By Simon Cromie
Rob Walker has become one of the most recognisable faces at snooker’s big event, bringing his unique style to the players’ introductions. We caught up with Rob for a chat about his role, his love of snooker, and his favourite Crucible memories.
Rob, you’ve been Master of Ceremonies at the Crucible for over ten years now, but how did you come into this role in the first place?
It was very simple really. I’d been a staff member at the BBC for quite a long time, and then I’d gone freelance. World Snooker rang the BBC and asked if they knew anyone with a fairly loud voice and a little bit of personality. A man called Ron Chakraborty, who I’d worked with for a while, said ‘why not try this guy Rob Walker?’ I was trialed at that UK Championship in 2007, and I’ve been doing the job ever since.
What is it about snooker that attracts you?
I like the people. When you boil this sport down, it’s about humble men born with a skill that they then work extremely hard to hone and craft. With that skill, they’re able to carve out a very different life for themselves and their families. There’s something very admirable about that. I also think that snooker is unique in the psychological pressure it puts people under. Guys like me can’t have any idea of the pressure of sitting in that chair while your opponent is hammering frame after frame, and you can’t do anything about it. I don’t think there are many other sports that can be as psychologically crushing as snooker.
What makes the Crucible so special in your eyes?
It’s got its quirks, it’s a very unusual layout. The capacity is less than 1,000, but this place is steeped in history. The Crucible, as an arena, is intrinsically linked to the success and the history of the sport. The World Championship should never leave this venue in my opinion, because when you get off the train and walk up that hill, you feel like you’re coming home. That history breeds the next generation. This is a very special place.
As MC, do you get butterflies before heading into the Crucible arena for each session?
If you’re standing in front of an arena of over 900 people, and you’re not getting the occasional rush of adrenalin, you’re in the wrong job. There are times where I don’t get nervous, because I’ve been doing it for over ten years. But occasionally, you’ll have a moment before you begin to speak where you think ‘I can’t remember what I’m supposed to say here’, and then the words come. Those moments remind you that you need to concentrate, and that you should never take the job for granted, or treat it with a laissez-faire attitude. Proper planning and preparation prevent poor performance, I’m a big believer in that.
Do you feel an added pressure to introduce players making their Crucible debut, a moment they have always dreamt of?
Not really pressure, but it is an honour to introduce someone here for the first time. You have a responsibility to make sure that the crowd deliver the kind of reaction that is a just reward for the years of work and sacrifice that person has gone through to be there behind that curtain, waiting to come down.
Do you have a favourite player to introduce?
It’s always nice to introduce someone who’s a bit of a character. I love introducing Mark Williams because most of the time he’s got such a wry smile on his face when he’s walking down. You could pretty much say anything about Mark Williams, and he’d still come out smiling and wouldn’t care. Of course, on a consistent basis, nobody generates a reaction like Ronnie O’Sullivan. When you say ‘it’s The Rocket…’ and hear the crowd start to roar, that’s a cool moment to be a part of. It’s walk-ons that engage the crowd that are the most fun.
You’re often involved in coming up with nicknames for players. Do you have a favourite nickname on the tour?
Ever wondered how Rob gets himself fired up for the morning sessions?
I like introducing Neil Robertson. He used to be called the Melbourne Machine, and that didn’t really set the world on fire. So myself and a couple of guys in the press room came up with The Thunder from Down Under, which is cheesy but nicknames are supposed to be cheesy. That one’s quite fun.
What is your favourite Crucible memory?
One of my favourite memories is the last session of Judd Trump v John Higgins in the 2011 final. I have never heard noise like that in a snooker arena anywhere, not for Ronnie in front of 2000 at Wembley for the Masters final, nor here for the Ronnie v Mark Selby final in 2014. Perhaps it was because the crowd felt as though Trump had burst on to the scene that year. Trump captured the wider public, and Higgins was the traditional fans’ favourite. The noise ahead of that concluding session was absolutely incredible. If I had to pick one moment it would probably be that.
Do you still see yourself MC-ing at the Crucible another ten years down the line?
That’s an interesting one. I’m not sure, because I do like it and I’d love to carry on doing it, but on its own without the interviewing, working on the highlights shows, and the other work I do here, it’s a very one dimensional role. I’ve never taken it for granted, and you can never say anything’s forever, but let’s just see what happens in the coming years. I’ve loved doing it, and I’m not about to walk away, but it would be nice to think that I could use my journalism and other experience to help out here at the Crucible to do more than just be the MC.