When a couple of days back a Facebook friend, who does much by way of campaigning against more gambling provision in the USA, posted a link to a newspaper article on her page titled: “Willie Thorne breaks down in tears as snooker legend reveals how wife burst into hotel room and stopped him from committing suicide over £1million gambling debts”, I was immediately touched, feeling a touch of sorrow, for Willie is a legend and a sort of hero of mine.
Among the many sports I have taken an interest in, one is snooker. It is a game I have played but, like most, not all that well, although I have always been fascinated by those who can play well. While some may not regard it quite as a sport, for you can still play at a fairly high level if you are old, unfit and overweight, it has many of the elements of mainstream sports. For a long time now it has been a popular television spectacle, particularly since the advent of colour TV (for obvious reasons), especially tournaments like the World Championship, played every year over a period of a fortnight, drawing in the best players in the world. For many a year I have followed proceedings, at least in passing. Even in this past tournament, I have watched some of the games, fascinated by the sportsmanship, skill and psychology that is entailed.
There have been many great players over the years. I can go back as far as Joe Davis. In more recent years the likes of Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry have attracted me, who at their pomp were nigh unbeatable. Even if I don’t recall all, there have been many greats since them and the standards are higher now than ever. Then there are the characters, like Alex Higgins and Jimmy White. Then there are a host of other memorable players that have each played their parts and often their own moments of glory. Among these was Willie Thorne, an ever presence for many a year. I believe Willie has only ever won one major and, while never to my knowledge been at the very top, has come very close. He was a formidable player though, accumulating countless numbers of century and a good number of maximum breaks. In later years he achieved fame as an excellent commentator and a much loved character, and one I enjoyed listening to, who clearly understood the game and enthused others who cared to follow it. He is highly regarded by many.
I mention all this because like many top sportsman he had an addiction and unlike most it has come to the public attention only because of media coverage. His addiction was gambling. As I understand it, this is something he has had hanging over him for many a year and it has brought him to the edge of ruin, including planning to take his own life. One of the sadnesses I discovered working among the homeless is how many have an addiction. In most cases it is alcohol but it could be anything, including gambling. However many times the addict tries to break the addiction; however compelling the argument is that addiction is not good; however many lives including those of loved ones are untowardly affected as a result; however many steps forward are made only for the same number and more steps backwards to follow; the addict continues to persist in his/her behavior. So it has been with Willie.
The point of the this posting is not to moralise or come up with clever solutions of what is needed but rather to simply point out the fact that there are many addicts, not just from among the poor and ordinary but also from the rich and famous. Dealing with addicts can be hard work and requires much patience, wisdom and durability. The need is to respond with compassion and be supportive of such, sometimes showing tough love with as much emphasis on love as tough, trying not to be judgmental especially not knowing all the reasons, but rather recognize there is a sickness that needs to be healed, and there is healing to be had.
I understand Willie Thorne is on the road to recovery and he has a supportive family and support networks around him, which mean a lot. There is precious little I can do other than say a prayer and use my skill as a writer to point out some of the issues so others can help too. And as for Willie, I wish him all the best and somehow all the bad can now turn to good. While he will unlikely become a great snooker player again (age has caught up with him as it does with us all), I hope he will again contribute to this game and more besides.