Willie Thorne


Snooker player Willie Thorne has died from cancer after complications with sepsis. Thorne won The Classic in 1985, and was one of the more memorable players of his generation. He might have won the 1985 UK Championship, but for the most infamous shot of his career, missing a straight blue to go 14-8 up in the final. Steve Davis recovered to win 16-14. Thorne was considered one of the best players never to win the Championship.

He also became known for his commentary and his gambling. On one occasion, the two mixed. Having placed a £38, 000 bet on John Parrott to lose as he had a new cue, Thorne was on live commentary for the match as Parrott won. He was later warned during a 2017 Crucible match when, not realising the microphone was on, he told the watching BBC audience that the world famous arena was a “f’n nightmare” (My censorship, not his!). He was widely praised for his technical commentary that sought to explain game play and psychology to TV viewers rather than rest on the easy job of platitudes.

However, he was also known for his generosity to younger players, letting the now 3-time World Snooker Champion Mark Selby practice for free as a teenager in Thorne’s snooker club. He is also one of the backers on Snooker Loopy. Now you can have that stuck in your head for days. Gary Lineker, widely considered one of the nicest blokes in English sport, loved Willie Thorne so much he made a VHS film about their friendship. As the tributes rolled in, it was clear Gary wasn’t alone in that, as it became evident Thorne was beloved by millions of snooker fans. Despite his gambling win/loss ratio (a recent estimate put it at around minus seven figures) he steadfast refused to accept money to fix matches. He owned up to his successes and failures with equal measure, to quote David Hendon, the snooker world recognised his “human frailties but also his genuine likeability.”

Willie Thorne was a unique hit for Ain’t It Grand to be Bloomin Well Dead.

To quote the DDP player who helped with this obit, “he was a damned good player and a damned good commentator too”. And you can’t say better than that.

So in that spirit, social media is full of people’s favourite Willie Thorne anecdotes, a number of which mixed self-deprecation, wit and bombast (for example, setting a restaurant for after a match at 7-1 up only to promptly lose 9-8). So here’s the best one. One day in the tournament practice room, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan (three of the great snooker players a non-fan like me would know) were working on their game. In walks Willie Thorne. “So who was the best player in here before I walked in?” He asked.

Willie Thorne
4 March 1954 – 17 June 2020
Unique pick