“I personally think I’m still one of the best commentators” – Willie Thorne opens up on being sidelined by the BBC
Willie Thorne admits he was “absolutely shocked” to be dropped from the BBC commentary team and believes he is still one of the best commentators in the sport.
Former world number seven Thorne, 64, was axed from the BBC’s coverage of the UK Championship and World Championship last season, announcing the news on his Twitter account last October.
The decision was part of an editorial shake-up which saw current professionals Alan McManus and Peter Ebdon brought in to offer a fresher perspective.
Thorne received an outpouring of support, with former World Champions and BBC colleagues Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty among those backing the man who gained the nickname ‘Mr Maximum’ during his playing career.
“I was absolutely shocked to be honest,” Thorne told Live Snooker.
“When they had Ebdon and McManus instead of me, McManus did very well and Peter is a good friend of mine but if he’s better than me, I’m a Dutchman.
“They laid [John] Virgo off as well for the UK Championship.
“I personally think I’m still one of the best commentators but obviously the BBC don’t.
“Graham Fry still wants to use me but unfortunately it’s not his final decision, it’s the BBC hierarchy.
“Whether it’s because I had a little misdemeanor where allegedly I thought the microphone was off and I said a naughty word, whether that had something to do with it I don’t know.
“Twitter went a bit berserk at times, you’re not everybody’s cup of tea but on the whole I think people like the way I talk about the game.”
Thorne has been retained for the Welsh Open but is now compering at after dinner speaking events, having worked alongside Paul Gascoigne, Anthony Joshua and Phil Taylor in recent months.
Thorne has defended his honest style of commentary and believes his knowledge of break-building is among the best in the business.
He added: “As far as break building commentary is concerned, I think I’m up there with the very best, obviously not necessarily in the safety department but when they’re in and around the black it’s very rare I call the wrong shot.
“I can be too critical sometimes so whether that’s one of the reasons BBC decided to go down the ‘nicey nicey’ route?
“Everything with Ebdon and McManus is “this is lovely” and it’s not always lovely.”
Thorne was a part of the Matchroom stable during snooker’s boom in the 80s, featuring in the popular song “Snooker Loopy”, written and performed by Chas & Dave.
That era housed some of snooker’s biggest box office names, including Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White and Steve ‘The Nugget’ Davis, and Thorne admits he is concerned at the lack of characters in the modern game.
“I must admit, I’m worried about the lack of characters in the game,” he added.
“We could do with another Jimmy White or Ronnie – there’s going to be one somewhere and hopefully it’s in the next couple of years.
“I’ve been very disappointed with the growth of snooker just recently, I don’t think we’ve got any great young players coming through at the minute.
“I keep expecting Judd Trump to go berserk but he flatters to deceive sometimes.
“I’m a big fan of Judd and I’ve known him since he was 12 or 13 years of age when we used to have the tournaments at my club in Leicester.
“Kyren Wilson looks like doing pretty well this year I think, he’s very consistent and that’s the key thing now, it’s not all about being the flash in the pan, it’s about pacing yourself to get through a season.
“Ronnie O’Sullivan plays when we wants to play, has he got another World Championship in him? I don’t know, the way he spreads out his schedule I’m not too sure if he can compete for that length of time.
“Obviously if he does he’s going to win the championship because I still think he’s the best player.”
Thorne retired from professional competition in 2001 and has since appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and released an autobiography entitled Taking a Punt on My Life – which charts his gambling addiction which culminated in a suicide attempt.
Thorne, who earned more than £1.2 million in career prize money, has defended the argument for a shot clock to be introduced in snooker amid the possibility of players being fined for slow play.
“I’m definitely an advocate of the shot clock, to be perfectly honest I think it needs to be brought in,” he offered.
“Taking 35, 40 seconds a shot, I think most players should be on 20 seconds.
“Most snooker players, the first shot they see is the shot they need to play then all of a sudden they spend the next few minutes messing around.
“Peter Ebdon has always been like that and I’m not just picking Peter out, he’s a former World Champion and one of the greatest players of all time.
“We’re in the entertainment business, that’s the term Barry Hearn used and I think you’ve got to entertain the fans.”