Snooker has had many controversies over the years, but the latest talking point, during the final of the Masters at Alexandra Palace, is surely one of the weirdest in the sport’s history – and should never happen again.
For those who didn’t watch the match, which saw Stuart Bingham defeat Ali Carter 10-8 to become the oldest Masters champion, early on during the fifth frame, loud – and there’s no other way of putting this – farting sounds came from the audience.
Someone – it later transpired, a YouTube prank channel – had installed an electronic device to make the sounds.
Ha, ha, very funny, isn’t it? Snooker – the boring sport played in silence in dark rooms – had a bit of humour injected into it for once, said people on Twitter. Greg James, BBC Radio One's Breakfast Show host, meanwhile, launched an appeal to track down the perpetrators so his show could "celebrate" the actions of the people involved.
Except it wasn’t funny at all.
I am a self-confessed snooker anorak and I was in the audience yesterday – a few rows away from where the machine was found, incidentally – and the noise went off just as Bingham was preparing delicate shot during a safety battle. At that stage in the match, he and Carter had won four frames apiece; nothing could separate them.
Thankfully, no damage was done; the machine was found quickly enough and play resumed, but what if Bingham had played his shot incorrectly as a result of the parp and let Carter in to score a ton? Yesterday’s result could have been completely different.
Bingham and Carter weren’t playing for fun. They were playing in the final of the second most prestigious tournament in the world of snooker and £250,000 was at stake. More than 2,000 people, who paid at least £105 each to watch the twists and turns of the best of 19 frames final were crammed into Ally Pally and millions more around the world were watching on TV.
Let's say you were doing your job and, for some strange reason, being watched by millions during a bid to secure a trophy and a cheque for a quarter of a million pounds – you'd be concentrating pretty hard, wouldn't you? Now imagine some moron decided it would be amusing to make fart sounds to distract you from your role, and suddenly it's not quite so amusing. I suspect Greg wouldn’t be best pleased if one of his interviews were to be interrupted in a similar fashion, either.
At the time of writing, a video from the pranksters has amassed 42,000 views on Youtube and many comments commending the jokers, but the people commenting and sharing the footage are missing the bigger picture here.
Snooker does not need to be livened up one bit by artificial sounds at random intervals and yesterday’s match was a case in point – it had twists and turns aplenty, not to mention the fact that Carter was only invited to take part in the event because Ronnie O’Sullivan decided to pull out last month, so reaching the final was quite the story.
Anyone who says snooker is played in dark rooms with quiet crowds clearly hasn’t been watching a lot of this year’s event. Admittedly, I was in the audience for a lot of the week-long tournament, so my view may be biased, but the crowd was as lively and as loud as you would get at a rock concert, with many people shouting out words of encouragement to their favourite between frames, which somewhat quashes that out-of-date stereotype the sport, unfortunately, has to live with.
It’s strange that snooker has a reputation when it is not the only sport where spectators are obliged to keep schtum – take tennis, for instance. If the same thing happened during a crucial match point at a Wimbledon final, I suspect the general reaction would be of indignation and outrage, not "ha, ha, farting machines should be deployed."
Formula One is often accused of being a boring sport and yet – as far as I’m aware – nobody has ever suggested that a whoopee cushion should be placed beneath Lewis Hamilton’s seat and set off at random to scare the living daylights out of him and cause a mistake for comedy value, so I’m mystified as to why such a move yesterday is being celebrated so widely.
I’m aware that viewers’ attention spans are limited in 2020, but if you have the mindset that snooker could be artificially improved using puerile techniques, I’m afraid it probably it isn’t the sport for you.
The action afforded by the boys on the baize yesterday proved – yet again – that snooker is an enthralling and entertaining sport. Long may that continue without the odd "parp" from the audience.