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The Reverend’s Snooker Sermon

Reverend and the Makers

Snooker in his soul: Jon McClure

Some rock stars have private jets. Others have gold-plated cars. But for Jon McClure, lead singer of Sheffield band Reverend and the Makers, there is only one luxury item he has ever wanted.

“I’ve always wanted to have a snooker table in my house,” said McClure. “That’s the barometer that I measure success by and it’s what I dream of. My wife and I have just moved into a new home and there is an out-house in the garden. At the moment it’s just rubbish inside but I would love to do it up and put a snooker table there. Then I’d have a special cabinet and all my mates would have their own personalised cues inside and we would have tournaments. I’d be on the table all the time. In fact you might see me playing at the Crucible before long.”

McClure’s band is best known for their smash hit ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’ from their 2007 debut album The State of Things. It charted in the top ten and was described as the ‘Hottest Record In The World Today’ on BBC Radio One. The subject of the song is an under-achiever who believes he ‘could have been a contender’ but ends up ‘just like everybody else.’

Of course, the song is nothing to do with snooker. But, growing up in Sheffield in the 1980s, it’s inevitable that playing the sport and aspiring to be one of the green baize heroes he sometimes spotted around the city was an integral part of McClure’s upbringing.

“During the build up to the tournament I always get excited,” said the 33-year-old. “And I feel very proud that it takes place in Sheffield and it’s such a big part of local culture. It is an honour to have it in Sheffield and everyone around the world is watching Sheffield for 17 days each year. We were worried that it could move somewhere else so we were thrilled earlier this year when we heard it is staying at the Crucible for at least another three years.

The thing I loved about it growing up was that around the city you would spot players walking around. There was a shop in Meadowhall called Sweater Shop and they sponsored some of the players. If you went down there during the tournament you would often see someone like Stephen Hendry. I met Ken Doherty once and he signed my bus ticket.

“Or there was a pub my cousins used to go to and Alex Higgins would drink in there. Jimmy White was our family’s favourite and sometimes my grandma would let me borrow her VHS video of one Jimmy’s matches.

“Everyone in Sheffield seemed to have a story of the time they had seen or met a famous snooker player. One of my very first memories is watching the 1985 final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis, and I was only four years old! My dad worked days and my mum worked nights because we didn’t have much money. So they would take it in turns to look after me and watch snooker on the box.

“My grandma’s brother played Steve Davis once, during the 1980s when Davis was in his prime. He lost, but he took a couple of frames off the great man. That was my family’s claim to fame, at least before Reverend and the Makers came along.

“In a lot of sports like golf or tennis, the top professionals are dullards, they come across like robots. Snooker is not like that, maybe because a lot of players come from working class backgrounds. They have a lot of character and they are more connected with the people somehow. That’s how people in Sheffield feel during the tournament.

“I was a keen player myself when I was 15, I used to play at a club in Fox Hill. I still play now at Rileys when I get the chance. My top break is 35. My brother Chris also loves it and he is of a similar standard to me. Every year during the World Championship we have a best of 35 frame match. Last year I was 17-9 up and I lost 18-17. I couldn’t believe it, I just totally fell apart and I was devastated afterwards.

“It saddens me to see a few of the snooker halls shutting down now because they are places for people to come together and connect. In the days of social media, people spend too much time communicating on their computers and not enough time face to face.”

After leaving university with a first class degree, McClure, from the Grenoside suburb of Sheffield, became a poet and writer. He was particularly vocal on contentious subjects including the war in Iraq and was given the nickname The Reverend for his persistent preaching on political and social issues. At the time he shared a flat with Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, and indeed McClure’s brother Chris is pictured on the cover of the Artics’ debut album.

Influenced by his idols Bob Marley, John Lennon and Joe Strummer, McClure increasingly used music as the medium to convey his views on the world. He formed bands called Judan Suki and 1984, before making it third time lucky with Reverend and the Makers, who have enjoyed considerable success over the past decade. They have released four albums and toured with rock giants including Oasis and Kasabian.

Yet McClure has never lost touch with his roots, and when he comes to the Crucible to watch the action from the press seats, he is just as star struck as he had been as a teenager, scouring the Sheffield landscape for a glimpse of a cue-wielding hero.

“To sit in those seats so close to the action was amazing,” he said. “My mum loves watching it on TV and her favourite thing is trying to spot people she knows or famous people in the crowd. But she couldn’t see me because I was behind the TV cameras.

“My absolute dream is to be there for the last session of the final. The atmosphere is wonderful. Watching on TV doesn’t do it justice. When the players have come out and the hush descends before the first break off, it’s so intense. I honestly don’t know how the players cope with it. When you’re signing at a gig and you make a mistake or sing out of tune, it’s gone in an instant. But when you’re playing snooker with millions watching on TV, the pressure must be incredible. The best players are geniuses and we should appreciate them more. When you are out there in the arena, you are in the presence of greatness.

“I’d like to be a referee as well. I’m going to get some of those white gloves and practise saying ‘quiet please.’ They have the best view in the house.

“I’d like to see Ding Junhui win it one year because no one from Asia has ever lifted the trophy before, plus there is a fantastic Chinese community in Sheffield. It will be great for snooker as a global sport to have another overseas winner. As long as China doesn’t take the World Championship off us! I’d also like to see a woman competing at the Crucible because snooker is a sport that anyone can play.”