Famous faces pass through the Crucible every year for the World Snooker Championship – and three dedicated autograph hunters have become almost as well known as the players themselves.
Every year, come rain or shine, they stand patiently outside the stage door on Norfolk Street hoping to add to their ever-increasing collection of signatures.
Over the years they have become a staple part of the tournament and are on first name terms with many of the players.
Retired Ernie Wignill, aged 83, from Swinton, has been coming to the tournament since it began in 1977. He has more than 20,000 autographs, 4,500 of which come from snooker players. Each one is diligently organised and documented in his prized pocket book.
He said: “I just love getting them, I don’t drink or smoke so I have to do something to keep me amused! I have all the programmes and autographs from every single year.”
Ernie has been collecting since he was a young man and boasts Elizabeth Taylor’s autograph in his collection.
“Liz Taylor was the first autograph I ever got. In 1953 I was in the RAF in Gibraltar and to my surprise she was sat in a car at the end of the runway. That is what got me started, I have never looked back since.
“I have the artist Damien Hirst’s autograph too. He comes with Ronnie O’Sullivan each year, they are big pals.”
Richard Swaine, 64, from Scunthopre, retired into what he calls ‘freedom’ last year and follows the snooker all over the country.
“I started when I was a young lad. I got out of it for a few years but when my kids grew up I wanted to get back into it.
“It’s like a friendship, we enjoy doing it. It’s nice to meet up and it’s my way of getting out. Just the other day I got Richard Wilson or Victor Meldrew’s autograph, you get to meet all kinds of people and they are all really lovely.
“Cliff Thorburn is my most prized one followed closely by Barry Hearn. This year I am hoping to get Reanne Evans.”
Richard counts sporting legends such as Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and Muhammad Ali among his collection. He frames his most prized autographs – and hopes they will one day equate to a healthy inheritance for his grandchildren.
Stephen Taylor, 52, of Holmfirth, took a holiday from his job as a car valeter to hunt autographs.
He said: “I am here all hours, sometimes I sit inside the foyer because they try and sneak through that way. I have Shaun Murphy, Reanne Evans and Marco Fu among my collection.”
The trio are waiting outside the Crucible most days during the tournament.