The Mercure hotel was as ever at this year’s Betfred World Championship the place where many of the players, managers, sponsors and media stayed  - and the bar a favourite watering hole for plenty more besides, with the snooker family congregating in the evenings to talk over the day’s events and catch up with old friends.

But it wasn’t just the snooker crowd staying there this year, with FA Cup semi-finalists Reading, who only lost to Arsenal at Wembley to a terrible blunder from keeper Adam Federici, rolling up on the second Monday. The Royals were in the area to play Rotherham on the Tuesday night in a game crucial to the Championship survival hopes of the Yorkshire club.


Graeme Dott is a pretty regular contributor in any ‘quote of the tournament’ competition. The feisty Scot and former world champion only has to feel strongly on a subject and the soundbites just seem to spill out. The Crucible this year was no exception. When Dott was asked about his excellent record at the venue and in the longer-distance matches, he insisted he was “a Grand National horse being asked to run seven-furlong races for most of the season”, a reference to the plethora of best-of-seven contests since the New Year.

And asked about Anthony McGill, Dott said: “Anthony just loves snooker, I mean really loves it, completely and utterly, he lives and breathes it.

“Give him another 10 years and he’ll probably be like everyone else and hate it – but he’s not like that now, no battle scars and he’s like a kid in a sweetshop.”


Nick Clegg, now of course the Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Sheffield Hallam, came to the Crucible in the build-up to the 2010 General Election and gave what was widely acknowledged to be a cringe-worthy speech full of weak snooker-based puns about reds, blues and yellows. There were even some boos, and that was when he still fairly popular, and before the whole reneging on the tuition fees pledge.

Clegg was, it is understood, invited once again this year but early responses indicated he would not be coming to the Sheffield theatre again before this General Election. Wicked rumour-mongers were left speculating that this might be for fear of a far rougher ride in the tiny arena with no hiding place from a public with a long memory, and Clegg not guaranteed to hold his seat. All Liberal Democrat spokespeople asked to comment on the real reasons felt unable to do so.


Neil Robertson insisted in the press conference following his first-round 10-2 win over Jamie Jones that he was for the first time in his career “regularly leaving the club after Joe Perry and practising as hard as I ever have for the World Championship”.

Perry, who also uses Cambridge as a training base, is usually only too ready to poke some fun at his friend and rival, and dismiss some of the Australian’s wilder claims – but he admitted in the corridor that on this occasion it was all true, and the 2010 champion had been focus and dedication personified ahead of the tournament after an early exit in Beijing.


‘Players appear circumstances permitting’ it says on tickets for the Betfred World Championship, which is fortunate as they may not appear very much on Monday judging by the overnight scores.

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Shaun Murphy each need just one frame to reach the quarter-finals, holding 12-4 leads over Matthew Stevens and Joe Perry respectively. Neil Robertson is two frames away with an 11-5 advantage over Ali Carter. The match most likely to turn round sees Judd Trump leading Marco Fu 10-6.

This is no one’s fault but sport at its best is dramatic and a series of processions tend not to capture the interest of casual sports fans. That’s not to say you can’t admire the excellence on show, as when a Roger Federer demolishes someone in the early rounds at Wimbledon or when Jordan Spieth cruised to victory at the US Masters, but close, tense finishes is where the World Championship produces box office moments.

Long matches at the Crucible often do this but aside from the first few days of the first round and Saturday night’s contest between Barry Hawkins and Mark Allen, much of this year’s fare has not seen the sort of nervy finishes which captivate audiences.

One change worth considering would be to have a second round match have its final two sessions on Monday. It seems odd from a media and spectator point of view to have no finishes on Sunday. Players do not as a rule like to play back-to-back sessions but 1pm and 7pm would mean a break between them and guarantee an eight frame session in the afternoon.

The finishes on Monday could yet be very close but this all feels like the calm before the storm, which will hit when the quarter-finals start on Tuesday. The last week of the World Championship is going to feature some world class talents locking cues for the £300,000 first prize.

Let’s hope we get some close contests before the trophy is presented a week on Monday.


Stephen Maguire occasionally gets some stick for his ‘heart on the sleeve’ reactions to and irritation with poor shots and misfortune in the arena while playing – much of it a little hard to understand, especially when Barry Hearn has called for players to show more true emotion during matches.

We hear that those reactions have even seen him hauled up before the authorities in the past, when there are any number of other things that would seem to merit more serious action in that respect. It is easy to sympathise sometimes with players who are left unsure of exactly what they can and can’t say or do without getting fined.

