I visited the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Sunday 19th April 2015 for my 11th consecutive World Snooker Championship to see the conclusions of the first round matches involving John Higgins and Stephen Maguire.
The snooker circus once again rolled into my home city of Sheffield this weekend, as it has done every April since 1977 when my great uncle Michael Watterson brought the tournament to the venue now considered ‘the home of snooker’.
Because of my family connections to the sport and the fact that the World Championship is on my doorstep, I have been a regular visitor to the tournament for as long as I can remember.
My first tournament was in 2001 when I saw the late Paul Hunter defeat David Roe 10-6. After a few years off, I returned in 2005 for the final year of Embassy sponsorship and have come to at least a couple of matches at the Crucible every year since – making this my 11th consecutive and 12th World Championship in total.
It is always an exciting time of year when the snooker comes to Sheffield. The weather is (generally) nice with the arrival of Spring – although some rainfall before tonight’s session proved this is not always the case!
But most excitingly the biggest names in the sport are all in the local area for the 17-day marathon and for these two and a half weeks, the whole world’s eyes have their attention on the steel city of Sheffield.
The opening Sunday’s evening session offered my first taste of live snooker this year. And it was a good one to choose, with two enthralling matches reaching their conclusion.
On the table I was watching, four-time World Champion John Higgins took on the number 17 ranked player Robert Milkins. Meanwhile, on the other side of the curtain it was former UK Champion Stephen Maguire against Anthony McGill, a young Scot who was making his Crucible debut but had shown no signs of nerves in taking a 6-3 lead in the first session.
The was an excitable atmosphere inside the small, historic venue as MC Rob Walker did his usual routine of warming up the crowd. The four players then made their entrances – receiving rapturous welcomes from the generous crowd – before the snooker got underway.
One of the true greats of the game, Higgins had rolled back the years in the first session of this best of 19 frame match. The Scot had raced into 3-0 and 5-1 leads, before finally ending up 6-3 ahead coming into this Sunday evening at the Crucible.
And he wasted no time adding to his lead as breaks of 77 and 75 pushed him into an almost unassailable 8-3 lead.
But Milkins hit back, ensuring there would be an interval by taking the 12th and then reducing his arrears further by winning a lengthy 13th frame to make it 8-5 at the mid-session interval.
However, the experienced Scotsman clearly didn’t fancy a long night as he stormed to victory upon their return. Breaks of 44 and 69 moved Higgins one away from victory and he finished in style, knocking in 106 to book his place in the second round and set up a tie with either Ding Junhui or Mark Davis.
As is tradition at the Crucible, the curtain that divides the two tables lifted to that the whole venue could now witness the conclusion of the all-Scottish battle between Maguire and McGill.
Heading into the evening with a 6-3 lead, the two players shared the opening four frames to make it 8-5 at their interval. McGill won the 14th frame when they returned to move one away from a maiden victory, before Maguire hit back to make it 9-6 when the curtain was raised.
With all eyes now on him, the 24-year old Crucible debutant clearly began to feel the pressure as his opponent won the next couple of frames to pull it back to 9-8. The youngster had a chance to win in in the 18th frame, but broke down on just 15 before Maguire mopped up to force a decider.
It looked inevitable, having come back from 9-5 down, that the experience of the former world number 2 would see him to victory. But of course, anything can happen at the Crucible!
McGill, whose highest break in the last four frames was 15, showed the calmness and skill of true champion to knock in a truly outstanding 122 break in the deciding frame to set up a showdown with reigning world champion Mark Selby in the next round.
It was a magic Crucible moment and the night well and truly belonged to young Anthony McGill, who was victorious on his Crucible debut – and in such brilliant fashion! Who knows how far he could go in this tournament!