Steel yourselves for another potty fortnight at Snooker's World Championship
22:42 GMT, 19 April 2012
Sheffield's Crucible Theatre is an unremarkable breeze-block building which houses snooker's shrine. It holds only 950 spectators but therein lies the essence of the drama of the World Championship. Ivan Speck spoke to four icons of the sport's heyday about this year's tournament, which starts on Saturday: Steve Davis (right), who won six world titles in the 1980s; Dennis Taylor, who denied him another in the most famous match of all in 1985; Willie Thorne and John Virgo. All four are part of the BBC commentary team.
So, what makes the Crucible different to any other venue
WILLIE THORNE: Just as Wimbledon means tennis, so The Crucible means snooker. I haven't played professionally for 12 years but I still get a buzz when I drive into Sheffield. I'm a bit concerned that the World Championship could be taken away from The Crucible in two or three years if China comes up with the money. That would be such a retrograde step.
JOHN VIRGO: It's the intimacy – and very few sporting venues have that. You can hear the audience breathing, especially during the two-table situation. It's the perfect setting. Any larger and you might feel too far away from the players.
STEVE DAVIS: History and the fact that it is the World Championship both come into it, but also the actual room lends itself so well to the gladiatorial aspect of snooker. You see pictures of amphitheatres in days gone past, the Coliseum. Now imagine that on a far smaller, more intimate level, but still with people baying for blood. The Crucible has a bit of that about it. There is no hiding place.
Magic moment: Dennis Taylor claims title in 1985
You have all excelled in that arena What are your personal favourite moments
DENNIS TAYLOR (laughing, because really there was no explanation needed): I had some great moments, but it is that 1985 final. When I watch the finals now from the commentary box, I still think, 'How did I play and cope with the pressure, especially the way that final panned out'
DAVIS: That same 1985 final because it defined my career and it hasn't done me one iota of damage. I had the privilege of attempting that shot, that final black. It was my best and worst moment all rolled into one. Nothing I have experienced in life has felt what it was like to be involved in that final, involved in that moment and what happened afterwards.
VIRGO: Getting to the semi-finals in 1979. The feeling of playing in the one-table scenario is strange because the table suddenly feels so far away. I didn't get to the final, but looking back I can appreciate getting to that stage.
THORNE: Probably beating Terry Griffiths when he was champion. I lost to Alex Higgins in 1982 but probably played some of the best snooker of my career. I lost 13-10 or 13-11 and he went on to win the championship that year.
So close: Virgo reached semi-finals
The Crucible is also about the anecdotes and the humour within the drama. What has made you smile
TAYLOR: The funniest moment for me was when Bill Werbeniuk broke wind. He was going for the highest break, on 80-something, and had three reds left. You know the amount of lager he used to drink, he threw his leg up on to the table and broke wind. It was the loudest noise that ever echoed around The Crucible. Bill went bright red. He slipped off the table, turned to the crowd and said: 'Who did that'
THORNE: A couple of years ago, Liang Wenbo thought his name was being called out – he didn't speak very much English – and he walked out when the MC was actually introducing the referee. He came through the curtain and realised he'd made a mistake.
VIRGO: Ted Lowe was introducing the players once and the centre partition wall started to drop on his head. There's always something happening like people falling asleep in the front row. Again, it's partly down to the intimacy, which adds to the atmosphere.
Looking ahead to this year, the youngsters are starting to come through. Judd Trump thrilled us last year when he reached the final. Can he go one step further this time and what do you think about 17-year-old Belgian Luca Brecel
VIRGO: Judd was like a breath of fresh air last year. We hadn't so much lost Jimmy White as lost that kind of player that the fans could support. Judd has come at the perfect time. Yes, he likes the limelight, likes the publicity but that's no bad thing. He's got great talent and I think he's the future.
THORNE: It will be interesting to me to see how Luca goes on. He's got a tough draw. I think Stephen Maguire is liable to be too clever for him. You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of rookies who have won their first match at The Crucible.
DAVIS: Judd has been a revelation. He's quite an amazing player, a big occasion player. Having said that, the fact that this country has slowly gone off the boil for snooker will reflect itself in the future. I expect that the majority of the young players are going to come through from China because that's where the game is the most popular.
One to beat: Ronnie O'Sullivan
Let's turn to the enigma that is Ronnie O'Sullivan. Has he got another world title in him
THORNE: Without a shadow of doubt. It's how much he wants it. The thing is that people are not frightened of him any more. That's a problem for Ronnie. People are now standing up to him and he doesn't like that.
VIRGO: Yes. His ability is second to none. They used to say that you didn't reach your peak until your mid-30s (Ronnie is 36). It's probably mid-20s now. From what I see, he's still got the all-round game and a good safety game. His only slight weakness is his long potting.
TAYLOR: I thought Ronnie could have overtaken Stephen Hendry's record of seven world titles. Now it's doubtful. He's won three times and, if Ronnie has put in the preparation, not just on the table but mentally as well, he's still the one to beat.
And finally, the biggest question, who is going to win
TAYLOR: It's the most wide open championship for a number of years but I'll go for John Higgins to retain his title.
THORNE: Ronnie O'Sullivan or Shaun Murphy.
VIRGO: On talent, I think Mark Allen is ready to break through.
DAVIS: I could make a case for a dozen players but I have a sneaking feeling about Neil Robertson.
TV: Live coverage on BBC2, BBChd, BBC website and Eurosport.