23.7.09

PAST MASTERS#10

This week, a TV commentator and former player who remains one of snooker's best known figures...

Willie Thorne is one of the best talents ever to have played the game but he failed to marshal his ability to become a regular tournament winner.

In an era where century breaks were far less commonplace than today, Thorne compiled a total of 126. He is still 20th on the all time list, with 29 players having made a century of centuries.

But he never quite delivered on his considerable potential and ended his career with only one ranking title to his name.

He was a talented teenager and won the English under 16 title at snooker and billiards in 1970.

Thorne turned professional in 1974 when the circuit offered few playing opportunities and was one of the original 16 to play at the Crucible when the World Championship moved there in 1977.
He became established as one of snooker’s biggest names during the boom years of the 1980s. With his bald pate and bushy moustache, he was instantly identifiable and a regular face on TV.

His best ranking was seventh, which he reached in the 1986/87 season and again in 1993/94, but his form could be erratic and he was relegated from the top 16 on four separate occasions.

Thorne appeared in seven ranking event semi-finals and converted three of these into appearances in finals, a low return given his obvious ability. Indeed, he only twice reached the World Championship quarter-finals.

But he had off table distractions, not least a gambling addiction he went on to describe in his entertaining autobiography, ‘Double or Quits.’

Thorne’s best moment came at the 1985 Mercantile Classic, in which he beat Kirk Stevens, John Virgo, Steve Davis and Cliff Thorburn to register his sole ranking success.

But he will always be remembered for missing the blue when leading Davis 13-8 in the UK Championship final later the same year.

Had it gone in, Thorne would surely have gone on to win his biggest ever title and who knows what may have followed?

But it didn’t go in and Davis fought back to beat him 16-14 and deliver a lethal blow to his future career prospects in a sport where mental scars take a long time to heal.

Despite this, Thorne did enjoy some success in non ranking events, winning the 1986 Kong Kong Masters, 1987 Kent Cup, 1986 Matchroom League and 1989 New Zealand Masters.

He was runner-up in the Irish Masters in 1986 and 1987. In 2000, he won the Seniors Masters title.

He hardly discouraged his nickname of ‘Mr Maximum’ having reputedly made hundreds in practice. His only 147 in tournament play came in the non-televised phase of the 1987 UK Championship.

Under any definition of the word ‘character,’ Thorne would qualify. He would play up to an image of himself as flash and big headed but was actually self deprecating, with the other players in on the joke.

For example, it wasn’t unheard of for Willie to enter a practice room at a tournament and say something like, “so, who was the best player in here until I walked in?”

In the 1993 UK Championship, he led Drew Henry 7-1 at the halfway stage and made great play of making sure everyone knew he had booked a restaurant for 8.30pm following the 7pm start.

Henry beat him 9-8 at gone 11pm.

At the Crucible in 1996, he was involved in an argument with referee John Williams, who wanted to re-rack a frame with Thorne around 50 points ahead against Andy Hicks.

Hicks won the match and afterwards said Thorne may have done better had he not spent his time “huffin’ and puffin’ around the table.”

He had his disappointments but Thorne, as he always was, remains a friendly, laidback character who played a significant role in the 1980s boom. He even appeared on Chas ‘n’ Dave’s ‘Snooker Loopy’ where he was called upon to sing the immortal line “perhaps I ought to chalk it” (referring to his head).

Thorne is now the BBC’s principal commentator with a forthright style that divides opinion.

He has always been conscious of his celebrity status and has maintained his profile in a number of ways, not least by taking part in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing two years ago.

In the last few months he has appeared on ITV’s Mr and Mrs and on the BBC’s Cash in the Attic.

Now 55, Thorne is still one of snooker’s most recognisable figures, a regular at charity golf days, sportsman’s dinners and in the media, even though he has not played professionally for seven years.

Perhaps that is his greatest victory of all.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

thanks for that dave

IMHO the best commentator by an absolute mile. (ok he isnt everyones cup of tea, especially on here as everyone will say they love clive [even more so because of the connection], but thats my feelings on the subject.)

mtfWT

Anonymous said...

He's a good summariser but he's an absolutely dreadful lead commentator.

