Thrills, spills, and bow ties – reasons to love the snooker

Sport is currently in the giddy thralls of the ‘world’s best ever’ debate. Is Messi the world’s best ever footballer? Quite possibly. Is Usain Bolt the finest athlete of all time? It’s hard to suggest otherwise. Will anybody better either Federer or Djokovic at height of their impossibly industrious pomp? Almost certainly not. Has a man ever picked up a finely carved stick, approached a table spotted with multicoloured balls and turned it into an art form as Ronnie O’Sullivan does? Nope. It’s entirely possible no-one will ever come close.

It was as much of a travesty, as much as anything is ever a travesty in such a contrived and meaningless ceremony as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, that Ronnie O’Sullivan was not even nominated and that the bum-fluff rocking, smug-faced, tax haven inhabiting Lewis Hamilton won the damn thing. Can the British public not recognise and appreciate a genius in their midst when it is presented to them?

Alas for many snooker remains a twee and pointless prospect, without even the novelty of such genuinely idiotic, but nonetheless entertaining pursuits as something like curling. Uninvitingly repetitive and arcane, eating into BBC scheduling with an undeserved impunity every few months – what exactly is it that’s so exciting about seeing balls drop into holes for hours on end?

Snooker as a spectacle works primarily because of the way that it takes the very best from the worlds of golf and tennis. In the case of the former, at the top, top level, players can win games purely by virtue of their own skill; in the perfect game of snooker, the opposing player breaks and you then proceed to rack up every ball on the table. In reality, a game is more likely to be made up of direct interplay between the players, and at a stage such as the Masters, the world’s very finest players. Seemingly insurmountable safety shots, unscrupulously capitalising on near misses, taking on a long pot inadvertently left to you, in some ways, snooker is the closest that a sport comes to approaching the complexities of chess in rewarding players for attempting to see as many moves ahead as possible and second guessing their opponent’s actions. Sometimes ruthlessness is rewarded; often patience holds the key.

The other wonder to seeing the world’s finest strutting their stuff is that snooker is a genuinely difficult sport to play to even a reasonable standard. Primarily, though often lost in translation on the television, the most striking feature about a snooker table as opposed to the common pub pool table, is the size of the thing; 12 by 8 feet. Most people struggle to break-build on a comparatively diminutive pool table; expand the table to snooker size and your average civilian will struggle to hit the ball with any kind of menace from one end of the table to the other, never mind with any thought for accuracy. Most people can play football a bit – here is presented a level of virtuosity far more distantly unattainable to the average human being than is seen in many sports.

Few moments in sport rival the tension of a potential 147 break because few sports demands perfection of its player for such a sustained length of time for it to be achieved. Enjoy then, the snooker, here on the BBC again for another week of superlative coverage; expect thrills, spills, and bow ties.

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Michael Carr

Deputy Editor and co-Arts Editor 2014/15, ex-Music Editor. Lover of all things Beatles, paisley and Simpsons related. Occasional tweetings here: https://twitter.com/M_J_Carr