kenny hodgart

Cult hero No 14: Bill Werbeniuk

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This article appeared as part of a year-long weekly series by the author in the Sunday Herald

BILL Werbeniuk was a fat man. In the days when snooker was sponsored by snout, he smoked on television, and he drank. A lot. At least six pints of lager before a match, then a pint for each frame.

When he was scheduled to play at 10am, he had to get up at six to get his starter pints in; then after a hard day’s work at the table, he’d retire to the bar for a social one.

For reasons deeply ingrained in the British psyche, this meant that when he moved over here from his native Vancouver in the late 1970s he quickly became the very essence of a cult hero.

Werbeniuk drank to counteract a condition which made his cue arm tremble; another condition meant he never really got drunk, and he even acquired a medical certificate which allowed him to offset the cost of his booze against income tax.

The highpoint of Werbeniuk’s career came when he, Cliff Thorburn and Kirk Stevens won the Snooker World Cup for Canada in 1982. The following year he was a beaten finalist in the Lada Classic – this was snooker’s glamorous heyday, mind – and in the Winfield Masters in Australia, but it was downhill from then on. Later, in a televised World Championship match against David Taylor in 1986, an attempt to lean across the table resulted in his trousers splitting. The flatulent ripping noise provoked laughter in the audience, but Werbeniuk took it in good spirit: “Who did that?” he demanded to know.

Eventually, concerned about the effect of his drinking on his health, Big Bill’s doctors recommended that he switch to the beta-blocker Inderal.

Unfortunately, the substance was subsequently banned and he was fined and suspended for continuing to take it. He went bankrupt in 1991 and returned to Canada, where he lived with his mum and played pool before his heart gave out at the age of 56, in 2003. After his last professional match, in 1991, he revealed: “I’ve had 24 pints of extra strong lager and eight double vodkas and I’m still not drunk.” Impressive.

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