Then and now: Willie Thorne

Eurosport - Thu, 18 Mar 10:30:00 2010

Suicide attempts, maximum breaks and tournaments blown by simple misses feature in our latest look at the life of a snooker legend.

Snooker star Willie Thorne - 0

Name: Willie Thorne

Nicknames: Mr Maximum, The Great WT

Nationality: English (born and lives in Leicester)

Age: 56 (Born March 4, 1954)

Professional: 1976-2002

Highest ranking: 7th (1986/87 season)

Career highlights: 1980 Pontins Open champion, 1984 Pontins Professional Champion, 1985 Mercantile Credit Classic champion, 1985 UK Open runner-up, 1986 and 1987 Irish Masters runner-up

THEN

Growing up in a pub that had a snooker table helped Willie Thorne develop into one of the greatest break-builders the game has ever known - but mental fragility stopped him from achieving the greatness that he might otherwise have enjoyed.

After a stellar junior career which saw him win both U16 and U19 titles, Thorne turned professional soon after making it to the semi-finals of the 1975 Canadian Open.

Prior to that the Leicester lad had worked as a bookie's runner and photographic model (presumably he had hair back in those days), but he soon developed into one of the top players on the circuit, eventually amassing over 1 million in prize money.

Thorne's talent for building breaks was truly extraordinary. He was obsessed with making 147 breaks - hence the nickname, Mr Maximum - and has made hundreds in practice. The greatest ever came in practice in 1982 when, after a high-speed go-karting accident left him with two broken legs, he made one despite having both legs in plaster!

His obsession with high breaks came at a price since he freely admits to having blown matches while chasing maximums. Ironically, the only time he managed a 147 in competition - at the 1987 UK Championship - it came before the televised stage of the tournament. If he'd managed it one match later he'd have collected a 90,000 bonus!

Neither his potting ability nor his safety play were ever in doubt - but his mental strength repeatedly let him down at key moments... as you'll see when you read the 'worst moment' section below.

But no matter how well he played, his cheerful on-table demeanour and instantly recognisable bald head made him a firm favourite with crowds.

Greatest moment

Thorne's showing in the final of the 1985 Mercantile Credit Classic against Cliff Thorburn was described at the time as one of the greatest performances ever seen on a snooker table.

An opening session left him one frame down at 8-7 after the two players exchanged high breaks throughout, but on the second day of the final Thorne crushed the life out of his opponent. He wore down one of snooker's greatest grinders, but also cut loose with huge breaks when he saw the opportunity to mix attack and defence to turn out a 13-8 winner.

Worst moment

Just a few weeks after that win, Thorne beat Thorburn, Terry Griffiths and Dennis Taylor en-route to the UK Open final against Steve Davis.

He raced into a 13-8 lead to look set for the biggest win of his career in the event now known as the UK Championship, the second most important title in the game.

In the 22nd frame Thorne needed just blue, pink and black off their spots to go into a 14-8 lead - but incredibly missed the simplest of blues to hand the frame to Davis. With his confidence shattered, Thorne lost the next eight frames in a row to see the title slip away.

NOW

Thorne's personal life has been dogged by his chronic gambling addiction. At one point he even attempted suicide while almost 90,000 in debt by swallowing 30 sleeping pills; he later declared bankruptcy.

Thorne set up the Willie Thorne Snooker Centre in the early 1980s while still a top player, and has nurtured many other talents into the professional ranks - including, most recently, Mark Selby - and is still involved at the centre on a regular basis. Selby, like Thorne, is a Leicester native - as is former England striker Gary Lineker, one of Thorne's best friends.

He was a contestant on reality TV show Strictly Come Dancing in 2007 but made an early exit following a poor tango, leaving him 12th out of 14 contestants.

Thorne is married to former Miss Great Britain Jill Saxby, and regularly commentates on snooker for the BBC.

Toby Keel / Eurosport

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