Kissing the Pink
Like I usually am, I've found myself being drawn into the World Snooker Championships. As far as I know, the only event they ever have at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.
Snooker. Surely the cruelest of games, make a mistake and let your opponent in, and you just have to sit there, powerless, in the corner, suffering the disapproving gaze of the crowd, as you reflect on what you've done. Often this includes biting your nails, casting nervous glances about the arena, taking endless sips of water - as if it's liquid morphine, and sometimes, embarrassingly, being caught looking up to see yourself on a monitor - just like the members of the audience do.
The endless sips of water have replaced the endless pints of ale and overflowing ashtrays of snooker's glory years, which, while I understand that times change, has rather taken the fun out of it.
Talking of beer and fags, snooker's greatest entertainer and biggest draw, Alex Higgins, is of course no longer with us. Current players owe him a great debt, and it's telling that the most popular player today, Ronnie O'Sullivan, is also the best to watch by some distance.
Snooker's head honcho, Barry Hearn was the man who gave us Steve Davis. But let's not hold that against him. Not just yet. After all, Davis was very good. Very good at his own style of bland, risk-free snooker. Very good at playing the percentages and retreating into baulk until he'd managed to bore both crowd and opponent into submission. Watching Alex Higgins was like your dad had given you a few quid and expressly instructed you to go out and have a blast. The Steve Davis experience was more like watching the old man next door walk down to the bus stop in the drizzle, take the bus to the post office, go in, queue up for for ages, and renew his car tax before walking home again because he'd missed the bus, and it was still drizzling.
Lest we forget, when Barry Hearn started out, he had a car-washing job which paid him a fiver or a tenner a week. When he qualified as an accountant (quelle surprise!) he continued washing motors on a Saturday because, as he said, "Why should I let someone else have it?" A revealing statement, if ever I heard one.
Hearn's theory on why the public watched Alex Higgins so avidly was that they liked seeing someone self-destruct. I suppose this is why Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan are also the biggest box-office draws? It was never about self-destruction, like sport all over, it was about glory. And The Hurricane gave us plenty of that.
Despite the safety wonks and Davis clones, and Ronnie approaching his twilight years, well, just remember, we'll always have Alex.