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Cliff Thorburn

Name: Cliff Thorburn

DOB: January 16th, 1948

Birthplace: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Pro Career: 1972-96

Highest Ranking: #1 (1981/2]

Highest Break: 147×2

Career Highlights: 1980 World Champion, Three Times B&H Masters Champion, 1981 Pot Black Champion, Four Times Canadian Masters Champion, Twice Scottish Masters Champion, First Maximum 147 break at the Crucible


In Short

Known as ‘The Grinder’, what Cliff lacked in flair he made up for in determination and sheer will to win as he rose from difficult beginnings to become the first Canadian world champion and historically, the first man to make a maximum break at the Crucible Theatre.

One of only seven men to have reached the number one spot in the world rankings, Cliff’s place in snooker history is secure and today he continues to show a keen interest in the game, regularly making the trip over from Canada to visit the World Championship.

Early Career

Growing up in his native Canada, Cliff picked up the game during his teenage years and by his early 20’s had heard enough from the top professionals of the day to convince him to relocate to the UK and enter the World Championship for the first time.

This he duly did and in 1973 he met Northern Ireland’s Dennis Taylor in what would turn out to be a tense first round match. Impressively he not only managed to win in a deciding frame, but he also pushed Rex Williams to a decider in his second round match before eventually going down 16-15.

Following this it took him a few years to really take the next step as he lost out in the early rounds but in 1977 as the tournament moved to the Crucible Theatre, he managed to defeat Williams, Eddie Charlton and Taylor again to reach the final for the first time. Up against old friend John Spencer, who had encouraged him to move to the UK in the first place however, he was to fall just short and lost out 25-21 as John took his third and final World Championship.

World Champion

A few years later in 1980 though he had a second chance to go the extra mile as having already come through with wins over Doug Mountjoy, Jim Wych and David Taylor, he faced arch-rival Alex Higgins in the final. The two never saw eye to eye off the table and this made the final a real grudge match as both were desperate to lift the trophy at the Crucible for the first time.

After a predictably tight contest however it was Cliff who managed to come through to edge it 18-16 and take his first world title in the process. Despite the triumph of Horace Lindrum in 1952, this is generally regarded by fans as the first real win for an overseas player and following Terry Griffiths’ triumph the year previously, saw another new player add his name to the select few to have lifted the trophy.

Immediately after his greatest triumph he went through something of a tricky spell, though he did replace Ray Reardon as the world number one the following season and remains to this day one of just seven men to have held the position. In any case it was not long before he rediscovered the winning habit, winning the prestigious B&H Masters tournament on three occasions as well as the Scottish Masters twice and the World Cup with Canada.

His most memorable moment of all though was not to be a title, but a 147 – the first ever to be made at the Crucible which he recorded against Terry Griffiths in 1983. He actually managed to go on all the way to the final but following a series of long, gruelling matches, the grinder had nothing left to give and was hammered 18-6 by a dominant Steve Davis.


Although he was to remain competing until the end of the 1995/6 season, from this point his career began to gradually wind down as he took his last major title at the 1985 Matchroom Trophy, though he did again reach the final for the next two years. A two-tournament suspension for a positive drug test in 1988 accelerated his slide down the rankings however and in 1991 he dropped out of the top 32 for good.

In 1994 made his last appearance at the Crucible, agonisingly losing 10-9 to Nigel Bond having led 9-2 and having slipped down to 91st position in the rankings, he decided to hang up his cue for good in 1996.

Tournament Victories:

Ranking Events (2)

Event Year
World Championship 1980
Goya Matchroom Trophy 1985

Non-Ranking Event wins (15)

Event Year
Canadian Open 1974, 1978-80
B&H Masters 1983, 1985-6
Scottish Masters 1985-6
Pot Black Trophy 1981
World Cup (with Canada) 1982
Canadian Professional Championship 1984-7
  • rob austin

    what a great 147 by cliff thorburn but how much did he receive for it?

