Progress was good but as I explained you cannot ever be sure what sort of traffic awaits on the M1 as you head towards Sheffield...... however I needed some caffeine intake and a quick stop was in order. Where better than the luxurious Tamworth services station (see photos).
The M1 was getting snarled up which meant a later arrival than is usual for my jaunts to the EISS. We arrived at circa 0830 hrs on a gloriously sunny but chilly day.
After a quick look around and it being "a lot smaller" than AOP expected, we moved into "player spotting mode". It became apparent that nearly all the players were there except Dotty. Where was the wee man.......? Was the EISS below him....? Would he be a no show....?
Managed to take advantage of some photo opportunities with Jamie Cope (notice he likes Adidas just like StalinESQ), Mike Dunn (slimmer than his WS mug-shot), Stephen Lee and Gerrard Greene (nice English accent). (See photos).
Eventually, Dotty arrived and what an arrival it was - not only was he willing to stop and accept good wishes for his match, he was happy to have photos with a handshake all rolled into the deal. I think AOP was made up at this little occurrence (see photos).
At circa 0945 hrs there was not a huge crowd but most of the crowd seemed to arrive very late - although there were tickets left to buy on the day. My first problem was assessing which of the matches to view.
Table 1 - Walden/Zhanger (Tabb)
Table 2 - Greene/McLeod (Williams)
Table 3 - Bingham/Pettman (Moore)
Table 4 - Cope/Joyce (Chamberlain)
Table 5 - Lee/Dunn (Williamson)
Table 6 - Dotty/Michie (Verhas)
I decided to forego the Walden / Zhanger match initially - though I was monitoring it by leaving my bag on my seat to save it and by wandering up the back of the viewing area - brilliant being able to do this. I got chatting to his manager I think it was. He said one shot was "amateurish, amateurish"....... I said that he was 18 and it was to be expected but that he was real impressive, never rushed, “real cool in the moment”. I asked this guy (who I saw going in the players lounge, so made the connection of manager or father) whether he played with Ding but he said no. Zhanger is very short - tiny in fact.
My thoughts are that like Liang did on his Crucible debut he may cause a stir – for the simple reason he takes his chances. Despatching Parrott is one thing (and worthy of note) BUT to knock out both Higginson and Walden is fantastic for an 18 year old.
At the interval for lunch I caught Dotty for an autograph and I asked him if the 2nd table (Pettman and Bingham's) was better than 1st they had played on (when he was 1-3 down). His words "it couldn't be any worse". He also stated he and Michie would not continue on the original table due to the rolling off of balls. The whole scenario was a right pallava, funny to view from a distance. At one point when Dotty/Michie refused to carry on - Michie came up to the viewing area (looking for his family or whatever) he was cussing the table something rotten. I nearly said "well its the same for both players" but did manage to bite my tongue.
I placed myself in a canny viewing position for the opening session. At the top and able to view 4 tables (with 1 of those tables slightly obscured - missing the LH black pocket). Lucky for me I had a nice couple of local folk who were happy to natter away and we had a good laugh about flukes etc.
Most impressive in the early stages of viewing was Stuart Pettman. He is a guy that I have never really paid much attention to. I was expecting his match to be a very close one with potential for it going the distance. Pettman missed next to nothing and played at a decent speed. It was also noticeable that he was really enjoying it out there. Had a spring in his step and nice grin on his face. Bingham was blobbing big time.
Cope and Joyce was a question of both players looking and playing nervously - not a great match, though in the 2nd session Cope made some nice breaks.
With the table situation (Dotty and Michie) they came back on Pettmans table so I had a great view of that session concluding. Dotty came back brilliantly to lead 6-3. Later on in the match Michie did what Michie always does (hands in air, head shaking, huffing, puffing). I would also say that players banging the floor with their cue is real inconsiderate as another player in a different match may be on the shot - its an "emotion control" issue. Dotty does it a fair bit, so did Michie.
I think R-ron made the point about not much applause in the arena and he is right - some of the shots I saw with position all around the angles or pack splitters from baulk colours - all great shots and I was at times the lone applauder. Crucible is totally different in that regard. Shame really.
For the 2nd session I moved myself over to watch the conclusion of Zhanger and Walden. At lunch Monique told me that she thought Ricky would stroll away with it now, but I selfishly hoped he would not. As it was Rory melted to wreck my accy but that is the way it goes.
Funny thing happened in the 2nd session. Walden was snookered and he did not do his normal 4 laps of the table thiking / assessing he just looked at the balls from the baulk end (reds were at top end of table) and just hit and hoped. He fluked a red and went on to win the frame (think it leveled the match at 8-8). That was funny and cruel at the same time, but Zhanger had the last laugh.
Walden actually applauded Zhanger when he finished the final frame break – ala Ebdon to Cope in 2008.
Another pretty funny thing personally was when I went to the toilet, at the end of a frame, and Stephen Lee was in the corridor. I said well played, shook his hand and said “thanks for keeping my accumulator alive” – just out of fun. He laughed and said “don’t mention betting to me”.
We left when an error ridden 18th frame was "won" by Greene. The time was 9pm and it was a long journey home and there was no guarantee on how long these 2 mugs would be tippy tappy'ing around in the decider. I would of stayed if it had been a non-grinder playing but 2 grinders and feeling knackered with a long drive = time to leave. The fact Greene won vindicates that decision.
Dropped AOP at Temple Meads for his onward journey at 0020 hrs - and then made my way home. A great day out - and will do it all again next year, no question.
PS Got a bit of a neck ache from watching too many different matches.