John Higgins wants more fake crowd noise to be played at the Crucible to make this year’s World Championship more realistic, writes Will Jennings.
The four-time world champion booked his place in the last 16 with a 10-5 win over Matthew Stevens in the behind closed doors format, after the Government scrapped the pilot scheme to trial fans at certain sporting venues.
Dubbed-over clapping was played on Sunday to mark century breaks and frame wins but that’s far from enough to replicate the idiosyncrasies of the Crucible, where ringing mobile phones, packet rustling and murmurs create the unique Sheffield acoustics.
Higgins, world champion in 1998, 2007, 2009 and 2011, thrives under that pressure and is urging World Snooker to follow in the footsteps of football coverage in having somebody in charge of manufacturing crowd noise.
Asked if those coughing and confectionary nuances of the venue would make him feel more at home, the 45-year-old said: “It would, without a doubt.
“I don’t know if it would be feasible to have someone sitting with a button for if you play a good shot, or whatever.
“But it would have to be somebody who’s pretty knowledgeable about the shots that you’re actually playing, and somebody who knows about snooker, as you don't need anybody that doesn't know about snooker pressing buttons when it's not a good shot!
"It's got to be somebody knowledgeable who, if he was paid the right money, could sit there, press a button and bring a bit of atmosphere to it.
“I wouldn’t be against that and I think anything to give it a little bit of atmosphere would be a lot better - it was a lot better having some atmosphere in there today so I think it should stay.
“I thought I was in mass, like when you go to chapel or church! I think the crowd made it better in the second half of the match.
“I still felt the pressure out there because it’s still the Crucible and still the arena you’re playing in - it was a lot better than when we played in the Championship League, as at least there’s a venue and there’s seats, so you do feel the nerves more being here.”
Higgins started his match on Saturday when there was no canned clapping in use but that didn’t stop him surging into a 6-3 lead to leave two-time Crucible finalist Stevens reeling.
The world No.31 started the Sunday session strongly as a fine break of 138 prompted the new dubbed applause and reduced the deficit, only for Higgins to make 61 and 53 himself to eventually get over the line.
Can he reach a fourth consecutive final⁉️— World Snooker Tour (@WeAreWST) August 1, 2020
Four-time World Champion John Higgins kicks off his 2020 Crucible campaign against two-time finalist Matthew Stevens.
Watch the action live on @BBCSport, @Eurosport_UK & https://t.co/0mCRoqdsmX 👌
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Higgins was the sixth man to book his place in the last 16, with every seed to have played so far progressing in front of an empty Crucible.
The Wizard of Wishaw will face either world No.12 David Gilbert or Norwegian qualifier Kurt Maflin in the last 16, with underdog Maflin holding a narrow 5-4 heading into Sunday evening’s second session.
It’s looking like a star-studded array of talent will descend on the second round and Higgins reckons the return of high-profile, live snooker has an opportunity to capture sports fans' imagination after lockdown.
“When we were in lockdown we barely saw any live sport but I know the football is coming back, as well as cricket,” he added.
“People will tune in as you don’t know what the score’s going to be, whereas there were so many reruns of different sports that I think people were getting fed up with.
“It’s great live sport’s back and it’s great that the top players are playing well, and great there are some top players that the fans can relate to and cheer on and see how it goes.”
Live snooker returns to Eurosport and the Eurosport app. Watch the World Championship from 31st July -16th August with analysis from Jimmy White.