Snooker loopy

Till yesterday, I'd never been to watch a live professional snooker match. However, with the UK Championship at the Barbican, and our relative Fergal O'Brien in 2nd round action, Paul and I bought some tickets and went along.

We'll show you what we can do with a load of balls and a snooker cue.

Fergal was playing Mark King in the Sports Hall, which was not the most glamorous of locations. Whilst the crowds were pouring into the Main Arena to watch Ronnie O'Sullivan, they were not pouring into the Sports Hall. There were about 5 people there when we arrived, and I don't think the combined audience for the four matches ever rose above 30.

Still, we were there to watch Fergal, and that's exactly what we did. Fergal started nicely, winning the first frame 63-6, and looked to be cueing well. King, in contrast, seemed to be struggling. However, the next two frames were scrappy, and King managed to win them both, the third on the black. When King compiled an excellent break of 131 in the fourth frame, he went into the interval 3-1 ahead and in apparent control.

Curious to see what life was like in the main arena, Paul and I went for a wander. Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy were in action, whilst Ronnie O'Sullivan had cruised into a 4-0 lead over Rhys Clark. When he came back, Ronnie quickly wrapped up a whitewash win. It was great to watch him, albeit briefly. He makes the game look so preposterously easy.

Returning to the Sports Hall, we were pleased to see that Fergal had won the first frame after the break. The 6th frame began tightly, but then King got himself into a spot of self-snookered bother from which he couldn't extricate himself. He was trying to escape from behind a red near the top cushion and hit the brown at the baulk end, but he couldn't get the angles right. Perhaps he needed to address the ball differently.

Addressing a snooker ball in French.

Every time King missed, Fergal let him have another go, and he managed an amazing 15 consecutive fouls. This is apparently a new record! I turned to Paul and whispered that snooker had to be a British invention, as no other country would enable such a perverse situation to develop. Eventually, King managed to hit the black, but having already gifted Fergal 60 points, he soon lost the frame. It was now 3-3. Game on!

The seventh frame was another cagey affair. King managed to pot a few reds and colours, but none of the high-scoring balls, and when he gave Fergal a chance, Fergal took it. Winning the frame 47-28 he was now ahead.

A really excellent century break in the 8th put Fergal within a frame of the 3rd round, and by now all the other matches in the Sports Hall had finished. The remaining audience of 10 were then treated to what I can only describe as an old school Test match frame of snooker.

No easy shots here.

King was clearly annoyed with himself and the playing environment (as he confirmed later), and Fergal seemed happy to let him make mistakes. There was very little fluency from either player, and it started looking like a game that I might have been involved with - the balls in strange clusters in odd parts of the table, no clear pots, not much scoring. It might not have been great, but it was compelling.

The frame went beyond the half-hour mark, then the three-quarters, and it was still tight. Then King slipped up, presenting Fergal with a chance to get through the colours. Slowly, he did so, till the point that all he needed was the pink. He wasn't quite on the best angle, but it was pottable. The clock approached the one hour mark.

Carefully, methodically, Fergal lined it up. His cue slid back, the white was sent on its way, clicked firmly into the pink, and sent it into the pocket. The ball was sunk, the frame was Fergal's and so was the match. Well played, sir! Well played!

There was much rejoicing.

Paul and I went over to congratulate Fergal and - having never actually met him before - introduce ourselves. He was a lovely chap and, very kindly, offered us a ticket for his next match on Tuesday. Paul can't make it but I said I'd love to come along.

Fergal might well be playing the new Chinese star Ding Junhui and the game could even be on telly. Exciting times, not to mention a great afternoon of family entertainment. Good luck Fergal!