Scottish professional snooker player Alan McManus pictured entering the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield during competition in the 1993 Embassy World Snooker Championship in the city in April 1993. Alan McManus would go on to reach the last four.
Alan McManus tells Desmond Kane why it is vital for snooker and Sheffield to avoid moving the World Championship from the Crucible Theatre this year due to the coronavirus crisis.
Alan McManus was once famously piped into the Crucible Theatre before his semi-final joust with fellow Scot Stephen Hendry in 1993.
It was one of three runs he made to the last four of the event with defeats to seven-times world champion Hendry, Jimmy White in 1992 and Ding Junhui in 2016 denying him a final shot at claiming snooker’s ultimate event.
McManus - winner of the Masters in 1994 with a thrilling 9-8 win over Hendry - believes the World Championship is as synonymous with the city of Sheffield and the Crucible as the skirl of the bagpipes are with Scotland.
He is as much an ardent snooker fan, media pundit and student of the game as he is a professional, in the past commenting that: "if it ever moved from the Crucible, I wouldn’t consider it the World Championship. They could play it anywhere else, Wembley Stadium, it wouldn’t be the same and I wouldn’t class the guy who won it the world champion".
The news that the coronavirus pandemic has forced the annual potting jamboree to be postponed is not a huge surprise, but McManus, who has ditched practising to limit social contact after the Tour Championship was called off on Tuesday until July at the earliest, is concerned about happens next.
Alan McManus lines up a shot.
Image credit: Eurosport
Moving the 44th staging of the World Championship from April to July or August in the calendar has been mooted by World Snooker Tour as their preferred option, but McManus would not be overly dismayed if the tournament was pushed further back in the year, a prospect that remains very much alive.
He believes that would be the preferable option than moving it out of Sheffield for a year.
“See if they were to take it somewhere else for one year, that wouldn’t be great either,” McManus told Eurosport.
I was thinking about this the other day when the Tour Championship was cancelled. What if you take it somewhere that the players actually like? They might end up saying that this is different class from the Crucible, why don’t we just permanently move?
"I’m actually glad that, if and when they get a date sorted, we can keep it there.
“I think the ideal scenario would be to come up with another date in the calendar to keep it at the Crucible, whenever that is."
McManus was due to be working as a pundit at the elite eight-man Tour Championship in Llandudno in Wales with the event cancelled only three hours before the first match.
With the sporting calendar already decimated due to the outbreak, McManus feels snooker had no choice but to go into cold storage.
“It would have been good if it had been safe, but I think that was wishful thinking even with no fans,” said McManus. “You have got 15 people in trucks all day doing the broadcast. That is a very tight space.
If we had gone ahead with the Tour Championship, and someone contracts the virus then basically you have to pull the plug on the whole event because everybody there is doing a specialised job.
“The danger is if one of the TV crew pick something up at the tournament, and go home to elderly parents. There are dangers there.”
Amid a sporting calendar decimated by the outbreak across the globe, The Grand National and the Boat Race have both been called off with professional football in the UK already in lockdown, the Six Nations rugby tournament postponed and the ATP and WTA tennis seasons forced to abandon events until May at the earliest.
World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has stated snooker behind closed doors "can be an inspiration to people around the world" during this health crisis, but McManus does not agree with that view.
“I heard a few people saying this could be a really good thing for snooker, the fact that we are showing snooker while there is no other sport on," said McManus.
I don’t take that view of it all. I think we’ve all got to batten down the hatches, and do the right thing by society by staying indoors for a while. It is hopefully a short time to help other people in the country, but we have to think about the bigger picture rather than self-interest.
McManus feels a World Championship at the Crucible without fans would be like Wimbledon hosting tennis without any spectators on Centre Court.
“It’s a good thing that the World Championship is postponed in a sense because we would all have hated to see it played behind closed doors,” said McManus.
That would have been the most surreal experience. It would have been like playing a pro-am in the Crucible with nobody there. I’m glad it’s not come to that.
“You get the sense of disappointment, the fans that come every year are gutted and the players are gutted too.
“But imagine playing the Wimbledon final on Centre Court with nobody there? It just wouldn’t be a proper match. The snooker fan isn’t going to miss out which is good.
“If it was to go ahead later in year, you could have two Crucibles in the space of eight months so that’s quite good. It would be a bit like having the Ashes cricket inside the space of nine months when it is staged Down Under."
The cancellation seemed inevitable after this week's Tour Championship was postponed after UK government advice to the British public to avoid mass gatherings including venues such as theatres, cinemas, pubs and clubs.
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“Theatres in Sheffield are going to be shut right now," said McManus. "The money that snooker generates for Sheffield is huge. Snooker is an important part of their calendar. They’ll want to accommodate us I’m sure because of what snooker brings to the city.
“I think people’s selfish nature, which we’ve all got in one shape or form, you only think of the here and now.
But see in three or four months or five months, whenever it is, and there is potentially a World Championship happening, we’ll actually be glad that we’ve got it.
“Sooner or later, it will come around again. The worst possible scenario is having a year where we don’t have a World Championship.
“You can’t not have a World Championship in this day and age. It seems that the most important event of the year at the Crucible is snooker.
“You would like to think it can be accommodated in some shape or form at some point if they shuffle a few things around.”