May 18, 2010

Old But Interesting: Questions to Willie and a Top Drawer Gambling Tale

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 2:51 pm

Big Willie Style

It’s amazing what you can stumble on by accident when searching for other stuff. I mean I just typed ‘Willie’ into Google for another hobby of mine which I won’t go into and found an old Question and Answers session with the great WT himself from an obscure magazine that obviously shared a devotion to all things Thorne-esque.

Here we discover the answer to the burning question of how many maximum breaks did he really hit against Gary Linekar, as well as why he regards a former World Champion as ‘just like him’. Quality.

He also says that he never lost to Terry Griffiths and had a good record against the Nuggett, surprisingly he doesn’t mention this missed blue though.

But don’t mess with Willie as he’s from a hard family and it sounds like if you did tangle with him you’d be very likely to end up with a dead sheep in your bed, or at least it’s shoulder. He also lists his guilty pleasure as ‘gambling’, quite a revelation there, I didn’t know he liked a bet I wonder if he reads this?

How often do you play snooker now?

I don’t play at all. I haven’t played for ten years really. I just do the odd trick shot when I’m doing after dinner speaking and things like that. Retiring was probably the best thing to do as I was getting beaten by people I shouldn’t have lost to. When I was good, I was excellent, but when I was bad I was hopeless.

What was your proudest career moment?

You’d think it would be winning my first tournament, but it probably wasn’t as everybody had built it up saying, “When is Willie going to win a tournament?” I was expecting some sort of euphoria when I won my first Mercantile but that didn’t happen. I won 13 tournaments but the Mercantile was the only major. Making my first 147 in a tournament was as good as anything.

Out of the current crop of players, who do you enjoy watching?

I love watching Shaun Murphy, who’s very close to me and I work with him on his break building. I still like watching Hendry and O’Sullivan is obviously a genius. Mark Selby is the one for me though. He’s improved out of all proportion. I’ve known Mark since he was 14 when he first came into my club in Leicester. He can definitely win the World Championship and I’d put him in the top two or three players tactically in the World

Willie chose his practice partners wisely. If you weren't from Leicester you had to have a bushy moustache.

Where did the nickname Mr. Maximum came from?

It’s people messing around about the number of 147 breaks I made. I made 198 of them before I retired. It was a nickname that came from Gary Lineker. I had 38 147’s against Gary and it was a wind up every time in the press.

Who was the greatest player you faced?

Ronnie O’Sullivan. The best match player was Steve Davis, the best break-builder, Stephen Hendry and the best for natural ability, Ronnie O’Sullivan. If they all played at their best, Ronnie O’Sullivan would win.

Was there any player that you had a rivalry with?

Playing players that everybody thought were slow, like Cliff Thorburn or Terry Griffiths, I did well. I never lost to Griffiths. I had a good record against him and Dennis Taylor. I think Dennis beat me once in about 12 games. I had a good record against Davis too. When you play somebody like that you’ve got to play well. I only had one way of playing, and that was knocking the balls in.

Do you enjoy the TV work?

After I stopped playing I would’ve found it difficult not being involved in snooker. The BBC stuff means that I’m involved with the players and keeping up with the modern game. I miss playing, but I don’t miss the practice.

Tell us about your Strictly Come Dancing experience?

It was the greatest experience of my life and it wasn’t until I finished that I realised how much I’d enjoyed it. I danced with Erin Boag who’d danced with Martin Offiah, Peter Schmeichel and Colin Jackson. They were all fitness fanatics and then she had to lump me around! She was lovely and we’re close friends. On the day I went out I finished fourth. It was a blessing in disguise though, because if I’d stayed in I would’ve been wearing pink Lycra doing the samba!

What is your opinion on Ronnie O’Sullivan’s comments that snooker is a dying sport?

If it’s not broke don’t fix it. Ronnie’s saying it is because of the lack of crowds, but look at cricket, if it’s not Twenty20 then nobody is there and in football if it’s not Man United then you get empty seats. The World Championships were outstanding and at the last eight I didn’t know who was going to win.