Go back and listen to the appalling, amateurish way he wrapped up the end of the world final if you don't believe me.

Anonymous said...

hes not everyones cup of tea.

technically, commentating on snooker and not just waffling, he is IMHO the best. not everyone will agree, but its an opinion im entitled to. i respect your different opinion.

SupremeSnooker.com said...

I remember John Rawling once saying that he went to see Willie Thorne practice some 30 years ago in Leicester, and couldn't understand how he ever lost.
Thorne is a classic example of just how much of the game is psychological.
I'm in no doubt that every single one of the top 100 players are capable of knocking in centuries on a regular basis in practice, but transferring natural ability into tournament success in front of the crowd and cameras is another matter entirely.
I would've thought that a bloke who is so psychologically sensitive would resist the temptation to put extra pressure on himself with things like the restaurant incident against Henry. Getting the job done should be the priority.
Regarding Thorne's current work in commentary, I've said before and I'll say again that commentary works best when you have somebody of a journalistic background alongside a former player.
With two current players commentating together, there's too much of a tendency to descend into schoolboy humour and pointless prattle, and this is Thorne's biggest weakness.

Anonymous said...

youre obviously not a high standard of player, otherwise youd know that WT calls it as most pros see it. or maybe you aint taken todays medication ;)

*light hearted humour

Anonymous said...

snooker is the hardest game mentally to play because you have to keep youre emotions under lock and key throughout a match.

Even Darts and pool players gets to relese some tension with the odd shout here and there. when Ebdon did that he got slated for it.

theres far more dangerous sports than snooker and harder sports phisically but in terms of built in pressure and what trick the mind plays on you snooker is by far the hardest to play..

and Willie Thorne is a prime Example of How hard Snooker is because theres not many more Talented Players thats ever played the game than Willie Thorne.

Anonymous said...

SupremeSnooker

yes snooker worked best when there was a Jack Karnham or Ted Lowe worked with a sumeriser as they were known as then..

last thing we need is John Parrott comentating with Ken Doherty with both tour pros.

Anonymous said...

Most players can't stand Thorne's commentary. if you don't believe me go ask them.

Anonymous said...

i believe you...

but most players tend not to want to learn from theire mistakes.

willie thorne gives stephen lee stick when he break builds but if he took willie's criticism on board he would have been a far better player.

Anonymous said...

Number of ranking titles won by Stephen Lee: 4
Number of ranking titles won by Willie Thorne: 1

He's risen to the top at the BBC because he's deemed a 'celebrity' and can waffle on about his dancing show with Dennis

Ted Lowe may not have been the greatest snooker expert but at least he knew when to let the pictures do the talking instead of rambling on...and on...and on...and on...and on like WT

Dave H said...

I did say he divides opinion!

I've always thought Willie was excellent as an analyst but his form of commentary is nothing knew - he commentated in this style for Sky for years.

The difference now is that he's a 'lead' commentator rather than the player expert but his style has remained the same so you tend to get two players analysing shots and traditional 'lead' role of bringing in stats, background and general journalistic stuff has gone, although this has only happened at the BBC.

Speaking from a position of complete bias, I prefer a mix of the two because you get both sides of the coin.

Also, players are remarkably uninterested in stats, hence at the Crucible this year one of the BBC commentators stated that there had never been two 147s in the same year when in fact it happened last year!

As ever, though, it's the actual play that people tune in for, not the commentators.

Anonymous said...

He waffles a lot and he's not for everyone, indeed on occasion I have to shout at the tv for him "shut up for just one minute and let the play flow PURLEEEAAASSSEEE..." but I have to concede the man is a genius when it comes to breakbuilding tactics.

Sidenote - I nearly wet myself when Stephen Hendry referred to one of his missed pots at this years World Championships as one that "even Willie Thorne would've potted".

Anonymous said...

@ the anon that said i should ask the players, i have talked to many of them whilst sitting in many a player lounge and i do know my stuff, thanks, WRT their opinion of who they think is good or better than others in commentary.

paint it any way you want, but WRT snooker, he calls the pro game better than any other, and the players know it, albeit they think he is a little bit critical, but thats what he is there for, to praise and or criticise while COMMENTING on play.

each to their own

Anonymous said...

number of Ranking Titles
Clive Everton =0
John Parrott =9

World Titles
Clive Everton =0
John Parrott =1

who is the best comantator ?

