SNOOKER: CREWE will chalk up a major coup when world-class snooker arrives in town in the new year.
The Chronicle has teamed up with Matchroom Sport to bring seven of the sport's leading lights to the tables of South Cheshire in January, when they battle it out in the opening round of the Premier Snooker League 2004 tournament at Legends Sports Club.
World number one Mark Williams will be joined by fellow stars of the baize Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Jimmy White, John Higgins, Marco Fu and Paul Hunter in Crewe on January 10 and 11.
Now entering its 18th season, the Premier Snooker League is the longest-running invitational tournament in snooker history, and the 2004 competition will see the biggest names in the game pitted against each other in a unique league format. It is a blueprint that also makes the league the most widely-viewed televised snooker production shown across the globe.
Last season, Matchroom Sport introduced a 'cash for frames' element into the prize-money structure, offering £500 per frame in the eight-frame matches.
A total of £84,000 of the £180,000 prize fund will be dished out in this rate with a player winning a match 5-3 collecting £2,500 and his opponent receiving £1,500.
Last year, Hong Kong ace Fu made the breakthrough in winning his first major title by coming from behind to defeat world number one Williams 9-5 in the League play-off final in Sunderland.
Fu will be back to defend his crown while Williams is chasing one of the few major championships to have eluded him.
Hendry will be looking to add to his record haul of five premier Snooker League Championships while Higgins was a winner back in 1999.
Davis, a League ever-present since its 1987 inception, had a terrific 2002-03 and will be a crowd favourite along with 'people's champion' White.
Pin-up boy Hunter is this year's debutant and will be aiming to win the League at the first attempt.
Matchroom Sport chairman Barry Hearn said: 'Last year's attempt to introduce a more competitive element to what were potentially 'dead' frames went down brilliantly.
'I think that 'cash for frames' is such a good idea that other snooker events should certainly weigh up the possibilities of introducing it.
'You would have to make Mark Williams favourite this time round. Despite never having won it, he totally dominated snooker last year. Hendry is my second choice; he will be desperate to prove himself after a year out of the competition.
'Although Jimmy and Steve are the outsiders, any of these players could win the 2004 Premier Snooker League.
'That's what makes it so exciting.'