Although only one of his World Snooker Championship titles was won on Sheffield soil, six-time champion Ray Reardon knows a thing or two about the famous old Crucible Theatre in the heart of the Steel City.
But still, to this day, one thing perplexes him.
“The same people go every year!” Reardon roars incredulously in his unmistakable Valleys accent.
“Not only that, but they go and sit in the same seat every year! Can you believe it? Booking your holiday for a week at the Crucible?
“They want looking at. They should consult someone! You say hello to them every year...Bill, George, Trevor, nice to see you back this year, have a good tournament.
“I end up telling them to have a good tournament!”
‘Sheffield is a lot like Sydney. Relaxed, safe, full of young people. I come back every year and it’s changed a bit more each time, and I always think ‘wow’. You can’t beat the experience’
But the super-fan is one of the quintessentially endearing aspects of the World Championship as men and women from all over the country – and, in some cases, the world – make their annual pilgrimage to the iconic Crucible Theatre.
One, Brian Wright, is a regular fixture in the crowd in his Coventry shirt and even proposed to then-girlfriend Lisa Dunks, from Chesterfield, at the Crucible five years ago.
Another has a slightly longer commute to the north of England – retired IT expert David Jackson comes over every year from Sydney, Australia. A round trip of 21,000 miles.
“Sheffield is a lot like Sydney,” David says.
“Relaxed, safe, full of young people. I come back every year and it’s changed a bit more each time, and I always think ‘wow’.
“There’s a few people who come back year after year but I think I travel the furthest. You can’t beat the experience.”
This year is his 22nd trip to Sheffield – he’s seen every tournament since 1996, and also visited in 1992 – and has few regrets.
“There’ll be one night every year when a game has gone on until 11pm, I’ll be walking to my bus stop in the Peace Gardens, it’ll be cold and dark and raining, and I’ll think: I wish I was back home’,” he smiles.
“But by the next day, I’m excited about the snooker again.”
David stumbled across snooker in Sheffield after taking a tour of Europe but others, like super-fan John Airey, had the Crucible in their blood from a younger age.
“My first year was 1981, so I’ve been coming 36 years,” John says.
“If you look at the footage, there’s some dodgy pictures of a kid with a bowl haircut and dodgy flares jumping up and down.
“There are probably 30 or 40 people who have been coming for donkey’s years, and you build relationships with them with a common bond of snooker.”
Hardcore fans like Brian, David and John are just one part of the Crucible’s rich tapestry of history, which would be lost if the championships ever decamped elsewhere – with China Sheffield’s main rival.
Unsurprisingly, all three are against such a move – even David, although China would be closer to his home Down Under – and John added: “One thing overlooked at snooker venues is the acoustics. At the Crucible, it’s like playing in someone’s front room.
“Over 17 days, I’ll probably do just over 50 sessions but the morning ones are tricky.
“I’ve got to be here for 10am, and it wouldn’t look great to be falling asleep in the front row.”
Snooker fans and autograph hunters have been gathering outside The Crucible hoping of catching a glimpse of the world’s top players.
Cyril Marr, from Rotherham, has been coming to the championship at The Crucible for 11 years, since retiring. He said: “I like watching snooker on television and during the snooker in Sheffield I come up every day.”
He said it ‘gets better’ every year and he has managed to see most of the players.
Cyril’s favourite player of all time is Willie Thorne after he was interviewed with him outside the Crucible eight years ago.
Sheffield resident Carol Nicholson has been coming to the snooker ‘ever since it’s been here’ and tries to make it down to the Crucible most days during the tournament.
Her son lives in York and is a snooker fan too. She often gets photos and autographs from the players for him as well.
She said: “You’ve got to come down at the right time. I waited half an hour yesterday for John Higgins.
“He was stood near the glass but I didn’t think he looked like he was coming down any time soon.
“I went and got a photo of Steve Davis and Peter Ebdon, I had a coffee and came back and people were still waiting.”
Carol managed to meet her favourite player Mark Selby last year but was hoping to meet Judd Trump and Higgins this time round.
She said: “They’ve both lost now so they’re probably going home.”
But Carol does not feel like she has missed out. “I did well last year,” she says.