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banner Friday, 4 May, 2001, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Cliff hangs on past memories

BBC Sport Online's Peter Sanderson speaks to Cliff Thorburn about 147s, the demise of the game in Canada and being called "Champagne Cliff".

Hearing the Canadian twang of Cliff Thorburn bouncing off The Crucible walls is a refreshing but all too rare experience these days.

In the 1980s and 90s, Thorburn and his North American posse of Bill Werbenuik, Kirk Stevens and Alain Robidoux added cosmopolitan feel to a predominantly British Isles based game.

While British stars like Stephen Hendry an unshakeable grip on snooker silverware, the Canadians have drifted down the rankings without even the tiniest whimper.

But Thorburn, the 1980 world champion is anxious to put Canada back on the snooker map.

"It would be great to see some young guys from Canada coming through to the top 16," he told BBC Sport Online.

"I feel there has always been a place for Canada in snooker after myself, Bill and Kirk's exploits in the good old days.

Alain Robidoux at the table
Robidoux: Last of the Maple Leaves
"I'd like to be the man to pioneer that return, getting all the top young players into my snooker hall and working with them until they are some of the top players in the world.

"Alain Robidoux is the only recent Canadian to make the top 16.

"Unfortunately the standard has been so high when he's been at the top. He can't seem to forget a bad shot - maybe it's his French blood.

"But there are some young kids out there and pool is very big in Canada but perhaps more a social and recreational game."

At the start of the tournament, the corridors were bustling with different nationalities.

From Australian to Maltese, from Chinese to Thai and Thorburn - the only winner from outside Britain and Ireland - is keen to see more overseas players at The Crucible.

"I'm surprised James Wattana didn't win it at his best.

"There are not that many overseas players now. I was very pleased because it helped the game back home.

"I play the game as a working man and if I'm honest, I was probably the player with the least natural talent to win it.

"But I beat a great player in Alex and that was a great moment. I'd like to see someone else do it from overseas though."

Thorburn, or the Grinder as Alex Higgins dubbed him, likes to return to his spiritual home every year to watch the World Championship.

Alex Higgins in action in 1994
Alex Higgins preferred "The Grinder"
"I wanted to call myself "Champagne Cliff" - I thought it sounded pretty good.

"Alex called me the Grinder after 1980.

"But "Champagne Cliff" sounds a lot better - it didn't stick though, in fact the only champagne that stuck was to the wall in 1980 when I won the world championship.

The 53-year-old is perhaps better remembered for posting the first 147 in 1983 at The Crucible than winning the championship.

His post-maximum celebrations captured the imagination of snooker fans worldwide and Thorburn confesses he'll never forget that black.

"All I remember thinking was that didn't want the black to hit either jaw. I kept saying to myself go straight in - and it did and I felt brilliant."

So, what of his former playing colleagues, Stevens and Webernuik - does he still see them?

"I spoke to Bill trying to get him interested in this seniors tour - something that I am keen to be involved with.

"Kirk is still playing great snooker and has won three out of the last four Canadian amateur championships - he is a brilliant player and a wonderful guy," he added.

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