This year’s Betfred World Championship is being played in extraordinary circumstances, having been forced behind closed doors after just one day.
Only a select group of staff and broadcasters, along with the players, have been allowed inside the doors of Sheffield’s hallowed Crucible Theatre for this year’s event.
Alan McManus has fallen into both categories, having come through qualifying to clinch a spot on snooker’s grandest stage. The Scot is also undertaking his usual commentary and punditry roles for the BBC.
We’ve caught up with McManus in the latest of our behind the scenes interviews…
McManus clinched his playing place at the Crucible with a 10-5 win over Leicester’s Louis Heathcote. It was his first trip to the Theatre of Dreams as a player since his epic run to the semi-finals in 2016.
He faced three-time World Champion Mark Williams in a match which started in front of a limited and socially distant crowd and ended behind closed doors. This came after a UK Government announcement on day one halted the trial for the safe return of spectators at sporting events.
It was a match of two halves, with McManus making a strong start to lead 5-4 after the first session. However, he lost all six frames when they returned on day two to go out 10-5. The 49-year-old savoured the opportunity to play part of the contest in front of an audience, but admits the conditions at this year’s event led to a less pressurised environment.
“It was really nice to feel a bit like normal. The crowd were very vocal which was good. That was possibly because there weren’t that many of them,” said 1994 Masters champion McManus.
“What you probably don’t get this year, is the extent of the drama and pressure that you normally feel. I didn’t feel the pressure anything like what I have done down the years. Normally I’m super nervous out there. You always have a certain amount of nerves. It was surreal in the arena. I feel a little bit for the guys who were making their debuts this year, although they have done really well. I spoke to Jamie Clarke and he was loving it. I suppose he can only imagine what it is going to be like when it is full.”
After bowing out on the playing front, McManus switched the baize for the box and the cue for the mic. A number of adaptations have been made to make the commentary position COVID-secure. It’s been split down the middle, with two doors and individual workstations, as well as a perspex screen splitting the booth. Despite these changes, McManus says that being in the box allows him to forget about the changed circumstances this year has provided.
“Being in the commentary box, you don’t really notice there is no crowd. I lose myself in the match a bit. There was one game, where I got a bit excited and raised my voice and they could actually hear me on the other table. It was a bit of a bummer, but an honest mistake. Usually you can be pretty vocal in the commentary box, because at the end of a frame or after a big shot, the applause means nobody would hear it. I like to hunch down in the box, so I’m normally looking at the screens rather than the table anyway. I am quite conscious of not moving and putting the players off that way. As I’m not looking at the empty seats, you hear the canned applause and you forget that there isn’t actually anyone there.
“I must admit that the artificial noise is a really good addition. You get caught up in that. Occasionally I look up and remember that there is nobody here. That is a bizarre feeling. For the viewer at home it isn’t really that different to normal. When I get back to my room at night, I’ll sometimes put Snooker Extra on. It does feel pretty authentic watching on television. I hope we keep the crowd noise for other events going forward.”
McManus was in the box for Anthony McGill and Jamie Clarke’s epic second round contest.
With millions of people taking comfort in the live action on the table from their homes, McManus feels privileged to be one of the few broadcasters working from inside the venue at the Crucible Theatre.
“I always do feel in a lucky position to be able to do this. It’s been great to work with Rob Walker for the first time and with Joe Perry. Even though there is the partition, you can still speak to each other. We have a button to directly contact the other guy. It’s good to have your own little space. Instead of two of you being in a cupboard together, you have your own smaller cupboard.
“I did commentary on all of the Anthony McGill vs Jamie Clarke match. I think that lasted ten and a quarter hours in total. It’s a long time to be in there with someone, but it was good fun. You form a little bit of a relationship with the guy on the other side of the box.”