Friday, 23 April 2010

World Championship snooker at the Crucible

Watching the snooker live is something I've wanted to do for years and I got the chance to this week. Ever since I can remember I've watched the World Snooker Championship every year on TV, and it's great that the tournament is held in Sheffield, but up until this year I'd never actually been to watch a live match at the Crucible. Luckily my dad got given a pair of free tickets this week so me and my brother went down on Wednesday for the morning session.

The two matches on that morning were Ding Junhui vs. Stuart Pettman and Ryan Day vs. Mark Davis. I'd originally wanted to see the Ding Junhui game, but our seats were on the other side of the arena so we watched Day vs. Davis, and we ended up getting a better deal with that match to be honest - Ding had taken such a lead the night before that his match on Wednesday only lasted two frames. There were a lot of Chinese fans there to see him - he's a massive celebrity in China - but most of them left after the two frames. Wednesday had been a national day of mourning for the recent earthquake in China as well, and because of that Ding had requested that the four players come out with no entrance music. I believe the entrance music is actually something they've introduced this year to try and re-brand snooker, much in the same way that darts has undergone a transformation in recent years.

After the four players had entered the arena, the board that divides the arena in two came down and we were left only able to see the table on our side, and we were in for a great match (when Ding's match finished the board went back up again so everyone could see our table).  Ryan Day was ranked 6th in the world and expected to win, but Davis put up a great fight and won out in the end after a total of 18 frames, so we ended up getting to watch some great snooker for about three and a half hours.

I enjoyed watching the TV production aspect of the event as well and getting to see the contrast between live snooker and the TV coverage of it. Sports journalism is something I've thought about going into before so it was pretty interesting to see how such an event translates into a production for TV. I think the BBC do an excellent job every year and really make the tournament a great spectacle, and it's even better that you can now watch everything online as it happens. They also film out in the open in the middle of Sheffield city centre and you can go down and watch the presenters in the Winter Garden. It's not uncommon to bump into some of the snooker players just walking round Sheffield either.

When you're watching the snooker live though you don't get the BBC commentary, the multiple camera angles or the benefit of hawkeye, so it's definitely a different experience, and the Crucible arena feels quite different to how you'd imagine it from watching on TV. I thought that they might have screens up inside the Crucible showing the table from different camera angles, but that's not the case. They do have screens, but they just show the score. When you're watching it live you feel as if you can't really see that much from your seat, but after a while you get used to the view. A couple of things you don't get to see on TV though are the second referee sat at the side, presumably keeping track of the score, and obviously the two cameramen constantly working away at the end of both tables to bring you shots of the action.

If I went again I'd like to get one of those headsets that they recently introduced - you can buy one just before you go in and tune it to hear the BBC commentary while you're watching. That's why sometimes half the crowd will chuckle out loud together - they'll be laughing at a joke they just heard on the commentary. In fact some of the crowd had theirs turned up so loud that you could catch bits of the commentary even if you didn't have one yourself.

When you consider that the event goes out live to national TV I had expected there to be more warnings about not making noise during play and the like. All the announcer said at the start was to make sure our mobiles were switched off and to not take any photos during the game, although I did notice there were a number of ushers placed around the venue making sure the audience kept fairly quiet during play. But it did strike me how easy it'd be to do something during play and get on TV for your 15 seconds of fame. I think next time I'm gonna get a front row ticket and wear a t-shirt advertising my netlabel. I dunno if we ended up getting on TV this time, as we were sat fairly far back, and the programme showing the match we went to see still isn't available on iPlayer for me to check.

But all in all it was a great experience and you should definitely go down and watch a match at the Crucible if you get the chance. They've recently redesigned the place and it looks great, very modern compared to how it looked before. They're always saying that the tournament might move elsewhere, but I don't think it will. As the billboards say that are all around town at the moment, 'Sheffield Snooker City'.

Right, I'm going back to watching Mark Davis vs. Mark Allen online now. The tournament's really starting to heat up now we're in the second round. I've been alternating between just writing my dissertation and watching snooker these last few days, but now I've handed in my draft dissertation I'm free to watch snooker all weekend.

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