Over the course of the World Championship I’ve challenged one snooker aficionado to highlight the best quirky, outlandish, unusual, laughable and questionable observations of each day.
As if to further enhance his (or her!) alter ego as snooker’s sleeper, this spy has elected to go through the tournament in disguise.
Read below for the latest offering, but who is behind the Free Ball?
By Free Ball
Last year, myself and the man behind SnookerHQ, or Boss as I’ve had to call him for the last week, were having some evening refreshments. Amazingly, talk turned to snooker. A fairly heated debate ensued with another fan of the sport. His argument was that snooker no longer had characters, and had become a bit boring. It took myself and the Boss a while to win the argument due to the effects of afore-mentioned refreshments. It wasn’t really that difficult in the end, as our associate finally owned up to hardly watching the sport these days…
I was thinking about this during the first week of The Worlds. His argument about the sport being less engaging is of course ludicrous. The standard of play just gets better and better; big breaks, top safety, and snooker abound on an almost weekly basis. And characters?
I would be bold enough to say they are all characters. There are no hell raisers, sure, but each one has his or her own set of traits that make them, for want of a better term, interesting.
There’s the heart on sleeve players like Maguire, Allen, King and Holt. One day, Maguire will break a table, or himself. The intensity to the max players like Robertson, Ebdon and to a point, Selby. Ebdon puts so much into preparing for a shot, he may not strike the ball until the next day.
There’s the nice guys. Hawkins, Bingham and Poomjaeng to name a few, just simply coming across as very amiable people.
Then there’s the exhibitionists. Trump and Murphy with their shoes, suits and big shots. McManus with his silk scarves and ridiculous tartan – it’s awful. I think as a final throw of the dice, he wears it to unsettle his opponents. How about Dominic Dale being, well, his amazing, intriguing, inter planetary self?
It was great to see Anthony McGill going through to the quarters on Friday night. He is steadily becoming a favourite of the crowd with his daring play and cheery nature. Here’s hoping his approach doesn’t alter too much as his career progresses and pressure takes its toll.
There’s also a guy called Ronnie O’Sullivan…
Haha- I remember that, sort of.
Fair enough, I suppose.
I think my broader point was the popularity of snooker. Are you happy with where it is going?
How popular would you like it to get? Are you disappointed that Barry Hearn seemed to generate much more excitement out of darts when he took that on compared to snooker?
They are only characters to the people who are watching the sport.
Hearn has achieved great things with both sports but, in terms of global appeal, snooker has a much wider reach and popularity than darts has. And don’t forget that it essentially took Hearn (and his team) the best part of 10 years to make the PDC into what it is today. He’s only had control of snooker for five.
As for the characters, that’s the same with any sport. Outside of the Ronnies, the Phils, the Novaks and the Tigers, you have to actually watch the sport to learn about the rest of the cast.
I would say overall, darts is a much more commonplace and known sport around the world. Obviously a part of that is the logistics of both games and the ease in which you can play darts. And where you usually play it of course! But that’s the way it goes.
South East Asian countries, parts of China, parts of India might have snooker halls. There may be 300 snooker halls alone in Beijing, as I have read. But how many darts boards are there in Beijing? And How many snooker tables are in Seoul? In terms of exposure of the game, darts wins. In terms of TV popularity, I would rather be in darts’ position as opposed to snooker’s. It has quite a bit of clout in the country of its traditional fanbase. Unfortunately, snooker has lost its clout and is chasing the heels of it’s pub sport peer.
Darts is a pretty big player in certain countries- it generates a lot of excitement and quite a lot of TV coverage. The ultimate test for the British isles is where is it being shown. Sky (or BT), or somewhere else. If you are not on SKY you are not considered a big player in sport by the most power bastard sports broadcaster possibly in the world. Snooker is not there. Darts is.
If darts produced a handful (and let’s face it- that’s all it has been since James Wattana) of pro darts players, I’d be interested to see where it would go in Asia. In the States, darts players are known by people who play darts. Snooker players are not, because nobody plays it. Canada, Australia, Europe— my guess is that darts would be both a more played and more known sport for its stars.