Darren Gough: Make or break time as snooker needs to attract wider audience

Mark Williams walks to his post match interview without any clothes on after winning the 2018 World Championshipat The Crucible. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA
Mark Williams walks to his post match interview without any clothes on after winning the 2018 World Championshipat The Crucible. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA
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THE World Snooker Championship final at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre between Mark Williams and John Higgins may have got a load of headlines, but let’s face it – the only reason it got on the back pages was because the winner did his press conference naked.

Don’t get me wrong, I love snooker. But you just wonder about its long-term future and I feel there needs to be a debate to address that.

Me now being 48, and growing up in the 80s, I grew up around snooker when it was huge on the TV. I remember Joe Johnson winning that world final against all the odds and there were the likes of Ray Reardon, Cliff Thorburn, Jimmy White, Alex Higgins, John Parrott, Doug Mountjoy – the list goes on.

There was the one who the ladies loved in Tony Knowles and every player seemed to have his own kind of personality.

Who can forget Bill Werbeniuk, 28 pints before he hit a shot. Or Kirk Stevens with those white suits and Dennis Taylor beating Steve Davis in 1985 when 18.5m people watched.

Snooker is not as big now, but it is still a good sport. I enjoy playing it although, for me, the table is too big unless you are playing every single day.

LEGENDS: Alex Higgins and Steve Davis at the start of their World Snooker Championships semi-final at The Crucible in 1983

LEGENDS: Alex Higgins and Steve Davis at the start of their World Snooker Championships semi-final at The Crucible in 1983

The big question for me is what can snooker do to make itself more attractive or is it one of those sports that is just going to stay exactly as it is forever where they wear shoes and a suit? Do they need to jazz it up a little bit?

Do we keep snooker as it is, which is something that the traditionalists love and we grew up on, or does it change? It is a fantastic sport, but is it losing its interest among the wider population in this country as our kids do not seem to be taking it up?

We know it is huge in the Far East, but what can we do to make it more attractive here?

Take the final earlier this week. Unless you are a snooker ‘nut’, not too many people would have known it was going on out there. I didn’t and that surprises me because I like snooker.

There are lots of questions. Do the tables need to be smaller to make the game quicker? Do we need 10 red balls on the table as opposed to the 15 now? Can we get snooker tables into schools and have school clubs? For me, every school in the country should have a snooker table.

Darren Gough

You wonder if we have lost many of the personalties. Yes, we have got Ronnie O’Sullivan, but there are not many others realistically. Are we missing that?

The prize money is certainly out there and Williams got £425,000 for winning at the Crucible.

There are lots of questions. Do the tables need to be smaller to make the game quicker? Do we need 10 red balls on the table as opposed to the 15 now? Can we get snooker tables into schools and have school clubs? For me, every school in the country should have a snooker table.

Also, are matches too long? There are so many options. I would get rid of the tuxedos for a start. Snooker needs to appeal to a wider audience.

CHARACTERS: 1980s snooker legends, Cliff Thorburn (left) and John Virgo.

CHARACTERS: 1980s snooker legends, Cliff Thorburn (left) and John Virgo.

We often joke on Talksport about the fact that how can you be a professional sportsman wearing shoes? Is it a professional sport when you play in shoes?

I remember back in the day when footballers used to finish training at midday. At Barnsley they used to finish training and they used to have a supporters’ club on the corner and all the players would play snooker, darts and bar games after training.

But with all the sports science developments in football they are now wanting to keep players away from the bars as, obviously, when players used to play snooker they might have the odd pint.

I remember that, then it changed and players went on to take up golf. Now they are saying that the players get too tired playing golf and are now playing on PlayStations and things.

So now we have professional sportsmen sat around playing video games.

For snooker to also take centre stage on the TV it needs to change to have a chance.

Back in the day we also only had four terrestrial TV channels and now there are all the channels and reality TV. You wonder if teenagers are now just wanting to watch celebrities go dating or Master Chef or whatever.

There is also the notion of ‘is there too much choice on TV?’ Somehow snooker has to get back to what it was like in the Eighties when it was so popular.

You look at darts on Sky, which is massive. Look at the audience it brings. People now like to go out and have a good time and have a few beers or whatever. But you cannot do that at snooker.

I do not want to take the old traditional game of snooker away from the people who love it, but what else can be done to attract a younger audience?

The traditionalists – as we have spoken about previously in county cricket – are getting older and older and eventually in 10 or 15 years the sport could go with them. With cricket the next generation are growing up around T20 and ‘100-ball’ formats.

Will snooker continue when the traditionalists go? That is the question.

Speaking of 100-ball cricket, the announcements continue to baffle me.

Now, they are saying that our star England players, the only recognisable ones to many of the wider public, are now not going to be able to play in the new tournament, but allocated to franchises on a marketing basis.

I do not really know what is happening and I do not think that the ECB do.

I think at the minute they are just guessing as they go along.