Snooker boss Hearn flexes his cane
Think of Barry Hearn as a schoolteacher – Mr Hearn, if you will. In one class, he has his darts boys: willing to learn, always open to new ideas, you might call them Mr Hearn’s swots. In the other class, he has his snooker boys: every bit as bright as the other lot, but a bit of a pain in the Crucibles.
And so, on day three of the World Championship in Sheffield, Mr Hearn was forced to read his snooker boys the riot act. First, he had one of his star pupils – two-time winner Mark Williams – bad-mouthing his hosts; second, he had the naughtiest boy in class – Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen – accusing one of the new kids of cheating, before suggesting some of his mates were at it as well.
While Hearn has too much front about him to ever look hurt, some of his language betrayed his true feelings.
“I want everyone to understand it is a very good time to be a snooker player,” said Hearn. “Not a good time to be an idiot."
“Everything is going our way. We’re doing everything we can to make this game great again and then the ground gets taken from under us. Prize money has more than doubled in two years [Hearn took over as chairman of World Snooker in 2010] and that comes at a price, and that price is professionalism.”
Barry Hearn and Steve Davis from 1984, the year Davis won his third World Championship
Hearn clearly knows what he is doing, which makes the behaviour of a few of his charges even more perplexing. One of the main architects of snooker’s golden era in the 1980s, this is a man who made his protege Steve Davis so famous he had two singles in the top-10 simultaneously. And the whole point of Davis, remember, was that he was supposed to be boring.
If his work in snooker was startling, his darts revolution has been a minor miracle.
Since taking over as chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation in 2001, he has transformed what was once a pub pastime into nothing short of a juggernaut: the second-most watched sport on satellite television, playing to packed auditoriums, with millions up for grabs.
Yet his reworking of snooker has met with plenty of whinging. Allen – him again – said the “whole tradition of the sport was going to pot” following the introduction of shorter matches at the UK Championship.
Reigning world champion John Higgins complained about the air miles involved in competing in snooker’s revamped calendar. Yet, interestingly, not about the money.
“The opportunity is there [in snooker], go and take it,” said Hearn. “They’ve got to go to work. I don’t want to hear players going on about how tired they are – millions out there would like to be tired going to work but can’t get a job. And be supportive of those who support us, it’s not a lot to ask.
“I’ve had 30 wonderful years in sport and I’ve never seen anything like darts. And it’s all down to the players - they’re fantastic to work with, real pros. Darts has been one of the great success stories in sport.”
Little wonder, then, that Hearn described Williams’s outburst as “absolute lunacy”, while suggesting the £1,000 fine meted out to Allen – him again – for his criticism of China during the Haikou World Open in March was not enough.
With five ranking events in China next season, Allen’s unflattering comments about the country and its players could not have come at a worse time, which is why Hearn will presumably see to it that the Antrim antagonist is hit with a hefty punishment, which could stretch to a ban from the game.
“I was looking at some of the comments on the internet and 95% of them are quite angry,” Chinese journalist Victoria Shi told me.
“They were calling him a bad loser, asking why he accused the other Chinese players of cheating and why he always criticises China. If he doesn’t want to come to China, don’t come. Nobody’s making him.”
Which pretty much sums up Hearn’s attitude: if you are willing to put in the effort, we can conquer the world together and reap the financial rewards. If not, you may as well get off now and let someone who shares my vision get on.
"We’ve got a great breed of new talent looking at these players as role models and what sort of message are they sending out?” said Hearn.
“But I haven’t had a lot of problems with new players - they’re concentrating on playing snooker.”
When asked whether Allen’s handlers were partly to blame for his behaviour, Hearn pointed out he managed six-time Crucible runner-up Jimmy White for 10 years and “didn’t know where he was most of the time”. Chances are he was round his great mate - Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood's - house, snooker was that rock ’n’ roll back then.
Mark Allen might think his outbursts are a little bit rock ’n’ roll, which would have been fine in another age.
But the days of mucking about are over: time to knuckle down and concentrate on snooker. Or risk the cane of Mr Hearn.