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Jill and Willie Thorne

Jill and Willie Thorne

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SNOOKER icon Willie Thorne spent seven years of his illustrious playing career in Sheffield and he can’t speak highly enough of the place.

Thorne, regarded as one of the top break builders of all time, says he always enjoys returning to the Steel City.

Willie Thorne, who was also a contestant on series five of hit BBC One television show Strictly Come Dancing, said: “It is a wonderful city; I love it for the snooker but it is a lovely place.

“I haven’t played for 14 years but I still get a buzz when I come down towards the Parkway roundabout. I still get the same tingling feeling I got when I was playing in the ’80s. It will always be a very special place to me and it was where I met the finest girl of my life.

“The town centre is fabulous. For the snooker, the media stay at the Mercure Hotel and it is fabulous.

“I would put Sheffield only second to London as far as cities are concerned in England. I think it is magnificent.

“It is so clean, nice and there are plenty of places to go – and with Meadowhall on the doorstep too it has got a lot going for it.”

As a traditionalist, Willie Thorne hopes the World Snooker Championships will stay in Sheffield forever.

But the Leicester-born commentator is acutely aware of the growing popularity of the sport in Asia.

“I personally don’t ever want it to move away from Sheffield but it is going to get very tough to keep it when China start offering serious money,” he said.

“Players are playing some exhibition tournaments in China for £10,000. That is how big snooker is over there.

“If it continues to grow, I can’t believe there won’t be someone who won’t offer millions of pounds to stage the World Championship.

“I’d rather give China the World Matchplay or World Open and the World Championship should stay in Sheffield.

“I can’t imagine tennis ever being taken away from Wimbledon and hopefully the Crucible will never be taken away from Sheffield.”

Nonetheless, Thorne is demanding the most famous snooker tournament in the world be given a facelift.

“Unfortunately with the World Snooker Championship, there is no hospitality behind the scenes,” he said. “We used to have marquees and corporate hospitality. That will have to come back for me for it to stay in Sheffield. I’d like them to put up a marquee where people could come and buy a day ticket, have a bit of lunch and watch the big screen in the marquee if they wanted to. They need a corporate element and I think that could work.

“It is still scruffy backstage too. It is not particularly nice back there.”

Thorne is also calling for a snooker museum to be built in Sheffield to entice more tourists into the city.

“I think there should be a museum in Sheffield now with memorabilia,” he said. “Sheffield has become synonymous with snooker and it would be nice if they opened a museum with bits and pieces of the old players in it. I think people would make the journey to go and have a look at it.

“They could do a hall of fame thing with memorabilia. I’m sure Sheffield would get a lot of tourists wanting to see that and hundreds when the world title is on.

“They could have old tables, cues and pictures of the old players. I’m sure people would love to see that.”

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