Although he only ever won one major tournament, ‘The Great W.T.’ has been one of the great characters of the game for the past twenty-five years. His bald head has become part of the snooker scene.
William Joseph Thorne was an outstanding junior and having only taken up the game at the age of 14, was National Under-16 champion at both snooker and billiards within two years. His parents ran a pub which had its own snooker table so he could play whenever he wanted. He won many more junior titles at both games and reached the final of the English Amateur championship in 1975 following which he turned professional.
Things did not come easy in the professional ranks and in his first ten years the only titles to come his way were the 1980 Pontins Open and the 1984 Pontins Professional. He did not win a match at the World Championships for the first six years he tried but in 1982 he reached the quarter-finals beating former champions, Terry Griffiths and John Spencer along the way, and setting the high break for that year, 143, the second best ever at that time. This was to prove to be the best he would do in this event although he did reach the same stage again in 1986.
In the early 1980s, with his family’s help, he set up the Willie Thorne Snooker Centre in Leicester, still one of the finest in the country. His form began to improve after that world quarter final and he entered the top 16 at the end of the 1982/83. He slipped back briefly but established himself in that elite group for an extended run from 1984/85.
Willie has become known as ‘The Maximum Man’ having, he claims, made more 147s in practice than any other player, including one with both legs in plaster!
The figure is well into the hundreds but he has only made one in tournament play. That came in the 1987 UK championships.
His first ranking semi-final came in the 1983 Grand Prix and the following season he achieved his only victory in a ranking event when he beat his great friend, Cliff Thorburn, to win the 1985 Mercantile Credit Classic.
Earlier that season he had partnered Cliff in the World Doubles and they were runners up. Two more finals came the following season in the UK and the British Open. The first of these he feels he should have won having missed an easy blue at a critical stage against Steve Davis.
He was runner up in the Irish Maters twice in 1986 and 1987 but apart from wins in two non-ranking events in 1986/87, the Hong Kong Masters and the Matchroom Championship, it has been downhill ever since. However, now qualified as a ‘Senior’, he won the first World Seniors Masters in 2000.
Off the table Willie has always enjoyed a gamble and this, as well as tax matters, has caused him financial problems over the years. He continues to play the circuit and is in demand on all channels as a television commentator.
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