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Ssb - the world turns again

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  • Ssb - the world turns again

    Before everything else there was the World Championship and it is to the World Championship we now turn as the season enters its traditional final phase.

    As snooker became established in Britain in the early 20th century, amateur competitions sprang up, most notably the English Championship in 1916.

    Joe Davis, a kind of Barry Hearn and Steve Davis rolled into one, saw that snooker could become a profession, at least for him, but only if there was a professional tournament. So it was that he instituted a World Championship.

    The first matches were played in November 1926. The final came the following year. Davis was the promoter and the winner. The trophy he bought using half the entry fees is still presented to this day.

    Davis reigned supreme for 20 years, wining 15 world titles until retiring unbeaten. The championship continued and was won by his younger brother, Fred, and Walter Donaldson but Davis’s continued participation in other events and exhibitions killed off the very tournament he had given life to: the best player wasn’t in the World Championship so it became devalued.

    It was revived with a series of challenge matches through the enterprise of Rex Williams, an era dominated by John Pulman, before, in 1969, a proper open knockout tournament was restored.

    In the 1970s, along came a perfect storm. Swirling together was colour television, a volatile but brilliant young Northern Irishman called Alex Higgins and tobacco money.

    Snooker players were starting to appear on TV more and more and the emergence of Higgins, who won the world title at his first attempt in 1972 in a rundown British Legion club in Birmingham, attracted the interest of the BBC. They began televising highlights of the World Championship, which began to grow in stature and public profile.

    Embassy’s financial support led to more amateurs turning professional, convinced there may be a living to be made in the game after all.

    One night in the mid 1970s, Carol Watterson went to see a play at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. She knew that her husband, Mike, a player but more prominently the promoter of the World Championship, was looking for a suitable venue for snooker’s biggest event.

    So it was in 1977 that the championship moved to its now traditional home, the scene of some indelibly dramatic, emotional, unforgettable snooker moments for the last 36 years.

    The BBC were so convinced of snooker’s popularity that in 1978 they took the landmark decision to televise the whole championship live. They were right. Audiences soared.

    Younger readers may not believe it but snooker was the X Factor of its day. Its leading players were front page news. It was a soap opera which entranced television audiences and made household names of the unlikeliest of people, not just players but commentators, referees and assorted members of the snooker circus.

    Despite snooker’s problems in the years which followed, the World Championship survived. Now it flourishes. This year, more people will watch it on television and the internet around the world than ever before.

    But it doesn’t start at the Crucible. It starts tomorrow with the qualifiers, which run until April 14.

    The first section is for WPBSA members not on the main tour. These include former Crucible semi-finalists Tony Knowles and Joe Swail, former quarter-finalist Patrick Wallace as well as Les Dodd and Robin Hull, both of whom have trod the Crucible stage.

    From Saturday, the main tour stage begins. will stream two matches from each session, all with commentary.

    When I first started following the World Championship there was no internet streaming. There was no internet live scoring. There was no internet.

    You did your best to follow scores and results on Ceefax or in the following day’s newspapers – often the evening newspapers if matches had run late.

    Anyone anywhere near Sheffield should go along and watch. The tension of the world qualifiers matches that of the Crucible itself. Every ball matters. You can feel the nerves in the air. You can see how much it all means.

    For players, fans and everyone else in the snooker world, this is a very special time of year.

    Because before everything else there was the World Championship. And it will always be the jewel in snooker’s crown.