Snooker legends in Sheffield battling to be crowned World Senior Champion at The Crucible
Fresh off the back of the World Championship, snooker royalty of yesteryear are in Sheffield battling for the chance to become World Senior Champion.
The star-studded four-day event takes place at The Crucible from Thursday to Sunday and features the likes of seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry, Dennis Taylor, Ken Doherty, John Parrott and reigning Senior Champion Jimmy White.
Despite all their experience and the passing of time, the home of snooker still has a spellbinding effect on the competitors.
"It’s the pinnacle of my sporting event,” says 1989 World Championship finalist and BBC pundit Parrott.
"Even though I don’t play any more I still get sweaty palms when I come round the corner and see the building. All the memories come flooding back, it’s a massive part of your life.
"I came when I was 14 years old to watch for the first time and it’s a love affair that’s never gone away.”
Hendry, who is back on the professional circuit, says: “For me, it’s the only place to play snooker.
“It’s where I’ve had so many great memories. I probably know Sheffield as well as where I was born, I’ve been coming here since I was 17.”
Doherty, runner-up in last year's tournament, adds: “It just gives you a wonderful feeling that no other venue on the tour does.
"I was getting goosebumps in the commentary box during the final.”
White, who is bidding for a third consecutive seniors title and fourth overall, explains: "You have got a two-table situation at first. It’s not ideal because you can hear the applause but when it gets down to one table it’s like they put a table in the middle of the ground and built The Crucible around it.
"Sheffield’s been very good to snooker and snooker has been very good to Sheffield. We love playing here.”
While some of those taking part, including Parrott and 1985 World Champion Taylor, admit to having no aspirations for the event, others are taking it more seriously.
Doherty, Hendry and White are all back on the professional tour thanks to wildcards courtesy of former World Snooker Tour (WST) chairman Barry Hearn.
"I don’t really know to be honest,” Hendry says of his chances.
"I hit the ball well on the practice table but we will just see what happens. I could play well, I could play rubbish, so I will just try and stay relaxed.”
Asked if he can still challenge the best players, he replies: “Not at this point in time because my game isn’t there yet.
”I’m working a lot with a coach, we are trying a new way of playing. I just want to enjoy playing again and not put any expectation on results. I missed playing in the big atmosphere of an event.”
Doherty has beaten World Top 10 players John Higgins and Neil Robertson in the last 12 months but isn’t sure of his future on the tour after next year.
“I don’t know, I haven’t made up my mind,” he says, “I’m enjoying my snooker, I don’t like losing but I enjoy the competitive side.
"If I can play like I think I can perform, you never know. My best years are behind me, that’s for sure, but I’ll enjoy it and keep playing as competitively as I can.”
White would have dropped off the tour had it not been for his second wildcard, which protects his place until 2023 and has resulted in criticism from some sections of the snooker fraternity.
"The people who voice those opinions haven't really thought it through,” he tells The Star.
"I was prepared to go to Q School. Barry Hearn says I deserve it, I think I deserve it, so I don't really take any notice.
"I have been practicing really hard every day and I’m just looking forward to this event. Hopefully I win this again then go off and get ready for the new season.”
Parrott adds: “I don’t honestly see what the problem is when someone has given so much to the spot and reached six World finals.
"If there’s not a space for Jimmy, who are you going to give a space to?”
Shorter frame matches will be used in the 16-player World Seniors Snooker Championship, with best of five in round one before best of seven in the quarter and semi-finals and nine in the final.
The tournament will be broadcast on BBC iPlayer but there will be no fans present. A full house at The Crucible saw Mark Selby crowned World Champion for the fourth time on Monday – the first capacity crowd at a UK sporting event for more than a year.
"It will be great if we can get the fans back soon,” says veteran Taylor.
"There’s an awful lot of people who love to come along and watch the players they used to watch when they were younger.”
Hendry says: “We were unlucky because we experienced it last week full so it’s not going to be the same place.”
Doherty adds: “It’s such a shame we haven’t got crowds. It’s a great tournament and it’s growing every year and the standard is getting better.”
At 72, Taylor is the oldest player taking part this year.
"I don’t expect anything,” he insists, “I just haven’t got the time to practice the way I used to, but I enjoy competing.
"Snooker has been my whole life, I started playing when I was eight years old. I have grown with it.”