"Thank you ladies and gentleman, frame one, John Higgins to break." And the magic starts. The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield is the home of the World Snooker Championship, and my home for 17 days every April and May. The venue holds around 1,000 people, and with two tables set up in the early stages, the atmosphere is one of intimate comfort. I have been lucky enough to watch every frame I have seen there from a seat in one of the first five rows, where you feel as though you are part of the action on the table. It is so close you can almost reach out to stroke the lush-looking baize.
Despite the serious nature of the competition, the players interact with the audience with a few jokes, making it seem like a performance more suited to its surroundings than a sporting event. It is a marathon of snooker on the biggest stage in the game. My favourite player, Graeme Dott, won the tournament in 2006 and I have never before known that mix of excitement and nerves which I experienced across the two days of his epic final with Peter Ebdon. It lasted until 1am, but nobody was going anywhere. Wewere part of a select band of people watching something special, united in our appreciation of what was unfolding in the gladiatorial arena just in front of us.
The hushed reverence of the crowd as the players bend over their cues to take their shots, followed by loud applause after a particularly impressive pot or safety exchange just adds to that rollercoaster of emotions I have not felt at any other venue or any other sport. It has recently been confirmed that the world championship will stay at the Crucible for at least another five years - news which has delighted many. The term "theatre of dreams" has never been more apt. It would not be the same anywhere else.