Snookerbacker

August 10, 2010

Interview with a Grinder

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:37 am

Cliff: The Rhett Butler of Snooker

Every now and again a golden opportunity comes along and that is exactly what happened recently to Roland Cox, the man behind snookers newest and most innovative chat forum Snooker Island.

He got the chance to meet and interview the legend that is Cliff Thorburn. It’s a fine insight into the man labelled ‘The Grinder’ and well worth a read.

As for the story of how the interview came about, I’ll let Roland take it up from here. The fact that I am letting him write on the blog has absolutely nothing to do with that photograph he has of me with a picture of Hazel Irvine in one hand and a tube of baby oil in the other. The evidence is purely circumstantial.

Anyway over to Roland….

How the interview came about is thanks to Rob (aka coach sickpotter on Snooker Island) who told me he was playing in an event in Canada which he knew Cliff would also be playing in. I thought what the heck and asked him to ask Cliff if he would be interested in an interview, because let’s face it, they don’t come much bigger than him.

So Rob put me in touch with Cliff and when he came over to the UK for the Snooker Legends tour he contacted me to arrange a time for the interview. During the chat he mentioned that he’d seen the Martin Gould interview and that “…how can I put this? You know…. mate!” referring to the countless uses of the word from Gouldy. I reassured him that I would get his approval before anything was published, and that anyway Martin Gould answered the questions on Facebook via a mobile phone which required a retranslation from txt spk and smlys into English for most of the answers. 

The interview was done via speakerphone with a shitty £5 mic from PC World – a lesson learned is that I have since bought a decent mic for future interviews because background hiss made parts of it untranscribable. It’s a credit to Cliff that he went back over the end product with me and helped me out with the parts I couldn’t hear properly.

During the interview I began to appreciate how difficult it is being the person asking the questions. I had all these questions lined up which nicely flowed into each other, and lo and behold Cliff would go off on a tangent (notably the fact that I never mentioned “integrity” once but somehow some of his answers seemed to drift onto that topic) and I would be scouring the questions to find a relevant one to what he was talking about and then forget what he was talking about because I’m a man and I can’t multi-task, the upshot being that on listening back I sometimes interrupted him mid-flow with offhand comments that demonstrated I hadn’t been paying attention!

You seriously didn't want a punch from Bill.

I was also aware of the vast number of questions I still wanted to ask and how time was ticking along. But it didn’t seem to bother him and as the interview progressed we both relaxed more and it became a very enjoyable informal chat, and I hope that comes across. My favourite answer to a question was when I asked him which matches from his career stood out and he told of an encounter with Dennis Taylor in the 1974 Canadian Open. That was the sort of nugget I was after. Likewise his recollection of first seeing snooker when out bowling with his dad at the age of 10.

I had already heard the story about playing Bill Werbeniuk for punches in the arm when I was lucky enough to be in the CueZone at the Crucible by chance when he made a guest appearance, but he needed no prompting on that one. I was hoping for more stories about his legendary confrontations with the Hurricane, but due to Alex’s failing health he didn’t want to say too much.

After the interview I pointed out that I lived within reach of Doncaster and would come along and watch him on the Snooker Legends tour. Cliff’s response was to get me a pair of VIP tickets, so I took the lady along and had a very enjoyable evening. And as stated in the interview, he is not a slow player at all these days. As you can see from the interview my preconceptions about the use of slowing tactics and that it would have been in Cliff’s locker were wrong. Cliff is far too much of a gent to ever consider such a thing. Shame really because I love watching a needle match where mind games are rife!

Dennis mentions Cliff occasionally in commentary....

The next day he called me from Edinburgh after a long drive to say he was playing golf with Dennis Taylor (we’ll find out how they got on next time DT is in the commentary box no doubt) and that if I could wait for a few more days until he was back home then we could go over the interview. By this stage it felt like we were becoming friends which is surreal given the hours spent in my childhood watching the likes of Cliff on television. But that is the guy’s nature; he’s very friendly and easy going. If you treat him with respect, you’ll get it back in droves.

We prearranged a time for me to call him at home in Canada after he’d had chance to read the transcription (and remove a few yeahs!) and an hour before I was due to call, the news was filtering through that Alex Higgins was dead. I was expecting to have to postpone the call, and I was also fearful of being the person who broke the news to him (how weird would that be given their infamous relationship?) but thankfully Jason Francis had beaten me to it. How do I know this? Because I heard Cliff call out to his wife Barbara that Jason had just called and that Alex had died. It was surreal listening in to the Thorburn household, Cliff in his study at his computer going over the interview with me, his wife in the background hollering at him to go pick his son up and the obvious frustration in his voice that he was busy and would rather she do it. Even Cliff Thorburn has to suffer the everyday grind of married life!

The new lease of life the Legends Tour has given him, and the adulation of a new generation of snooker fan who appreciate his achievements and want to learn more about his former life must seem like a world away when he’s at home playing the family man. But I know he appreciates the high regard in which he is held by the snooker public here in the UK, and I bet he can’t wait to get on that plane again later in the year and relive the magical old times once more in the World Seniors Championship. And I will certainly be there to cheer him on.

Thanks for listening, now go read the damn thing here and Snookerbacker – I also have the photo of what went on 5 minutes after the last one so remember that next time you come asking for something…

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