Reflections on a fantastic week at the Tour Championship and looking ahead to the World Championship in our latest fan profile interview

Apr 14 / Snooker System

Niall Owens is certainly no stranger to bagging himself a seat for box office sporting occasions.

On top of his season ticket at Wrexham’s famous Racecourse Ground as they returned to the Football League after a 15-year hiatus, he’ll also be attending the World Championship final at the Crucible on the May Bank Holiday Monday.

This makes him a pretty good judge of special sporting venues and why we should probably take notice when he tells us that Manchester Central venue which recently hosted the Tour Championship has the potential to become one of the great destinations for snooker over the coming years.

“The venue was absolutely brilliant,” he told Snooker System after attending the event for five days including the final. “I took my wife on the Friday evening and she said ‘this is next level’.”
Niall – known as Nige – has been to almost all of the venues on the snooker circuit including the Crucible and visits to Leicester, York, Wolverhampton and Milton Keynes and so is more than qualified to give his comparative verdict.

“There was a large entrance area with Cue Zone and lots of options for food and drinks – it’s probably one of the best venues I’ve ever been to,” he said.

“I think the game typically struggles in a leisure centre environment, but this felt very special in a prestigious venue which made a big difference.”

As we learned from a perhaps unsuccessful visit to Hull for this event a year ago, location is a crucial ingredient for a thriving snooker tournament and it certainly proved to be the case here. “It’s right by the library and a short walk from St Peter’s Square so it’s right in the centre of things,” explained Nige.

“People were able to come and go throughout the tournament as there are options to do lots of other things in Manchester. I think the contract means the event is here for another two years which feels like a big positive.”
The added bonus for Nige on a personal level was the venue being visible from his workplace.

“I could literally go to the office in the morning and then walk over to the snooker; it was good to have that convenience for once while following the snooker,” he said. “The crowds were great all week and it feels like a place where the event could settle here as a home.

“We all know that the Masters is synonymous with London, the World Championship with Sheffield and it would be great if we could replicate that across the country with other events.”

All eyes on Sheffield

For a long time now, the Tour Championship event has been deemed the perfect aperitif to the World Championship which follows with the longer-format matches getting us right in the mood for the annual pilgrimage to Sheffield.

The move to a clearly stellar venue has only given excitement levels an extra boost, it seems.

Like the entire snooker fraternity, Nige is gearing up for the World Championship and will be attending the final for the first time.

“It’s bucket list stuff,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to see a session of the final and to be there for the full final day is exciting.

“I had the opportunity to go to the Sunday last year and didn’t go for it. I was sitting at home while Selby was potting the reds and blacks for the 147 with massive regret so I had to make it happen this year.

“I went to the one-table setup for the first time a couple of years ago when Ronnie played Higgins, and we only got four frames so going for the full day means I’ll see much more of the end of the match – and you’re always hoping it will be a classic.”

As it would be for many snooker fans, this is a lifetime ambition. For Nige, his connection with snooker dates back to 1997. Being half Irish and half Welsh, the World Championship win for Ken Doherty when he was a child was a landmark moment at the start of his snooker journey.

“My family has always been into it and always watched it - back then I just remember his win and not much of the action but it was such a big deal with the parade after as well.

“Shortly after that, Matthew Stevens and Mark Williams were on the scene and battling it out which really caught my attention and captured my imagination.”

Nige’s desire to attend venues and follow the game to a deeper level was triggered during Covid-19 and he’s been hooked to a new level ever since.

“Lockdown really helped because it was one of the first sports back and helped me to get right back into it.”

As he looks ahead to Sheffield and reflects on witnessing Williams’ amazing win over Ronnie O’Sullivan in Manchester, his Welsh roots can’t help but make him wonder whether there’s a fourth world title around the corner.

“I’ve watched a lot of Ronnie over the years and while I’ve always felt he’s not the best chaser of matches compared to front running, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before for Ronnie not to win a single frame in the evening session of a final.

“Williams played so well and didn’t really give him an opportunity.

“He’s one of our best sports people and being Welsh I’m a bit biased but I like everything about him. He’s got a great character and is such a nice guy. It would be great if he could become world champion again.”

You can follow @snookernige on X. And read our other fan profile here.
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