Crucible must not be snookered on World Championship future - Richard Hercock

People enjoy the sunny weather outside the Crucible Theatre during day thirteen of the Cazoo World Snooker Championship at Crucible Theatre. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)People enjoy the sunny weather outside the Crucible Theatre during day thirteen of the Cazoo World Snooker Championship at Crucible Theatre. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
People enjoy the sunny weather outside the Crucible Theatre during day thirteen of the Cazoo World Snooker Championship at Crucible Theatre. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

“One of the worst things about human life is that every 18 months you have to call Sky and pretend that you're going to leave them until they find a magical offer which halves your bill which apparently didn't exist when you first rang.”

I read this on social media this week and it made me smile. It resonated. A bit like when you threaten to leave your unruly toddler in the supermarket unless he/she behaves.

You don’t mean it, but you have to go through the process.

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Barry Hearn, president of Matchroom Sport. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)Barry Hearn, president of Matchroom Sport. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
Barry Hearn, president of Matchroom Sport. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Which takes me nicely on to Barry Hearn, President of Matchroom Sport.

The former World Snooker chairman came out last week to warn that the Crucible’s days of holding the World Championship were numbered unless Sheffield City Council can deliver a bigger venue.

Hearn told the BBC: “I am doing absolutely everything I can to stay in Sheffield and it takes two to tango – I’ll stay here while we’re wanted, and I think we’re wanted.

“But they’ve got to be realistic. We’ve said for the last few years we need a new venue that seats 2,500 to 3,000 people.

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“I’m looking for Sheffield to come to the party and if they do, we’re staying. If they don’t, they’re really saying that we don’t want to, so it’s not really my call.”

The famous Sheffield theatre - home to the World Championship since 1977, with a contract to run the event until 2027 - only has 980 seats and sells out every session of the tournament’s 17 days. Hearn wants a venue which holds 2,500 to 3,000 fans.

The lucrative markets of China and Saudi Arabia are desperate to be involved in snooker - and envious of the Crucible’s status in the sport - but Hearn’s warning sent shockwaves through snooker.

So are the Crucible’s days numbered, or was this just posturing from Hearn, a dig in the ribs of Sheffield City Council to bring more to the bargaining table to keep snooker in the Steel City?

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Hearn has always been a long-term advocate of the Crucible. A decade ago, when announcing the current 10-year deal, he said: “As a businessman, this is quite alien for me to say but sometimes, things are not just about money. I’m just so happy that we have a home here at the Crucible.

“It belongs to the city of Sheffield, and so do we.”

And there is a famous video clip online, where Hearn says to six-tine world champion Steve Davis: "On my tombstone will not be written 'this is the man that took the world championships away from the Crucible', it's staying and it don't matter how much is involved and I have never said that once in my entire life."

Not a good starting point when trying to negotiate a new deal, so the bullish approach from Hearn last week could be seen as a shift in tactics.

What is not in doubt is everything must be done to keep the World Championship at the Crucible.

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But not at any cost. The people of Sheffield have only just finished paying the bill for the World Student Games - held back in 1991 - and the city does not need the financial millstone of paying for another new 3,000 seater venue.

Plus, what makes the Crucible so special is the atmosphere it creates, providing an intimacy which is not found at any other venue. Building a new larger venue would lose that, and if we are just talking about bricks and mortar then it doesn’t really matter if you build it in Rotherham or Riyadh.

The World Championship brings millions of pounds into the region. You only have to try and book a hotel in Sheffield during the tournament, visit a local bar or restaurant, to see how many people make the annual pilgrimage to South Yorkshire.

“Sheffield is the home of snooker,” said Sheffield City Council’s chief executive Kate Josephs. “The World Snooker Championships and Sheffield go hand in hand.

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“We know what the tournament means to the people of Sheffield, the players that come to compete and all the fans that watch the tournament across the globe. We have created a sporting legacy here in the city and we want that to continue for generations to come.

“We are in regular contact with World Snooker Tour and meet with them before, during and after each tournament and we will continue doing so.”

The theatre has its problems - it’s not Broadway, more off the Parkway - but they are not insurmountable. As a sports journalist, I first came to the Crucible over 30 years ago, and so many things remain the same.

“We’re coming up to the 50th anniversary of snooker being here and if the World Snooker Tour turned up tomorrow and did a site visit they would probably not come here because it’s not big enough, but there’s nothing we can do about that,” explained Shaun Murphy, the 2005 world champion, who lived in nearby Rotherham when he won the title. “I don’t want the snooker to leave here.”

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There is no easy answer. With the Crucible being a grade two listed building, questions have to be asked on how the theatre could be expanded to get more people in. Plans were previously mooted about extending the Crucible, but its location in the city centre brings its own set of problems.

But the bottom line is, just like you would never take tennis away from Wimbledon, the World Championship and snooker must remain at the Crucible. It’s time for Sheffield City Council and snooker chiefs to get round the table and find a solution which works for everyone; players, fans, snooker and the city of Sheffield.

“These other countries can create their own history, their own tournaments, but the Crucible is very special,” said Ken Doherty, the 1997 world champion. “It should be sacred and you can’t buy sacred things.

“I love Barry Hearn, and he’s done a magnificent job. Snooker has to get bigger and better, and Barry and Matchroom are the perfect people to do that. But I just say, please Barry, don’t sell the World Championship.”

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