My annual pilgrimage. Hang on who’s that walking the other way?
An unwritten law of being a snooker blogger is that around this time of year you are expected to plan a journey to the home of snooker to experience the best championship in the world at first hand, such has been the case for me these past three years.
The timing of the blog is handy in this respect because I have got to witness the transition of sponsors, from for me at least, the much-missed Betfred to the not-missed Betfair to the current incumbents Dafabet, who I and most people who read this blog don’t have an account with. While the sponsors don’t really matter too much to the snooker fan, whose main concern is probably the colour of the carpet, behind the scenes you do get more of a sense of how committed they are to the tournament.
Betfred remain the best sponsor of this great event we’ve had since the days that you could smoke yourself to death with free tabs and not a care for those around you courtesy of Embassy. The decision to move away from them despite them tabling a fair offer to extend remains for me one of Bazza’s most glaring misjudgments.
Anyway, I arrived there on Wednesday, very early for this year’s pilgrimage and almost immediately the weirdness and surrealism of the whole Crucible bubble started.
As I am getting more forgetful with each passing year, I thought that I’d better open up a word document to remind myself of all the things that were worth mentioning on here when I got home. They were in the form of a reminder list, which I have copied and pasted onto this post in the hope of remembering why I wrote them down and elaborating on them, here goes nothing….
Cuddle from Michaela - Having woken up at 5.30am to get the early train and having then had to run like Usain Bolt to reach another platform at Manchester Piccadilly to get my connection whilst swearing under my breath at people to ‘get out of my fucking way’ and generally being grumpy about the length of time given on my ticket to actually do the journey as the rail company thought you’d be able to without nearly having a heart attack, I received my annual, much appreciated cuddle from the lovely Michaela on my way to the media room, she must have sensed I needed one. What a diamond, but was this to be the highpoint of my whole 3 days? Was it downhill from here?
Usual suspects minus a few faces in media. Seemed quieter than normal. No representation from Dafabet. Ran out of crisps and water - That was my first impression of the bear pit of the media room, the same set up as ever, hearing Rob Walker before seeing him, familiar faces with the addition of some and subtraction of others and a seemingly dwindling presence. Moans and groans about crisps from Matt of Pro Snooker Blog and a continuation of the Sheffield water shortage. Orders were placed and stocks replenished. As for Dafabet, they weren’t in there in any way, shape or form, even Betfair sent one person, but again the much missed presence of Mark Pearson of Betfred was the ‘elephant in the room’.
A crap photo of Bazza explaining stuff to Mark Allen post-corkpops.
Barry’s changes and champagne – untimely cork popping before anything was announced – nothing really to celebrate - Wednesday saw Barry’s ‘big’ press conference. You always know when he’s about to arrive as the fizz comes out, a bit like The Queen and the smell of paint. This was as packed as the media room got, with Mark Allen, who had just come from the practice table also coming along to find out what he was going to say. It’s fair to say it was pretty underwhelming, the main thing being the changes to the qualifying structure next year, I’ve heard there is something else that he hasn’t told us yet that will grab the headlines a lot more than any of this did. The funniest bit was the untimely cork pops, as Barry started off saying ‘In this sport, there is no way we should be paying any player who can’t win a match’ POP!! – off went the cork. A real champagne moment.
Gould annoyed at question and ‘Marvellous’ – Sometimes the press conferences with players are pretty mundane affairs but sometimes they throw up some gems. Martin Gould had just lost to Marco Fu having played very well. He was then immediately told by a journo that next year he might have to qualify from the start, to which he replied ‘Marvellous’, but it was a question that followed that upset him more, a journalist suggesting that he’d not brought his best game to the Crucible and that’s why he lost, he kept his cool but you could see he was steaming. Outside, he lamented ‘did he not even watch the match at all??’ – I hate to break it to you Martin but…..
Fred West risen from the grave - Ermm, yes I think I’d better leave this one.
Roland on about Selby again. Pissed man from Grimsby. Streak. Dean Reynolds and Mike Hallett. Mike’s phone is off he must be commentating (he wasn’t) - Fellow blogger and founder of Snooker Island Roland Cox is always there or thereabouts at the big event and I met up with him straight from commiserating Gouldy for a pint. As he (as always) started banging on about Mark Selby we were immediately singled out by an absolutely pissed bloke who claimed his mate had offered him £1000 to do a Crucible streak that evening ‘on my kids lives’, he dribbled. Try as we might to get rid of this drooling mess of a man he stuck to us like a limpet. He asked our advice on this important matter and claimed his mate was loaded and he’d definitely pay him ‘on his kids lives’ again. So I replied that he should ask him for five grand instead, which was a mistake as he took this as a sign that we were in the slightest bit interested. Anyway as he downed and spilt most of his 20th pint of the day he proceeded to tell us of his famous friends from Grimsby, Dean Reynolds – ‘a pisshead, just been with him’ and Mike Hallett – ‘great mate of mine’, though mysteriously when he allegedly rang them both their phones failed to answer his call. Funny that. We eventually managed to get rid of this spanner as he went off to annoy someone else.
