One of Britain’s best known snooker clubs, Willie Thorne’s in Leicester, closed yesterday after 32 years.

The reason given is that the council need the building for office space. A council spokesman told the Leicester Mercury: "The lease for the snooker hall was sold by Willie Thorne some years ago and the current operators have never signed a lease.

"We gave them notice we would be ending their tenancy and they have accepted this. We own the building and already have some offices there. We are looking at the options for using the rest of it for office accommodation but no plans have yet been drawn up."

The current operators are Rileys, who own a number of snooker clubs in the UK.

Regardless of the reasons, the closure of WT’s is symbolic of the downturn in interest in the game in the UK.

People often talk of the extraordinary viewing figures snooker achieved on British TV in the 1980s but participation levels were also huge. Children all around the country were getting small snooker tables as Christmas presents, including a 12 year-old Stephen Hendry. It was a game that could not be ignored. But times change.

WT’s was an iconic club because it was widely used for tournaments, particularly for juniors.

Most professionals of the last 30 years passed through its doors dreaming of one day emulating their heroes in the professional ranks.

This was long before players complained snooker was getting in the way of their social life: this was their social life. It was Saturday mornings on the motorway, obliging parents shipping young hopefuls to junior events.

It was a generation of boys whose enthusiasm for snooker knew no bounds.

It was here that friendships and rivalries formed which still stand to this day. It was here that young talent was nurtured, most particularly by Malcolm Thorne, Willie’s brother, an unsung hero in the development of many careers.

Mark Selby was one of them. He said: “It’s a sad day because I wouldn't be where I was without Willie Thorne's. I played there from the age of 11 to 16 and Willie's brother, Malcolm, let me practice for free and he sponsored me in my first competitions. I have a lot of great memories of the club.”

The snooker boom of the 1980s on British television led to an explosion in clubs but in recent years many have closed.

This is because of a number of reasons. Honeymoons don’t last forever. Snooker was the in thing for many years but fashions change.

The smoking ban hit the sport hard. Snooker clubs are not just about snooker but are social hubs. Many enjoyed going in for a chat and a smoke and a drink and, maybe, a few frames as well.

But the game has also gradually disappeared from mainstream TV.

When I was a kid in the 1980s there were as many as nine tournaments on terrestrial television. Now there are three, and they do not receive the terrestrial hours they used to.

Just yesterday the BBC announced it was reducing its red button output to only one channel from later this month. This means for its snooker tournaments the most it can show is one table and, at times, there won’t even be that.

All of the above has a knock-on effect. Wales has always been a stronghold for the sport but just recently the snooker hall at Pontardawe Arts Centre was threatened with closure.

Why? Because its takings from five tables had fallen from £24,000 to just £2,000. The number of people using the tables has fallen from 18,600 to 1,600.

Snooker is no longer a game large numbers of British kids want to play.

Some still do, obviously. But junior events simply do not attract the same numbers they once did.

Readers from elsewhere in the world may well say, ‘so what?’ The Brits have had it too good for too long. The qualifying set-up is still based in the UK and the circuit has long been biased towards British players.

This is true but it is because of the demand in Britain for snooker. As that demand declines, what of the future?


Anonymous said...

The decision by the BBC won't worry Hearn because China will be the next country to host it because THAT is where the money is. Can't see the Crucible contract being renewed when it becomes due for re-negotiation!

kildare cueman said...

I wouldn't be too concerned. The game has levelled off in the UK but is huge in China and Germany.

In time, it will become huge in other countries, and as a world circuit evolves, the 2 or 3 tournaments in the UK will be bigger and better.

Who knows, maybe it will go full circle and take off again in a few years.

Anonymous said...

sad news / great blogging

John McBride said...

It is a sad when you hear of great Snooker clubs closing.

You are right Dave when you say “Snooker clubs are not just about snooker but are social hubs. Many enjoyed going in for a chat and a smoke and a drink and, maybe, a few frames as well.” I myself worked in Brondesbury Snooker club myself, which was in Kilburn & nearly half of the 400 members didn’t play Snooker. Well, certainly not when they were sober.

