IT IS a near certainty that if Cliff Wilson's pomp had coincided with the boom in snooker, he would have been awarded the sobriquet 'The Whirlwind' before Jimmy White had been born, never mind began skipping school to play the tables.
Wilson was a prototype of the great entertainers of the modern age, White and Alex Higgins. One of the greatest potters snooker has ever seen, he would have stood out in any era, but his days as the sport's great draw coincided with a time when the leading players had locked their minds into defence.
Regrettably for the Welshman his time was also the wrong time. He was at his peak in the Fifties and Sixties when snooker was at such a low ebb that there were only a handful of professionals and so little interest in the game that the world championships were not held from 1957 and 1964.
As a result there were two distinct phases to Wilson's career as a snooker player. The first was in his youth when his rivalry with his contemporary Ray Reardon would pack out snooker halls throughout South Wales. During that spell he was the runner-up in the English Amateur Championship in 1954 and three years later won the Welsh Amateur Championship.
Soon afterwards his father, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of his son's sport, died, and with snooker ill-equipped to provide a living Wilson settled for working in the steelworks at Llanwern. His disillusionment meant he spent 15 years away from the game, during which Reardon won the world championship six times. No one can say how closely Wilson would have challenged his great rival's supremacy but Reardon said later that his presence would have made it considerably harder.
Wilson was in his mid-forties when he was tempted out of retirement, but he still had enough left to win the world amateur championship in 1978 when he beat Joe Johnson, a future world professional title winner, 11-5 in the final.
The following year, with snooker approaching the height of its popularity and at an age (45) when most players are thinking of giving up the game, he turned professional. By then it was too late for him to compete with the new, younger forces coming into the game - Steve Davis was world champion within two years - but he was capable of getting to 14th place in the world rankings for the 1988-89 season.
Worsening eyesight and back problems inevitably had a debilitating effect but as recently as 18 months ago Wilson was still good enough to defeat the young prodigy Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-8 in the UK Championships.
In that match the game's past and its probable future touched briefly and it was in keeping with the man's competitive nature that the past prevailed.
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