The ‘Snooker Loopy’ era may have gone for a sport that now seems staid but the skills on view at the Crucible are sharper than ever

Snooker lacks much that has revitalised darts: the lager, the ritualised dancing

It is well known that it was a relatively youthful David Attenborough who, when controller of BBC 2 in the late Sixties, first commissioned live snooker, transforming a gentlemen’s game into the subject of a lengthy national romance (now fading in its old age, but more on that later).

There’s some symmetry then, as the World Snooker Championship started at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield this week (as it will do when only cockroaches and Sir Bruce Forsyth walk the earth), in watching the televisual techniques Attenborough went off to pioneer in the distant corners of the Earth put to curious use in rather less exotic Sheffield.

Yes, that same super slow-motion technology famously employed to capture a nine-metre Great White Shark breaching the dark sea and shutting its man-trap jaws around a sorry seal is now allowing John Virgo and Stephen Hendry to fill the short gaps between frames, talking in hushed wonderment over extreme close-up pictures at 1,000 frames a second of the little chalky nebulas that atomise in bright turquoise over the green baize when cue strikes ball. “It’s amazing, isn’t it, the chalk that comes off,” pondered Virgo, before some insufferable banter about chalk flying up compelled him to do a horrendous John McEnroe impression. Not really, no.

Snooker, of course, is not what it was. No one is going “Snooker Loopy” any more. Neither Chas nor Dave, nor the modern incarnates of Dennis Taylor or old Willie Thorne or Terry the Taff – and well done if you know all the others – will enter the charts again. They don’t have modern incarnates, sadly, but in so many ways the game is better than it has ever been.

One of the great bittersweet joys of snooker is just how easy it is to taste one’s own pathetic mortality. None of us will ever even get a tiny glimpse of what it’s really like, out on the Premier League pitch or when the lights go off at the Monaco start line. But snooker offers a reasonably clear vantage point into the Valhalla of sporting greatness. There is no easier way to stare into the gaping void between them and us than to pick up a cue in your local snooker hall and be gently blown away by your own extraordinary crapness.

“Blimey, that table is enormous,” is the first thought. “Those reds are miles away. I am really going to have to whack it to get it all the way down there.” Then you quietly slope off to buy a round of drinks while the others wait 15 minutes or so for the balls to stop careering about the table like potassium on a pond.

Potting a red is an event. A following colour, all but unheard of. Fouls are crucial – a rogue brush with the black is worth seven potted reds. Such things decide matches (a frame, of course, is a match). “Have you put my ‘one’ on?” is the only real question ever asked of whomever is doing the scoring.

Attenborough, of all people, will have noticed with little surprise the mass extinction that has occurred in recent years. The game used to be a carnival of the animals: the giant hunkers of the “Big Bill”, Werbeniuk, stretched across the cushion, folds of flesh pressing against his silk waistcoat, his tremulous hand held steady by half a gallon of lager. Higgins’ shirts, Taylor’s glasses, Thorburn’s tash, Griffiths’ hair. Now its protagonists all seem to look the same. Selby, Robertson, Carter, even O’Sullivan; the same height, the same tousled haircuts; the same age, near enough, at least in appearance. But then it’s survival of the fittest, now.

The long pots these men quietly send down time after time after time, smashing into the centre of the pocket, cracking open the boundaries of the possible, the white wheeling away like a gyroscope then slamming on its brakes of its own volition, defying the laws of physics. It would have terrified their more charismatic but significantly less talented forerunners.

Its decline in public affection can be mapped in strange symmetry with the rise of its great rival, darts, even though the same man, Barry Hearn, controls both. But snooker lacks much that has revitalised the arrows: the lager, the ritualised dancing, the signs held up for the TV cameras – it’s a good night out. Many a hungover Sheffield student still wanders into the Crucible and parts with a tenner expecting much the same. What they get are long periods of enforced silence and, with no commentary, not much clue as to the finer intricacies of what’s going on half the time. As Ted Hughes once imagined, watching a sculptor carving at a tiny ivory ornament, the artistry is present but hidden in plain sight.

It lacks that crucial moment of euphoria too, the final whistle, the double top, the penalty smacking into the back of the net, team-mates surging goalward from the halfway line. When the World Snooker crown is won, its champion usually half smiles then polishes off the rest of the colours, like securing Olympic Hoovering gold without even needing to tackle the last few troublesome corners, but knowing that simply can’t be left to fester. That’s an issue Mr Hearn may wish to address.

Something that is so simultaneously sublime and ridiculous is bound to oscillate in the public consciousness. Chas and Dave sold out the Royal Albert Hall last night, and in December they’re touring with Status Quo. Only the genius remains consistent.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links