Classic Kiwi party. Pass-arounds. A fire on inside, gas-heaters in the tent. The beer was flowing like wine. The wine was being served from the biggest bottle I’ve ever seen – it took two people to distribute it. And in the corner of the lounge, at just the right time, the TV went on for the rugby. It was the Crusaders (that awful name – they had the chance to change it, to do something different with it, something decent and kind and, erm, ‘aware’ and worthwhile and they blew it). And it was some Aussie team – I don’t care all that much for the ruggers – but I can follow it.
It’s still on in the house where I grew up. Every chance it can be on – it’s on. Rugby. Rugby. Rugby. It ruined my birthday parties growing up, the rugby would take over and everyone would sit glued to it. I played in bands for a while, so I often saw bits of the rugby before taking the stage – one time we even shared the bill: Well, we were double-booked. The bar had forgotten there was an important test match (Bledisloe, or whatever…) and they decided to have us play “quietly” at the same time – so naturally the punters turned their seats, and “watched us” with their backs to the band, a few “shhh!” comments directed at us when the game got really good. We were told to play with brushes and acoustic guitars, we were told to unplug completely, but instructed also that we must keep playing. The remote control was waved like a wand and the emphatic rugby commentary rose up and above anything we were playing.
But hey, I’m not bitter about rugby. It happens. And I played enough sport – and watched enough sport to know the rules enough to follow the game and, so I can hold up an end of a conversation about rugby. If I must. And this was the case at the party. I wandered into the Rugby Room at maybe the wrong time entirely and ended up having a Fitzy and Trev chat with another guy about how defense wins games and games are played in two halves always and a stern locker-room half-time chat always leads to a re-energised set of players to start the second half of the game. And penalty this. And conversion that. And try that. And all the time I was trying to move the conversation anywhere else, and I was also wearing a basketball cap – which I thought to be a giant fucking clue that I might like to talk about that, or, you know, anything else!
Eventually ol’ Fitzy or Trev or Mucka or Graeme or whatever asked me what sport was my favourite to watch on the box. And I said that I watched a lot of basketball – and loved it. And he gestured, and added, “oh yeah, the hat”. And then I blank-faced and added, “but my favourite sport to watch…my absolute favourite…is snooker”.
If his mouth was a goal anyone could have scored – it was wide fucking open. And he laughed and asked if I was serious. And I said “deadly” and managed to remain looking deadly serious (an easy gift – since I basically never smile).
What was it about snooker? That was his next question. And fair enough. And I said, “the drama, mate”. Because we were mates by this stage, we’d nearly watched half a rugby game together. And I told him about how Pot Black was one of my favourite shows growing up. And eventually, after a slightly grueling two and a half minutes I had lost him.
But, if I haven’t already lost you, let me confirm that not only am I serious and not only did I used to love Pot Black – I’m back! I’m back watching snooker as often as I can. Snooker is everywhere on my favourite TV channel: YouTube! I pay the money for the premium service with the YouTube and I have playlists galore of docos and music and drumming videos and sports and all sorts – I’ve got about a hundred hours of basketball docos I might never make it halfway through but it doesn’t matter – because the content is there and I’ve collected as much as I can find and stored it all in one place. And I’m not hurting anyone. I’m like a chipmunk storing food and praying for the greatest hibernation of all time.
And so snooker is the new thing again for me. The drama. The skill. The commentary. The nostalgia. The fact, too, that as with basketball, I am still catching up on things that happened in 1985. Never mind what’s going on today. I know a few rugby tragics that re-watch when John Kirwan darted around the Italian team to run almost the length of the field in the opening gambit for the 1987 world cup. I know it still without re-watching it because it was the most I was ever into rugby. But I’ll admit that I’ve dialed it up on the ‘Tube a couple of times in the last decade. Because: Why not?
In recent weeks I’ve been catching up on the snooker players I knew and loved when I was a kid – the favourite of all was “Hurricane” Higgins. And maybe Alex Higgins was the George Best of snooker you know. So there’s this human-drama back-story to dig in on as well as the whispering wonder that is professional snooker commentary. As well as the skill and speed with which the Hurricane swirled around the table.
There’s more than Higgins though – there’s Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, there’s Jimmy White – the greatest player to never win the World Championship final. He was there six times but couldn’t get it over the line – he had been a junior champ and is devastating in the Masters – but he couldn’t take down the likes of Davis, who for a time was unbeatable.
Then there was Dennis Taylor, with his upside-down glasses. Stupid 80s fashion – or were they designed that way so he could see well when leaning over the table, avoiding the glare of the lights and the cameras? Who knows, but he could sure play. And he was one half of my favourite game of all-time.
Sometimes there’s wonderful timing – and I started getting hooked again on snooker fairly recently. And then I discovered there’s a BBC documentary on the history of the sport. A brand new one that is, Louis Theroux’s production company is behind it I believe. Louis’ not fronting this one. But he’s clipping the ticket. Good on him. I can’t wait to see it.
Meanwhile I’ve been watching some of the older docos – including one specifically about Higgins. My library list now includes a bunch of snooker biographies and books. (No, really!)
And of course there’s much to see from Ronnie O’Sullivan – now the greatest of all-time and a former child prodigy. There is no professional snooker player better than O’Sullivan. Or is Judd Trump better? It’s all pretty exciting. And so much to catch up on.
Now, I did play snooker a tiny bit – only at home (we had a pool table when I was growing up). And I wasn’t amazing, I didn’t show promise, but I knew the rules and I played properly, and I liked it and I had some luck down the track playing super-pool for a bit. Some nights I was really good – some nights I wasn’t great al all. You know how that is. But I’m not even nostalgic to play it again – just to watch it. And study it. And I have no idea where this compulsion has come from. But the sport is riveting. And I love it. And it feels like the greatest sport to be a supporter of in 2021.
What’s your favourite spectator sport? And specifically, I mean your favourite to watch on the telly – or on a screen at the least? And do you dial up old games or matches from the past? Or are you only interested in keeping up with the new? Any snooker fans reading? And anyone already seen the new documentary, Gods of Snooker?