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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 July 2006, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Snooker loses a legend
By Clive Everton
BBC snooker commentator

John Spencer
Spencer was a surprise winner of the Crucible crown in 1977
Three-times snooker world champion John Spencer, who died of stomach cancer at the age of 71, was 15 when he made a break of 115 at Radcliffe Sunday School Institute.

But there were few opportunities to develop his snooker skills in those days and between the ages of 18 and 28 he did not play at all until a friend recruited him for some money matches in the Manchester area.

Spencer was then persuaded to enter the English Amateur Championship, losing two finals before winning it in 1966. In the same year, he was runner-up to Gary Owen in the World Amateur Championship in Karachi.

When entries were invited for the 1968/1969 World Professional Championship, he managed to obtain the 100 entry fee as an advance from his bank manager.

No new blood had been infused into the professional game for 15 years but with three newcomers, Spencer, Owen and Ray Reardon all in the field for the first time, this championship, together with the advent of BBC Two's Pot Black, gave momentum to the first signs of a snooker revival.

Spencer won the world title at his first attempt in 1969, lost in the April 1970 semi-finals but in November of that year regained the crown in Australia making three centuries in four frames in the final. He also reached the 1972 final but was defeated by Alex Higgins.

The Englishman remained a prolific winner of other tournaments that became part of the circuit, including the inaugural Benson and Hedges Masters in 1975.

The edge had gone from his game before he surprisingly became, in 1977, the first world champion to be crowned at the Crucible and also the first to use a two-piece cue.

John Spencer (fourth from left) with other snooker players promoting Pot Black
Spencer (fourth from left) with other players promoting Pot Black

Playing with a much more careful blend of attack and defence than in the late 1960s and in his early 1970s prime, his experience helped carry him through.

But it was 18 months before he won another title, which proved to be his last, the Holsten International at Slough.

In this, he made snooker's first 147 maximum in competition, but the impact of this was much diminished by the Thames TV crew having been awarded a meal break for the frame of this match and it also transpired that the pockets were oversized.

Spencer was ranked 16th when his career was at first affected in 1984 and eventually curtailed by a deterioration of the muscles controlling the eye which led to attacks of double vision.

This condition, known as myasthenia gravis, required a daily intake of steroids to control it but led to unpleasant side effects like deep depression and eventually, he believed, to the cancer of the stomach with which he was diagnosed in 2003.

After a long battle, Spencer succumbed to the illness on Tuesday 11 July 2006.

He had also been a member of the BBC commentary team for some 15 years and chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association from 1990 to 1996.

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