Willie Thorne: The troubled snooker star for whom major titles proved elusive
A famous missed blue and a long-standing battle with bankruptcy serve as ill-fitting epitaphs for a snooker player who was a mainstay in the top echelons of the game during its unprecedented peak.
Willie Thorne, who has died at the age of 66, was once afforded a place in Chas ‘n’ Dave’s ‘Matchroom Mob’, which hit the charts with the song ‘Snooker Loopy’, lamenting: “Old Willie Thorne, his hair’s all gawn…”
Yet alongside Tony Meo, Thorne was one of only two members of the group who failed to clinch one of his sport’s major titles.
He was haunted by his error in the 1985 UK Championship final against Steve Davis, when, leading 13-8 and on the verge of extending his lead to within two of victory, he missed the simplest of blues off its spot.
Writing many years later, Thorne admitted: “I went back to my seat and the doubts kicked in straightaway. I was still 13-9 in front, but all I could think about was the way I’d failed in big games in the past.”
Thorne, who was born in Leicester on March 4, 1954, only started playing snooker at the age of 14 but within two years had been crowned national under-16 champion.
Swiftly turning professional, he came to be regarded as one of the sport’s finest break builders, and would go on to become only the third player to secure 100 competitive centuries.
Thorne reached his first of two World Championship quarter-finals in 1982, where he pushed the eventual champion Alex Higgins, and three years later, just three months before his painful loss to Davis, he won his first and only world ranking title, beating Cliff Thorburn to lift the Mercantile Credit Classic.
But Thorne was already struggling with a gambling addiction, and his run to the UK semi-finals in 1987 – where he was crushed 9-2 by Davis – represented the final major success of a generally unfulfilled playing career.
Thorne revealed the extent of his gambling issues in an interview with the Guardian in 2004, recalling an incident in which he placed a bet of £38,000 on John Parrott losing a game, because he had lost his cue.
Thorne was commentating on the game for the BBC, and admitted: “I put £38,000 on Parrott to lose because he didn’t have his cue, but he ended up winning the bloody game.
I put £38,000 on Parrott to lose because he didn't have his cue, but he ended up winning the bloody game
“I’m having to close the commentary by saying it’s unbelievable, spewing up as I say it.”
Thorne, who worked as a BBC commentator for 30 years, later revealed he lost £1million to gambling in his career. He was declared bankrupt in 2016.
He remained a familiar figure within the sport and competed in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2007 with partner Erin Boag, being voted out in 12th place.
A keen Leicester City fan and long-time close friend of Gary Lineker, Thorne announced he was beginning treatment for leukaemia in March 2020.
He died on Wednesday morning at the age of 66 having being placed into an induced coma in hospital in Spain after suffering respiratory failure.
Lineker was one of the first to pay tribute, describing Thorne as “one of life’s great characters” who had “potted his final black much too soon.”