Hamed Leads Crucible SOS; Boxer Appeals for World's Top Event to Stay in Sheffield

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Byline: STEVEN BAKER

PRINCE NASEEM Hamed last night implored snooker bosses to keep the Embassy World Championship in Sheffield.

Hamed, one of Sheffield's favourite sons, is a regular at the tournament and he is worried that its departure from south Yorkshire would have serious repercussions for the steel city.

The championship's contract with the Crucible Theatre expires next year and the World Snooker Association has admitted it could be switched from Sheffield, where it has been staged since 1977.

Hamed, the WBO featherweight champion and a close friend of Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan, said: 'It would be an absolute tragedy and a terrible blow to Sheffield if it ever left the Crucible.

'Sheffield, and the Crucible Theatre especially, is the home of snooker.

'There's no other place quite like it - the Crucible Theatre and snooker is like Madison Square Garden and boxing.

I've been coming here for a few years and I really enjoy it, and I would hate to see it leave Sheffield.' Hamed made his mark on the Crucible scene in 1997 when he watched Hendry beat Darren Morgan 13-11.

Morgan demanded that the boxer, sitting in the Press box, be moved and said: 'Naseem being there had a massive bearing on the match. He has an intimidating face and you wonder if at any minute he's going to jump out and lay one on you.' Hamed's fighting talk was backed up by Joe Johnson, the 1986 world champion who is proud that the tournament is staged in his native Yorkshire.

Ironically, Sheffield is fighting to keep the championship at a time when English snooker is at a low ebb, with Scotland and Wales the dominant forces in the sport.

This year, for only the second time in the tournament's history, there was not a single player from England in the semi-finals and only two veteran Jimmy White and Anthony Hamilton, who was thrashed 13-3 by John Higgins - reached the last eight.

John Parrott, in 1991, was the last English world champion but Johnson said: 'It would be a big blow to the area if it left.

'It's been here so long that it's like the home of snooker and it's up to the people of Sheffield and the whole of the county to shout and scream about it. …