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Snooker loopy: Taylor versus Davis ~ April 28 1985

April 30, 2010

Frame, set and match: everyday heroes Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis – 1985’s gladiators of the green beize

There are several things you could have enjoyed immensely after midnight in 1985. Aside from the bedroom-based obvious, you could have been at a late-night showing of Back To The Future, you could have dipped into Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s or Margaret Atwood’s respective new novels Love In The Time Of Cholera or The Handmaiden’s Tale, or you could even have been listening to Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love album (through big, chunky earphones, of course – you wouldn’t want to wake up the neighbours, surely). But could you have enjoyed any of them as much as the black-ball decider of the 1985 World Snooker Championsip Final on April 28th?

Doubtful, I’d suggest. Was this glorious moment of green beize action really better than those – or actually better than sex? Maybe. Just maybe.

What can’t be denied was that it was momentous. As we come around to this year’s World Snooker final that will conclude on Monday (I’m rooting for Robertson), this extraordinary event at Sheffield’s famous Crucible Theatre  – celebrating its 25th anniversary this week – still holds the record for the highest UK television audience after midnight: 18 million. 18 million! That’s a bigger telly audience than most shows over here achieve all year nowadays. Yup, Snooker ruled the absolute roost that year, if for one night only.

Interesting moment: he may’ve been known for being boring, but Steve was also a winner – was he in ’85, though?

Having said that, good old Snooker was very much in the midst of its Golden Age in the ’80s. While, at present, it struggles to engage the public (last year’s World Championships final only achieved a TV audience of 2 million) and is looking to rejuvenate itself through crowd-pleasing modernisation, back in the day the grandmaster of all billiards games was so popular that it seemed nearly every boy had a miniature snooker table in the garage, Chas & Dave’s so-bad-it’s-good Snooker Loopy hit was permanently lodged in people’s minds and the sport’s masters were even more recognisable than Hollywood stars.

Indeed, Snooker’s popularity in the ’80s may have owed more than anything else to its top players. In the age of the seemingly ordinary, likeable Frank Bruno, Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham and Gary Lineker, all the Snooker stars too were chaps you not only loved to watch on the box, but who you’d happily have in your living room watching it with you. There was the cool, moustachioed Canadian Cliff Thorburn; the bald-headed mate of the aforementioned Lineker, the pretty useless Willy Thorne; the Canuck whose weight was more famous than his cue prowess ‘Big’ Bill Werbenuik; the South London whirlwind Jimmy White; the wily Welsh wizard Terry Griffiths; the potter from Penny Lane John Parrot; and the flawed Northern Irish genius that was Alex Higgins (yes, Ronnie O’ Sullivan, someone else got there first). And, of course, there was Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor too.

Davis and Taylor. You couldn’t get two more different personalities. Davis, ‘The Nugget’, a very lean, mean, ginger potting machine from Essex who, up to this point, had won three World titles in four years (and would go on to win another three), and Taylor, an extremely affable, bizarrely upside-down glasses-wearing, roly poly Northern Irishman who had never won one. And it was these two that contested the ’85 final. As ever, it looked like it would be Davis’s title, racing as he did into a 8-0 frames lead (out of a ‘best of 35 frames’ total). But, gradually, Taylor got back into it. The player who had lost to Davis in the previous year’s contest at the semi-final stage was not going down without a fight. At the end of the match’s second session he trailed 9-7 and, then, at the end of the third, 17-15. Then, in the fourth and last session, he managed to level the match – 17-17. A wonderful comeback. And then it really began.

Deep into this final frame, Davis had the lead. All the red balls and the yellow and the green had been potted; Taylor needed all the remaining colours. And he got them (brown, blue and pink); all of them, except one, that is – the black. For the first time in its decades-long history, the World Championships final had amazingly come down to its last ball. Frankly, both players’ attempts to pot it – or put it safe – were, well, awful; they’d both pretty much lost their nerve and ability to play by now, the stakes were so high and the atmosphere so electrified. Then Taylor made a mistake and Davis had a relatively easy cut into the bottom left pocket to win the frame, match and title. The one thing, he claimed afterwards, he had to make sure he didn’t do was hit the black ball too thickly. What he did, though, was strangely hit it too thin. An unforgettable exclamation of ‘No-ooo‘ came from legendary (and sadly now departed) commentator ‘Whispering’ Ted Lowe, and Taylor was back in. And, this time, Dennis made no mistake – he sunk the black and realised eternal glory.

Specs-tacular: older, greyer and wiser now, perhaps, (right), but sadly Dennis’s trademark glasses have gone

The frame, the penultimate shot, the final shot and Taylor’s celebrations (raising his cue above his head like a weightlifter’s weights, shaking his head in disbelief and wagging his finger at the head of ITV Sport who had, apparently, told him he’d never be World Champion) have truly gone down in television history and are now iconic. These two sportsmen and the sport itself (especially back then, and maybe still now, which may account for its supposed lack of popularity nowadays) are of a different era. They were both hopelessly accessible sporting heroes, for whom glory, fair play and the sport itself seemed to matter much more than the money. After all, the winner only received £60,000, the runner-up £35,000, when BBC host David Vine gathered them together afterwards for ‘wages’ time’ as he forever referred to it.

The truth, though, is that this event somewhat paradoxically comes from a decade dominated by money, social climbing and greed. But then, like the sport to which it belongs, that maybe explains why it was so popular with and fixated the nation in that decade – like a caravan holiday in New York, it was comfortable and thrilling at the same time. Who really knows? One thing is for sure, though, it was magical, magnetic, unforgettable and very special.

After it was all over (and referring to the black-ball finish, in particular), Davis said the match had all been there ‘in black and white’. No, Steve, you were wrong – it was in colour, on TV and finished at 12:25am… I know, because at the age of five, it was the first time, and one of the very best times, I stayed up after midnight.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2010 9:16 pm

    If I had a buck for every time I came here! Incredible writing!

    • May 31, 2010 10:50 pm

      Brooke, what can I say, thank you very much – I feel quite flattered!

      Great to know you enjoy my scribblings… 🙂

  2. June 1, 2010 11:55 am

    You’ve done it once again! Superb writing!

    • June 2, 2010 7:20 am

      Thanks, Ruthie,

      It genuinely does mean something to know there’s people out there enjoying and following what I write…!

  3. g.garrod permalink
    December 1, 2010 12:07 pm

    hi,got a autograph book with 7 snooker stars names from the 1975 era, do you know anyone who would like to buy them,this is all.thanks G.

    • December 1, 2010 11:16 pm

      Afraid not, g.garrod, but sounds good – trust you enjoy meeting ’em all…! 🙂

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