Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Will We Ever Go Snooker Loopy Again?

If you are too young to understand the title of this article then I envy you. Not only will you not have had to reluctantly deal with the onset of middle age, but neither will you have suffered the crimes against music that Chas and Dave inflicted upon us in the 80s.

One of the offerings from the cockney duo that we had to endure was 'Snooker Loopy,' an amazingly bad rendition also starring the likes of Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Willie Thorne and Terry Griffiths. The passage of time has not improved the song. Listening to it again on Youtube it is hard to imagine that it was a big hit, but a big hit it was. Even more surprising is the fact that it wasn't a hit despite the vocals of the snooker players, but rather it was a hit because of them. These guys were household names and an established part of our entertainment culture. If we weren't watching them play snooker we would just as likely be watching them appear on Blankety Blank, The Generation Game, A Question Of Sport or Saturday Superstore. Snooker, and snooker players, appeared on our television sets as often as any other group of celebrities.

Back then it seemed that everybody loved snooker. We really were snooker loopy. I was as caught up with it as anybody else. Top of my wishlist was a snooker table. It wasn't just me either. Most of my friends wanted one too. We wanted to emulate the stars we saw so often on our televisions, and what better way than spending hours potting balls on our very own tables? It didn't matter to us that our rooms weren't big enough to accommodate a table. It was all part of the fun. We were just as likely to end up snookered by a bookcase or a wall as we were to end up snookered behind the black. It put a whole new spin on our safety shots but it was fun.

We may not have had the alternatives of a playstation or X box, but it wasn't that there was no competition for our time. We were just as caught up then with the latest technological advances as kids today. We had our ZX spectrums to play games on, and many groups had that one kid they hung around with just because he happened to have an Atari console. Snooker caught our imaginations though and it wasn't only the players that we emulated. We may have been Steve Davis or Jimmy White as we were lining up the shots, but we were also 'whispering' Ted Lowe, providing a running commentary as we did so.

Nearly thirty years on snooker no longer holds the same magical attraction to me as it did back then. Perhaps it is because life got more complicated and work and responsibilities took over the time that I would have been spending watching or playing snooker. Let's face it though. I'm writing a blog. Time pressures can hardly be overwhelming me if I have the time to sit here reminiscing about years gone by. Something has happened to snooker that has changed the draw it has on the casual fan, such as myself.

That something isn't that snooker has got worse. The standard today is far higher than it has ever been. The players of yesteryear may have been household names, but even at their peak many of them would have struggled to even qualify for today's tournaments, never mind win them. It isn't even that the game has no grassroots to draw from. The game of snooker is alive and kicking in terms of new talent coming through. There are more people around the world playing snooker competitively than there have ever been. The problem lies elsewhere.

Back when I was idling away hours with my friends, on a snooker table too big for my room, there were four channels available on television. During major tournaments there were times when snooker was on two of those four channels. We weren't given the choice of whether to enjoy snooker or not. We had to like it or lump it. Fortunately the players were entertaining enough characters that many of us liked it. These days we have hundreds of channels to choose from. Every conceivable sport is televised. Snoooker has not got less interesting, it just needs to work harder to grab our attention - and for a while it didn't do a very good job of doing that.

This week the sport lost one of its greats. Not a player, but the voice of snooker. Whispering Ted Lowe is no longer with us. Perhaps it was contemplating his sad passing, and remembering the familiar part he played in my own childhood that got me reminiscing. That no doubt played a part but I think it was also the fact that this year's championship caught my attention for the first time in a long time. It reminded me of past championships when I was genuinely excited by events taking place in Sheffield. The magic is still there. It never died. It just got forgotten about for a while, like an old childhood friend who wasn't very good at keeping in touch.

Snooker may have mourned the death of one of its legends this week, but it has also witnessed the birth of a new one. Judd Trump may have lost an exciting final to John Higgins but he won the attention of a nation. He is not alone. There are many very good and exciting players involved in the game. I hope snooker is able to put aside past mistakes and capitalise on these assets as I have come to realise that it is an old friend that I miss.

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