Sunday 18 August 2019

Declan Lynch: Snooker at the Crucible, the game that goes on forever

  • Snooker World Championship (BBC2)
Ronnie O'Sullivan appears dejected during day four of the 2019 Betfred World Championship at The Crucible, Sheffield. Nigel French/PA Wire
Ronnie O'Sullivan appears dejected during day four of the 2019 Betfred World Championship at The Crucible, Sheffield. Nigel French/PA Wire
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

It surprises me now when the Snooker World Championship comes on the telly, because it's been on the BBC for so long, you might have assumed they'd be doing their very best to get rid of it.

Maybe they are, indeed, like they did with that other monument to the BBC's phenomenal tradition of public service broadcasting, the British Open Golf championship. Indeed, if anything, the snooker should be even more vulnerable than the golf, because in general it has never been less popular.

Indeed, one of the reasons I'm surprised to see it on TV these days, is that I no longer have much interest in it - these days I might not catch up with it until the semi-final or even the final, whereas once I was all over it from round one.

But even though I might not be looking at it, I am still glad that it's on, and that someone is looking at it, some of the time. Or that others are looking at it, all of the time.

Like the British Open, it has that captivating quality that comes from the live screening of an event that goes on for hours and hours and hours, but that is not Big Brother. I guess Wimbledon would be another example of it, and the cricket, though of course, the BBC got rid of that one too.

These apparently endless programmes became the very definition of summertime in England, and since they were clearly better than anything we had going on in this country, for many of us they also became the definition of summertime in Ireland.

So the snooker is really the start of the summer, with the final stretching across the May Bank Holiday like a giant octopus. And it has a high place in the hierarchy of classic TV, because when it emerged on the BBC as Pot Black, it was the brainchild of the then controller of BBC2, David Attenborough.

Now I can hear you saying that there are very few good things in this TV world that were not "the brainchild of David Attenborough", but this one is part of the very essence of television itself, as it was regarded by the great man as a way of demonstrating to the people the glories of colour television.

More than 50 years later, snooker still has this ulterior motive of sorts, because it is ostensibly a sport being played with the utmost intensity, yet it is also profoundly peaceful - a kind of a tranquilliser that is available without prescription, for about two weeks every year. A time, for example, when students tend to be doing exams, and the snooker in the background can have a calming effect.

This extra dimension may be the only thing that is saving it indeed, from the mad axe-wielders, because if it was just a sport, watched only by people who like sport, then it might be replaced by something that was more "representative". And whatever that is, you can be pretty sure we won't still be watching it in 50 years' time.

And the snooker has another public health dimension, with its challenge to our attention spans. Not that it should be a challenge, as such, as it is most enjoyable to lose yourself in some epic encounter on the green baize, yet it is an increasingly strange notion that anything can take up so much of your time - anything at least, that is not on the internet.

Naturally, they have been urged to introduce a "shot clock" at the Crucible, or to reduce the number of frames, in order to take away some of this uniqueness, to make it just like everything else. Somehow it is holding out, with its best-of-35-frames final and matches that can continue long into the night.

But in one respect, at least the snooker is going the way of all things - it is sponsored by a bookmaker, it goes without saying. Way back, it used to be sponsored by a cigarette company, giving us the Embassy World Championship.

We'd find that outrageous now, and in 50 years' time they'll find the present arrangements just as outrageous. But they'll still be watching.

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