By Free Ball
A is for Appearances. Steve Davis has appeared at the Crucible more than any other player. Competing 30 times, he is three up on Stephen Hendry. This year will be Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 25th showing, and it will be interesting to see if he hangs around long enough in the sport to usurp Davis’s record.
B is for Bingham. Not many would have backed Stuart to win the 2015 title, and in defeating three ex-champions and the “Juddernaut” along the way, his victory must be applauded.
C is for Curse. “The Crucible Curse” continues, as no first time winner has gone on to win the next year. Furthermore, six first time champions have gone on to lose in the first round the following year. Can you name them?
D is for Dott. I often feel Graeme is considered a forgotten champion in the modern era. When people are challenged to name former champions, he will regularly be the last recalled. This is harsh, as not only has he won The World’s, he has also appeared in a further two finals. Ten years ago he revealed he suffers from depression, and his very personal revelations should be highly commended.
E is for Everton. “The Voice of Snooker” can still be heard on ITV commentating, but Clive disappeared from BBC coverage during the 2010 World Championship. His issues with the governing body at the time, coupled with The Beeb’s desire to use more well-known voices, notably from ex-players, in the commentary box put an end to his time at The Crucible with the host channel. Often, as Dennis refuses to allow any silence for viewers to ponder during a session, I yearn for Clive to return, fall from his chair, grab hold of Dennis’s tie, thereby silencing him – for at least a moment.
F is for Five minutes and 20 seconds. On 21st April 1997, Mick Price as opponent to Ronnie O’Sullivan in a first round match, probably had the best seat in the house as he and the world witnessed the fastest competitive 147 in history. It is an astounding record, and most likely will never be beaten. Every snooker fan should take the short time it takes to watch once a year.
G is for Grandpa Griffiths. A postman from Wales stunned all in 1979 to win The World’s in what was only his second competitive tournament. Terry also reached the 1988 final, but should be recognised as a highly respected coach since retiring in 1997. His ultra dry humour can occasionally be heard in the commentary box, which makes a nice change from listening to who he beat to win the title. Sorry….
H is for Hendry. Enough said.
I is for Internationals. For a World Championship in its 40th year at the Crucible, it is a shame only players from seven different nations have lifted the trophy. The UK has dominated with only Canada, Republic of Ireland and Australia offering three other champions. As the sport grows and grows around the world, it would be great to see a more global winning pool.
J is for Jimmy. Between 1982 and 1995 he reached three quarter-finals, four semi-finals, and a further six finals. As we all know though, he never lifted the trophy.
K is for Ken. Crafty Ken, Comeback Ken, The Darlin’ of Dublin – Ken Doherty is a crime stopper. During the final session of his World victory in 1997, not one call was made to the police in his home city of Dublin. Here’s hoping we haven’t quite seen the end of the amiable Irishman.
L is for Longest. Mark Selby and Marco Fu have the dubious honour of playing the longest frame in Crucible history. The 24th frame in their 2016 semi-final clash lasted 76 minutes and 11 seconds. That narrowly surpasses one of Neil Robertson’s famous comfort breaks.
M is for Maximums. There have only been ten maximum breaks to date at The Crucible. From Cliff Thorburn’s initially fluked red in 1983 all the way through to Stephen Hendry’s third 147 at the tournament in 2012, the year of his retirement. While maximums appear to be a regular occurrence now on the circuit, they are still a very rare sight in Sheffield.
N is for Nugget. Enough said.
O is for Oldest. The oldest player to appear at The Crucible is Fred Davis in 1984 aged 70! Fred was also the oldest winner, at 65 during the 1979 Championships. Eddie Charlton in 1989 became the second oldest player to win a match at the sprightly age of 59.
P is for Ponds Forge. The International Sports Centre has been the gateway for Crucible participation for the last four years. The tension, particularly on the last day of qualifying, is overpowering for a spectator. How the players manage to hold themselves together with so much at stake is to be hugely admired. Because of this, you also get the odd long frame…
Q is for Quentin. Ah, Quentin Hann. There have been a few bad boys down the years, and this Australian kept everyone, particularly the powers that be, on their toes. His finest Crucible moment would probably be in 2004. After a defeat by Andy Hicks which sent him tumbling out of the top 16 in the world rankings, a slanging match ensued & the sensational request for a fight made. Hicks declined, but Mark King stepped in. All in the aid of charity of course.
R is for Ronnie. He’s counted dots on spoons, he’s hidden under towels, he’s walked out of matches, he does an excellent robotic voice. What will the some time enigma, full time snooker genius bring to this years Championship?
S is for Shocks. There have been plenty of shocks at The Crucible over the years. Tony Knowles beat Steve Davis 10-1 in 1982. Debutant Stuart Bingham conquered Stephen Hendry in 2000. But none can beat the shocks Graeme Dott got from the table each time he lay his hand down in a match in 2013.
T is for Taylor. Some of you may be aware that my general appreciation for this champion’s commentary is limited, but Dennis gave me one of the best sporting memories of my life. The two huge deficit comebacks, the epic final frame, the black. Thank you Dennis. I’m sure if we had some time together, and after you gave me a clip round the ear, I’d walk away thinking “He’s one of the nicest fellas you could ever meet”.
U is for Up All Night. Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths completed a second round match at 3:51am in 1983, the very same encounter in which the “Grinder” scored the maiden televised 147 break. These two renowned speedsters of the game played for over seven hours in the final session of the match which Thorburn won 13-12. In the next round, Cliff beat fellow Canadian Kirk Stevens at 2:12am.
V is for Virgo. . No, all that space I left there isn’t a typo. That’s called a pause. A moment of silence if you will. Get it?
W is for Women. I hope sooner rather than later women begin to qualify for the main event. If Reanne Evans hadn’t started so poorly in her second qualifying match this year, maybe it would have been now.
X is for X-Rated. Serial streaker Mark Roberts has made two of his special visits to The Crucible. Both were during a final, and both involved Ronnie O’Sullivan. Not literally.
Y is for Youngest. Luca Brecel, at the tender age of 17 years and 35 days, became the youngest player to appear at The Crucible. The previous record holder, Stephen Hendry, remains the youngest winner of the title at 21 years and 106 days.
Z is for Zhong Guo. That’s Chinese for China folks. That’s the future!
Free Ball returns for a third year with his annual musings on the World Snooker Championship. Who is he? Who knows! Keep an eye out for the next offering soon.