On a personal level, if drawing up a snooker ‘crime’ sheet there are some obvious ones from the match-fixing downwards, and very much towards the bottom would be expressing emotion at the table (with the possible exception of audibly swearing live on TV at family viewing times), and criticism of official table, cloth and ball manufacturers.

But Maguire was as generous as it is possible to get after such a draining match and defeat towards debutant Anthony McGill. After clawing his way back from 9-5 down to level at 9-9 Maguire went the way of Mark King in final qualifying, watching McGill knock in a century in the decider.

He had the good grace to tell McGill in the arena not to freeze against Mark Selby because he could give him a good game, and rather than excuse his defeat by claiming his opponent was brilliant was honest enough to say McGill can play a lot better.


Robbie Williams was devastated to learn of one unwanted Crucible record he owned before a first-round match with Stuart Bingham – the fewest points ever scored at the venue. On his one previous visit last year, a 10-2 loss to an in-form Neil Robertson, he scored just 269 points – but more promisingly stood just 41 points behind Joe Delaney.

“That has killed me that has, hearing that,” said Williams. “But at least I should get 42 points, you’d hope so. You might see me giving it the fist out in the arena when I get there.”

It didn’t take the 28-year-old from the Wirral long to rattle off the required points though, as he managed it in the second frame against Bingham to start moving rapidly up the table.


The Crucible can be a magnet for celebrities, sporting and otherwise, during the Betfred World Championships and such visits are usually heralded by days of frenzied speculation over which of the great and the good might be making the pilgrimage.

Last year of course Louis Tomlinson of One Direction dropped in before being whisked away in a security operation that would have impressed a US President. Early rumours this year saw names such as former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Chelsea skipper John Terry bandied around as possible visitors. We will see.


Betfred staged the first launch of their return to the World Championship fold at the RAC Club on London’s Pall Mall, often used in past years for this event – but don’t be too surprised if that is no longer the case next season in the second year of their current three-year deal.

The surroundings are plush but the atmosphere slightly stuffy, not really in keeping with the image and ethos of the bookmaking firm as an organisation.


MC Rob Walker has had trouble coming up with a nickname for Ricky Walden since the world No7 requested that ‘Marathon Man’ be dropped, given how long ago it was he completed the 26 miles in his only running of the New York race.

However during a conversation on the subject in the media centre it emerged that in China Walden is known to all as ‘The Meatball’. This is because the initials RW, when spoken in Chinese, sound the same as for the dish.

While Walker was mulling over whether or not this would work for a British audience, it was pointed out that the same nickname could also be used for him.


WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson played the diplomat in the always formal and extravagant award ceremony following the China Open final. Usually the representative of the governing body or World Snooker would take their place among the line of dignitaries on the arena floor.

But with the proceedings accorded such significance by the Chinese, and with face to be maintained, Ferguson realised that there were one too many people to be accommodated and gave up his place to make sure that the various sponsors were kept happy.

He got his own back, though – as staying in his seat in the front row meant that he could photo-bomb most of the pictures featuring the winner, runner-up, various trophies and assorted VIPs.


The post-final party at the China Open took place in Beijing ex-pats hangout Paddy O’Shea’s, but there was to be more misery for Gary Wilson after his 10-2 final defeat to Mark Selby.

The Geordie arrived just time for the start of Premier League Tyne-Wear derby between his beloved Newcastle and bitter rivals Sunderland.

And Wallsend’s Wilson could hardly watch as Jermain Defoe twisted the knife with a superb volleyed winner for the Mackems to inflict a fifth derby defeat in a row on the Toon.


The major European football leagues have a big following in China, and there was a moment in the China Open snooker final when all of the Chinese media suddenly started taking pictures of the screens showing the score between Mark Selby and Gary Wilson.

Enquiries revealed this baffling activity was in fact because the score in the snooker at that time (9-1 to Selby) was the same as the score in the Real Madrid La Liga match (9-1 against Granada). At least that wasn’t quite the end of the scoring for Wilson.


Mark Selby and Kurt Maflin may not have played too often as professionals, but their semi-final meeting at the China Open brought together two 31-year-olds who have been crossing cues for more than 20 years.

Maflin reckoned he had first played current world champion and world No1 Selby at the age of about nine.

And Leicester Jester Selby said: “It is easy to forget, but if Kurt is just older than me it can only be by a few months. He used to come to Willie Thorne’s for the junior competitions with his father.

“And I think I played Kurt in the final of the England Under-15s once, if I remember rightly I won that one 4-3. We haven’t played a lot as pros, I do think Kurt is very talented and has underachieved given that, which he says himself – but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he made it to the Crucible for the first time this year, as long as he gets over the jet-lag okay.”


