SOME of the greatest snooker stars from the past will take to the baize once again this weekend when they battle it out to be crowned World Seniors champion.
The likes of Dennis Taylor, Joe Johnson Tony Knowles, Tony Chappel, Dene O’Kane and most notably this year Stephen Hendry will return to their competitive ways in the 888 Casino World Seniors Championship being held in Portsmouth. Other legendary names such as Steve Davis and Jimmy White will also be battling for the trophy.
And to mark the competition which starts on Saturday (October 19), The Old Green Baize caught up with another famous face who will be competing for glory – former world snooker champion Cliff Thorburn.
The 1980 Crucible champion tells us of his excitement about meeting his old friends once again for the two-day tournament and reveals his defining moment in a glorious career.
TOGB: Firstly Cliff you must be thrilled to be back in the UK and excited to be competing against some of your old pals in the Seniors World Championship?
CT: It’s great I love playing here, it’s a great venue and the crowds are very welcoming. I am drawn against a tough qualifier in Phil Williams from Wales who has not lost a frame yet in the qualifying phase, so I am just hoping I can make it through to round two because I would like to play Steve Davis or Dennis (Taylor) again and of course some of the others like Jimmy (White) who is a really good buddy of mine – so it will be great to meet up with these guys again.
There’s a bit of buzz in this year’s event with Stephen Hendry making his first appearance. So Cliff, will he be the man to beat this weekend?
Well he’s a lot younger than me you know, I am like 65 and he is 44 or 43 or something so he has a chance and Stephen of course still has the best cue action out of anyone who has ever played the game. But there are a lot of other great players in the event like Jimmy White, Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor, who I think could do it too – You know it is only short frames so anything can happen.
Snooker has changed quiet a bit since your glory days Cliff, how do you feel you would get on if you were playing in today’s game?
It was not as hectic as today with something like 25 events a year! I don’t think I would have liked going all the way across the world to play in events for little money back then. I would pick and choose which events to play in. It is hard to expect the best players to play in everything. However I too have overdone it in the past, I still do a lot of exhibitions myself now but I remember after getting to my first World Championship final in 1977. I returned home bought a car and did 23 exhibitions in 22 days in Canada driving over 2800 miles.
Who were your biggest influences when you were younger?
Lots of people helped me along the way but of course John Spencer helped me get on the professional scene and I admired Fred Davis and Joe Davis along with George Chenier who was the first professional snooker player from Canada and a former North American champion.
What was your career defining moment?
My defining moment came in one of my first events which was the Canadian Open in 1974 against Dennis Taylor. I was so nervous I could not stop shaking. My hands shook so much I could not actually put them down by my side and so I just kept on cleaning my cue. Then the strangest thing happened because as soon as I put my hand on the table I became completely calm and right at that moment Bam! It was very strange but I knew right there and then that I was going to win the World Championship and this was actually six years before I did!
Did you ever get frustrated when learning the game?
Oh yeah sure I broke 11 cues in one club and once threw a cue ball so hard it stuck into the wall.
So I take it you got barred from a few clubs back in the day?
Yeah two or three in the early years I remember. I once forgot to bring my money in a club and owed one dollar for the table and the owner barred me – Five years later I went back after winning a big Canadian title and paid the guy the dollar I owed. I recall he thanked me and then politely told me I was still barred!
Cliff Thorburn – The facts
Born on January 16, 1948 in Victoria, Canada
Played professional snooker spanning 24 years from 1972 until 1996.
Won the World Championship in 1980 beating Alex Higgins 18-16 and appeared in two more finals.
Three times Masters champion (1983, 1985, 1996)
Cliff is one of only three players to have won the World Championship from outside the UK – Ken Doherty and Neil Robertson the other two.
Cliff was ranked the number one player in the world in the early 1980s.
Was honoured by becoming a member of Order in Canada in 1983.
Became the first player to hit a 147 in the World Championships in 1983 in his second round match against Terry Griffiths.
How does it feel to be one of the most successful overseas players in the history of snooker?
It’s nice obviously but I have to disagree. For me it’s Neil Robertson. The guy is simply amazing. If he had been around in my day he would have won everything.
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions Cliff?
Well yeah – I would love to be a part of the Canadian Snooker Association and would love to help the young people take up the game and also help raise the profile of the game over here once again. I have never spoke about the subject or given anyone my ideas on how to revive and improve the game over here or attract more funding and coverage but I have a lot of valuable experience and contacts in the game and I am still just waiting to be asked by the powers that be in charge of the game over here.
Apart from snooker, are there any other sports you enjoy?
I love golf and one day I got the great opportunity of meeting the late Seve Ballesteros. I think I was playing with Lee Trevino at the time and yeah he came over and made my day. Lee used to love snooker and said it would be great if we could swap professions. Like a lot of snooker players I love golf and play when I can – I actually had my first hole in one last year!
What are your plans after playing in the World Seniors Championship?
Well next year I am over again doing some things around the time of the World Championship with some businessmen from Canada and I do keep myself very busy doing coaching, after dinner speaking and of course my exhibitions all around the world through my web site cliffthorburn.ca. I have a very good friend in world snooker coach Paul Rinaldi who is the owner of the Whitley Bay snooker centre up in Newcastle. Paul gets me some regular work when I am over in the UK every year. But next year both me and Dennis Taylor are sadly no longer captaining the Legends teams.
What is your proudest achievement?
Learning to be a good husband. My wife Barbara is patient. She put up with me a lot what with the travelling and everything, I am lucky to have her. We have two kids and I am now a very proud and happy grandfather.
Coverage of the World Seniors Championship begins on Sky Sports 4 on Saturday at 1pm.
Here’s a clip of Cliff Thorburn making the 147 against Terry Griffiths in the 1983 World Championship – one of his most memorable moments of his career.