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Billy on the Box: The numbers game's big conundrum left me snookered


Top of the pots: The world’s best player followed by some bloke from Leicester. Phot:: Mike Egerton/PA

Top of the pots: The world’s best player followed by some bloke from Leicester. Phot:: Mike Egerton/PA


Top of the pots: The world’s best player followed by some bloke from Leicester. Phot:: Mike Egerton/PA

During our time of shuffling along in this mortal coil we are met with many choices and challenges along the way, some more serious and life affirming than others I grant you, but still needing deliberation, debate and decisions.

Thus over the years I have come down on the side of Swap Shop against Tiswas, Blue Peter versus Magpie, Madness opposed to The Jam, Dec over Ant, but one thing never up for cogitation was snooker.

Back in the day there was one option, apart from when ITV would try and butt in with Dickie Davies turning up at the Mercantile Credit Classic, and that option was the BBC. A nice, safe option, like a pair of Hazel Irvine slippers and who wouldn't want those?

There is another way though, the Oasis to the Blur of the BBC, as Eurosport has come marching in, ripped off the comfy footwear and jumped onto the sofa like a Springer Spaniel full of sherbet.

Colin Murray's highly unlikely stint in Dictionary Corner on Countdown was something of a portent then as we faced up to the conundrum as to where we parked our posteriors for the ultimate numbers game - the UK Championship final on Sunday.

You know what you're getting with the Beeb, it's hard to imagine a hungover Hazel turning up after a night on the lash with Steve Davis, although having the final at the Barbican probably meant alcohol would be at a premium, even if there was no sign of Lawrie McMenemy.

With Murray joining Jimmy White on Eurosport there was every chance they could still be on the rip as we awaited the battle of yin and yang. No, not two Chinese players, but Ronnie O'Sullivan, everyone's favourite Rocket, and the inaptly monikered Mark 'The Jester from Leicester' Selby.

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Selby is World champion, and he has been World No.1 forever, but could still walk down the street, whip out his cue and no one would bat an eyelid and Murray, the media's McCooey of choice, spelt it out for us.

"We go one more time at the Barbican, this is it, smoke 'em if you got 'em, world snooker's peoples' champion against the World champion. We have more time than anyone else to build up to this," he said, basically saying the Beeb were consonant, consonant, vowel, consonant.

"Half an hour, it really is time to lie back and think of England," he added, and suddenly the Springer Spaniel sloped off knowing that even he couldn't challenge excitement levels of this kind.

"There's only one letter between a Shelby and a Selby (that Countdown stint has paid off), and in a snooker sense this guy is as tough as a Peaky Blinder," said Murray, before Neal Foulds hit us with the stat that, other than the protagonists, the only players ever to meet in all three major snooker finals were Davis and Terry Griffiths.

An interesting fact, no doubt, and one that was not wasted on Jimmy White.

"He's different class, ain't he? Google rings him up," said White before we got under way, and by the interval things hadn't gone exactly to plan as Selby raced into a 6-2 lead. But was Murray down-hearted? Not a bit of it. Fast forward a couple of hours and they were back and the Belfast boy wasn't about to turn things down from 11.

"Hardly a crack has appeared in the granite-like game of Mark Selby, Ronnie and his magic snooker chisel have their work cut out, but Ronnie can do things with his cue we can only dream of," he added.

"The Barbican's ready, phones off everyone in there, no noisy sweet wrappers and if you've got a heavy cold suck a Strepsil for crying out loud," he said, and then O'Sullivan made some magic happen and by the mid-session interval it was 7-5 to Selby.

"Ladies and gentleman, we have a ball game, Jimmy White you have perked up, you look like you've had…" and at home no one guessed that the next words would be '12 hours sleep' but suddenly it was Foulds who was full of life.

"Ronnie's not so much making the balls talk but making them admit to unsolved crimes dating back 30 years, that's how well he's playing," he said, as we checked to see if we'd turned over to Murder, She Wrote by mistake.

"It's all to play for, close the curtains, order a pizza, put your mobile phone in a glass of water," urged Murray but soon it was all over, Selby winning 10-7 and Hazel bounding into the arena to show that the Beeb is still boss.

O'Sullivan, never one to miss a chance to antagonise, told her that he'd had a great time and was "looking forward to going to Glasgow with the Eurosport boys" while Selby retorted that if "you're playing in a major tournament live on the BBC and don't enjoy it you shouldn't be playing the game" and thus we were no nearer to finding an answer to the new dilemma - BBC or Eurosport?

"Thank you for choosing Eurosport to watch your snooker, we never take you for granted," Murray concluded, and as Hazel put on our slippers we could only imagine the boys pillaging York like vexed Vikings who worked out that the nine letter word was Eurosport.

The good, the bad  and the ugly

THE GOOD: A quality moment on BT Sport’s FA Cup Third Round draw as Steven Gerrard not only produced his beloved Liverpool at home but somehow inspired Ian Wright to pull out either Newport or Plymouth as the visitors. “Should get a job for that,” joked Stevie G. He could well do if Jurgen Klopp loses to either of them.

THE BAD: MOTD2 presenter Mark Chapman sinking Jermaine Jenas when he admitted he was at a loss as to Everton’s style. “That’s the kind of punditry we want – ‘I have no idea what’s going on’,” said Chapman. Don’t worry about it, Jermaine, Mark Lawrenson has been doing that for years and no one has noticed.

THE UGLY: El Clasico on Sky on Saturday threw up more than we bargained for from commentator Rob Palmer. “It’s more than a football game, we always say that, it’s a mixture of history and politics, social values as well, they’re looking for a separatist Catalunya, Real Madrid trying to separate themselves by nine points from Barcelona,” he said. It was a one-all draw, I assume that means a point apiece and Spexit put on hold.

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