good measure) and it is up to the others to rise to the challenge.

Now to get to bed and get up again tomorrow ready to do it all again!