After two years without its devoted congregation, The Crucible, snooker’s cathedral, has been able to welcome them back, albeit, at a reduced capacity for this year’s Snooker World Championships.
For something that was largely the norm since time immemorial, it is remarkable that in just twelve COVID-ravaged months the idea that a crowd might attend a sporting event in the UK has become something of a fantastical concept.
However, the unfathomable has become a reality, as fans have slowly but joyously returned to a smattering of sports venues to take in the action they have been absent from since last March.
With the commencing of this year’s World Championships in mid-April, World Snooker was permitted to allow fans into the Crucible as one of a number of pilot schemes to re-integrate fans back into sport and due to its success so far, the initial 33% capacity limit was this week raised to half.
For the quarter and semi-finals, the capacity will be raised to 75% and then there is the tantalising prospect that the final will be able to operate with a full capacity crowd.
The restrictions and regulations in place at this year’s tournament mean it will be rather different from World Championships gone by, nevertheless, those in and around The Crucible still exude an infectious enthusiasm for the sport they so obviously adore.
“I’m over the moon to be here.”
Heather Hills has been attending the World Championships for over thirty-five years and after the disappointment of missing out on last year’s tournament, she is thrilled to be back at The Crucible.
“I’m extremely excited, I’m over the moon to be here, I can’t wait to get in there and take in the atmosphere, I’ve been coming here since 1985 and the minute I walk in I feel excited, you never know what’s going to happen, every shot is a thrill.”
The Sheffield theatre has provided Heather with some of her most treasured memories and she cites the 1991 World Championship final as one that she particularly cherishes.
“I queued outside for hours and hours to see John Parrot as I was a massive fan and I eventually managed to get a ticket to see him lift the World Championship, it was amazing.
“I even managed to fight my way through the bodyguards to shake his hand.”
Of course, with The Crucible being among the first venues in the country to host a crowd, question marks have naturally been raised over the safety of those in and around the theatre and such fears were heightened by Ronnie O’Sullivan’s complaint that he was ‘harassed’ by a ‘boozed-up’ fan.
However, despite such concerns, Heather is confident in the safety measures in place.
“I wasn’t at all concerned, I’ve been in contact with friends who have already been and they say its very organised and very safe.”
“It’s an event we cherish”
Andy, a steward at The Crucible, shares Heather’s confidence in the safety measures in place and is simply grateful that this year’s tournament has a resemblance of normality.
“I wasn’t really apprehensive, when I got the call.
“All the staff are tested every three days, the players are tested, everyone who has purchased tickets have to show a negative test so I think its as safe as it can be.”
His role as a steward has been rendered obsolete amid the pandemic due to the lack of fans, and this has meant he has spent much of the last year wishing to be back amongst a crowd.
“It’s really good to see fans return. We work all events like the football at both Wednesday and United so I’ve essentially been out of work since March when everything shut down, so it is nice to see a return to some normality.”
Like many other Sheffielders, Andy takes pride in the fact that his city plays host to the snooker every year and relishes the spring-time when the world of snooker descends on South Yorkshire.
“It’s a great event to have here, there’s been talk of taking it away and I would be really gutted if they ever did because it’s an event we cherish.”
“I’ve got the best job in the world.”
Jim Cemlyn-Jones, a freelance cameraman, has been covering the snooker at Sheffield for various television channels since 2005 and over the years he has accrued a wealth of memories that would be the envy of any snooker fan.
“I do love a Ronnie match, he’s absolutely brilliant but one of my favourite matches was the [Judd] Trump v [John] Higgins final back in 2011, it was an amazing atmosphere that day.”
That year, John Higgins triumphed over Judd Trump after an enthralling final that was neck-and-neck until the former ultimately pull away in the final frames. Jim also highlighted last year’s semi-final as another stand-out memory that matched the 2011 final for drama.
“The [Kyren] Wilson and [Anthony] McGill semi-final last year was a stunning match and McGill’s someone who I think will do well this year.”
“Its just a great tournament, I’m very lucky, I’ve got the best job in the world.”
COVID has meant Jim has been filming various competitions in empty venues and fortunately the prospect of being among a crowd is not one that is of concern to him.
“I wasn’t really nervous, I’m probably fortunate because I’ve had my first jab and that’s given me confidence.”
“It’s also been very well run, credit to World Snooker.”