Live sport has been back on our TV screens for many weeks now. Before that, for over two months at the height of lockdown here in the UK, there was no top-level sporting action available. I even cancelled my subscription sports channels, a rare display of proactive behaviour, as I noted in this piece in March.
Of the sports that I take an interest in, elite football was first to return to our screens, followed by Test Cricket, and most recently snooker. The World Snooker Championship, held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, usually takes place in April and May, reaching its conclusion on the weekend of the May Day Bank Holiday. This year it began at the end of July, and concluded last night.
I only really follow snooker when Ronnie O’Sullivan is playing, and over the last 11 days have spent at least 20 hours in front of the TV with my son keeping a close eye on Ronnie’s progress. My son has had a crash-course in snooker history. At 15 he is a year younger than I was when the World Snooker Championship first captured the imagination of British TV audiences. That was also a few months after we acquired our first colour TV. Then, as now, the BBC covered the event extensively.
From the mid-80s and into the 90s my interest waned. I didn’t enjoy watching Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry winning their combined baker’s dozen of world titles. I was generally rooting for Jimmy White and would make a point of watching his matches, but he didn’t manage to win any of his six finals. He was the greatest player of the modern era not to win the world title.
For me, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first win, in 2001, made the sport worth watching again, and he made a habit of winning in leap years (2004, 2008, 2012). He won again in 2013, but had not won since, until last night. He spared us the drama of a tight finish, defeating Kyren Wilson 18-8. It was all over by 8pm. The real drama was on Friday night (14 August), in the semi-final against Mark Selby. Ronnie came back from 16-14 down to win 17-16. I had been pacing myself for the evening’s action and didn’t watch any of the preceding session. By all accounts the final frame of that semi-final, as Wilson beat Anthony McGill, was one of the most extraordinary ever seen, “the frame to end all frames” as these brief highlights from the BBC put it.
Apart from Ronnie, there are very few sportspeople who could capture so much of my time. In the years that Andy Murray won Wimbledon I might have spent 20 hours over the course of a fortnight watching him play. I watched just about every minute of all 9 games played by Leeds United after the football season resumed, and even that amounted to less than 20 hours. As noted many times on this Blog, most recently here, I have supported Leeds since childhood. Their return to the Premier League was the sporting outcome I wanted more than any other this season. Arsenal’s victory in the FA Cup final was also very welcome, a source of great pleasure for my daughter, my wife, and for the rest of her family. I was also hoping for my local team Brentford FC to win promotion to the Premier League, and for Manchester City to progress in the Champions League. Unfortunately Brentford lost their Championship play-off final to Fulham earlier this month and City lost their quarter-final to Lyon on Saturday night, while Ronnie’s 8-2 lead was being eroded by Kyren Wilson. Still, three favourable results out of five is a whole lot better than I get most seasons. And all those hours spent watching Ronnie? Well worth it.