Then and Now: Cliff Wilson

Eurosport - Thu, 11 Mar 15:02:00 2010

We continue to look back on some of the greatest snooker names from the past - this week the Whirlwind of the Fifties, Cliff Wilson.

Cliff Wilson - 0

Name: Cliff Wilson

Nickname: The Whirlwind

Nationality: Welsh (Born in Tredegar)

Date of birth: 10/05/1934

Professional: 1979-94

Highest Ranking: 16 (1988-89)

Career highlights: Welsh U19 champion 1952 and 1953; Welsh Amateur Championship 1956, 1977, 1979; World Amateur Snooker champion 1978; National Pairs champion 1979; English Amateur Championship runner-up 1954.

THEN

One of snooker's great characters, Cliff Wilson was ahead of his time as a true entertainer, preceding the likes of Jimmy White and Alex Higgins. The Welshman was a shining light during the 1950s and 60s, when the game was at a low ebb - there was not even a World Championship between 1957 and 1964.

Wilson is fondly remembered for his dashing play and booming laugh, with a wheezing cough which only added to his character around the table. While many of his contemporaries were locked into defensive mindsets, Wilson was a stunning potter and added a flair to his game which was in stark contrast to the general play of the era.

A stunning rivalry with fellow Welshman Ray Reardon made Wilson a hugely popular performer as his flamboyant style and hard-hitting approach saw him clinch important wins in front of big crowds in South Wales.

Successive victories in the Welsh U19 Championship in 1952 and 1953 were followed by a Welsh Amateur Championship win in 1956 as his positive play and big smile endeared him to the supporters.

A fierce battle with Reardon in the 1954 National Amateur Championship semi-finals took its toll on Wilson as he was defeated 11-9 in the final against Geoff Thompson, but by then his reputation and following had been established.

Despite worsening eyesight and back problems, Wilson turned professional at the age of 45, and he reached 14th spot in the world rankings during the 1988-89 season.

In 1973 Cliff won the first of his 10 international caps, following this in 1977 with his second Welsh title, and in 1979 he clinched his third Welsh amateur title in typically flamboyant fashion.

Best Moment

Disillusioned with the state of the game, Wilson retired in 1957 and, despite not picking up a cue for 15 years, he returned to win the World Amateur Championship in 1978, beating Joe Johnson 11-5 in the final to cap a remarkable comeback.

Worst Moment

When Wilson's great friend and rival Reardon left Wales to pursue a career as a professional, Wilson lost interest in the game and, his lack of enthusiasm compounded by severe eye problems, decided to move into a secure job in a steelworks factory. As a result, Wilson gave up the game for 15 years in 1957 while Reardon went on to secure six World Championship titles. The Welshman will never know what he could have achieved.

NOW

Wilson was renowned for his love of a joke and a pint, and held in very high regard in the Welsh Valleys as he continued to play on the amateur circuit. He often sent the crowds which filled out the South Wales snooker halls into raptures with his outrageous attempts at long pots.

Wilson later described his love for deep-sea fishing, but his primary hobby was collecting betting slips.

As he famously observed of himself: "I was the Jimmy White and Alex Higgins of snooker in the 1950s. When I was a young man I was knocking in century breaks in four minutes when Jimmy White wasn't even a gleam in his father's eye."

Wilson died aged 60 on May 21 1994.

Eurosport

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