Cliff Thorburn reflects on gun proof and drug ban as he prepares to retire at 73
Legendary snooker star Cliff “The Grinder” Thorburn is about to retire after a storied career and life in the game.
Snooker legend Cliff Thorburn is set to retire from the game after a career of ups and downs, guns, drugs and glory.
In the 1980s, Thorburn enjoyed enormous success. The Canadian has become one of the most popular sports stars, with a recognizable face supported mainly by his characteristic mustache.
The 73-year-old will face Kuldesh Johal in the UK Seniors’ Championship – a 32-year-old younger than ‘The Grinder’ – on Wednesday and Thorburn is set to hang up if he fails.
Losing isn’t really a part of Thorburn’s vocabulary, especially after experiencing success 40 years ago. He lived a life of triumph, fame and danger, all mixed in a glorious career that began in 1973. After leaving school at age 16, Thorburn spent time traveling across Canada where he made money as an extraordinary trash man, diver and snooker. .
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âThere have definitely been times,â said the icon, reflecting on his countless experiences. âI played a place one time in Oakland where I was winning and the other guy’s godfather opened his jacket and showed a gun.
âHe said, ‘Nobody leaves here with my player’s money.’ My friends told me to lose all the money we won, which I wasn’t happy about. But in the end, I saw that we had to lose at least part of it – or be robbed.
âI didn’t play much in the United States after that. At one point, two guys crashed in the back and then started throwing balls at each other. Everyone hit the ground and hid behind the tables.
“After winning some money against a guy called Cornbread Red in Detroit, backed up by a dirty job, we had to be escorted to our car.”
Thorburn’s burgeoning career took off when he performed admirably against John Spencer in a number of exhibition matches, and the Canadian was recommended to join the pro tour in 1973. He surmised that his days of bar fighting and tail smashing were over, until he ran into Alex Higgins – and the table wasn’t big enough for the two of them.
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Their personalities and styles clashed in a way that spawned a bitter rivalry. In the 1980 “SAS Final”, Thorburn won his first and what turned out to be his only World Championship at the Crucible, beating Higgins 18-16. Higgins reportedly had a celebratory cake transported to his dressing room when the score was 16-16 – and Thorburn duly planted his face in it.
“Alex was a hell of a player, but he knew what he could do and the aggravation seemed to follow him everywhere,” added Thorburn. âI don’t know why he was the way he was and I still wonder how he could have played so well. But I think I disturbed him.
âIn many ways he was my toughest opponent – I lost a lot of close games to him, at least that was too much. And then of course, I would add Steve Davis.
At the 1983 Irish Open, their animosity peaked. Thorburn punched Higgins down and knocked him down, only for the Northern Irishman to retaliate by kicking his opponent in the groin while declaring: “You are a Canadian c *** who’s screwed up at billiards! “
While the Canadian would fail to reclaim the world title, he had a huge Crucible peak in 1983. In his second round clash with Terry Griffiths, Thorburn managed the very first maximum break of 147 at the iconic site.
He admitted that the biggest regret of his career was his drug scandal. Traces of cocaine were found in a urine sample in 1988, and Thorburn was banned from two tournaments, fined Â£ 10,000 and grading points tied up by the WPBSA.
A fast-paced man of the rock and roll era, Thorburn is now enjoying his peaceful retirement in the Ontario town of Markham. His life now revolves around playing golf, spending time with his family and sometimes training aspiring snookers. Despite being a far cry from his old lifestyle, the downtime allows Thorburn to reflect on his style – including mastering the safety game that becomes his USP.
âYou see a lot of flashes being played by kids today,â he said. âIt’s great, but you need something to lean on. I always thought the safety game was rocket science.
âAnd I still think that’s a prerequisite for first going pro and then winning things. Throwing a queue at everything doesn’t get you anything.
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