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?