Being out of breath doesn’t have to be the definition of sport, check out the high intensity ball game played on a very different green…

By Katie Garner

Image: Radio Times

Image: Radio Times

I have a bit of a confession to make…I am an avid snooker viewer. Yes, it’s not my coolest hobby and not something a lot of people know, but when the snooker appears for hours on BBC Two on a Sunday afternoon, I would seriously recommend that you put the kettle on and pull up a pew to view this incredibly intellectual and intense game.

Granted, I am no expert on the various rules and regulations of snooker – all I know, I have picked up from watching frames (the equivalent of a game in the match)and listening to old time stars and now commentators passing on their knowledge in useful bite sized chunks used to spice up the intervals. What I love about snooker though, is its complexity. It is not just a matter of preparing your shot, getting it in the hole and then moving on to the next one. You are not just playing for the pot but also for a good position on your next pot. Where the cue ball is positioned can make or break a frame, making it a dream for the player or a complete nightmare. The players have to be thinking at least three and sometimes four shots ahead, planning their route across the table as if studying an AA map. Alternating between a red ball and the various other colours makes this a harder task, with a multitude of spins, stuns, flicks and plants to enable players to get literally anywhere on the table, trying to amount as many points as possible as they go.

Snooker is very much a game of dimensions, or as the commentators say, a game of fractions. An inch, a centimetre and even a millimetre can seriously affect your sequence of shots, whether playing a safety shot, attempting to hide the cue ball behind another ball, or whether trying to position the cue ball for a difficult pot. It’s just as vital as us learning how many strides it will take us to reach the tramlines. The table is their pitch, their court and learning how the balls bounce off the sides, or fall into the pockets is essential for them. They cannot simply scatter the balls where they will, as if they don’t pot a ball, their opponent steps up to the table and can then take control and essentially win the frame – never a good thing.

I so admire the skill displayed by snooker players. Shots that I think will never possibly pot are skidded in with ease, long shots that seem like miles away are plonked in with a perfectly straight aim. In a way, snooker can be a very individual game. When your opponent is sitting down, it’s just you and the table, and it’s up to you to make sure that the balls are cleared and the opposition doesn’t need to stand up again. With a quick fire thought process, you have to analyse and track your course of play across the table, alternating colours and deciding what route, what risks and what balls will see you collect the most points in the break. A steady hand, clear sense of direction and unlimited amounts of self -confidence and belief actually make this solitary sport incredibly difficult.

What I also am rather impressed by is their poker straight body positioning. Their backs are so flat leaning down over the table you could serve afternoon tea off them, so still and clean are their movements. Their arms are not jerky in the slightest but with a smooth potting motion that sees their elbows raise in the air in a perfect right angle. Such exact and precise movements, to create exact and precise shots, which is the only way to win a frame of snooker.

You won’t hear a roaring crowd at snooker events – complete silence suitable for intense concentration is all there is, with the audience all listening to small earpieces that feed them the commentators observations of the break. It is a game very much made up of decisions, what ones you risk, whether they pay off or not, and if it goes wrong, it is all up to you. Snooker is so personal and the players so focused on achieving their aims, you can’t help but get caught up in trying to keep up with the pace of their thoughts and shots. Granted, I can never work out some of the shots, they are too clever for me, but I love watching such obvious displays of true talent and skill, in a sport that is in many ways undervalued and maybe not viewed as a ‘proper’ sport due to the lack of physical movement, sweating and general running around.

Despite the oblique stillness that often surrounds snooker, there is still that playful element of banter in attendance. When entering the arena, the players get a wrestler style introduction with nicknames such as ‘The Thunder from Down Under’ for Australian champ Neil Robertson, or ‘The Pocket Rocket’ for Scottish star Graham Dott. I have never witnessed bad sportsmanship or rudeness amongst the players either, which is so refreshing to see. No such thing as time wasting or putting each other off – it’s the epitome of good manners, compliments and the ultimate challenge in problem solving.

Any snooker players out there? What are your advice and tips? Do you see snooker as a ‘proper’ sport?