Hearn’s battle to keep World Championships in Sheffield

'We ain't going to China, trust me,' says Barry Hearn. Photo: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
'We ain't going to China, trust me,' says Barry Hearn. Photo: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
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The world loves a battler from the wrong side of the tracks, the little guy who won’t take no for an answer and goes on to make it big.

Barry Hearn is such a man.

The son of a cleaner and a bus driver from a Dagenham council estate, the story of Hearn’s rise is a free-market fairy tale.

We love the confidence and ability to make things happen of the man who’s going to keep the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield.

“We ain’t going to China, trust me,” he says, and we do.

“On my tombstone I’m not having ‘The man who took snooker out of Sheffield”.

At least, he says, not in his lifetime and that he’ll sign up for the World Championships to stay in Sheffield for 20 years if the council would.

We hope Mr Hearn is around for another 20 years in the finest of health but he might not be and it might be as well to consider the battle Sheffield faces to keep the Crucible at the centre of world snooker.

According to Sport England weekly snooker participation figures in this country have fallen from 112,600 in 2005-06 to 47,700 in 2013-14.

In contrast snooker in China attracts big money and the country has 60 million snooker amateurs - a million people play every day.

Some Chinese schools have snooker on the curriculum and China now hosts five of the sport’s 11 world-class competitions, Britain three.

They’ve even built an exact replica of the Crucible Theatre outside Bejing to try to get the World Championships out there.

They’re dead serious. But so is Barry Hearn.

“We are not going to let our Crown Jewels go. It would be letting our soul go.”

Hearn is believed to be close to extending deals with Sheffield Council and the BBC, which expire in 2017.

And that’s great news for lovers of snooker, tradition and sporting theatre.

But he knows that to keep the championships in the real and inimitable Crucible is going to take a lot of fight and money in the coming years.

Barry Hearn is no barrow boy.

Beneath that Del Boy exterior beats the heart of a qualified chartered accountant who knows all about the power of numbers.

And deep down he knows that keeping World Championship snooker in Sheffield could be the toughest, longest battle of his all-conquering career.