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Thorburn tribute to Big Bill

Cliff Thorburn has led the tributes to fellow Canadian snooker player Bill Werbeniuk, who has died of heart failure at the age of 56.

Werbeniuk, who died on Monday in Vancouver, spent the last three years of his life in and out of hospital in his home country.

Thorburn, the 1980 world champion, has fond memories of the man known as 'Big Bill'.

"Every time I come to Britain, people always ask me about Bill," he said. "He was a larger-than-life character.

"When Bill was at his peak, Canada had three players in the world's top eight, and I always thought we were the only real team competing in the World Cup.

"We weren't just team-mates, we were great friends off the table."

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 14 January 1947, Werbeniuk became a cult figure in the Eighties due to his ability to drink lots of lager during matches. He recalled last year: "I'd down six to eight pints of lager before I started. Then I'd have one pint a frame. Obviously, over the longer matches I'd get through quite a lot of lager, but I managed to burn off alcohol very quickly."

The 20-stone giant reached No8 in the world in 1983, was a quarter-finalist at the world championships four times and helped Canada win the 1982 World Cup.

Three years earlier in the same event, he split his trousers live on television, leading Thorburn to quip: "This is a needle match and I was hoping Bill was going to sew it up for us."

Werbeniuk's career was effectively ended when inderal, a drug he said he took to help his heart cope with the amount of alcohol he was drinking, which he claimed counteracted a tremor in his arm, was banned.

"I'd always maintain that inderal was performance enabling, not performance enhancing," he said. Werbeniuk's last professional match was his 10-1 defeat to Nigel Bond in the preliminary rounds of the 1990 world championship.

Afterwards he said: "I've had 24 pints of extra strong lager and eight double vodkas and I'm still not drunk."

Since retiring, Werbeniuk returned to Canada, and last year he said he was out of work and living on disability benefits. "I live with my mother and brother and watch sport on the TV," he said.

By Paul Thomson, Evening Standard
22 January 2003

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