Saturday, 30 April 2011

A very special day

I'd been looking forward to Friday April 29th 2011 ever since the special event was announced. An occasion to bring people together in a common interest, and for all those involved to rejoice and be happy. A day to spend with your comrades to celebrate the best of all things British. Yes, that's right, it was the annual trip to the World Snooker Semi-Finals in Sheffield. Did something else happen on that day? I didn't hear about it.

The pilgrimage to the Home of Snooker - The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield - has become something of a tradition now. For the last four or five years, a group of us (my friends Tim, Mike, Paul, Pete and Aidan) have made the short train journey from Nottingham (or the somewhat longer journey from London and Exeter in the case of some) to watch the Friday morning and afternoon sessions of the World Snooker Semi-Finals. It just so happened that this year, the trip coincided with the Royal Wedding. I'm neutral as far as the Royal Family goes, but this worked out great - it meant we didn't have to book the day off work.

Snooker day takes a familiar form each year, which looks something like this:

  • Meet at The Cosy Teapot near Nottingham train station for the biggest breakfast they offer
  • Get the 08:45 train to Sheffield, arriving at 09:38
  • Take the short stroll from Sheffield station to The Crucible for the 10:00 start
  • Watch x* amount of frames in the morning session
  • Have y** amount of drinks at The Brown Bear and a curry from the curry stall in Sheffield city centre for lunch
  • Watch z*** number of frames in the afternoon session
  • Get the train back to Nottingham (or the hotel in Sheffield for those staying over)
You may have noticed a number of variables in this schedule. Let me explain what effects them all...

x* is an integer between 0 and 8 (the maximum amount of frames in a session). It is influenced by the following factors: time of arrival, players playing, interest level of snooker and thirstiness. When we first started going to the snooker, x would always be at least 7. As time has gone on, this number has gradually declined. In fact for Pete yesterday, x was a big fat 0.

y** is an integer between 0 and theoretically infinity, though it is usually around 3-4. This also has several determining factors, namely: duration of morning session, length of queue at bar, number of attendees, hungriness and thirstiness. The Brown Bear is, putting it kindly, a spit-and-sawdust pub just round the corner from The Crucible. It is, however, ridiculously cheap (just over £11.00 for 7 pints) and serves a decent pint of Sam Smith's.

Finally, z*** is an integer between 0 and 8 again. Its influences are similar to those of x*, but replacing time of arrival with time leaving The Brown Bear. It is also influenced by y**, and by strength of bladder.

Over the years we've seen a number of the greats of snooker at The Crucible. Standout matches include a couple of ruthless destructions of Stephen Hendry at the hands of Ronnie o'Sullivan, and a thrilling match between Peter Ebdon and Marco Fu. This year's protagonists were, in the morning, two first-time Semi-Finalists in Ding Junhui and Judd Trump. The afternoon session was contested between two Crucible veterans: Mark Williams and John Higgins.

I was excited by the morning match as I've not seen either of the players play live before. Unfortunately the snooker didn't live up to the billing. It started well, with Ding winning the first frame with a 91 break. That was as good as it got though. The following frames were scrappy and of poor quality, with neither player making the most of their chances. This led to an early departure to the bar and, in my case, an x score of 5.

There was no total escape from the Royal Wedding. The bank of televisions surrounding the Betfred booth near the Crucible bar was showing the ceremony. Well, on one of the TVs anyway. This gave us the slightly surreal image of Kate and Wills on one screen, and the 11:15 greyhound race from Walthamstow on another. The greyhounds took top billing in fact.

The morning session dragged on an awful long time, which meant lunch and beer time were significantly reduced. There was still time though for the aforementioned curry, a spicy Polish sausage in a bread roll, and for y to equal 2 this year.

The afternoon session was much better, as the nervousness of the younger players was replaced with the assuredness of Williams and Higgins - both multiple World Champions. This match ebbed and flowed but again without either playing showing fully what they were capable of. The lateness of the first session and the subsequent delayed lunch meant we missed the first three frames of the afternoon, giving a z total of 5 as well. Spotted in the afternoon crowd were CJ de Mooi of Eggheads fame, and World Cup Final referee Howard Webb.

As it stands as I'm writing this, Trump overcame Ding 17-15 to reach his first World Championship Final; congratulations to him on that fantastic achievement. Higgins is leading Williams 15-14 in the other Semi-Final which looks like it could go down to the wire. Should make for an interesting Final whoever gets through. Whoever it is, snooker day will return next year - and we will be there.

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