I NEVER miss an FA Cup final, love the ebb and flow of Test match cricket and gorge on a feast of tennis during Wimbledon.

But, for me, there's one annual gem that's simply unmissable. The World Snooker Championship.

It's the cherry on my sporting cake, a guilty pleasure and an event I look forward to more than any other on the calendar.

I can appreciate why it's such a devisive sport.

You either love or loathe it and there's no denying frames can become long-winded and scrappy.

It can be protracted, even tedious, and, as one TV reviewer wrote, "trying to make snooker exciting is like asking a glacier to move faster".

But my view is the polar opposite.

At its best, there's no better, more compelling or absorbing sport on the box.

Snooker is my first sporting love and my fascination with it stretches back to the mid-80s.

I remember having my own mini table, playing my dear old grandad and uncle. All of us donning dicky bows to get in the spirit.

I was distraught when my hero, Jimmy White, narrowly lost 18-16 to nemesis Steve Davis in the '84 final.

Dennis Taylor's historic victory in the black-ball final the following year fuelled that passion, not to mention Joe Johnson's against-all-odds success in '86.

Ever since, it was always an ambition to visit the home of snooker at Sheffield's iconic Crucible Theatre.

I was fortunate enough to see a semi-final session last year and then, along with my wife, boys and parents, go again last weekend.

To say it lived up to expectations would be an understatement.

First and foremost, the snooker itself was mesmerising.

Our tickets were for Sunday's afternoon session and the second-round contest between four-time winner John Higgins and Essex's 2015 champion Stuart Bingham.

The first thing anyone says about the venue is that it's much smaller and more compact than it appears on TV.

Until the semi-finals begin, two tables are used with a screen down the middle and space is at a premium.

Watching the players, referee and two cameramen dance around each other is quite an amusing sight.

Of course, silence is golden during play, especially when a player is down on a shot, but that just ramps up the atmosphere. It fuels the drama and tension.

There's also something intimate, almost soothing, about listening to the TV commentary (earpieces are available to buy and you can tune into the BBC output).

The expert analysis adds a fresh, enlightening perspective and there are few broadcasters I admire more than Messrs Taylor, Virgo, Davis and Parrott.

Perhaps even better than the action itself is the feeling of being part of something special, around like-minded enthusiasts. All happy and blessed to be present - a bit like being at a music concert or convention for a favourite film on television programme.

It's a shared experience between a friendly, knowledgeable snooker public that strikingly crosses all boundaries - men, women and children of all ages.

The atmosphere both inside and outside the theatre is relaxed and on sunny days (as we had on Sunday), there's nothing better than sitting with a coffee and watching the action unfold on the giant TV screen.

Opposite the Crucible is the Winter Gardens - a giant glasshouse that provides the base for the BBC coverage up to the semi-finals (at which point, with only one table in operation, there's enough space to shift their studio into the auditorium).

Watching the TV team in action is an experience in itself and they sit right next to the 'cue zone' - a table where members of the public are invited to put their skills to the test and try some trick shots.

Media folk and players mill around together and during our stay we met Bingham, Neil Robertson, Barry Hawkins, Stephen Maguire, David Gilbert, Kyren Wilson, Zhou Yuelong, Gary Wilson and Ding Junhui, plus the Beeb's brilliant Hazel Irvine, Steve Davis and John Virgo.

It was a memorable experience and, as far as events on the baize, the standard this year is sky-high and better than ever.

Players seemingly attack at all costs, rather than being cautious and cagey, and most frames are sewn up in 15 to 20 minutes.

There's little better than watching immaculate break-building or cunning safety play and one of the most astonishing things I've ever seen in any sport was Ronnie O'Sullivan's jaw-dropping five-minute, 20-second maximum break in 1997. Extraordinary.

As I say, I can understand why it's not everyone's cup of tea. Each to their own.

However, snooker is my first sporting love and the epitome, of course, is the 17-day marathon in Sheffield.

It's a masterclass of talent, technique, endurance and concentration and the best player always wins. It's an impossible tournament to fluke.

I'll certainly be making the most of it between now and Monday night.

And I'll definitely be poised online, with credit card details at hand, when tickets for next year's showpiece event go on sale on Sunday.