It was inspired by a housewife, requires more than 100 staff to set up and has put Sheffield in front of 800 million people across the globe. Star reporter Rachael Clegg looks at the transformation of the Crucible for the World Snooker Championship and how the city has come to be synonymous with the game.
IF IT wasn’t for Carol Watterson, there would be no snooker in Sheffield.
It was after an inspired night watching a play at the Crucible theatre that she went home and said to her husband: “I think I’ve found the perfect venue for the Snooker Championship.”
And as it happened, her husband, Mike, was a snooker promoter.
This was 1970s Sheffield, the days of the Hole in the Road, mass employment and Club Fiesta. But while the city has changed enormously since Mrs Watterson’s trip to the theatre - the Crucible is still the home of snooker.
Ever since 1977, when the World Snooker Championship first moved to Sheffield, the venue has been synonymous with the game. Over the years snooker stars such as Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor have competed - and won - in Sheffield’s most famous theatre venue.
But hosting an international event is no easy task - the Crucible’s day job does not usually include a BBC TV crew and three tons’ worth of snooker tables, which is why the transformation of the theatre takes a 100-strong team of workmen, TV crew and technical staff, as well as ten articulated lorries and hundreds of lighting rigs.
Shaun Cope, from Retford is one of the dozens of technical riggers involved in the annual transformation of the Crucible.
He said: “It’s a big build and always takes at least five or six days.
“The first major build day is Sunday - that’s the day in which most of the building work takes place and for me it’s the most transformative day.
“It’s also on Sunday that the Crucible stage is lowered and the cameras and lighting rigs are installed.”
Shaun works round the clock during installation week.
“Sunday’s my favourite day - so much happens that by the end of it you can see the transformation,” he said.
After the venue has been prepared, in come the tables...but this isn’t just a case of wheeling them in.
Each table - measuring more than 12 feet long and six feet wide and weighing one and a half tons - takes more than three and a half hours to build.
“The tables are from China and they come in parts,” said Shaun, 49, from Retford.
“They’re built by a table specialist as it’s important that they are absolutely sturdy, which is why they weigh so much. We have three fitters to set up the tables.”
The surface of the snooker tables is made of Italian slate, rather than wood.
Shaun said: “Slate stays flat and it’s ideal for covering with baize, which is made from wool and is kept on a roll, ready to be hand-fitted by another specialist.”
It is essential that the baize remains as taut as possible - much like canvas on a frame.
Shaun said: “Every two days we check the speed of the ball on the table, to ensure the baize is taut.
“They have a special ramp to roll the balls down in order to check their speed, but the players tell us anyway if it’s not right.”
But the technical details don’t stop there. The temperature of the room is kept at 21 degrees centigrade, so the baize remains taut.
There are also tiny cameras - about the width of a ballpoint pen - in each of the snooker table’s pockets and each small camera needs wiring up with cables reaching from the snooker table to beneath the stage floor.
Even setting up the lights is a precision exercise.
“It’s very important there are no shadows on the table as that will effect the player’s visibility but at the same time the light levels also have to be right for the cameras,” says Shaun.
David Coleshill, 53, from St Albans, has been travelling to Sheffield every year for more than 12 years to prepare the Crucible for the World Snooker Championships.
The Steel City has almost become his second home. “We stay in a flat now on West Street as we’re in Sheffield for more than three weeks,” he says.
David is responsible for rigging the lights at the Crucible and Winter Garden, where there are fringe events relating to the snooker.
“There are hundreds of lights set up in the theatre just for the snooker,” he says.
“The lights are powered through the Crucible’s supplies and those in the Winter Gardens are powered by a sub station underground. It really is hard to take on board how much work goes into setting it all up until you see it yourself.”
But it’s worth the effort. Sheffield has been the proud home of world snooker for more than thirty five years and will be until at least 2015.
Ivon Hirschowitz, press officer for World Snooker, said: “The Crucible venue has become part of the identity of snooker and it really puts Sheffield on the international map - it is a blue ribbon event and it’s estimated that around 800 million people will be watching it from across the globe.”
But after round-the-clock shifts setting up the venue for the event, it is doubtful that Shaun Cope will be among those 800 million people.
Believe it or not, despite his pivotal role in the event, Shaun admits: “I’m not that into snooker really.”
Tickets for certain sessions are still on sale - call 0844 6565147 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/world
Everyday life at a Sheffield snooker club: see The Star tomorrow.
The first snooker championship was held in 1927 in Birmingham and the winner was Joe Davis, who won £6.10. Today the top prize is £250,000.
In subsequent years the finals were held at various venues - including the back room of a Nottingham pub in 1931, for which there were only two entrants.
After the 1950s snooker went into a period of decline and there were no tournaments held between 1958 and 1964.
In 1964, the sport was revived with two major competitions. But matches took place sporadically and often more than once a year
It wasn’t until 1969 that the championship took on the format of a knockout tournament, which eventually became what we know today as the World Snooker Championship.
The event became more official over the years, with sponsorship from cigarette brand Embassy in 1976.
In 1977 the World Snooker Championship moved to Sheffield, accompanied by the BBC, which, for the first time, started covering the event.
The sport became hugely popular and by the 1980s was one of the UK’s most popular sports, with enormous television audiences.