The Masters of Snooker.
Wembley Arena, January 15th, 2008.
Music and sport have more things in common than you might think. Sport, like music, has different genres. Sport, like music, demands a physical and mental effort on the part of its participants. Sport, like music, moves in waves: teams, even entire competitions, can become popular or unpopular on the strength of the generation coming through (or not coming through). Sport, like music, has its superstars; its rockstars if you will.
The one thing that sport and music don’t have in common is the ability to mix genres seamlessly. In music, Metallica can play with a symphony orchestra, Run DMC can play with Aerosmith and Tom Jones can play with, well, anyone he wants. It’s called collaboration and, whether it’s good or bad, it’s almost always interesting.
When you try collaborations in sport, they always feel weird. It’s either a tad curious – see the Winter Biathlon – it’s a bit odd – thank you chess-boxing – or it’s downright ridiculous – anyone for underwater hockey? Something about trying to jazz up a particular sport by shoehorning another sport into it or setting it in a zanier environment or just chucking in a token member of the opposite sex to ‘create intrigue’ just doesn’t work.
But that’s why they do it, isn’t it? Jazz up their sport to make more people watch it. This is what Ronnie O’Sullivan, World Champ and undisputed rockstar (he broke a cue!), reckons needs to happen to his sport, snooker. O’Sullivan mentioned this week that snooker needed the kind of ‘glamming up’ brought to darts over the last ten years. That is, banging choons as the players walk out to the table, drunk fans holding up signs and wearing Shrek ears, and presumably a ‘7-point song’ that gets played every time a player pots the black.
Fair play to Ronnie, about three people were on hand to watch him win a 6-5 thriller over Joe Perry in the first round here on Sunday. But something feels wrong about getting the boys to wear badly fitting cabana shirts to play whilst a scantily clad female referee bends over to place the pink ball back on the table after giving it a sensuous rub.
Some sports are simply classical. Like classical music, they require a whole other level of attention and mastery and appreciation. Snooker is not meant to be a rock’n’roll show. It’s not meant to have players high-fiving the crowd after they win a frame. I place snooker in the same family as chess and golf: they are more cerebral than physical. They are meant to be played in an austere atmosphere because, bottom line, when you’re trying to get a small ball into a small hole somewhere far away or literally outwit your opponent, all by yourself, you just need everyone to shut the hell up.
Of course you could rock’n’roll up snooker, but then you just get this:
And as much fun as that might be to witness in reality, something would leave the sport altogether – it’s sense of self. Snooker doesn’t need to apologise for its nature; no sport should. Adapt and evolve (think time limits), yes; attempt a shameless, Madonna-esque attempt to ‘appeal to the kids,’ no. Because snooker is better than that, and its players are clever enough to be the force for change by modelling themselves differently, in the way Andre Agassi did for tennis or Seve Ballesteros for golf, not by remodelling the game itself. There’s a reason we still listen to Beethoven and Mozart a few hundred years after the fact: the classics never die. Snooker would do well to remember that.