John Higgins Desperate To Attract New Fans To 'Stuck In The Past'' Snooker

Last week's Masters was a move in the right direction
20:00, 23 Jan 2022

Snooker star John Higgins would love to see an influx of new fans in the sport before he hangs up his cue.

Last week’s Masters at the raucous Ally Pally proved a huge hit with players. Pop music was played between frames to keep fans entertained as well as a corporate box and plush hospitality sofas which hosted the likes of Ronnie Wood. 

It has left the powers that be pondering what can be done at other events to modernise the green-baize game. 

Former world champion Judd Trump has been vocal about his disdain at the formal dress code and the need to drag the sport into the 21st century. 

Meanwhile, Masters winner Neil Robertson wants the World Championship to be revamped to replicate the incredible atmosphere at the famous London venue. 

This week’s Shoot Out, which finishes tonight, has been labelled as the ‘T20 of snooker’ with its quick-fire format. The one-frame tournament sees matches played over just 10 minutes with a shot clock in operation to avoid painstaking slow play.

Booze-fuelled punters get involved and despite arguments over its credibility as a ranking event it is a great watch with a rowdy atmosphere. 

Next week will see the German Masters return to its Berlin Tempodrom home for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. It’s another brilliant event which players love competing in due to the atmosphere from the knowledgable German crowd in the unique arena set up.

“I’m all for bringing new audiences into the game,” said four-time world champion Higgins. 

“They have tried different variations of the game which are quicker and things to improve crowd participation. Who knows what could happen in the future if new fans can get on board and there’s a new generation of fans and players?”

World No 2 Trump believes snooker’s “stuck in the past” with constant references to the game’s British peak in the 1980s. 

Dennis Taylor beating Steve Davis 18-17 in the famous ‘black-ball’ 1985 world final being watched by a record 18.5million people is the most told story in the sport’s history.

Dennis Taylor - The Man Who Ruled Snooker At Its Pomp

Higgins took up the game as a kid during the sport’s big 80s boom and idolised prolific winner Davis. The Scottish potter turned professional alongside Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams in the famed ‘Class of 92’ whilst compatriot Stephen Hendry was taking the game to new heights. 

But Higgins feels “times have changed” due to the smoking ban in the early noughties which saw snooker's popularity dwindle as clubs across Britain sadly shut their doors for good.

“When people talk about the popularity of the game they always go back to Dennis Taylor beating Steve Davis, they were unbelievable viewing figures,” stressed Higgins

“But there were maybe only two or three TV channels back then. There’s no comparison. Because we’re from Britain people think the heady days back in the 80s, but it’s a different life.

“The drinking culture is different from back in the day. My dad would come down and have five or six pints and watch his boys playing snooker. I don’t think people there days go and do that now. I wouldn’t go to the pub and do that, you’d probably go for a meal with the kids nowadays.” 

The sport will no doubt go on and has suffered from slumps in the past. People are quick to forget that prize money was at a record all-time high before coronavirus struck. 

Recently retired Barry Hearn saved the game from potential extinction when he took the reins in 2009. The sport went from having just seven events on the calendar, with players needing a second job just to make ends meet, to becoming a global force with almost 30 tournaments a year. 

Ironically, players felt like they were being overworked and complained about the sheer amount of events. But the choice to play was there and lots of players prospered during Hearn’s time at the helm. 

There are fears the game will cease to exist in Britain. The government and Sport England need to pull their finger out to ensure that doesn’t happen. 

Every casual sports fan knows who Ronnie O’Sullivan is. But how many know who Kyren Wilson is? For those that don’t, the Kettering cueman has played in a Masters and World Championship final and is ranked fifth in the world. 

The World Snooker Tour need to promote their current and future stars because the ‘Class of 92’ unfortunately won’t be around forever. All three have talked about retiring and at the age of 46 it wouldn’t be a surprise if they all called it a day before turning 50. 

The Chinese revolution has long been talked about and could finally be coming to fruition. The government-sponsored scheme is incredible and something you could only dream of in this country. Yan Bingtao (21) beat Higgins in last year’s Masters final, whilst Zhao Xintong (24) won last month’s UK Championship. It would come as no surprise is China dominated the green-baize game within the next decade. 

Everything humanly possible needs to be done to help a new generation of fans connect with the sport. 

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