Shaun Murphy at the Crucible
Shaun Murphy at the Crucible

Shaun Murphy exclusive: World Snooker Championship interview ahead of huge fortnight at Crucible

Shaun Murphy has sounded a warning to snooker's traditionalists, saying the World Championship may have to leave the iconic Crucible Theatre due to its lack of corporate facilities.

Murphy, world champion in 2005, has called for tented villages to be erected outside the venue to cater for hospitality needs, to help keep the tournament in its long-term Sheffield home.

The Crucible has hosted the event since 1977 – and there is a deal in place to keep the World Championship in Sheffield until 2027 – but some leading players, including Judd Trump and Neil Robertson, have called for it to move away. Murphy wants it to stay put, but is certainly not sure that it will.

"I'd love to see the World Championship stay at the Crucible Theatre. I nailed my colours to that mast immediately," Murphy told Sporting Life. "However the commercial and hospitality elements that you see at golf and tennis and other big sports, we don't have them. The Crucible has only got 970-odd seats in it. It's an anomaly really.

"I want it to stay a million per cent but I would fear for its future there if those other things aren't looked after and resolved. I'd love to see a return of the marquee tented villages that Embassy used to put up outside the Crucible. That's where they had their hospitality, that's where they had their clients come, that's where they had the black tie dinners. It's where VIP packages get sold.

'It's special for all of us'

"For me, it's the only risk to the World Championship being at the Crucible. It's our flagship event and for all intents and purposes, it doesn't have any of those nice touches that other major sporting events have, like the Masters golf, the Open, Wimbledon. World Snooker have tried to go down that road with the Century Club at the Masters and it works, and it's weird that our flagship event doesn't have any of that.

"It's 45 years at the Crucible now, and you just can't buy that kind of nostalgia and history. When I walk out and play there every year I purposely remind myself of all the great matches in history that have happened there. I always go and find the seat I sat in as a nine-year-old when I went there for the first time in 1992, to watch Peter Ebdon play Steve Davis. It's special for all of us. We take this pilgrimage to the Crucible every year. I would be devastated if it moved, I'd be heartbroken.

"But I can see that lack of corporate hospitality being an issue as the game gets bigger, as the game expands. Big businesses that come in and sponsor events, they want to be able to bring their key spenders, their key members of industry. They want to be able to bring them for a day out. It happens in all sport. And the Crucible doesn't really have any of that."

Anthony McGill in action at the Crucible Theatre
The unique Crucible Theatre

Murphy did also say that he has some sympathy for Robertson's specific issues with the cramped conditions at the Crucible.

"The playing floor does seem to have got smaller," Murphy said. "Those tables where you put your glasses of water on, they are more prominent and more in the way than they have been over the years. I think Neil is actually right in terms of physical space.

"The Crucible had a refurb, I want to say about ten years ago, and I think they changed the flooring of the venue. I think they might have levelled the flooring or moved it a little bit.

"You see people knocking into those tables and bottles of water flying all over the place, you see it more now. You watch any footage of the 80s and 90s and that just didn't happen, there does seem to have been more space."

A World Snooker Tour spokesperson said: "We absolutely love the Crucible and its relationship with the World Championship and we have a fantastic long term partnership with Sheffield City Council which will run until at least 2027."

Crucible run brings light to dark year

Murphy enjoyed a marvellous run to last year's final, his fourth in Sheffield, where he lost 18-15 to Mark Selby. It was in many ways a bolt from the blue, as he had been in poor form throughout the season.

A pumped up Murphy playing to the crowd became one of the defining images of the tournament. And the 39-year-old looks back with great fondness at that fortnight.

Shaun Murphy on his way to the 2021 final
Murphy on his way to the 2021 final

"I certainly went to the Crucible last year with no hopes of winning the tournament, no aspirations of getting close to the famous trophy. I had a terrible season," Murphy said.

"I think I changed once I got through the first round against Mark Davis, I did find something in that match. And for sure once I beat Yan Bingtao in the last 16, I went into the last eight against Judd Trump thinking, I haven't forgotten how to do it, it's still in there. And I started to think maybe there's a bit of life in the old dog yet.

"It was an amazing experience, it was 17 days of great fun. I've reached that stage in my life now, that age where I start looking at experiences. When I was younger I only considered things a success if I won. Now I'm looking at things a bit more holistically. Even though I didn't win, I came very close to winning and it was a great experience.

"The year we'd all been through with the pandemic. And from where I'd been, l lost some loved ones, I was in a very low place in my life. Nobody in the room would have known what I was going through. I said in my speech after the final that the crowd brought me back. They lifted me, I lifted them a bit, they lifted me back. They gave me as much as I gave them. I loved every minute of it."

