The following interview was originally published by Bill Bradley in “Billiard News” magazine. I figured it was worthy of sharing again.
Regular readers of Billiard News know of the respect that I have for Cliff Thorburn. Cliff’s accomplishments include the 1980 World Championship and several titles he earned as a touring professional in England. In victory or defeat, Cliff always thanks those involved in his matches – from the room owner, to the officials, the fans and of course, his opponents. Although this interview is sadly overdue, Cliff and I sat down a few months ago to talk about his fascinating life on the road.
Billiard News: When did you first get hooked on snooker?
Cliff: I went bowling with my Dad when I was 12 years old and after about five minutes became bored. I remember hearing a clicking noise downstairs and when I went down to investigate, some guy was banking the black ball in the side pocket. These guys were playing 8 ball on a snooker table and after the black dropped, a big groan went up and the winner collected $10. Someone said “hey who’s that kid,” and I beat it upstairs.
A couple of months later I was caddying at a golf course in Jasper, Alberta and after work the caddies would shoot pool. I lost $10 to a good friend of mine, and it would take me five years to get it back. By now, I was playing a lot back in Victoria, B.C. with occasional trips to Vancouver to get beaten by John Bear.
Note: John Bear later went on to become a pro in England and currently is back in B.C.
Billiard News: Can you relate some of your first experiences on the road. I have heard they were quite interesting to say the least.
Cliff: It was a few years ago, but I will try my best. By now I was 16 and had quit high school in Victoria. A friend asked me if I wanted to go to Calgary, so off we went. We parted ways there and I remember standing out on the highway hitchhiking in the pitch dark, not knowing which way was east or west. “I guess my life started right there as three guys headed east picked me up and took me to Yorktown, Saskatchewan.” I was broke and after spending a week at the Salvation Army I made $100 at a pool room and that got me to Winnipeg.
Billiard News: Did your fortunes pick up there?
Cliff: I ended up broke there too, but then I met a chap who had the inside word on a freight train going to Toronto. I knew that George Chenier had a room there and I wanted to see the man I had heard so much about. He had owned a room in Victoria years earlier and people were in awe of him. One fellow told me that he hadn’t seen Chenier miss a ball in five years!
Billiard News: How was the train ride?
Cliff: After 2 1 /2 days on the train we got to Montreal, and I knew I had missed Toronto. I jumped out, thinking the train was going 5 m.p.h., when it actually was going about 25. I bounced and hit the ground in thick mud. I was already covered in soot from the engine so after I’d hit the ground and rolled for 25 yards.
Toronto was still my destination and a few weeks later I walked into Plaza Billiards in Toronto. One guy was beating everybody and his bankroll just kept increasing and I thought, what a wonderful way to live!
Billiard News: When did you first see Chenier play?
Cliff: I walked into the Golden Mile and guess what – Chenier missed his first shot – he then proceeded to clear the last three reds, with blacks, nothing spectacular, but there was something about the way he cued, – It was the first time I had seen class. I just about fainted. I knew then and there that this is how I wanted to play.
Billiard News: Can you tell me about your San Francisco experience?
Cliff: I got into a game of pink ball which was played on a snooker table with trap pockets – the pockets trapped any balls that didn’t go straight in them.
I had been playing Bill Medlyn for about 36 hours straight. We had switched tables about 3 or 4 times and our jackets were back at another table. Bill walked back there and coming back I could see he had a gun in his hand. I turned my back and could literally feel the blood going from my head to my toes, and Bill said “anyone give me $30 for this gun?”
I ended up making about $2,200 and was one of the first to be banned from the room, but at least I made it out intact!
Cliff is available for lessons and exhibitions. Check out his website for more details. www.CliffThorburn.ca