This year’s Betfred Snooker World Championship was one that will be remembered forever. Now that isn’t hyperbole as for the thrilling final between eventual champion Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy, sporting normality resumed as 980 spectators packed into a sold out Crucible for the first time at a major UK sporting event since March 2020.
Selby, having defeated Murphy 18-15 in the final to win his fourth title, told us what the crowd brought to the occasion: “It was amazing. I’ve been in five world finals and that was as electric as it has ever been. I played Ronnie O’Sullivan in a final and you would think obviously that would be the greatest atmosphere but for me, out of all the finals I have played in, that is the best atmosphere I have played in.
“When I potted the black and gave it the fist at the end, the roar, they are probably cheering because there has not been any live sport for a year. They are just as excited as everybody else.”
Having edged out the 2005 winner in a tactical battle of a final, Selby who last won at the Crucible in 2017 spoke about the difficulties of the sport - even when you have the support of a vocal crowd.
“Yeah I think as sports go it is the hardest sport in the world mentally,” he explained. “Because once you are in that chair there is nothing you can do, it’s out of your control. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you can be Ronnie O’Sullivan, but once you are sat in that chair you can’t do anything. Whereas in other sports, golf, if you play a bad shot then you can recover next shot, in snooker if you play a bad shot it can cost you three or four frames.”
This success takes Selby to four Betfred Snooker World Championship wins, and although he is still Stephen Hendry’s record seven titles, he has equalled one of the all-time greats of the game.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable, to win it four times and equal John Higgins is something I could only dream of. John Higgins is one of the all-time greats so to be in that category with him as well is crazy. I’m 37, but I feel 57 after these last two weeks!”
The amount of hard work and dedication gone into preparing this tournament to host fans has been unbelievable, with testing centres and precautions put in place outside the arena to make sure it could go ahead safely. Now, snooker has proved it can lead the way and has provided key data when it comes to fans hopefully making a return to other sports later this year.
We have also seen some incredible sport unfold before our eyes. Defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan suffered an early second round exit to Anthony McGill after a thrilling encounter ended 13-12 to the Scot, but one of the greatest of all time just can’t say farewell to this incredible sporting venue. “If I say goodbye to the Crucible then I say goodbye to playing and I say goodbye to a lot of good things that have happened for me and I don’t really want to do that. I’ve probably got another five years left in me, the way I look after myself, the way I play. I look around and there’s some decent players about but I suppose I could get it right maybe one more time.
World number one Judd Trump found himself making his punditry debut after going out in the quarter-finals to Shaun Murphy, Murphy himself referred to the winner Selby as ‘super-granite’ and ‘the best all-rounder we have seen’ after his final defeat but perhaps the biggest story came as Barry Hearn, who has transformed snooker, announced his retirement.
Having worked in sport for five centuries, he has not only kept the snooker alive, but propelled it into the mainstream media and made it possible for the players to turn professional and earn good prize money. He will be hugely missed, but his legacy in snooker will live on.
So Mark Selby walked away from the Crucible with his fourth crown, we have five more years of Ronnie O’Sullivan to savour and Barry Hearn stepped back from snooker. But the real winners this year were the fans, sport and society in general as snooker led the way and provided a much-missed hearty roar after twelve months spent in silence.