Talk of the World Snooker Championship leaving the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield isn’t especially new.
However, this year more than most in recent memory the debate seems to have been ratcheted up a level.
Snooker, the Crucible Theatre, and Sheffield are all synonymous with one another – the purportedly perfect partnership in marriage that began 45 years ago.
Promoter Mike Watterson, upon the recommendation of his wife who had seen a play in the theatre, took the World Championship to the Crucible in 1977.
So many of snooker’s most iconic moments have happened at the venue since then.
In 1982, Alex Higgins won the World Championship for the second time, producing one of the breaks of the century in his semi-final victory over Jimmy White before cradling his baby in a flood of tears after beating Ray Reardon in the final.
In 1985 and watched by millions, Dennis Taylor fought back from 8-0 behind in the final to pip defending champion Steve Davis 18-17 on the very last black.
Between 1990 and 1994, Jimmy White’s legion of fans suffered one heartache after another as the Whirlwind was to be denied world glory at the final hurdle for five editions in a row, and six in total.
In 1997, a young Ronnie O’Sullivan produced a stunning quick-fire maximum break in just five minutes and eight seconds.
Two years later, Stephen Hendry triumphed for a seventh time – a two-decade old record O’Sullivan is attempting to equal in 2022.
In 2005, 22 year-old Shaun Murphy became only the second qualifier ever to raise the trophy aloft amid a bombardment of aggressive, attacking snooker.
Six years later, Judd Trump announced himself to a global audience with his unique brand of “naughty snooker” only to just fall short in an electric title decider against John Higgins.
In 2013, O’Sullivan conjured arguably the greatest feat in the game’s history, winning the world title at a canter having taken an entire year off after his 2012 success.
And four years ago, Class of ’92 stalwarts Mark Williams and John Higgins combined in one of the greatest finals of them all, with the Welshman edging the Scot in an 18-16 thriller.
Of course, there have been many, many more magical memories – it is a list that could go on and on.
Yet, with the current ten-year contract to stage the World Championship at the Crucible Theatre until 2027 creeping nearer to its climax, question marks have been raised over the future destination of the sport’s blue-riband showpiece.
While there are still a large number of players and fans in support of keeping it at the Crucible, there does seem to be a growing section who are in favour of a change.
Notable names such as Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire, and Mark Allen have all weighed in on the subject in recent weeks.
That each of them have relatively poor records at the Crucible is a fact that has not been lost on those who are in staunch support of keeping a status quo.
But there have been other telling signs that major changes could be afoot.
For his entire tenure as the World Snooker Tour chairman, Barry Hearn was always adamant that the World Championship was definitely going to stay at the Crucible.
But for the first time, that I can remember anyway, there was a sliver of a hint from Hearn that the partnership in a long-term sense isn’t unbreakable.
“We have an agreement with the council for the next four years or so to stay here, and that of course will be honoured,” Hearn told the BBC.
“I think we are synonymous with Sheffield and the history we have created with the Crucible is without doubt a very important part of the brand of snooker.”
“Early talks at the moment with Sheffield council are why don’t we look at perhaps building a new Crucible in Sheffield so we do not have to think about going anywhere else?
“If I could do anything on the existing site, of course I would. But there simply isn’t space.
“I would rather stay here and my heart tells me this is where Sheffield and snooker deserve to be.
“It just needs a little bit of understanding and investment of people’s time, people’s heart and maybe a few quid from central government.”
Ever the strategic businessman, Hearn knows that comments like these will put pressure on both the Crucible and Sheffield to come up with a plan, and the clock is ticking.
The fact is that snooker is losing out financially while staging its flagship event at a venue that is, undeniably, too small.
The Crucible can accommodate just shy of 1,000 people, but a tournament as big as the World Championship could attract significantly more.
There should always be a place for tradition, but that shouldn’t stand in a sport’s way in terms of growth either.
Several possible alternatives have been mooted.
Robertson has suggested there could be a second Crucible, much in the same manner as how there is a Centre Court and a No.1 Court at Wimbledon.
Leaving the Crucible but staying in Sheffield is another choice, with an interesting proposal on a purpose-built snooker venue from several years ago resurfacing in recent days.
The third, and arguably most likely option if the World Snooker Championship does in fact leave the Crucible, is a move to the Alexandra Palace in London.
Over the course of the last decade, the Ally Pally has hosted the prestigious Masters invitational to great success.
Indeed, this year the atmosphere was as electric as it has ever been, something that emcee and BBC interviewer Rob Walker was keen to point out at every possible opportunity he could.
Whether someone had a quiet word in Walker’s ear or not prior to the tournament would be mere speculation, but it did seem peculiar how, out of seemingly nowhere, there was this propagandist push by many high-profile commentators towards relentlessly promoting the Alexandra Palace as the best snooker venue in the world.
Is there a deal in the pipeline to move the World Snooker Championship there? At this stage who knows, but it certainly would not be a surprise.
The Ally Pally may not be able to compete with the Crucible Theatre in terms of romance and history, but in terms of tickets and revenue it would be a winner.
Snooker is a niche sport but has an aspiration of extending its reach, becoming global, and being as successful as it possibly can be.
To achieve that, the sad truth is that the Crucible Theatre does not tick enough boxes, not the way it is in its current form at least.
It’s a special place with momentous memories, and with a contract that runs until 2027 snooker’s bond with the venue will reach the poignant half-century mark.
Whether that will symbolise the Crucible Theatre’s final act for the World Championship is this sport’s soul-searching conundrum that remains unsolved.
Featured photo credit: Monique Limbos