Holt interview – ‘a bit presumptious’ - Michael Holt is always a guaranteed soundbite for the journos win or lose and when he was told that he ‘would’ have to qualify next year from the first round he quickly seized the opportunity to remind the hapless hack that he might be in the top 16 and that he was being ‘a bit presumptious’. He saved the swearing for less formal settings however and on leaving the media centre shouted at the top of his voice ‘Oh my god I’m so shit!’.
Bloggers convention – Dave from Snooker HQ over from Korea. Early night (midnight), wise decision not to eat in the dump around the corner - A long day ended with Matt, Roland and Dave from Snooker HQ having a pint in The Grad, which to the uninitiated is where you are most likely to see snooker players and officials absolutely wellied most nights, before setting off into the night. I was starving but decided against eating at a takeaway around the corner from my hovel of a hotel that I’d unwittingly thought might be OK. I never trust a takeaway that sells kebabs, pizzas, curries, burgers and almost everything else.
Thursday – Up early – took a picture of the empty media room – Thief! Feeling refreshed I took an early stroll over to the media centre, there was no play on Thursday morning so I had it to myself and tweeted a picture. Gary Wilkinson, obviously not one for trusting people from Liverpool almost immediately entering the room to check I wasn’t unscrewing the brackets on the tellys.
Breakfast and hotel negotiations – By this point I’d made two decisions, one was to stay an extra night on Friday and the second was to switch hotel. So I made my way over to the Mercure right opposite the Crucible to start negotiations on room rates, I succeeded in whittling them down as well as securing Saturday breakfast chucked in. I decided to celebrate with some breakfast in a cafe just around the corner from the Crucible, where I sat outside in the sun and listened to a bloke being interviewed about theatres.
Everyone asking about Mrs SB - A constant theme. Anyone who I bumped in to asked about my better half, underwhelmed by meeting me again obviously.
Ragged off – Big Jan deffo threw this at me, I wasn’t imagining it.
The Jones’s – a needless green bucket, unaware that Ali started at 1pm and getting picked on by refs - Thursday was Ladies Day in The Crucible and Cue Zone. I met up again with Hannah Jones and family, always a pleasure. Hannah was there to do an interview with the TV and to showcase Ladies snooker along with Reanne and a few others. Myself and Hannah’s mum discussed the presence of a green bucket in the Cue Zone catching drips and decided that it wasn’t necessary. I then left and wandered around, ate a pasty, sat by the fountain and missed the start of Ali Carter’s match, I thought it started an hour later so took my place in the media seats having rushed there and missed the first frame. On entering the arena, Leo Scullion immediately told me off for coming through the Crucible curtain and a hand tapped me on the shoulder asking to see my pass, I turned around to see a smiling Paul Collier, winding me up. I swear Big Jan aimed his wet rag at me too at one point, narrowly missing me.
Ali first session – delighted to get out 5-3 down – best I’ve seen Selby play all season - This was what the trip was all about and while firmly in the Carter camp I couldn’t fail to be impressed with Mark Selby. I don’t think he actually missed anything in the five frames he won and very little in the ones he lost. He was highly impressive and Ali knew it, seeing him afterwards he was clearly delighted to only be two down, having won the last two frames of the session.
Met The MO’D. Blagged Hannah into the media seats to watch Ronnie. Accosted by the Nugget – After a quick drink with Martin O’Donnell and a catch up it was time to get back to the Crucible as I’d asked for tickets for Ronnie’s match for Hannah and her boyfriend. I managed to sneak her into the media seats to watch the end of the session but as I was doing so, the mickey taking Nugget spotted us and immediately threatened to have me thrown out of the building, aghast at the fact that I was allowed anywhere near there, let alone behind the scenes. I saw him later too and he asked if I’d been ejected after his complaint to World Snooker. They were all picking on me, I was going to bed. G’Night JV.
When I was asleep – Grove tweets - I woke up and had a quick look on Twitter to find that the humble, charitable and philanthropic management company that is Grove Snooker had been at it again. This time, Grove was accusing another snooker website of freeloading onto Neil Robertson to endorse their website for free as well as grant them an exclusive interview – FOR FREE AGAIN!! NO MONEY INVOLVED!! THE CHEEK OF IT!! #liberty. This misguided tweet aimed squarely at those who Grove decided were intent on ripping them off was swiftly removed. Some people need to take a step back from their Ferrari’s and Burger King franchises and think about how these actions come across to the general snooker public, whilst this had nothing to do with Robbo, who I have always found to be a very nice geezer, to some, he may be guilty by association of being greedy, demanding and self-centred. There is more to life than money. Get a grip.
