The 2020 Betfred World Championship will live long in the memory for both the stunning action on the baize and the surreal circumstances off it. Pandemic times have meant for a much altered environment in the Crucible Theatre for both players and staff.
This week we are speaking to a number of people behind the scenes to find out what it is like to be at the 2020 running of snooker’s biggest event.
This time it’s the turn of top referee Brendan Moore…
Officiating at the Crucible is a highlight of any snooker referee’s career. Moore has enjoyed the ultimate honour of taking charge of the World Championship final on two occasions in 2014 and 2018.
Refereeing matches at the 2020 staging of the event is different to any other year. Moore admits that although something is lost without the special atmosphere generated by the Crucible crowd, the importance of the proceedings on the baize remains abundantly clear.
“It is still the Crucible. It is still the World Championship and you still know what is at stake,” said Sheffield’s Moore.
“There are probably even more people watching live on television because of everything that is going on at the moment. The players go into game mode and when it starts, the refs go into refereeing mode. The sport is the same. When you look around the arena, you see the Betfred World Championship branding and the Crucible arena takes control of your mind. You very much aware of where you are.
“It’s a surreal and strange environment, being out in a historic arena like that with nobody in it. I personally never get nervous as a referee, but I did when Rob Walker introduced me for the final a few years ago. Because I am from Sheffield, he got the crowd whipped up to give me a big reception. This year, we are quietly walking out to the set and awaiting the players.”
At the forefront of any Crucible referee’s consciousness, is keeping the almost overhanging crowd in check. The unique atmosphere and steep seating at snooker’s Theatre of Dreams means that it is both an inspiring and intimidating environment for players and referees alike. The absence of spectators this year has left many officials biting their tongue with some well ingrained habits.
“As a referee, you actually miss asking people to be quiet and asking for people to put their phones away,” admitted Moore. “Even simple little things like saying ‘thank you ladies and gentleman, the first frame…’. I haven’t done that yet, but I was out on the floor the other day with Jan Verhaas on the other table and he said it. I asked him afterwards if it was deliberate, but he said it was just a natural thing which came out.”
The tight parameters of the stage floor, mean that there is just room to fit in both tables. Correct positioning is crucial for referees to properly assess each shot. Navigating the arena, avoiding cameramen and blocking the view of spectators, means that moving around the floor is a complex exercise. Despite missing the presence of a crowd, Moore admits it does bring an advantage when it comes to getting the right view of a shot.
“We always teach referees that there are three things to remember with positioning. The players are obviously number one, the TV cameras are number two and the crowd are number three. When there is a crowd, especially in a safety battle when the cue ball is frequently coming back to the baulk end, I try not to stand in the same spot. If I did that I would be blocking the view of the same fan every time, I move my position slightly to account for this. Now that isn’t an issue, in a weird way it creates more space in the arena.”
One of the key safety measures being implemented aside from rigorous Covid-19 testing, is ensuring a sanitised and clean playing environment. Referees are at the forefront of making sure this is the case in terms of the playing equipment.
“If you are refereeing a match, first of all you need to put the PPE gloves on and wipe down all of the ancillary equipment like rests before the match gets going. If you are the marker, you get fresh earphones each match and you need to clean the scoring laptops down. The spare man goes out into the arena and cleans everywhere in the player seating area, takes new water bottles out and fresh ice buckets. You even need to wipe down the Perspex screen between the players. Everything that can be done to keep a sanitised environment is being done.
“The screen between the tables used to be short enough to peep round, this time it covers the entire length of the arena to make sure everything is covered in terms of coronavirus procedures. It gives the cameramen and women more space to manoeuvre at one end without infringing on social distancing.”
Moore is also one of a team of referee assessors and oversees the development of new officials being introduced to the circuit. Germany’s 30-year-old Marcel Eckardt will become the youngest ever referee to take charge in a World Championship final. Moore feels that although it will be an unfamiliar circumstances, it will still be an unforgettable experience.
“Marcel will be out there doing his first final in front of potentially no crowd. In some ways you feel for him, but actually this is a World Championship that everybody will always remember. This is the landmark year when the event went ahead despite coronavirus. He’s the person to take charge of this final and I’m sure he will never forget it.
“I take a lot of pride being involved in this year’s tournament. Barry Hearn and everyone on the organisational side have done an amazing job behind the scenes to get this on. I feel for the guys that put all of the work in to get crowd in to have that taken away, but it is brilliant that we have a World Championship at all this year.”
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