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Out of the Blue - Into the Black: The Autobiography of John Spen

Out of the Blue - Into the Black: The Autobiography of John Spen

Ref No: 9781903158630

Details: Author: John Spencer

Type: Books

Price: £17.99

JOHN SPENCER'S NAME IS SYNONYMOUS WITH the halcyon days of snooker in this country. Along with his friend and rival Ray Reardon, he helped to popularise the sport to such an extent that in the 1970s it became one of the UK's top televised sports, attracting millions of viewers for the major championships. Spencer was born into a poor working class family in Radcliffe, Manchester on June 18, 1935 with the country still suffering the aftermath of the economic slumps of the 1920s and 30s and plunging headlong into the Second World War. As a youngster, he spent his formative years growing up in the shadow of the conflict. At the age of 15 he took up snooker, a game for which he had a rare gift, and was soon making century-plus breaks, but his National Service intervened and he gave up the game for over ten years. His appetite for snooker never diminished however, and in 1963 he entered the English Amateur Championships, reaching the final before being beaten by Reardon. He was runner-up again the following year before finally claiming the title in 1966 by beating Marcus Owen.

He then went to Karachi to compete in the World Amateur Championships, where he lost to Marcus's brother Gary in the final. Gary Owen, Reardon and Spencer then turned professional, the first new professionals in the sport since 1951, marking the beginning of the modern era for snooker. At the 1969 World Championships Spencer gained his revenge on Owen to win the first of his three World titles and begin a domination of the sport by himself and Reardon that was to last the best part of a decade. Reardon triumphed over Spencer in the 1970 semi-finals, but Spencer was to claim his title back by beating Warren Simpson the following November in Australia in what were the de facto 1971 championships. Beaten by Alex Higgins in the 1972 final, he did not claim his third and last World title until 1977, when he won the inaugural event at the Crucible, a place which has since become the home of the World Championship. However, during this period he won several other tournaments, including the Norwich Union Open Championship (twice), the Benson and Hedges Masters and the Benson and Hedges Irish Master.

But it was his role in the legendary Friday night television programme Pot Black which catapulted him into the nation's consciousness. He won the Pot Black title on no less than three occasions, in 1970, 1971 and 1976, and his celebrity status was assured. Double vision affected his play by the end of the 1970s and he won his final title, the Holsten Lager International, in 1979, although he did reach the quarterfinals of the British Open in 1987. He became a popular broadcaster noted for his intelligent commentary and dry wit, and, moreover, his popularity within the sport saw him spend six years as chairman of the sport's governing body, the WPBSA, from 1990. But perhaps the defining moment in Spencer's life occurred on May 9, 1985 at the Pontins tournament in Prestatyn when the double vision problems, which he had been experiencing sporadically for the best part of ten years, became much worse. He was diagnosed with the rare condition Myasthenia Gravis and it is a condition with which he has to live with for the rest of his life.

Out of the Blue, Into the Black is John Spencer's own story of his struggle with Myasthenia Gravis, his early life of poverty in wartime Manchester, his magnificent snooker career and his memories of the men who he played alongside. A rare glimpse of a golden era in British sport is accompanied by Spencer's observations on the way the game has developed since his retirement. Painfully honest, funny and, at times, sad - this is the account one man's journey from greatness through to the unknown and the brink of tragedy.

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