COME rain or shine, the Crucible stage door is the place of pilgrimage for snooker fans when it’s time for the World Championship showdown.
They’re there for autographs and a quick word with the gladiators of the green baize – and their vigil will continue for the 17 days of this year’s tournament.
Many come year after year and form firm friendships with their fellow fans.
Andrew Ainscough’s first match was the classic 1985 final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor – and he’s been hooked ever since.
“I’ve been coming to the stage door every year since 1990 to collect autographs and most of the players are very friendly,” said the 43-year-old from Ecclesall.
“Ronnie O’Sullivan can be quite difficult to get to sign sometimes but he’s been past this morning and he was fine with everyone.”
Andrew’s mum Lyn, 70 this week, is just as keen to meet her heroes and said the tournament this year provided some welcome relief from supporting Sheffield United.
“It’s like any sport, it’s so much better when you are there in person – I love to watch the matches and to collect autographs,” she said.
Lyn and Andrew will be going to several sessions throughout the fortnight and Andrew said he was hoping to queue up for return tickets for the final itself.
Stephen Taylor, aged 48, was visiting from Huddersfield and said he had been coming to the finals since the early 1980s.
“Each time I come I try to get as many autographs as I can but I enjoy the matches too,” he said.
“Today I’m in for Ronnie O’Sullivan versus Dominic Dale, which should be interesting. My all-time favourite player, though, is Steve Davis.
“The good thing about snooker though is that all the players are marvellous – they’re really approachable and will always stop for a word,” Stephen added.
But not everyone was so keen to advertise their presence outside the stage door – perhaps at the risk of alerting their employer.
One woman who refused to give her name said she was outside the Crucible for long hours during every day of the championships.
“This is my 15th year, I’ve been here since 8am today and I’m sometimes here late at night if the final sessions go on,” she said.
“This year is fine as the weather has been wonderful – but I’ve been here when the snow has been right up over my shoes,” she added.