Breakfast – Michaela, drizzle, turned down and dumped - I got up early again and as this time I knew play started at 10am assumed that the breakfast cafe around the corner would be open for 8.30am. Unfortunately it is owned by English people so it wasn’t, a very English disease of not opening a breakfast cafe in a hugely demanding fortnight until 9am. Lamenting on my hunger on Twitter, Michaela quickly offered to meet me at her hotel to share the most important meal of the day. To my everlasting shame I took a look out of the window of the media room and saw it was drizzling with rain so didn’t take her up on the offer. I mean, drizzle? Fucking drizzle? Turn down breakfast with Michaela Tabb because of a bit of fucking drizzle? What a shambles of a man I am. I was quite rightly lambasted on Twitter for this stupid decision as well as told by Tabby that my chance had gone. She even used the word ‘dumped’. I am a broken blogger.
Autograph - This was a weird moment. Having watched Ali’s second session with Selby I left the Crucible via the Stage Door. At which point a rather dishevelled looking man approached me. As I rehearsed my two possible next lines (‘sorry mate I haven’t got any change’ or ‘don’t hit the face’) he quickly thrust a pen and a programme at me saying he’d seen me in the arena and would I mind signing it for him. I instinctively took the pen and signed my name (my signature is unreadable anyway), knowing full well that he had no idea who I was. Since returning home Mrs SB has completely taken the piss out of me for this, saying that I should have told him that I wasn’t famous. What would you do? Come on, be honest.
I had a bit of a fluffy afternoon.
Pizza without Michaela. My girly afternoon - Having ended up having tear-filled coffee for breakfast I decided to treat myself to a pizza in Piccolinos, which again is a popular haunt for hungry potters, officials and fans. I embarrassingly asked for ‘a table for one’, the restaurant equivalent of walking into a supermarket and buying a pot noodle and a bottle of scotch, to which they decided to put me slap bang in the middle of the place for everyone to laugh at. Billy-no-mates-or-dates. As I ordered my food who should walk through the door but my ex Michaela, looking as gorgeous as ever and seemingly completely ‘over me’ having given me the boot from our imaginary relationship just hours earlier. She spotted me and breezed over, smiling that smile that only an ex that has moved on to bigger and better things while you gradually slip into self-indulgence can smile. She chatted away to me as if nothing had happened earlier, leaving only to say that I’d had my chance and blown it and don’t even think about asking her to join me. As by now I’d checked into the Mercure I decided that the only course of action was to spoil myself, so having gone to buy Mrs SB some pampering items for her birthday on my return home, I threw an extra bathbomb for myself in there and had a girly afternoon watching snooker in my far more luxurious surroundings having had a bath and cleansed, toned and moisturised. A truly female afternoon to prepare for Ali’s final session in the evening, because I’m worth it sister.
Ali’s final session and talk of ballet - It wasn’t to be for The Captain this year and Mark ran out a deserving winner. As I sat there following my self-pamper session dreaming of kittens and pretty dresses, Ali was being put through the mill by The Jester, who I must say was extremely chirpy even when the pressure was on and constantly smiling up at friends in the audience, he seems to finally be living up to The Jester tag on the table as well as off it, not many people have a bad word to say about him and he seems a very nice chap. I sat next to a guest of Matchroom who worked in professional golf, a Brummie whose name I didn’t catch but who spoke eloquently of his fascination at being there for the very first time. He spoke of the ‘ballet’ going on between players, referee and cameramen, a reference to how close together everything is in this great arena and the ease with which each performer glides about their business. I saw exactly what he meant and vaguely remembered thinking the same when I first went to the Crucible to watch, I stopped short of asking him his favourite fragrance of bath bomb though as I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea.
Snooker who’s who at the casino - My trip was rounded off with my first ever visit to a casino with Team Carter. Ali was by now in good spirits and over his defeat, he knew how well Selby had played and had tried his best so had nothing to beat himself up about. As a casino newbie I found it very odd having my face scanned as I walked in, all very James Bond, I didn’t have a try on the tables as I’d only have lost. There were loads of snooker faces in there, all trying their luck. It’s not really my thing to be honest and for me is just a posher version of a betting shop. I spent most of my time talking to Team Carter member Horsey’s girlfriend about fluffy things while Ali played pontoon with a different name. All well above my head.
It was then time to turn in and I left them to it in this place where time passes without anyone really noticing. I’d really enjoyed my time in Sheffield but it was time to go home, I can’t do the long stint like the hardened journos and prefer to mix it up with general observations at home about Dennis and co and Beardy Medal Man. Next morning I missed Ronnie telling the press conference to the tune of £250 that he was a ‘fucking miserable bastard’ when he wasn’t playing well, something he rectified as only he can with his breathtaking final session win over Joe Perry, was he just teasing us all along?
Anyway, daily updates will now return as normal. Here’s Sunday….
Shaun Murphy v Marco Fu
Mark Allen v Neil Robertson
Dominic Dale 7-1 Michael Wasley
Judd Trump 6-2 Ryan Day
Shaun Murphy v Marco Fu
Mark Allen v Neil Robertson
You can view the outright odds at Apollobet here and you can also view their match betting by clicking here.
You can read my full second round match preview here.