If there is one sport that could easily have continued as usual this year, albeit without an audience, then snooker would have been a contender. There’s enough space and very few reasons for any contact whatsoever; the players literally have sticks to keep themselves away from each other. Only one person touches the balls most of the time and they wear fancy white gloves, a sort of aristocratic version of PPE. In the empty halls and arenas the tone would be hushed and sincere and everyone wears variations of sombre anyway so if anyone did suddenly drop dead from Covid19 then the mood would almost be boil-in-the-bag ready. I’ve had a few lean years when it comes to watching snooker but this summer I’ve got right back into it and today the world championship final starts after a semi finals day packed with ample dollops of drama and crushing reversals of fortune. Snooker, I suggest, is a fine, fine sport and, more importantly, a very good game.
Arguably at the top of the tree sits Ronnie O’Sullivan, a man often described as the most naturally gifted snooker player pretty much ever (though Jimmy White will always be my green baize hero), and certainly still the most interesting player to watch, is 44 this year; the same age as me. In many ways we have a lot in common. We both have two ears, a heart, intestines both small and large and neither of us has a cleft palate or has been tried in The Hague for genocide, or for that matter any kind of war crime. Neither of us are that keen on travelling by hot air balloon (have you ever seen Ronnie O’Sullivan travelling in a hot air balloon?), neither of us can speak Flemish (have you ever heard Ronnie O’Sullivan speak Flemish?) and, because I assume he can’t either, neither of us can juggle chainsaws. Most importantly of all we can both play snooker. It matters not that we exist at completely opposite ends of the ability spectrum, the fact remains that Ronnie O’Sullivan can play snooker and so can I. Just.
Snooker is as brilliant as it is ludicrous. It’s not quite as preposterous as golf (I mean that as a complement) or as plain stupid as rugby but for creatures like me it is a far superior distraction to those two and almost any other sporting endeavour. I haven’t picked up a snooker cue for years, possibly 10 years at a guess and that would have been at the Butlin’s camp in Skegness, for reasons I shan’t bore you with now. A long time ago I used to be very handy at pool, but pool isn’t the same as snooker; of course pool has much more in common with snooker than it does with, say, scuba diving, but I can assure you that the transition from one to the other is not at all as simple as it might seem. Furthermore playing pool and snooker isn’t the same as swimming or riding a bike: if you get out of the habit for too long you have to pretty much start from scratch and that would be tough – it makes me weeps to think of the time and dedication I’d have to invest now to top my all time record break of 28.
There’s probably some daft story about how snooker first came about, every sport has a daft story to justify their existence and add colour to some drunken ramble in a badly lit club house. I imagine some fella called something stupid like Tony Snooky being exceedingly bored one day as he watched his wife sew egg cups to the corners of the table cloth to catch any erratic peas rolling off their surprisingly shallow dinner plates. As he fiddled with a recently sharpened HB pencil his imagination began to kick in and before you know it he was rummaging around the house to see what he could find, eventually emerging with fifteen mini beetroots, the roundest lemon available, the last sprout in the freezer, a sample from his daughters dung beetle collection, a monkey’s testicle, a piece of coal, a baby onion and then, almost as an afterthought, something round and blue to brighten up the great big empty space in the middle of the table. At least that’s how I’d like it to have happened.
Regardless of such flights of waffle snooker is still up there with the very best of all sports. It is a sport that isn’t really a sport at all, with the exception that it requires various elements of sportsmanship and is played competitively. It does not demand an Olympian physique, pointless grunting or the regular ingestion of steroids, making it very much open to everyone; besides, most players look like they haven’t seen daylight for weeks. If I had to choose a desert island sport then snooker would very likely be the one because (and I’ll admit this could sound sad) playing snooker with yourself is not an altogether dreadful way to spend a little chunk of your life. I shall be happily entertained by as much of the final as possible this weekend (though I’ve had to turn it off for a few frames to write this load of crap) and I must urge you to fight against all odds to ensure the same happens in your house. That’s another great thing about snooker: you might not think you’ll like it, but eventually you’ll come round.
G B Hewitt. 15.08.2020