|Venue: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Dates: 2-3 May|
|Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer and online with live text on the BBC Sport website and app.|
The final day of the World Snooker Championship marks a special moment on the calendar as a capacity crowd returns at a UK sporting event for the first time in more than a year.
The Cheltenham Festival in March 2020 was the last time that happened when close to 69,000 spectators walked onto the racecourse, just before the coronavirus pandemic took hold and the country was locked down.
Numbers at the Crucible saw a more modest 980 fans on Monday as part of a Government pilot scheme that will hopefully also allow audiences back into theatres.
But how has snooker’s showpiece event been able to dust off the sold-out signs, welcome the roar of fans and offer a first glimpse of something resembling sporting normality?
‘It was goosebumps time’
As master of ceremonies Rob Walker introduced finalists Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy, it felt like normal service had been resumed as a “Crucible roar like never before” reverberated around the auditorium.
“It was goosebumps time,” said Emma Waldron, 40, who is attending the final with husband, Jordan, 41.
“It’s just so nice to have life back and some normality. People have not really had a life, it’s just been an existence. Hopefully it means that things can start to open up.
“I went online and saw I could get final tickets, which is practically unheard of, so we got them because we’ll probably never be able to get them again.”
Walker said his duties had given him “an unforgettable and emotional experience”.
“The final transcends snooker,” he said. “You couldn’t feel the electricity to begin with but as we’ve edged towards the end you’ve felt it and we’ve heard the Crucible roar.”
Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry added: “It’s incredible for everyone involved. Every sport has missed it but here at the Crucible it is just special.”
Sporting normality at the snooker
The success of the tournament so far means that tickets for the 2022 edition, which went on sale on Monday morning, have already sold out. But getting to this point has been a far from easy road.
Snooker is one of several sports that has been able to sporadically host fans, albeit in extremely limited numbers, since the UK first went into lockdown.
The rearranged 2020 World Championship final was about 30% full for the final. But this time around the huge spaces in the auditorium have been slowly filled during a staggered return.
While that has seen an easing of social distancing, face coverings remain mandatory in the venue.
There are also extensive guidelines for all fans to follow, which includes taking a Covid-19 test before arrival and another five days afterwards, while no under-18s, vulnerable adults or pregnant women have been allowed to attend.
Christian Fielding, 45, from Burnley, told BBC Sport: “We came on Saturday to watch the final and we came last year as well under Covid restrictions. It’s very simple. You just get your test done and turn up like you did in normal times.
“The atmosphere is great. It’s what was missing last year when it was a bit flat. Everyone has had a test and had to evidence that, so everyone in theory has done what they can do.”
Lou Reid, 26, who has travelled down from Glasgow on the train with his father Robert said: “I think it is great. It is a privilege to be here.
“I was worried restrictions in Scotland were not going to be lifted in time. It’s our first time coming here so what better time than the final.”
Matt James, 29, who has driven from London to Sheffield, added: “I was excited because I have been watching it every day on television.
“To hear the audience back was really good and it’s nice to have an event that is going back to some sort of normality. I’ve had both vaccinations so I have no concerns. It’s brilliant.”
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