sundaylife

| 13.3°C Belfast

Higgy was Thorne in Willie's side: Snooker stars warred despite their love of gambling


Close

Alex Higgins and Willie Thorne

Alex Higgins and Willie Thorne

Alex Higgins and Willie Thorne

Snooker legend Willie Thorne endured a bizarre love hate relationship with fellow gambling addict Alex Higgins.

One of their battles - over a teddy bear won at a fairground - got so vicious it ended with Willie hitting Higgy in the face.

Nicknamed 'Mr Maximum' for the number of 147 breaks he made (198 including practice maximums), Willie (66) also went to his grave blaming the Hurricane's snide comments for his loss in the 1982 World Snooker Championship.

But the pair bonded so closely over their shared addiction to gambling that Higgins regularly stayed at Willie's house - and once called him to his hotel room to show off how he'd shaved every hair off his privates.

Willie, who died on Wednesday aged 66 from leukaemia, said he went into the 1982 quarter-final of the World Championship feeling confident he could beat Higgins.

But a day before the match Willie became front page news over an affair he was having with a married woman. When his mistress's husband found out about the fling he jumped in his car with a shotgun and it was feared he was on his way to murder Willie.

Willie locked himself in a room at his snooker hall and cops were called to stop the enraged husband - who said he had been driving with a gun to cool off after hearing his wife was a cheat.

Close

Willie Thorne

Willie Thorne

PA

Willie Thorne

The story ended up splashed over the front pages of Britain's newspapers on the eve of Willie's match against Alex.

When Higgy read the story he used it to his advantage by making snide comments to Willie in between shots.

Willie said about the bitter match: "I had every reason to feel good about my chances of beating my quarter-final opponent Alex Higgins.

"I'd experienced a different sort of drama in my personal life, when it looked at one stage as if I might get shot.

"It was a horrible feeling when I walked out to the table to face Alex, because I felt all eyes were on me.

"Alex was his usual erratic self and he made a nasty comment about me being willing to stab my own grandmother for 50p.

Close

Alex Higgins

Alex Higgins

Getty Images

Alex Higgins

"I thought it was a very disrespectful thing to say, but I'm afraid Alex was always capable of doing something like that.

"Our relationship during the match wasn't exactly the friendliest. There were a few comments exchanged. I actually began to play well… but I eventually lost the match 13-10."

Alex, who died aged 61 in 2010 from complications linked to throat cancer and his years of boozing and drugs binges, went on to win the 1982 World Championship.

The bald-headed snooker icon added he and Higgy once had a bust up over a teddy bear he bought from the Hurricane during a snooker tour in Canada to give to a girlfriend back home.

He said: "On the plane back to England the next day Alex had a few too many drinks and became drunk quite quickly.

"He then tried to grab the bear off me, and the two of us ended up having a bit of a fight, with me giving him a slap before the rest of the lads separated us."

Willie's weirdest tale about Alex was that he once called him to his hotel room to show him his manscaping. Willie, who shared his thoughts on Alex in his 2011 memoir Taking A Punt On My Life, added: "I was fast asleep when I got a call from him. He said, 'There's something I need you to see'.

"Half asleep, I trooped out of my room. Alex opened his door, displaying his manhood to show me that he had just shaved off all of his pubic hair.

"'What do you think?' he asked.

"'Very nice, Alex', I told him as I stifled a yawn, turned on my heels and walked back to my room.

"It wasn't worth trying to ask him why he'd done such a crazy sort of thing, it was just another mad moment from Alex, and throughout the time I knew him there were plenty of them."

Belfast Telegraph