How I watched the world’s worst frame of snooker

30 Nov 2012 @ 2.16 pm
| Sport

There was a lot of entertainment at last year’s snooker, as the highlights above prove. Pity Chris Titley didn’t see any of it…

It was a birthday present which drew us to the UK Snooker Championships at York Barbican last year. Not mine, but my son Jack’s.

He’s into every sport going. So to mark his entry into teenagerhood it seemed appropriate to introduce him to a game associated with wasted youth.

I certainly wasted plenty of my own, either playing snooker on our half-size table against my brother (we racked up hundreds of frames during school holidays: I knew every uneven roll on that six-by-three baize). Or by watching it on the box.

I’ll never get back those hours spent staring at Ray ‘Dracula’ Reardon, Terry Griffiths, Kirk Stevens, the lager-swilling Bill Werbeniuk, all the while hoping against hope Hurricane Higgins would dismantle the Romford robot Steve Davis.

He finally did in the World Snooker semi-final in 1980. That was the year when the BBC went crazy and interrupted coverage of the final for no better reason than there was a world news story breaking. The SAS stormed the Iranian embassy to end a six-day armed siege. Meanwhile the Embassy World Snooker final ended with Higgins losing out to another of the planet’s most tedious players Cliff ‘The Grinder’ Thorburn.

Snooker is a different game these days. Gone is the booze, gone is the cigarette sponsorship and fag smoke. Nowadays snooker is a most respectable pastime for pasty-faced young men. But it was still a treat for Jack and I to soak up the live game, and we took our seats at the York Barbican Centre in December 2011 with a growing sense of anticipation.

It all started so well. The young star with the sort of snigger-inducing surname both of us could empathise with, Judd Trump, was playing Australian Neil Robertson.

Chris's view, ahead of the 2011 snooker semi final at York Barbican Centre

Before the session began we all had to be quiet while presenter Hazel Irvine recorded a link in the gantry. Then came my starring role.

I was sitting next to the steps which led down to the stage and the snooker table. There was a cameraman perched here and he explained he wanted to do a dynamic shot as the players were introduced and came down the stairs, swooping from the applauding audience up to Judd and Neil. I was to be in the centre of the shot. “So clap as hard as you can,” he said.

No second bidding was required. When we went live on BBC2, I clapped like I’d never clapped before. This was palm-stinging, pistol-shot applause.

When we came to review my moment of glory on iPlayer the next morning, it became apparent that I’d been a little too enthusiastic. I resembled a demented laboratory chimp in the midst of high-voltage ECT treatment. Any sign of Jack was obscured by the huge pink blur that were my slapping hands.

Still, I did get on telly. It was all very exciting.

Presenter Hazel Irvine records a link before the live BBC coverage at the Barbican

Then they started playing. Robertson’s plan soon became clear: to be the new Steve Davis or Cliff Thorburn, and defeat the livelier Trump by boring him into insensibility. If a red ball was positioned within a sparrow’s sneeze of toppling into the pocket, Robertson would consider potting it. Otherwise it was safety play all the way.

The tactic was working. The few times he had a chance to sink a red, a semi-comatose Trump missed it by a postcode.

This reached its nadir in frame 14. For 28 minutes – which felt like 28 days – not a ball was potted. For a considerable time, the two men were just tapping the cue ball into the pack of reds.

Imagine the tedium. Robertson stands up, chalks cue, looks at table, looks at unmoving scoreboard. Eventually he sets himself, aims, takes a few practise cues and… tap. Knocks the white 3mm into a red. Then Trump stands up… and does the same thing. Repeat ad infinitum.

Eventually the ref stopped it before one of the spectators, driven mad by boredom, ran up and tried to commit suicide by impaling themselves on the spider rest.

Then they started the frame all over again.

There were many hundreds of entertaining frames of snooker at the York Barbican in 2011. We just happened to stumble upon the world’s worst.

I’m not going this year. If you are, I’m sure you’ll enjoy some scintillating snooker. But take a crossword or some knitting, just in case.