The European Masters - a personal note
Professional snooker hit Romania for the first time last week, Bucharest becoming for no less than seven days the capital of snooker for staging the inaugural edition of the European Masters.
A ranking tournament which was happy to present (to a hungry public) genuine snooker players at work, fighting for a shiny trophy. Well, a trophy and 75.000 euros to be fair.
For me it was, as usual, a match made in heaven because I had the chance (for the first time) to report from the heat of the action. And this time it wasn't an exhibition match. This time it was the real deal.
So this is my personal note on how LIVE snooker looks like, on how things happen, on how much pressure you can feel in the air, on how many dreams survived in a arena, or how many were crushed.
It's only fair to say that this tournament wasn't the easiest of jobs for no-one involved. Starting with where it would take place (Bucharest or Cluj) and finishing on how the set-up of the tables would be like.
In the end though, the qualifying stages took place in Preston, UK with only two matches held-over here (starring the likes of Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan) plus the Last 32.
On Monday 3rd of October the balls started rolling on the green, green baize from Globus Circus in Bucharest and I started my daily pilgrimage.
Although I wasn't able to be there for the first part of the day (until the weekend when I practically slept in the arena) due to ... well, work, I enjoyed every minute of what I saw.
The media room wasn't always packed, which was somehow to be expected due to the fact that football is the name of the game everywhere, but I had some colleagues there, ones that I am actually proud to call colleagues. As for the rest, well ... good journalists are a dying breed so, no surprise there.
What shocked me the most was the pressure and the tension that could be easily felt floating in the air from the very first touch of the balls.
For us, the spectators, the bloggers, the photo-reporters, it might be fun to watch them, but for the players it's work. It's work and with every ball that rolls down into the pocket they come closer in cashing their salary ... or not.
And since the European Masters was a huge event, so was the fight for the title. You don't have to be a genius to figure that out. The lads are really stressed and need their time in making decisions, in choosing what shot selection to perform, in having a total and perfect silence on a shot etc.
This is something that the audience needs to understand and it pains me to say that some of the people present weren't on their best behaviour in this regard. But they learned and by the end of the tournament we had a much well behaved crowd.
Snooker is elegant. Every shot has a touch of elegance and style. Even the most furious ones. There's something that makes you stay up straight and be cautious even when you clap your hands in sign of respect for a certain shot.
The sound of the snooker balls is actually a song. It tells the story of a snooker player that is giving his best to entertain you, to put on a show, to earn his living, to do what he loves the most. You can't but respect that.
The European Masters was a LIVE lesson of what dedication and organisation means and not just for the people directly involved, but also for us. The ones that covered the event, the ones that followed it, the ones that took pictures of it.
There was noise all over the internet about the outrageous price of the tickets, the fact that people didn't fill the venue in the first days, about the fact that the set-up for the second table wasn't the best of works, that certain sponsors shouldn't have been on the list etc.
Sure, things could have been better. WE can always do better. But I guess, no-one really prepares you for such an event. You can't but do your best and learn from your mistakes when things end.
For me it was a dream came true. Seeing the players, witnessing LIVE snooker, smelling the tension, taking my notes in the arena, writing my articles late at night or early in the morning. I waited six years for this to happen and I loved every minute of it.
And the funny thing is that snooker has this power of bringing people together. I have always said that and this time was no different for I was able to know so many people that are passionate about this sport and connect with them.
Also, it was so nice to have my virtual #SnookerFamily with me. Although I was there and they were on Twitter or Facebook. Their support was enormous. Thank you for that (you know who you are).
My biggest thanks go to two very special people from World Snooker, Ivan Hirschowitz and Lewis Ward. These tireless men who stayed in the press room and took care of us, the players, the website, the social media channels, basically more than one could think of.
I reckon that I don't just speak for myself when I say that we had such a tremendous final. Two amazing players (Judd Trump and Ronnie O'Sullivan in case you didn't know that already) who played all the given frames. And as a friend of mine said after the match, the audience would have stayed for more.
The curtain fell over the European Masters, but not over this marvellous experience that I will always cherish.
The silence, the passion, the drama, the miscues, the cracking shots, the press conferences after the match, the photo sessions, the bloody mobiles ringing, the people feverishly applauding the players, the love and hate relationship with those colourful snooker balls - all of these are part of a story that will stay in my heart forever.
I do admit I was a bit quiet on social media this past week. Been a bit selfish and enjoyed snooker on my own, I guess, but then again I don't get too many opportunities.
Seems cheesy and emotional, right? Of course that I get emotional when I talk about snooker, have you seen the name of the blog? But that doesn't mean I can't be objective, so let's get back to work with the next tournament, right?
P.S. All these crappy photos were taken by me!