When Barry Hearn first sold the idea of a fishing match to Sky Sports, everyone thought the boss had gone mad.
This was a company with a hard-nosed view of sports and making money. How would 16 anglers sitting round a lake fit in with that?
Vic Wakeling was that man with the vision, and at his retirement party last year Fish O’ probably got more mentions than any other programme! Taking the massive gamble of producing the match live ¬ at unbelievable cost, by the way - for five hours on a Saturday was considered by some to be madness, but during the 17-year history of the event it has been one of the most-viewed live events that Sky has broadcast.
No-one knows the secret of why it works but there can be absolutely no doubt that it does. It set the format and the parameters and remains totally unchallenged in its domain.
This year’s event is likely to be one of the closest yet because the usual array of former winners aren’t there. Just Neil Machin of the final 16 has won before. That Cudmore is his home venue, however, must be a daunting thought for the other 15.
Rob Wootton took some time to get to grips with the venue’s behaviour in a final last year but he was flying towards the end, and carrying that experience forward to this year will stand him in good stead - who knows, maybe it will prove a bigger advantage than Machin’s local knowledge?
My old pal Tom Pickering has sat next to me a few times now during the event, as ‘colour-commentator’ and both of us know what mistakes everyone has made and how they could have been avoided - we’ve even said so on air.
Now, I’m in the very lucky position of not having entered the event but Tommy is carrying that millstone around his neck and - who knows? - the bankside reporters may just mention it.
Will Tim Bull be able to emulate his brother Mick, who won the first Cudmore final in 2008 and was back again last year? It’s an enthralling prospect, especially as I hear that Mick will be Tim’s eyes and ears on the bank, returning the favour for Tim’s efforts.
There are a few first-timers who won’t know what’s hit them when that damn klaxon sounds but someone will emerge on Saturday evening to collect that big cheque for £25,000. But then, instead of a night celebrating followed by a nice lie-in on Sunday, or maybe a small match as a ‘warm-down’, they will be back on Sunday for the Champion of Champions. Every winner from Ian Turner in 1994 to the 2010 prize-winner will be there fishing for a ten grand bonus. Sixteen champions all together for a unique event.
If Neil Machin wins there will be a spare peg, so maybe I should take my kit...
Of course, Fish’O’Mania is now the centrepiece of the Go Fishing Show and there’s an amazing amount to see and do (and buy!) there too. It would be a great idea to get there early, do the show, then watch the match in the afternoon. Maybe even stay overnight and do both of the matches?
It is a history-making weekend and we’ll be reviewing it on Tight Lines, from Cudmore, on Friday evening on Sky Sports, from 8pm. I can hardly wait!