Leicester City Council forces Riley's Willie Thorne snooker club to shut
A snooker club started up by Willie Thorne has been ordered to shut its doors because the city council wants the building back.
The Riley's Willie Thorne club, in Charles Street, opened for the last time yesterday and it is understood the space will be used for council staff being moved out of the crumbling New Walk Centre.
It was opened by the county snooker legend in 1980 and he ran it until about 14 years ago when it was taken over by the Riley's chain.
Professionals including Steve Davies and Alex Higgins have played there and it was also where city snooker stars Mark Selby and Joe Jogia honed their skills.
Willie, who now has no involvement with the club, said: "It's the end of an era. There are some great memories I have of the club and it's sad it will be no more. At one point nine pros were regularly playing there and every pro in the game has played there at one time."
Mark Selby added: "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."
Westley Cooper, 33, of New Parks, Leicester, takes his six-year-old son Westley Jnr to the club regularly.
He said: "They've just dropped this bombshell on us this week that it's closing down. My son was in tears when he found out.
"I've been told the council are going to use the building as offices.
"It's such a friendly place and nowhere else in town will be the same."
Paul Newman, 46, of Aylestone, said: "It is upsetting. I've been going there for seven years and it's a good crowd there and you feel really relaxed. The other clubs in Leicester are probably all a third of the size.
"I enjoy playing their socially with friends but it's also part of Leicester's history. Snooker is something the city is known for now."
A member of staff at the club, who did not want to be named, said: "It's upsetting.
"We have to be out by October 12 and it's all happened really quickly.
"The city council own the building and they want this floor back because they've got to get out of the New Walk Centre. We haven't had any notice – I was told on Monday.
"The customers are devastated because this has been the home of snooker in Leicester since 1980."
A city council spokesman said: "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."
No one from RIley's was available to comment yesterday.