Watching the US Masters golf from Augusta recently, we are always given a sense of the history surrounding that tournament. Same venue every year and all that. Being the massive golf fan that i am, it’s far and away my (and plenty others) favourite event of the sporting year. The drive up Magnolia Lane, Amen corner, the drama of the back nine on sunday. It’s always a xerox of what happened on the same grounds 12 months previous, the only change being the faces under the baseball caps, and we golf nuts just can’t get enough.
The Crucible, similarly, has never lost that sense of history either. Sure, it’s nowhere near as glamorous as the pristine, Persian rug like fairways of the Deep South. What it has in spades though, is something I’m a fan of in general – very little change. Now in my 25th year of playing at the Crucible, i find comfort in knowing every metaphorical blade of grass behind it’s famous doors.
A basic geography behind the scenes goes something like this….. As most players will enter through stage door, you are met at the security desk by the lovely Lynne, and Gary Wilkinson, a top player himself over the late 80s and 90s. A player, and his guests will be issued their relevant security passes which must be worn at all times. Players are generally allowed two access all areas guest passes which gain entry to the coveted Champions Lounge – more about that later. As you venture through the swing doors there are two options, hang a right which leads behind the stage and comm boxes and you’ll find the practise room. Not much has changed there down the years, save for there now being three practise tables. There used to be just two, with the other space being used as the main studio. I have to say it was a lot of fun with the studio in earshot of your practise time. There was always a story or an interview with a match winner, the odd celebrity visitor, or simply listening to the master, the one and only David Vine deliver his sermon in those famous headmaster like dulcet tones. With the studio moving across Crucible Square to the winter gardens ten or so years ago, it’s actually better from a playing perspective. Three tables are ample, and it’s very quiet in there most of the time. You see, snooker players are a pernickety bunch – four walls, in a dark room with no distraction is the ultimate nirvana for players to prepare quietly. And obviously as the tournament unfolds and the body count drops, it’s easy to get at least two or three hours a day if needed.
With practise done and dusted, it’s back along the corridor, past stage door and you come to the dressing room area. Whether it’s deliberate having four of them, which suits the snooker perfectly I’m not so sure. But anyhow, the refurb of a few years ago has made them a tad bigger, nicely fitted out, with the major boon being the dispensing of the strange single bed with the burst springs that used to adorn them. I always thought they looked like something out of Cool Hand Luke. I could have mentioned Shawshank Redemption, but as every male in history has watched it at least 1,000 times (snooker blogger’s even more), i won’t bother. Even though I just did.
Personally, i never like to spend much time in the dressing room. It feels a bit cold and soulless to me. Some players will sit and read the newspaper at the interval, others will have a snooker debrief with friends. I tend to hit the practise room in an attempt to stay loose, hit a few balls, and pass the 15 minute interval as quick as possible. One thing I do miss about the dressing room is the pre-match snooker tunes that used to hum out from the little speaker above the door. Yes, The Entertainer, the Pot Black theme tune, and To the Unknown Man by Vangelis were all in there. Mind you, those tunes were at times a sharp reminder of the impending doom that might lie beyond that famous walk on. Maybe one day they’ll bring back those haunting tunes? In fact no, hold that idea – it was way too nerve wracking.
From the dressing rooms, and heading farther away from stage door, you’ll slip past the tournament office and eventually come to the press room. It’s by far the largest room backstage. I’ve always enjoyed spending time there. It’s good to watch a few frames on the big screens and scoreboards. There are always plenty of friendly faces among the press pack in the Crucible who enjoy a good light hearted natter about the day’s events. It’s the one place backstage that feels strangely removed from the tournament. Everywhere else just feels a bit serious and tense, especially when you have a match to prepare for. One of the time honoured traditions of the Crucible is to be found in the corridor just outside the press room. Basically every newspaper story on the championship is printed off and pinned to the wall. It’s quite a sight, and a good read too come the end of 17 days i can tell you.
Upstairs you would find a series of rooms, mainly used by the tv crews for interviews, make up, dressing rooms and the like. The one place for players guests to relax with a nice drink and a sandwich, as mentioned earlier, is the Champions Lounge. There’s always a relaxed atmosphere in there with the matches being shown live, and invariably you’ll find one or two players killing time in between practise times. It’s not a big room, so when the commentary teams are in there pre-match, you’ll usually hear Dennis, Willie, JV and the rest ribbing one another about anything from football to dodgy golf handicaps, although it does appear that JV is the self appointed h’cap convener. The rule of thumb seems to be – if you play off 14, the big fella will promptly reduce it to 12. What a shrewdy!
All in all, it’s just a fabulous place to play. Even with Vangelis on in the background.