Rob Milkins was unlucky to lose against Mark Selby in the quarter-finals of the China Open, a loss that consigned him to the qualifiers at Ponds Forge.

With all the added extra pressure of having a possible Crucible place at stake at the expense of Stephen Maguire, Milkins – as Selby admitted afterwards – was probably the better player but let things slip from 4-3 up to go down 5-4.

However with his Ponds Forge odyssey due to start later in the week Milkins wasted no time before his Saturday evening flight home, and was hard at work on the practise table at the venue when Selby came in to work on some things during the mid-session interval of his semi-final with Kurt Maflin.

“I find it always takes me a couple of days to feel right after coming back from China,” said Milkins. “The set-up here is really good and no one is on the tables really once it gets down to the last few, so I thought I might as well get some practice in here.”


The ‘Gary Wilson as former cab driver’ thing has had a decent amount of mileage ever since his good run at the UK Championships in York 18 months back – and it was given new life by his superb achievement in beating Ding Junhui to get to the China Open final.

A CCTV reporter – to be fair, the only one who had gone to a lot of trouble to research Ding’s opponent properly – was therefore not going to blow his big chance in the television interview straight after the semi-final.

“You used to be a taxi driver – how would you like to drive one in Beijing?” asked the broadcaster, alluding to the millions of cars on the Chinese city’s roads and regular gridlock. “No chance,” replied Wilson, whose days of needing to supplement his snooker income look to be well behind him for now.


Many players take advantage of a trip to the markets in Beijing and the other Chinese cities, and an unscientific survey revealed that Mark King is probably top dog when it comes to spotting a bargain and haggling for Britain.

Other partners in crime included Alex Davies, Jimmy Robertson, Davy Morris, Matt Selt and Rob Milkins – although the Gloucester player readily admitted he didn’t really hack it in the cut and thrust of market buying and selling.


Ding Junhui celebrated his 28th birthday at the China Open, for which he was again presented with a cake by the media, and also delighted the crowd with his dramatic quarter-final victory over John Higgins.

But the home hero had to share the Beijing sporting honours on the Friday evening of his thrilling win over the Scot. The Beijing Guoan v Shanghai Shenhua derby football match earlier in the evening was variously described as like “Barcelona v Real Madrid” or “Liverpool v Manchester United” by locals.

It was pretty clear in the stadium there was no love lost between the players or fans in a bitter rivalry, but goals from Darko Matic and Erton Fejzullahu settled matters in favour of Beijing to send the team top of the Super League and get the weekend off to a flier out in the bars and clubs.

There was also a half-time presentation of a green Guoan shirt to Stephon Marbury, as big a sports hero as there is in Beijing having just led the Ducks to a third CBA title in four years in the basketball-mad city.

Point guard Marbury is a former NBA All-Star who played for the New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns - but has now been in Beijing for four years.


The incredible drama of the final frame between Ding Junhui and John Higgins saw the Chinese media well and truly put through the wringer. As the match ebbed and flowed with never more than a frame in it, Ding saved one life by levelling at 4-4 as the noise level rose to a crescendo.

But the last act saw plenty among the assembled hacks and TV crews unable to watch as the home hero was in first, then offered Higgins a chance to steal the frame, the kind of clearance for which he is famous and the sort of chance he has started taking again in the past few months.

Higgins broke down leaving a red over the pocket, only for Ding to go in-off on a black prompting more frenzied oohs, aahs, gasps and groans. The fluked last red for their favourite saw little sympathy for the Scot from the ‘neutral’ gathering, but by the time Ding had missed the green only for Higgins to do likewise they could not have taken much more.

So it was probably just as well they didn’t have to, as Ding finally put the match to bed.


One of the first things any of the snooker crowd learn on a visit to one of the major Chinese cities is that whenever you get a taxi – quite often, given the low cost and big distances involved – it is best to have got your destination and hotel name written down in Chinese characters beforehand.

Failure to do this can and does result in near-farcical disaster, which fast becomes less amusing when you can’t find a cab to take you back to base in the small hours because the driver can’t understand a word you say, and your Mandarin or Cantonese isn’t up to scratch.

Matters were exacerbated in Beijing because the cards supposedly fulfilling such a purpose handed out by the Sheraton had such small lettering that most cab drivers couldn’t read them, and spent ages squinting at it before shrugging their shoulders and making it clear they were none the wiser.

For anyone that has seen Beijing traffic, a proliferation of short-sighted cabbies is a worry too far and enough to drive anyone on to public transport.