Snooker: Why Hearn is chasing another pot of gold

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BARRY HEARN was joking. 'If someone decent got into snooker management we'd really have problems. Everyone would see how easy it is.' That was in the days when snooker was his province, his fiefdom.

Not any more. Matchroom, Hearn's company he formed in 1982, once managed eight snooker players who could arguably have been described as the finest in the world. Now he is down to three - Steve Davis, Ronnie O'Sullivan and the women's world champion Allison Fisher. No one doubts their quality, but they do question his commitment. Hearn's interests, once focused almost exclusively on the green baize, seem to have wandered elsewhere, most notably to boxing.

It is with Chris Eubank that he is most often seen on camera thesedays rather than Davis, who at one time appeared to be joined at the hip to his manager. In some Embassy World Snooker Championships, Hearn was hardly away from the Crucible; last year he made two high-profile but brief visits to Sheffield. 'He's got so much going on he can't afford to be here all the time,' Davis said, unconcerned.

At one time Hearn was accused of running snooker for his own benefit, an allegation he dismissed with 'I've put more into the game than I've taken out'. Now he is a looming figure in the background rather than the predominant voice in the sport. And there is the 'decent' alternative. Instead of joining Hearn, players have moved their cues in with Ian Doyle, the manager of the world champion Stephen Hendry, who now has 10 under contract. Matchroom is still a force within the game, but not to the overwhelming extent it was.

It is to event management rather than man management that Hearn has turned. Matchroom promotes the European Snooker League and the World Matchplay but the diversification is apparent in the amateur golf, pool and clay shooting events the company has also held. The personification of Essex man made good, 'the king of the C1s' as Hearn once described himself, is moving into sports populated by the As and Bs of the world.

It is a departure for Hearn but one in keeping for a man always looking for the 'next big kill'. He made millions out of, and for, snooker when it was in its television prime, but the attraction of being a big fish in that pool paled when he became hooked by his other love, boxing.

'I just wanted to get rid of a lot of things that happened to me as a fight fan,' he said, 'paying pounds 50 to watch a load of crap, then finding the person next to you smashing up his chair. It had to change. The re-imaging of snooker showed the way.'

Whether Matchroom has achieved that is debatable but the metamorphosis of Hearn from being synonymous with snooker to being a general sporting entrepreneur is approaching completion, a process that would have been hastened had he followed the advice of a phone caller in Newcastle in the early Eighties.

'He was raving about this young footballer he wanted me to look after. I told him: 'I'm not interested in footballers. They don't make very much money and, anyway, there's no real future in the game.' I kept a note of the player's name though - Paul Gascoigne.'

(Photographs omitted)