Reigning world champion John Higgins held an open session at York’s ‘Cueball Club’ last week, inviting challengers to take him on in a frame with the promise of a drink for everyone in the room if he could be defeated. Surprisingly, I lost. It was just as well for the Scot too, as there were well over a hundred of us packed into the dingy basement snooker hall. Such is the popularity of the sport today- and with this year’s UK Championship to be held at the Barbican Centre in December, interest is surely set to grow in York, if only for a fortnight.
While the presence of poster boys Willie Thorne and Steve Davis is sure to set female hearts racing, some of snooker’s younger stars will be looking to make their big break at the event, and emerge with the most prestigious trophy in the sport bar Sheffield’s World Championship. World number one Mark Selby, the Jester from Leicester, will be in with a great chance, as will China’s 24-year-old darling Ding Junhui.
Judd Trump will surely be at the head of the charge for glory though. Just as he did so superbly on route to the World Championship final in April, the 22-year-old is set to bewilder fans at the Barbican with his trademark attacking style of play and bold long-pot attempts. Trump is certainly in a focused and determined mood, confidently proclaiming on his twitter account this week “Jack Daniels sauce. Delicious”.
But can Trump and the other young pretenders usurp Higgins and the veterans? 36-year-old Mark Williams was last year’s runner-up, and is enjoying some of the best snooker of his career after returning to second position in the world rankings. Dropping out of the elite top sixteen in 2008 would have buried many careers on the baize, but the Welshman’s rejuvenated form means he has a fighting chance of entering 2012 as UK champion.
It would also take a brave man to write off Ronnie O’Sullivan, even at 35 years old- just ask the hapless Mick Price, one of many victims to have sat slumped in his seat, watching the legend race through a maximum 147 break. Rocket Ronnie’s time on that occasion in 1997? A little over five minutes, an astonishing record that nobody has come even close to since. Price is now a student careers advisor in Kenilworth, by the way. He doesn’t normally recommend snooker.
Whoever takes the £100,000 prize money that comes with the title would be able to buy 20,000 students tickets for first-round matches at the Barbican Centre. That’s right maths fans- student admission has been set at a bargain price of £5, in a generous bid to attract younger fans. Not interested in snooker? Put off by its tag as a ‘Dad sport’? Well put down your Panini, pour the Costa down the drain. Stuart Bingham versus Marco Fu is a much more sensible way to spend a fiver this week. Give snooker a try. Go on, I dare you.