Anonymous said...

Thorne's dreadful. A dumbed down commentator for a dumb downed BBC.

No wonder the players lounge hangers on love him.

Anonymous said...

Yes he is good at calling the game but I think the argument is that he should leave the professional commentary to a professional commentator.

The point about Everton and Parrott is stupid and irrelevent, because Everton doesn't constantly criticise the way players play in the way Thorne does, with his one title.

Dave H said...

I'm letting these comments through - for now - but if the insults start to fly then I won't.

Does anyone have any memories of Willie as a player?

Anonymous said...

i dont understand all the agresion towards comantators.

its a hard job talking in to a microphone talking about a sport and make it please everyone all the time.

before people criticise lets be hearing how they would manage and let us judge them...

ill send the idea to simon cowell how about "Comantator Factor".

im sure all the people criticising comantators would jump at the chance.

Bryan said...

He he Dangerous bringing willie up here Dave, only messing of course.

I am too young to remember much of his career but as you said in your post he is/was a character and from what i know (ie you tube, his autobiography and reading about him) can be classed as a under acheiver.

With regards commentary i think he works best with Neale Foulds

As part of the overall team his style is a vital clog of the analysis however i don't think he is lead commentator material.

On the few fleeting appearences in the BBC studio i have been impressed with what he as to stay and how he says it.

Off topic Dave sorry but further to your post on Ken Doherty's cue on Tuesday will he get this back from customs or is it gone to youu know?

Anonymous said...

Dave can you ask Jimmy White what he think's of Willie's commentating, also can you put his reply on this blog please. Jimmy don't mince his word's when it come's to Willie's commentating.

Anonymous said...

I like that line about 'who was the best player in here before I walked in', classic stuff. Unfortunately Dave, Willie is now better known as a commentator than a player, probably because he has been more successful in recent years than he was as a player.

In response to a comment earlier regarding good players in practice, most players that hit regular 100 breaks are unplayable in practice, even I in my youth couldn't ever understand how I ever lost when I played in practice! Willie must have had something to win a ranking title, but in that ultra-competitive age he obviously just didn't have it consistently.

I think he's a gent, a lovely man and a great summariser.

Anonymous said...

i love the way if you post on topic, and not rude you can still have your comment refused publishing because it doesnt fit in with a particular way of thinking

Dave H said...

The only two comments I have rejected from here have included insults along the lines of 'if you don't agree with me you must be an idiot'.

There are plenty of places on the internet where that kind of talk is positively encouraged. This isn't one of them.

Greg said...

Sorry but it has to be said Willie Thorne has no place being a lead commentator. I'm trying to be as "polite" as possible here, but the man just never shuts up!

Sometimes, he over analyses shots, to the point of agony. Even on shots that haven't been played yet! And then at other times, to be really honest, he just witters on and on like an old lady. Sorry, but there's no other way of saying that without diluting it.

I can't stand the man, and obviously it's not just a handful of us because every time Willie Thorne's commentary gets mentioned here, it generates 50 comments.

Virgo and Taylor have had a small number of detractors here, but you have to admit neither of them actually talk as much as Thorne does. They at least know the meaning of moderation.


I'd like to see Dave as part of the BBC broadcast team, because they need some new life in the commentary that isn't an ex-player with a bucketload of clich├ęs. At the very least Willie should be told to knock it off!

Obviously neither of those things are going to happen, because as we saw with the demotion of Clive, it isn't about real quality any more at the BBC, it's about putting people with "names" in front of a mic, like Johnathan Ross and Willie Thorne, and just giving them free reign, and then just label anyone who protests as "old fashioned"...

It's a pathetic sight to see the once mighty corporation now being run by rejects from Heat magazine.

Anonymous said...

Dave

thanks for the explanation.

the comment that i posted that wasnt published was meant as tongue in cheek and in no way was intended as impolite but i can see how it was interpreted like that.

cheers

Anonymous said...

i disagree with almost everything youve put there, greg.

:)