There hasn’t been a WPBSA AGM so eagerly anticipated by the snooker world in a decade.
Tomorrow at 12pm in Sheffield, a city more used to on table battles, players will meet to decide whether to keep things as they are now and hope for a turnaround under the current regime or take a chance on a new way forward.
The last crucial vote was an EGM to remove the board shortly after the rejection of the Altium deal in 2002. The board survived 48-36.
Prior to this there was a period where there seemed to be a crunch vote every few months.
These were not always straightforward affairs. There was one AGM in a hotel in Birmingham held just before Christmas that descended into farce when the scrutineers, on their way to count the votes, found their path to the lift blocked by a conga of old aged pensioners.
Many of these votes were close with all manner of promises and misinformation having swirled around for weeks, as is the way of political campaigning.
Indeed, in the lead up to the current AGM a rumour went round that Barry Hearn, who has said he would be prepared to become chairman if Sir Rodney Walker is defeated, was planning to cut the professional circuit to just 32 players, something Hearn categorically denies.
There’s no evidence this was sanctioned by anyone high up in the governing body, although it could be an example of what Walker meant by ‘misleading, inaccurate and downright untruthful’ comments he alluded to last week.
Both sides have been crunching the numbers and there are indications the vote will be close.
It’s hard to see how it can’t be considering the constituency of voters is just 72: the top 64 from the past two seasons plus the five current WPBSA board members.
It’s not known whether Jimmy White sent in a proxy form before heading into the Australian bush. In such a small group of voters, it could ultimately make all the difference.
Walker, as incumbent, started favourite but there has been a groundswell against him in recent days.
Many players are simply fed up with the way things stand now and the ‘time for a change’ mantra is a difficult one to resist.
Then again, the only figure I will believe is the one that comes tomorrow. The BBC exit poll from the 1992 British general election forecast a hung parliament. In the end, John Major’s Conservatives won with a record vote.
But the exit poll wasn’t wrong – huge numbers of people had simply been unable to admit they were voting Conservative.
Walker is apparently behind right now, but that’s assuming everyone is telling the truth about their intentions. In a secret ballot, you never really know.
The great irony is that Walker was not under any obligation to stand for election this year. He was due to next year but said he brought it forward because he wanted to show the BBC and others that the sport had firm leadership and stability as key contracts were renegotiated.
This is commendable but his administration’s refusal to recognise the newly formed Snooker Players Association has brought us to this point. It was the SPA who persuaded Hearn to effectively throw his hat into the ring.
After becoming WPBSA chairman in 2004, Walker very quickly set about bringing stability to snooker, both financial and political.
Rows continued, as they do in all sports, but snooker’s fortunes appeared to be turning around.
Walker helped bring in replacement sponsors for the game’s three biggest events – the World Championship, UK Championship and Wembley Masters.
He presided over the renegotiation of contracts with the Crucible, the BBC and a new deal with Eurosport that has brought the game into the living rooms of a legion of new fans across Europe.
Walker’s administration also secured the long term future of two ranking events in China, both financially underwritten by the Chinese.
He proved to be a first rate front man, always poised in public, particularly in the moving speech he gave at Paul Hunter’s funeral.
However, 888.com and Saga both exercised early termination clauses in their sponsorship agreements and Walker was forced to dip deep into the reserves of money he had spent so long building up.
Prize money has fallen and there are only six ranking events currently on the schedule for this season.
Controversially, Walker took money in the form of commissions on contracts he had negotiated in his salaried role as WPBSA chairman, despite an earlier WPBSA report by renowned sports lawyer Mark Gay labelling such commissions unethical.
Steve Davis has said he is voting against Walker “for this reason alone.”
Hearn is a gregarious, energetic, what-you-see-is-what-you-get figure who first got involved in snooker in 1974 when he bought a chain of snooker clubs.
As manager of Davis, he was one of the leading figures of the 1980s boom. He is often credited as being behind it. This isn’t true, but he was one of the first to spot the sport’s off table potential and made fortunes as boss of the Matchroom stable through endorsements, exhibitions and, of course, prize money.
He deserves credit for trying to expand snooker’s global appeal, taking tournaments to China, Thailand, Dubai, Hong Kong and various other parts of the world.
He was treated with suspicion by the snooker establishment and gradually came to concentrate on boxing, pool, football, darts and even fishing.
Hearn’s great talent is in making something out of apparently very little: identifying niches and marketing them with vigour and enthusiasm.
I have no doubt that if he became chairman he and his team would at least inject a bit of fun back into the sport and certainly improve its standing in the media, which has ebbed away over the last five years.
But Hearn admits snooker’s fortunes cannot be turned around overnight. The sport’s reputation will have to be built back up and its image updated before a string of new high profile tournaments appear.
Hearn isn’t making a desperate bid for power. He’s happy to help if asked; happy to carry on with his other commitments if not asked.
The truth is, Barry Hearn doesn’t need snooker.
We’ll find out tomorrow whether snooker feels it needs Barry Hearn.