  • Doug Gardner

    Hey Cliff. I live in the little town of Peachland BC. We have a snooker league at the Legion here. The organiser puts a weekly column in our small newspaper, and in one he mentioned that you recently paid us a visit. It was bullshit of course, but I thought I would call him on it, so I am writing to you. Send me a few lines and I will post it on the board. Thanks. Doug. (PS We ae all geezers and I am currently #1 in the league, but that will change soon.)

  • PLSL Coordinator

    At no time did anyone say that Cliff Thorburn visited, althopugh we certinally would welcome a visit. It was speculation, an ‘unconfirmed report’ only. An attempt to draw interest in the game. Our league, the Peachland Little Snooker League operates between October to March. League and round robin tounament play of approximately 500 games concludes with a banquet and awards. If you can make it the banquet is schedualled for the last Sunday in March.

    Barrie Hewer

  • Walter Faulkner

    Is it pos to get a signed photo of Cliff, as I am a great fan of his
    Thanks very much. W. Faulkner.

  • Jo

    I have been a fan for more than 30 years and would love a signed photo of you Cliff… Saw you at the Hexagon on 12 th July and could not not get near you.
    please send your fan club address and I will follow on

  • Glenn Turner (The G.T.Blues)

    Hi Cliff,Hope all is well! I,m the -a class Snooker Ref. from Edmonton Alberta.I wrote a song about you,a while ago,Called Showtime at the Billard Hall.I,ve been playing music around Edmonton lately and You,re song is going over Great!!! I would love to make it Commercialy available. Any idea,s? Seing you play in Edmonton a few years ago was a Thrill of a lifetime,Thanks!!!! Glenn Turner. Ps.Radar is still going strong at 86.

  • lorena pheby

    dear clif iv been in love with u since i was 14!!!!!!!! im now 45 please could u send me a signed photo of u? also would u come n visit us in lincoln

  • Brenda Eckstein

    Hi Cliff……
    You know who I am and my Dad as well, George Mckee…..we have come
    and watched the Canadian Pro am games for many years…..We saw
    you win in 2010. My Dad had a cue that he was very proud of, it was signed
    by you and you had your name on this cue….unfortunately, some one stole it and he was asking me if I knew where he could get another one……
    If you could help me help my Dad that would be greatly appreciated……
    We live in Waterloo. If you know where I could purchase another one for him, please let me know.

  • Gerry Lister

    Cliff Thorburn was an athlete who excelled in lacross and baseball as well.

    Cliff has led a very interesting life and those interested should try to get the book, “Playing for Keeps” by Cliff Thorburn , with Clive Everton!

    It’s so great that Snooker Legends has brought back the Legends Tour in the U K.

    What a treat. The tour is similar to the Champions Tour in Golf!

    Bringing back the Greats of the Game.

  • lorena pheby

    when is cliff goin ti be in england again?? and could i have a photo of the grinder!!!!! iv met him twice but would love to see him now!!!!

  • Gerry

    Lorena, check the Snooker Legends web site for all the details. There are many days that Cliff is schedule to play in England.

  • Kristal

    Cliff is class not because he looks the part but because of his superb play I feel special just knowing we hung out and had exceptional fun he will always be a snooker God here in Canada’ may Canada’s King of snooker always be remember as just that the ( CrucibleKing) your friend the imposter.

  • Roy Chisholm

    Hi ya Cliff as you see it is your old buddy calling you from Bournemouth,I hopefully will be coming down to Portsmouth at the week end to watch you perform once again.Would you give me a call on 07977052007 please. Look foreward to seeing you again.Roy.

  • Dave Jasper

    Met Cliff at London gatwick airport last week as we were waiting to board a flight to Toronto. Nice guy, he was kind enough to sign an autograph and chew the cud with me for a few minutes. He’d just lost to Steve Davis on the Seniors tour. Looks exactly the same but it was his voice that I recognised as he was on the phone before I saw his face. Good luck next time out Cliff, Dave