MM’s My Big Mouth: Snooker boring? Give it a break!

I was recently speaking with a friend who told me that he thought snooker was boring.

I was not carrying a cue at the time, nor anything else that could be used a weapon.

I rummaged around in my pocket for some chalk to throw, but nothing. I furrowed my eyebrows, pressed my lips together, and silently contemplated these unwarranted words of blasphemy.

Who could possibly think that snooker is boring, I thought. Of course, the answer to that question is, well, most people.

The label of ‘boring’ is synonymous with what I consider one of my favourite sports.

It’s a tag that has lived with it long before Mark Selby; before Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis; and even before Ted Lowe uttered the famous line “for those of you who are watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green”.

It’s something that has concerned the sport’s chairman, Barry Hearn, who said back in 2018 that the sport would “name and shame” players who have an average shot time over 30 seconds because they are making snooker “boring”.

“We have to change” he said. “Players taking more than 30 seconds for a shot over the period of a whole match, not just one frame, frankly are as dull as dishwater and there’s no room for them in entertaining sport.”

But if the game is as dull as people say, it should be unapologetic. Snooker has been a staple of public-funded airtime for decades partly due to its shameless insipidity.

Despite attempts to broaden its appeal with shot clocks, outlandish introductions, and WWE style entrances, it’s the game itself; it’s soothing and gentle nature that racks up the viewers.

In 2017, 6.9 million people tuned in to watch the World Championship Final between Mark Selby and John Higgins.

For comparison, the 2019 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea peaked at 7.3 million. A lot of people enjoy being bored, it seems.

Boredom might reflect when we peer down into the water, but you must dive down further to unearth snooker’s essence. It’s not a game to be enjoyed with a hot dog and a crate, or on a projector in a crowded room. It’s best served with an afternoon cuppa and a biscuit on your living room sofa.

Maybe even a book and the occasional glance up to check the score or see what the applause was for.

It is a game of undiluted humanity. A game of mental character. Concentration, patience, belief, bottle, grit – all the traits we strive for with our self-help books; it’s all there on show to be admired. Athleticism will get you nothing in this game—just hard work, persistence, and a lot of practice.

It is a sport that, perhaps, can only be appreciated if you have picked up a cue and tried to pot a straightforward black off the spot only to be met by a thundering clunk. It suffers because the professionals make it look so easy. They glide around the table from shot-to-shot, controlling the white ball around the 12-foot slate, always putting it within a penny of where they intend.

It’s a game of character, and characters.

Exhibit A: Ronnie – king of the baize

Ronnie O’ Sullivan is arguably the greatest player to have ever picked up a stick. He has been snooker’s MVP for over 20 years and at times makes the game as irresistible as a box of Krispy Kreme’s. To watch him at the table is to watch an artist, every shot a brush stroke on a canvas.

The average game of snooker takes between 20-30 minutes. The longest frame in professional snooker took two hours, three minutes, and 41 seconds.

Back in 1997, Ronnie accomplished the highest possible achievement in a single frame of snooker; a maximum 147 break, in little over five minutes.

It’s a sight suited for websites that require age-verification. Watch without becoming at least mildly aroused, I dare you.

Ronnie is one of snookers’, if not sports’ most irreverent and unpredictable characters. Team sports such as football, for all the passion and drama, manufacture a conveyor belt of dull personalities. Post-match interviews are pointless affairs; players regurgitating whatever lines have been drilled into them by their club’s PR teams.

A former player could come back from the dead to score a bicycle kick in the 94th minute, but ask a teammate about it and all that matters is the three points.

With individual pursuits such as snooker, players can be themselves, often to the dismay of their sponsors.

Like the time O Sullivan, for no apparent reason, chose to conduct his post-match interview in an Australian accent.

Or recently, when he laid into the games up and coming young players telling the BBC: “If you look at the younger players coming through, they’re not that good really. Most of them would do well as half-decent amateurs, or not even amateurs, they’re so bad.”

Football might be exhilarating, but you’ll never see Harry Kane rip into the under-18s with a South African twang just for the hell of it.

Cute controversies

A new-born baby, a kitten, a controversy on the snooker table, it’s hard to decide which is more adorable. Snooker controversies often capture the essence of how Americans view the British; a scuffle between two well-dressed gentlemen swiftly resolved with a ‘now there ol’ chap let’s not bicker’.

Whilst football battles with the virtual assistant ref and Rugby players let off some steam by punching each other in the face, ‘controversy’ erupted at The Crucible recently in a match between Anthony McGill and Jamie Clarke.

McGill was at the table and asked Welshman Clarke to move as he was in his eye-line when about to play a shot. Referee Jan Verhaas had to deal with the ‘incident’.

But it didn’t end there, with Clarke taking to Twitter to go full-blown Craig Revel Horwood.

These instances are incongruous with the sport itself.  Like seeing your dreary uncle off his head on Blue WKDs singing Hotline Bling on karaoke, it’s the juxtaposition between the mellow and sometimes sluggish spectacle, and the eccentric personalities and bonkers moments that come together to create something authentic and compelling.

Rack ‘em up

Snooker is the most undervalued sport in the world. Intimate, absorbing, tactical, tense, familiar, dramatic, and often ridiculous. It cannot offer you the frenzied elation of a last-minute winner, or the shock of an on-field punch-up.

You won’t see fireworks or Beyoncé performing at halftime. It’s not about that. It offers something different.

And if you disagree, I suggest you pick up a cue and take a trip to your local club to appreciate what downright sorcerers these players are.

Just make sure you chalk the pointy end.

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