YORK is on the brink of completing a major sports treble as the world's top snooker stars head to the city for the start tomorrow of the PowerHouse UK Championship.

When the deal to bring the second biggest tournament in world snooker to York's Barbican Leisure Centre was signed last year it was for three years, with the second and third years optional.

The snooker authorities were delighted with the way the event went last year and had no hesitation in returning to the city this year.

And it is almost certain that the championship will come back again in 2003.

Richard Batterby, snooker co-ordinator for the Barbican Centre, said that they are 95 per cent of the way towards signing up for the third year of the deal.

Although the long-term future of the Barbican site is uncertain, because City of York Council is considering bids for the site, the building will still be in full use next December and able to stage events as normal.

This is great news for defending UK champion Ronnie O'Sullivan, who said in York this week that he would like to see the city become the permanent home of the tournament.

"It is one of the best venues we play at anywhere in the world," the world number one claimed.

"The city has everything. It's a lovely place, with good restaurants and facilities which are all easily accessible.

"The Barbican venue facilities are excellent for the players, the atmosphere in the arena is very comfortable and the tournament is well attended.

"I think the UK Championship should be held in York for the next 20 years."

O'Sullivan starts his defence of the title a week today with a second round match against John Parrott or Adrian Gunnell.

The first round starts at 11am tomorrow with four best of 17 frames matches. The tournament continues for the next two weeks, with the final on Sunday, December 15.

The only day there will not be play is next Friday, because BBC television will be rigging up cameras for their broadcasts during the second week.

The final is a sell-out, with no tickets left.

There are still some tickets available for the semi-finals on Friday, December 13 and Saturday, December 14.

A total of 10,000 tickets have been sold so far. There is a big sale of tickets for Leeds-based British champion Paul Hunter's matches.

Tickets for most sessions in the early rounds are still available, including both sessions on the opening day tomorrow. Tickets can be bought at the box office.

The match tables were being erected in the Barbican arena today and finishing touches were being done in the CueZone tent on the forecourt in front of the Barbican.

During the second week of the tournament World Snooker qualified coach Del Smith will be on hand to give free coaching to members of the public.

Harrogate-based Steve Prest, who was CueZone coach last year, is unable to take charge this year because of other commitments.

The CueZone will open an hour before tournament play each day except December 6, and close each evening once tournament play has started.

There will be six snooker computer games, two pool tables (one English, the other American), one full-size snooker table and one seven-foot snooker table in the CueZone.

Entry to the area is free.

Updated: 12:19 Saturday, November 30, 2002