THE funeral of snooker legend John Spencer, who lost his three-year battle against cancer on Tuesday, will be held on Monday.

The three-times world snooker champion from Radcliffe died, aged 71, at 10am on Tuesday in Bury Hospice.

John Spencer profile by Bill Allen, first published in the Bolton Evening News in October, 2005

Three years ago John was diagnosed with stomach cancer, but was told it was inoperable because of a muscle wasting condition, myasthenia gravis, from which he had suffered for 22 years.

The snooker star, known as Gentleman John', made the agonising decision to stop his cancer treatment 18 months ago after deciding he would rather live his life to the full than be subjected to more sessions of gruelling chemotherapy.

His devastated partner of 18 years, Jean Shepherd, said: "He put up such a brave fight right up until the end and he still had his mischievous streak. I knew he would never lose that.

"He never lost his twinkle, even just before he died when he hadn't eaten for three weeks and could no longer speak.

"I just can't put it into words how I feel. I've lost the love of my life."

After taking the decision to stop his cancer treatment he released his autobiography Out of the Blue Into the Black and took part in a sponsored parachute jump to raise funds for the Myasthenia Gravis Association.

Former snooker rival Ray Reardon, whom John beat to clinch the first-ever Benson and Hedges Masters title in 1975, led tributes to him.

He said: "It's so sad. John was a fantastic player. We played plenty of times as professionals and also in the amateur game. Surprisingly, for all that I never got to know him well personally." One of their greatest meetings came in Bolton. John led 19-12 in the semi-finals of the 1973 World Championship, but eventually lost 23-22. "It was a shame we never met in a world final," added Reardon.

Reardon's fellow Welshman, Terry Griffiths, added: "To be honest, I probably played John after his best. But I always said, to his credit, he never complained when he lost, like some players. He just shook your hand and said well done'. Spenny was a special player who brought something different to the game. He was very well liked and will be missed."

Ray Edmonds, another contemporary, said: "He was a witty and cheerful character. John was a professional's professional. I always thought he was the best professional, even in the 1970s when Reardon was winning all the titles. Those two and Alex Higgins were the catalyst for increasing the game's popularity."

John, of Tipton Close, Radcliffe, was born in the town in 1935 and was one of five children. The three boys were all to become better-than-average snooker players. But it was John who caught the eye down at The Grot' snooker hall under Radcliffe Market Hall. His dad arranged membership for the then 14-year-old John. Still in short pants, he made a century break within 12 months.

Competition snooker in the early 1950s was built around workingmen's clubs, so John's talents were restricted to invitational challenge events. After joining the RAF at 18, he spent three years in the services and was actually 28 before he picked up a snooker cue again.

In 1964 John entered the English amateur championships and reached the final. He was the beaten finalist then, and again the following year, before winning it in 1966. A trip to Pakistan followed, John finishing runner-up in the world amateur championship.

In 1967 he turned professional and shot to international fame two years later when he won his first world snooker championship against Welshman, Gary Owen. He won subsequent titles in 1971 and 1977, and he won a dozen major championships in total. John quit his snooker career in 1984 because of the myasthenia gravis, which also causes double vision. He later became a respected television analyst for the BBC.

The former champion, who was the first player to compile a competitive 147 break, owned Spencer's Bar, a successful snooker club and pub in Mealhouse Lane, Bolton with his wife Margot. The couple, who parted in the mid 1980s, also owned a snooker club in Manchester Road, Bolton.

He also enjoyed six years as globetrotting chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.

l John's funeral will be held at Overdale Crematorium on Monday, at 2pm. His family have asked for donations to be made to Bury Hospice and the Myasthenia Gravis Association.