Don't mess with the Leicester Massive

I remember watching you play at ‘Osborne’s’ snooker club in Leicester before you were famous. Didn’t your parents own the ‘Shoulder of Mutton’ pub on the Braunstone estate? It was one of the toughest pubs in Leicester and your dad was as hard as nails…

I learnt how to play at Osborne’s. I went there and quickly found out that I was poor compared to some of the players there. Brian Cakebread, who recently passed away, was a regular century break player and after playing with him it took me about a year to become the best in Leicester, then the best in the Midlands. It was down to Brian and Osborne’s that I improved.

The ‘Shoulder of Mutton’ was one of the toughest pubs in Leicester. My dad was quite rough and ready, but he wanted to change things and he renamed it ‘The Falcon’ and it became a nice pub. I had a snooker table put in one of the rooms and used to practice there.

What does Leicester mean to you?

It’s my life. I was born and bred here and my parents are from Anstey. I count myself as a Leicester person and regardless of where I end up I’ll always look for Leicester results first, whether it is football, cricket or rugby.

What is your guilty pleasure?

My guilty pleasure is gambling which has been a problem for me and it still can be. Now and again I want to have a bet, but at the time I was gambling, I was earning plenty of money. It’s not quite the same now, I still earn a good living but it’s not what it was and I can’t afford to lose the money that I used to.

And for anyone not aware of this classic tale it simply has to be recounted:

‘It was September 1996,’ remembers Willie, drawing a deep breath. ‘My playing days were over and I was commentating at the Regal Masters in Motherwell. After a match, I was having a Chinese with Dennis Taylor when in walks John Parrott to get a takeaway. He’d just flown in from Heathrow and someone had broken into his car at the airport and nicked his cue. He knew I was a big punter and looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t back me tomorrow, Willie, whatever you do!”

I had a hard-on immediately. Pound signs flashed before my eyes. I was virtually skint and running out of credit and here was the opportunity of a lifetime. No snooker player can play without his own individual cue. Cliff Thorburn once had his nicked when he was ranked in the top 4 and he lost 5-0.

John well and truly shafted Willie

‘I got on the blower and started spreading tips and money around so no-one would get wind of the coup I was planning. I piled on to Parrott’s opponent, Ken Doherty, with bookies Mickey Fletcher, Dudley Roberts, John Banks and mates ‘Racing’ Raymond and Nigel Trough. I knew all the rails bookies, all the private bookmakers, all the high rollers. I tipped off everybody I owed money to, asking them to put on a grand for them and for me – over 20 phone calls accumulating a £38,000 stake on a Doherty victory. I got most of it on at 6/5, although by 10:30 the next morning the price had closed to 4/7; the old flip-flop favourite! Then betting was suspended when the news about the cue came out.

‘I commentated on Parrott’s match and was on the ultimate betting high, really smug and trying to control my excited commentary. I was babbling in the box, making comments like “John is shaking his head… it looks like the world is on his shoulders”. All I could think about was my windfall of over £30,000, settling my losses and getting a lump sum together to start winning again.

‘I reckoned all Doherty had to do was to “stand up to win”. Parrott went 2-0 down, but then started to rally, clawing his way back into the game. He went level at 2-2 and during the interval I phoned all my contacts to calm their nerves. During the match Parrott continued unconvincingly. He didn’t score more than a 50-break in the entire match! But he still made it to 5-2. Then, the eighth frame went to Doherty and I saw a chink of light, although I was bathed in sweat and felt like being violently sick.

‘The final frame was the hardest I ever commentated on. I put out all the standard waffle like “Parrott’s playing some gutsy snooker”, but I couldn’t think straight. Then the inevitable happened. Fate turned against me and – against all the odds – Parrott won the match. All my available cash had gone on the bet. Bankruptcy was very definitely on the horizon. And my friends weren’t too pleased – about half a million quid had been lost by people I tipped off.

Bottom Drawer?

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