With his booming voice and extrovert nature, Rob Walker is a man you are bound to encounter at the Crucible, whether you’re among the crowd, behind the scenes or watching on TV.
By Jonathan Davies
He may cover a variety of different sports, but Master of Ceremonies Rob admits that he has a deep-seated fascination with snooker.
Like most boys of his age, Rob first started watching during the 1980s snooker boom, and has remained a fan ever since. So he was thrilled to get the chance to work in the sport, after Richard Beare stepped down from his role shortly before the 2007 Grand Prix in Aberdeen.
Rob remembers: “They phoned the BBC and said ‘we really do need to find someone’.
“I’d been a staff member for three years, they knew I had a loud voice and a bit of a personality and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Almost seven years on, 39-year-old Rob hasn’t looked back. His likeable personality and catchphrase ‘let’s get the boys on the baize’ have made him a popular figure on the circuit.
“I’ve got friends in the press room that I invited to my wedding,” he said. “I get to work with really nice people and the players have always been as good as gold to me.”
Rob was given a signed miniature cue for his son Arthur who was born last December, as well as a bottle of champagne from Mark and Vikki Selby.
He laughs: “I’m looking forward to the time when Arthur can come to a tournament and meet the cool people who help his dad pay his mortgage!”
Still to come for Rob this year are the Commonwealth Games, Wimbledon and the Youth Olympics, as well as Triathlon and presenting the Great Ethiopian Run.
Having already worked at the Masters and the BDO World Darts Championship in 2014, Rob only returned last month from the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi.
He reflects: “I’ve never covered an event where there’s been so much focus on the host nation for reasons other than them hosting a major global event.
“With the atmosphere the event created, the stories that were being put on TV, and the events we commentated on – what was happening in Crimea might as well have been on the moon.
“Ukrainians cheered Russians, Russians cheered Ukrainians. It was the best example I’ve ever experienced of sport always winning and always transcending boundaries of conflict, tension and threats.
“The event has to keep happening. You’ve got to carry on doing your day-to-day business. You’ve got to put your trust in the professional people whose responsibility it is to make sure you and the athletes are safe. You work on the basis that you’ve got to be very, very unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Covering such a wide variety of sports does require plenty of preparatory homework, but having worked on snooker for so long, Rob has developed a sound knowledge of the sport.
“Just by being around the guys who understand the sport inside out in the press room, seeing the players and interviewing them after every match, as well as the MC work – it’s surprising what you pick up,” he said.
And he’s been impressed by this year’s tournament at the Crucible, where he will have carried out a whopping 46 introductions by the time of its conclusion.
“I think it’s been really fascinating this year,” said Rob. “Everyone’s saying that Ronnie’s going to win and that’s been even more heightened by the fact that Michael Wasley knocked out Ding in the first round because that’s denied a potential semi-final meeting. It’s really important that new stories like Wasley emerge.
“What a brilliant story with Alan McManus and Ken Doherty in the second round was. The two old guys turning back the clock is fantastic.
“The fact that all the debutants did well shows you that the youngsters are coming in, playing top-class players, and they’re not intimidated because they’re playing them often enough. As a result, it can make those matches really entertaining which means you can’t take anything for granted.”
The likes of O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Judd Trump remain in the draw with the quarter-finals looming, and Rob is confident that the exciting action is still far from over.
He added: “There’s a lot of drama still to come, I think it’s been top value and the rest of it’s going to be really intriguing.”