World class snooker is back at the Guild Hall in Preston this week after a ten year absence. The Ladbrokes World Grand Prix starts on Monday 6 Feb, concluding on the Sunday evening of the 12th.
The event will see the world’s top 32 players fight it out for the £100,000 prize, with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Shaun Murphy and Stuart Bingham aiming to win the competition.
One of the men responsible for snooker’s return in Preston is Richard Simkin who is head of operations at the Guild Hall and business partner with the owner of the building, Simon Rigby.
Simkin said: “I’m very excited, I’ve worked on it since we took over, I’m a big snooker fan and when we took the Guild Hall off the council they’d basically put up the hire fees, but world snooker has gone a lot more commercial and they don’t really pay hire fees anymore, now they just bring people to the venue for you and usually get it for next to nothing so I got them back and it’s fantastic.
“We got the World Senior Open last year and now we’ve got the World Grand Prix this year, that starts this week so we’re very happy with that. I had to go down to London and York and all over to meet with them and re-assure them. It’s a great achievement to have the World Grand Prix.”
Simkin has been determined to bring snooker back to the city ever since he started his role at the Guild Hall and it’s a building that he and many others in the sport describe as ‘iconic’. The venue is now helping revive some of the qualifying stages for the players.
“One of the main reasons other than being a fan of the sport and wanting to get it back was I was watching it on TV as you do and Ian McCulloch, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Shaun Murphy they were all mentioning quite a lot on air we need to get snooker back to some of these iconic venues.
“Some of the qualifying that they’re doing now it’s in sports halls and it’s just not the same.
“We’re now noted as being the main qualifying venue for the north of England again, we’ve had the China qualifiers all last week, O’Sullivan and the likes have all been here trying to qualify to go over there, it’s fantastic to have it back.”
Asked if Preston could see more snooker tournaments take place at the Guild Hall and in particular, a return of the UK Championships Simkin said:
“If I could get that it would be fantastic but we’ve got the next one down, we’ve got the third best tournament in the country for snooker and it’s bringing all sorts of other things because world snooker is owned by Barry Hearn whose son Eddie Hearn owns Matchroom Sport which is boxing.
“They’ve got the monopoly now so it’s all about getting the right commercial deals.
“I could probably do a deal that would probably knock their socks off and they’d come but we wouldn’t make any money out of it we’d just have the kudos so there’s a bit of tough decision in negotiating to go on.”