The Canadian Pool Hall Gamblers Invading the UK Snooker Scene

The Canadian Pool Hall Gamblers Invading the UK Snooker Scene

Alex Higgins and Cliff Thorburn were vastly different, both on and off the billiards table. Thorburn was a Canadian snooker player who was well known for playing methodically and being soft-spoken. He became known on the game scene as “The Grinder.” Higgins, on the other hand, went by the nickname “Hurricane.” He was a brash snooker player from Ireland and often bragged about his snooker skills. He was often vile and arrogant off the pool table as well. The two players were rivals, and Higgins had no problem making this known. When Higgins defeated Thorburn in the 1983 Irish Open, the two happened to be at the same bar. Higgins made it a point to jeer Thorburn and tell him he was no good at snooker.

Thorburn became sick of the ridicule and punched Higgins in the jaw, knocking him down. Onlookers in the bar separated the men and urged them to calm down. Just when it seemed the two were about to settle their feud and shake hands, Thorburn pulled Higgins in and kicked him in the groin.

Thorburn, who is now 70, recalls this and other incidents. “Alex was one of a kind,” he says. “Wonderful player. Every time I beat him, there was always an argument.”

How Popular Was Snooker?

SnookerMost people who know about snooker consider it a slow game that requires a lot of thought. However, there are still many people who aren’t familiar with snooker. The game reached a height of popularity in the 1980s, and some have even described it as a “soap opera with billiard balls.” A number of partiers and gamblers participated in the sport, which made it more exciting for people to watch. The games were action-packed and sometimes dangerous. They included assaults on the game officers at times, as well as beer drinking competitions. Illegal drugs were also used during the game, so it was common to see cocaine at many of the matches. Snooker also had an impressive television audience, since there were only four channels on television during the 1980s. There was even a time when snooker was one of the most popular sports in the UK. During the 1985 World Championship Finals, 18.5 million people watched the competition on television.

Thorburn’s Success

Thorburn led the way in terms of Canadian snooker players. He earned almost £1 million in prize money. This doesn’t include his sponsorships and exhibition earnings over his career, which spanned 23 years. This is significantly impressive, since Thorburn dropped out of high school and hopped trains to hustle players in pool halls.

Canadians have been canonized as the heroes of snooker. However, memories of their significant victories in the game are now a thing of the past for the most part. Thorburn now lives a very quiet life and resides in Markham, outside of Toronto. To those who don’t know much about his snooker legacy, he comes across as a normal, fun-loving grandfather.

Snooker in Canada Today

canada snookerThere are several pool halls in most of the cities and towns in Canada. However, it’s difficult to see people playing snooker in the country these days. Snooker is seen as the more brutal cousin of American pool. A 6×12 table is used for the game with pockets that are round and narrow. Until about three decades ago, these were the tables common in Canadian pool halls. There were snooker tournaments in the country, but the prize money was minimal. Even though snooker has a particular etiquette, the game can get very high-stakes and emotional when money comes into the picture. Thorburn recalls that after he beat a fisherman in Campbell River, British Columbia, he was accused of hustling his opponent.

Part of the reason snooker was so appealing was because of the riskiness and unforgiving nature of the game. Players have to be precise and be familiar with the billiard table dimensions. If a player fails to hit the intended ball, his opponent wins points for the mistake. Often, the goal of the game isn’t necessarily to score. The objective is to position the ball in a way that leaves the opponent with no choice but to hit the ball in a way that takes points away from him, which leaves the player “snookered.”

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