Injuries to blame for quiet campaign

After the excellence of his run to the world final, many were expecting a resurgent Murphy in the 2021/22 season but instead it's been something of a non-event, bar a run to the Turkish Masters semi-finals last month.

Murphy says the main reason for his struggles have been neck, shoulder and back injuries which have plagued him in recent times – although he does appear to have found something of a solution in the shape of a massage gun.

"The injuries affected me really from September through to the end of the UK Championship and into the Scottish Open. I played against Yan Bingtao at the Champion of Champions in absolute agony all the way through," Murphy said.

"I haven't looked after myself as I should have done throughout my career, I haven't got on board with the stretching before a game and making sure you're flexible. If I could have my career again I'd make a lot more of that. Years of not really looking after myself has probably caught up with me this year. It played a massive part in the early part of the season.

"Like we all do, I ended up down some Instagram, TikTok, worm hole at about three in the morning, and I just saw one of these people, an athlete I think, talking about using this massage gun and how it batters their calves, so I just sat and thought, I wonder if that could help. So I just ordered one. And it's been a lifesaver.

"As long as I've got someone to give me a good seeing to with it, it does free the muscles up. My travelling companion Robbie Murphy, who has been coming with me all this season, does it. He's a great friend of mine, one of Ireland's most decorated amateur players. I don't think he thought massaging me in the small hours of the morning was in his job description!"

Murphy on amateur outrage: 'My comments invalid'

Murphy found himself at the centre of a storm that went far beyond snooker in November when he complained amateur players shouldn't be allowed to play in professional tournaments, following a first round defeat to China's Si Jiahui at the UK Championship.

The story became a huge one across the media for a couple of days, with Murphy subject to abuse in public and death threats on social media. The Englishman now believes his comments were wrong, claiming the World Snooker Tour is not professional.

"I think what that whole experience has educated me on is that my understanding of the set-up of the tour was wrong," Murphy said.

"It's been a real case of me having to go back to school and learning how the WPBSA and World Snooker Tour set up. I always referred to our tour as a professional tour. My understanding of the tour was incorrect. The facts of the matter are our tour is not a professional tour. It is a tour made up of 128 registered pros and top-ups and invites, and I misunderstood that over the years.

"It was news to me to learn that not all professionals enter all professional events and that in almost every event there are are top-ups, and amateur players selected from lists. I've learnt more about how the tour actually works since those comments than probably I've learnt in the last 20 years.

"It makes my comments that I made at the time invalid. We're not talking about a pro tour, it never has been a pro tour, that was my mistake.

"I think at the time I had a head of steam, I was very much I'm right, I'm right, everyone is wrong. A couple of months later when asked about it again I thought, I shouldn't have said it when I said it but I still think I was right. Now I look back and think I shouldn't have said it when I said it and I was probably wrong. So we go full circle."

Responding to Murphy's comments, a World Snooker Tour spokesperson said: "Amateurs play under the same rules as professionals, they can earn prize money and places on the World Snooker Tour based on results. Many elite amateur players like Si Jiahui train and compete full-time in the hope of earning a guaranteed tour place, therefore they are competing under significant pressure with no guarantees.

"Providing opportunities for the best amateur players is important for our growth as a sport and that is something that Shaun benefitted from during his early days as a player. We have come a very long way as a global sport over the past decade and that has partly been down to the structures we have built both at professional and grassroots level worldwide. For the best young players, the chance to compete on the big stage is a crucial part of their development and the development of the sport as a whole."

Confidence low but hope remains

The stage is now set in Sheffield for another World Championship. In one of the most open tournaments ever, Murphy isn't being talked about by many as a genuine title contender. And he admits that like in 2021, he doesn't have high expectations.

"It's very similar to last year, I've had a terrible season," he added. "The form book wouldn't suggest that I'm going to pull up any trees. I think (John) Higgins has been to six finals, Robertson looks like he just wins when he wants, there's (Ronnie) O'Sullivan, Trump. I'm sort of out of the loop now.

Shaun Murphy
Can Murphy come alive again at the Crucible?

"Listen, I can remember how to do it. I did start showing a couple of signs in Turkey. I haven't forgotten how to play, the memories are all still in there. But I wouldn't be going there full of aspirations and full of confidence.

"I am aware that it's a place I have great memories of doing well in and that can play a massive part. It's the type of tournament you can play your way into. The matches are long, We've had a lot of best of sevens this year. I've lost a lot of matches 4-3 that could have gone either way, and obviously that's not the case in a best of 19.

"So who knows. I'll be ready, I'll be trying my best as always and giving it everything I've got."

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