I won’t lie about it: 2016 has been a terrible year for my family and myself; I’m glad it’s over although 2017 doesn’ look that promising either. The state of our world is worrying to say the least: war and violence looming everywhere, intolerance and fear of the “different” rising, and an artistic hecatombs: David Bowie and Leonard Cohen were icons of my generation …
So let’s cheer up have a look at the highs (well MY highs anyway) snooker brought first:
Ronnie finally got recognition for what he has achieved in his sport, and what he’s done to promote it through his entire career. It was long overdue and , yet, still unexpected. Because of his background, and of the person he is, Ronnie is hardly establishment, and snooker isn’t high in the priorities of the awards “authorities”; the snub the sport got, again, in the last SPOTY is proof enough. But this was a very proud moment, for Ronnie, for his family and for snooker.
This was the best Ronnie played this year and it was very, very high standard. But of course there had to be some controversy as well to spice it a bit… Ronnie’s 146 in the first round was a magnificent break, and a naughty one too. It was a statement as well, and it wasn’t greed. The thing is: Ronnie believes that the profile of snooker isn’t what it should be: it’s not valued enough by the sponsors, nor by the media. And he believes that selling it cheap isn’t helping. He wants more class in events, a more exclusive atmosphere, proper reward and recognition for the skills and efforts the players put in their trade. He believes that sponsors aren’t interested in a cheap image and I agree with him. It’s a crying shame that most pros really struggle to make a living at all. He doesn’t think it’s right that top players have to qualify in secondary venues, not does he think it helps to raise snooker profile when some miss out the main event because they failed at some best of 7 in Barnsley. A competitive 147 remains an outstanding achievement, and it’s not that “common” whatever some claim; someone like Mark Allen only did his first this season, at 30, being in the top 16 for years and a pro since 2005. It used to be recognised and rewarded properly. It still should be.
This was heart warming. Mark King is a tough guy, but he was overwhelmed and in tears after winning his first ranking title at last … at 42, being a pro since 1991 and having arrived in Belfast completely skint. This was HIS moment and he celebrated with his family, the persons who supported him for years through the hardship and lows.
Also, in general I was pleased to see Ronnie applying himself and playing with the right attitude even when things aren’t going his way. In that respect what he did at the last World Championship is quite remarkable in the light of mental and emotional struggle he faced at the time. Despite not being mentally fit, he didn’t give up on his first round match, he finished it and won it. Years ago he could have walked out of it. He spent most of his time between the first round match and the second round match in hospital, he was that bad. But, he said nothing, he came back to play, and he fought hard enough to force Barry Hawkins – who had reached the SF stage in the three previous WC – into a decider. With a hindsight that was quite remarkable.
And of course, I already covered it, there was a extraordinary run all year by Mark Selby.
Now the lows …
I will pick only one: the decision to make the shootout a ranking event. This is making a mockery of the sport we love. One frame, a ridiculously short shot-clock (if the players need any implement they are doomed), variant rules closer to pool … and this is ranking? I had no issue with it as a one-off invitational, it was harmless enough, a bit of fun. but NOT this. This is showing utter contempt for the player’s skills. This is tailor-made for the bookies, as it’s so unpredictable, and of course the bookies are snooker main sponsors. But that in itself is not helping the sport image in my opinion and this sort of move is unlikely to attract a different type of sponsor, certainly not in mainland Europe where gambling is heavily regulated and seen as a rather shady business. It’s supposed to be exciting … well it’s not exciting me at all, it infuriates me that the person who runs the sport shows so little respect for his most valuable assets, the players, their skills and the time they invest in honing them.