Another great iconic club which has also closed, a few years ago now, was Ron Gross Snooker Club in Neasden NW London. There wasn’t many Snooker clubs I walked in to without my cue, but this was certainly one of them.

As said, it is a sad day when you hear of great, great Snooker clubs closing.

NewsfoxSport said...

I'd be worried, to be honest and I actually don't want snooker to be China based completely! Said it before but Hearn needs help, will take more than Fishomania boy to re energise the game. That said, not impossible either.

MSF said...

I'm a huge Moroccan snooker fan, and I really enjoyed this article. The comment about China being the new "home" of Snooker is acurate as well. But you can't deny that they need to improve. Every time there is a tournament in China, there's so much to complain about, not only from viewers, but more importantly from players (mobile phones going off, climate issues,etc...)

Not to distance myself from the subject, but Morocco can be a successful market for snooker as well. I mean our clubs are certainly not empty. There is a great passion amongst youngsters here for this sport. If only Barry Hearn could try to shake things up in North Africa in general, and Morocco in particular.

Anonymous said...

Rileys have been looking to sell Willie Thorne's for quite a number of years as it was one of the worst performing clubs in terms of revenue in its portfolio. As a rough guide, the club was operating on a turnover of circa £100k per annum including wet sales, memberships, food and so on. When a huge portion of that goes on salaries it doesn't leave much for the rent, utilities and table maintenance.

I wonder what would have happened if someone had bought WT's from Rileys and then the new owners evicted ?

Still, there won't be many tears for WT's at Rileys HQ. I do wonder whether their obvious incompetence in not signing a lease for the building in the last 14 years wasn't deliberate as it gave them the perfect get out with little PR damage..

Anonymous said...

I loved playing at Willie Thorne's when I was at university in Leicester. Huge, cavernous club, with 20+ really good quality tables and a lot of good players. I wasn't one of them mind....

Anonymous said...

If you read the BBC press release it confirms that "content previously on red button will be available on BBC Online" so you will still get a choice of 2 tables, depending where you live.

I have mentioned this change to the Red Button on this forum many times before - it is part of the cost cutting package agreed between the BBC and the Government. Anyone could have protested during the consultation stage - maybe I was the only one who did.

What I would like to see on BBC TV as well as the 3+1 tournaments are a Friday - Sunday PTC, snookers 20:20.

wild said...

in the 80s Snooker was what X Factor and reality shows are today.

so instead of Dreaming to be a Snooker Player Kids want to grow up to be a Singer or Just lounge about on TV while people vote them out.

Trend of the times in Britain.

Janie Watkins said...

It was sad that a chain like Rileys took over a great independent club like Willie Thorne's in the first place.

As well as the juniors, the club held a myriad of pro-ams and in the mid 80s-90s a lot of World Ladies Ranking events as well.

So my particular tribute is on behalf of all the Lady players who were encouraged and given great playing opportunities at Willie's
And we can't let the era past without also a word for Nancy (Willie's mum) and her legendary Sunner Dinners.

The catering at the club was always excellent too.

I remember Willie telling me once that as much square footage was devoted to social activities at the club, as was given to the snooker tables. They had darts, cribbage etc, all the things you'd get in your local pub.

It is the passing of an era and a very sad passing too.

Thank you Willie, Nancy, Malc and Roger for everything you did for snooker and for all of us for many many years.

Anonymous said...

Lady players playing at Willie's, what's the betting they got shafted..

Anonymous said...

whats a myriad janie?

Ray said...

It's very sad to hear of the demise of the iconic Willie Thorne Snooker Centre. It seems that snooker in the UK is suffering from "death by a thousand cuts".
I wonder if Barry Hearn or Jason Ferguson have any initiatives in place to revive the game in this country? Or is it already too late?
Personally I don't think it is too late and if you don't have a go you'll never know.

Anonymous said...

Alot of people have alot to thank Malcolm Thorne for. R.I.P.

Anonymous said...