gone to pot | 

World Snooker Championship starts tomorrow, it's a pity it doesn't have the same brilliance as it used to have

Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins brought snooker into the mainstream

John Brennan

A once great sporting event begins tomorrow, disappearing under the radar, where once it lit up our late-night lives.

We write, of course, of the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield at its brilliantly named venue of the Crucible Theatre.

Three and four decades ago, the first ball struck on the green baize on the Saturday morning was the opening salvo of 16 days of pure sporting drama.

Would one of the ‘entertainers’ win – Alex Higgins, Jimmy White, Kirk Stevens? Or would the crown fall to one of the ‘Steady Eddies’, lads who never seemed to lose the plot, or drink much porter, but who invariably ended up with the trophy – Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Cliff Thorburn.

And then there were the characters. Our own Dennis Taylor, with the upside-down glasses, the Canadian Bill Werbeniuk, who needed plenty of pints to steady himself for a session at the table, and the Londoner Tony Meo, who seemed to bounce around the table.

Great times, great memories and of the current bunch, you’d have to say only Ronnie O’Sullivan could hold a candle to them as a box-office draw.

Like darts, snooker disappeared off terrestrial television many years ago, the inability of both sports to have a guaranteed time of close of play hurting them badly with the TV planners.

Yet, to this day, the 18million people who stayed up until 00.40am to watch the outcome of the famed Taylor-Davis World Championship final of 1985 remains BBC2’s greatest audience.

And with the number of channels there for us now through satellite boxes, that is one sporting record that will surely never be broken.

Twelve years after Taylor, in 1997, Ken Doherty gave us a great thrill, seeing off Hendry to win a well-deserved world title. The Dubliner was part of the generation that picked up the baton from Higgins and co. Now another generation has come along, with O’Sullivan and John Higgins to the fore as its champions.

But it is just not the same. The 21 coloured balls, and the white, no longer pull us into their bosom. And our sporting lives are the worse for it.

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