In this piece I want to look at the good things that happened in snooker in 2022
The guaranteed ￡20000 income
That announcement by WPBSA/WST was probably the best news of the year in my views, and a massive step in the right direction for the sport and the players. It’s particularly important for the young players and those from outside the UK who, because of the UK centric organisation of the sport, have either to move to the UK and live as ex-pats or to travel back and forth every odd week. Both “solutions” come at a high cost financially and emotionally. At least, this will help with the financial side of the situation. And it’s only right. They earned their professional status – well most of them did – and it takes two to play a match. No matter how well both may play, one will lose. Both though will have contributed to the tournament, both have brought value for the fans, the venue, the broadcaster. It’s only right that they get something for it, if only to cover their basic expenses. It’s NOT “rewarding mediocrity”, it’s recognising their efforts and contribution to the sport.
The tiered qualifiers for the UK Championship
Since the format of the event had been shortened to best of 11, the UK Championship had clearly lost in prestige and many fans were struggling at still seeing it as a “Major. Also the strict seeding system, imposed by the BBC who didn’t want to cover the first round, but still wanted all top players at their television stages had produced more than a reasonable share of boring complete “mismatches”. The decision to adopt the same tiered qualifying system as used for the World Championship has worked a treat. It’s been years since we sensed such a buzz around the UK Championship early stages. Part of that buzz came from the excellent coverage of the qualifiers on Eurosport and on Facebook, supported by the never fading enthusiasm of Rob Walker. I hope this format becomes the “permanent” one for this event as it’s so much better on all accounts.
The Asia-Oceania Q-School
It had been promised years ago and it was long overdue. Thanks to the efforts of the Thai hosts of the event, a lot of matches were available to watch on Facebook in a very reasonable quality. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality on show, certainly in the latter stages of the event, and the four laureates are certainly at least as good as your average UK Q-School qualifier. Mohammad Asif is a quality player who regularly reached the latter stages in IBSF events for years, and, of course, we got Dechawat Poomjaeng back! 👏
The first Turkish Masters
Going to new places is always a good thing for any sport and the 2022 Turkish Masters in Antalya was certainly a success. Antalya is a lovely place and the event was well supported by the local fans. UK fans may not be aware of it but Turkey has an old and rich tradition in billiards, more specifically in carom and three-cushions. Turkey had and has some of the very best exponents in the latter discipline, most notably the extraordinary Semih Sayginer, Mister Magic. So, it’s not surprising that snooker was appreciated. Judd Trump offering the fans a 147 in the final, en route to victory was the icing on the cake.
The return of the Hong Kong Masters
The 2022 Hong Kong Masters saw the return of professional snooker on Chinese territory for the first time since the covid crisis began. It was far from easy to organise but it ended up being a fantastic success story. The final, where Ronnie beat the local favourite, Marco Fu was played in front of the biggest crowd ever recorded for a snooker match with nearly 9000 persons attending in the venue. The atmosphere was incredible. It was a dream final. Earlier Marco had delighted his fellow citizens by making a 147 during his match against John Higgins.
WBBSA/WST efforts to improve “hospitality” at events.
This has been ongoing for some years, but it was really apparent at the last UK Championship. There is a real effort by the snooker bodies to improve the fans experience. In York, the setup in the arena had been completely rethought and the fan zone “extended”. Top coaches and top players made themselves available to meet the fans, discuss with them, demonstrate their skills and give “hands-on” advice. The fan zone is not a new feature, and the coaches “on duty” have always been dedicated, but in York it grew to a new dimension and it was hugely appreciated. Judd Trump is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s always ready for those things and his desire to grow the sport is genuine. One area where improvement is still needed though is the quality of the food on offer for the “ordinary” fan. It’s quite baffling that in so many venues that are primarily sports halls or leisure centres, the food on offer, if any, is very mediocre, basically “fast food” stuff. Yes, there are practical reasons for that, but surely it can be improved.
The latest but certainly not the last of Jason Francis’s brain-children, the 900, has been a blast. You have to admire Jason’s energy, creativity, love for snooker and communicative enthusiasm. He found sponsors, he found away to stream the event, he got Rachel and Fouldsy on board in the studio, Lee “the Shirt” Richardson everywhere, Billy Castle in the com box… All the players involved loved it. And we as spectators loved it too. There was good snooker, there was drama, there was a shared passion all around. It was diversity at its best: young prospects, seasoned players, veterans, women and men, able-bodied and disabled … all first and foremost snooker lovers and players. The only “downside” for me was the schedule. It was midnight here when the streaming started. It does take something special to get me staying awake up to 3 in the morning… well, this did. 😂
The growing “Podcasts Scene”
Yes… growing! It’s not just that quality podcasts have multiplied, they get longer and bigger by the week. A special mention here for Phil Haigh, Nick Metcalfe and David Hendon. All year long we enjoyed quality interviews, informed opinions and well thought-out analysis.
Rescuing Snooker Scene
When it was announced that, because of Clive Everton’s poor health, Snooker Scene would be discontinued, for many snooker fans it felt like the loss of a dear friend, for many even the loss of a “childhood friend’. This should have been expected – Clive turned 85 last September – but it still came as shock. But thanks to Nick Metcalfe, and the team he gathered around him, the magazine will live on and Dave Hendon still contributes. The first “post-Clive” issue is already in the hands of the grateful fans. Thank you.
Tomorrow I will look at the “bad” or at least “not so good” things that happened in snooker in 2022. I will leave the current match fixing inquiry out of that post though, as I reserve it for the final piece of this mini series. It will be branded as the “ugly”.