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John Spencer

Name: John Spencer

DOB: September 18th, 1935

Died: July 11th, 2006

Birthplace: Radcliffe, Greater Manchester

Pro Career: 1968-92

Highest Ranking: #2 (1977/8]

Highest Break: 147

Career Highlights: Three Times World Champion, 1975 B&H Masters Champion, Three Times Pot Black Champion, 1976 Canadian Open Champion, 1978 Irish Masters Champion

 

In Short

One of the new professionals as the game began to enjoy a renaissance following the dark days of the 1950’s and 1960’s, John was one of the finest players of his generation and had he not suffered from a series of physical ailments, who knows how many more trophies he might have gone on to take.

Famed for his incredible ability when it came to screw shots and cue ball control (something that could be attributed to a brush with billiards in his youth), he was a formidable opponent and as the first winner at the Crucible, one who will never be forgotten.

Early Days

Although John first picked up a cue aged 15, due to the declining interest in the game generally at the time and a few words from his school headmaster, the next 13 years were to be spent pursuing other jobs such as his national service in the RAF and working in a betting shop.

Eventually however he was tempted back into the game and in 1964 entered his first big tournament, the English Amateur Championship. Though he managed to win the northern section, he fell in the grand final 11-8 to another future star of the game, Ray Reardon. As it turned out this was to be the first of three successive finals in the competition, losing again the following year, this time to Patsy Houilhan, before finally taking the title with an 11-5 victory over Marcus Owen in 1966.

Although John was to lose out to Marcus’ brother Gary in the final of the subsequent World Amateur Championship in Karachi, he had impressed enough to turn professional and he did so for the start of the 1968/9 season.

Going Pro – With Immediate Success

Following a series of Challenge matches, in 1969 the World Championship reverted to the knock-out format that we are so accustomed to today and making his debut was Spencer who was scheduled to meet defending champion John Pulman in the quarter-finals. Though Pulman at one stage recovered from 11 frames behind to close the gap to just three, Spencer held his nerve and secured a 25-18 victory.

From here he managed to overcome Rex Williams 37-12 in the semi-finals  before gaining the ultimate revenge over Owen for that world amateur defeat in the final, winning 37-24 to take the professional title at the first attempt.

Back at London’s Victoria Hall the following year to defend his title, he got off to a good start with a 31-15 victory over Jackie Rea, but ultimately was to lose a tight semi-final against rival and eventual champion Ray Reardon 37-33.

Second World Crown

The following year with the tournament moving to Australia however it was to be Spencer’s turn to succeed, defeating Reardon 34-15 in the semis before beating local favourite Warren Simpson 37-29 in the final to secure his second crown.

Again however his title defence was not to go to plan, losing out in the final to the flamboyant Alex Higgins from Northern Ireland. This defeat could in part be explained by a virus that John picked up prior to the tournament during an exhibition tour in Canada but as he was to prove in the years following, Higgins was a real star who would go on to compete with the likes of Spencer and Reardon for years to come.

The next few years at the World Championship were to be similarly disappointing as following a dramatic 23-22 defeat to Reardon in 1973 having squandered a 19-12 lead, John struggled to find his confidence in the competition. He did win the B&H Masters in 1975 (on a re-spotted black against Reardon), as well as the Norwich Union Open twice and a hat-trick of Pot Black titles amongst other trophies, but it was beginning to look like a hat-trick of World titles could elude him.

Enter the Crucible

In 1977 however, with the tournament moved to the now iconic Crucible Theatre, John managed to go all the way to the final, defeating old foe Reardon along the way to set up a clash with his Canadian friend Cliff Thorburn. Not only did a focused Spencer come through to win, but he did so using a two-piece cue, becoming the first man to win with something other than an orthodox one-piece.

Decline and Illness

Now with some of his confidence back and a cue that he could really do some damage with, it looked as though John was really back but although he took the inaugural B&H Irish Masters a year later, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. Not only was he now approaching 50 but he unfortunately he began to suffer from double vision and eventually slipped out of the top 16 at the start of the 1985/6 season. Though he did remarkably well to reach the quarter-finals of the British Open in 1987 before losing to Jimmy White, this was to be the last real high of his career as he soon slipped out of the top 16 for good before eventually retiring from the game in 1992.

Post-Playing Career

Although John enjoyed a successful spell in the commentary box following the end of his playing days, as well as a six-year stint at the helm of the WPBSA, this was sadly overshadowed by the onset of myasthenia gravis which ultimately proved to be the cause of the problems affecting his vision.

Things went from bad to worse in 2003 when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and as the effects of the medication that John was taking began to really take their toll on him, he eventually took the decision to stop the treatment and try to enjoy his final days as much as possible. Although he was fit enough to attend the parade of champions at the Crucible in 2005 and later in the year was able to take part in a parachute jump for charity, he was visibly struggling and just a year later died in a hospice at the age of 70.

Tournament Victories:

Ranking Events (2)

Event Year
World Championship 1977
Goya Matchroom Trophy 1985

Non-Ranking Event wins (15)

Event Year
World Championship 1969, 1971
B&H Masters 1975
Canadian Open 1976
Irish Masters 1978
Norwich Union Open 1973-4
Holsten Lager International 1979
Pontin’s Professional Championship 1977
Pot Black Trophy 1970-1, 1976
Wilsons Classic 1980
Winfield Australian Masters 1980
World Cup (with England) 1981