On Thursday night in Sheffield there will be a celebration of some golden snooker memories as Stephen Hendry, Joe Johnson, John Parrott and Tony Knowles take part in a Snooker Legends exhibition at the Crucible Theatre. A few minutes away at Ponds Forge, another icon of the green baize will be having a little less fun as Steve Davis attempts to salvage his professional status.
Davis has been a member of the pro tour since 1978 but will need to beat Craig Steadman to keep his place for next season. Depending on other results he may need to win his next qualifying match as well.
The contrast in atmosphere between these two Sheffield venues will be stark: at the Crucible fun and nostalgia; at Ponds Forge anxiety and pressure.
All four of those playing at the Snooker Legends night have beaten Davis at the Crucible. Hendry did so in the 1994 semi-finals where victory for Davis would have seen him return to the world no.1 spot after four years. Johnson famously shocked him 18-12 in the 1986 world final. Parrott’s 1991 semi-final victory paved the way for his eventual capture of the title. Knowles created one of snooker’s greatest ever shocks with his 10-1 demolition of Davis in the first round in 1982.
The only way to make the night any crueller would have been to invite Dennis Taylor, who inflicted the most famous defeat on Davis, on the final black in 1985.
Davis, though, has more than a few wins at the Crucible on which to reflect fondly. For those counting he has 60 victories from 84 matches. Only Hendry has won more matches, more frames or scored more points.
Here, then, is a look at five of Davis’s most famous and important Crucible victories…
1981 FINAL – BEAT DOUG MOUNTJOY 18-12
Davis had won his first major title at the end of 1980 by triumphing in the UK Championship. It made him a natural contender for the season-ending World Championship but he had to prove he had the mettle to land the biggest prize of all.
He survived 10-8 against Jimmy White before beating Alex Higgins 13-8, Terry Griffiths 13-9 and Cliff Thorburn 16-10. In the final, Doug Mountjoy, already a Masters and UK Championship winner, had the experience to halt the coronation.
Davis, though, made a great start, winning the first six frames, a cushion by which he would eventually win. Mountjoy did reduce his arrears overnight to only 10-8 and went into the final session trailing only 14-12 but Davis, proving he was ready to accept the mantle as the new king of snooker, sprinted to victory, winning all four frames played in the evening.
It was a victory celebrated by his parents, including his father, Bill, who had tutored him using Joe Davis’s coaching guide. And Davis’s garrulous manager, Barry Hearn, ensured future immortality in the TV archives when he barrelled on to the Crucible stage and nearly knocked his young charge over.
Perhaps he understood even more than Davis himself just what would be possible on and off the table in the decade to follow.
1984 FINAL – BEAT JIMMY WHITE 18-16
This was a remarkable final due to White’s comeback from 12-4 down overnight to within one frame of forcing a decider.
Davis had won a second world title in 1983 but later that year suffered a 16-15 defeat to Alex Higgins from 7-0 up in the UK Championship final. This perhaps planted some seeds of doubt which began to surface as White staged his recovery.
White began the final day with a break of 119, sparking an inspired spell of snooker which saw him win seven of the eight frames played during the third session. Resuming with a 13-11 lead, Davis needed to recover his composure to avoid suffering a complete collapse.
He seemed to have done so by winning the first two frames of the evening to lead 15-11 but White rallied to trail only 16-15 before the left-hander missed a long yellow in the next, letting Davis in to clear the colours for 17-15.
Davis led the 33rd frame 60-0 but missed a blue two balls from victory and White sublimely cleared with 65 for 17-16. He had chances to draw level but a missed green eventually let a relieved Davis in to clinch it.
1987 FINAL – BEAT JOE JOHNSON 18-14
The 1987 world final was Davis fifth in succession but he had dramatically lost the previous two, first on the last black to Dennis Taylor and then 18-12 to the unheralded Joe Johnson, who reached the final again 12 months on. The pressure was on Davis: a third straight defeat would deal a deadly blow to his authority as world no.1
Davis began the final with a 129 break but lost three close frames in the opening session, which Johnson shaded 4-3.
Davis responded by winning each of the next two sessions to enter the final evening holding a 14-10 advantage but was put under intense pressure as Johnson won the first three frames of the night to trail just 14-13.
Another defeat would have irrevocably damaged Davis’s confidence and reputation and he made one final push, crossing the line an 18-14 winner. The old order had been restored.
1989 SEMI-FINAL – BEAT STEPHEN HENDRY 16-9
By 1989, Davis’s reign at the top of the game was being threatened by the emergence of a young Scot who played a deadly, aggressive, attacking game. Stephen Hendry was already Masters champion at his first attempt and was not in the slightest bit overawed by reputations.
Davis and Hendry were to meet in the semi-finals, with many wondering if this would represent the passing of the torch from one era to another. In fact, Davis put everything into keeping his young challenger at bay, winning each of the first two sessions 5-2, thus claiming a 10-4 lead.
Hendry started to claw it back in the third session, winning three of the first four frames to trail 11-7 and making a 139 break two frames later. Davis, though, won the last frame of the session to lead 13-9 and Hendry scored only eight points in the final session as Davis won 16-9.
He went on to beat John Parrott 18-3 in the final and it seemed as if all challengers had been repelled. Hendry, though, learned from the defeat and a year later became the championship’s youngest ever winner.
2010 SECOND ROUND – BEAT JOHN HIGGINS 13-11
Few gave Davis much chance of beating John Higgins, the defending champion at the 2010 World Championship. Higgins, as an all-round player, was in the Davis mould but also had the heavy scoring game to kill off frames in one visit once the safety was done, a side of Davis’s game which had inevitably declined over the years.
However, in the first session Davis was stronger in both departments, controlling the tactical exchanges and making a 102 break in claiming a 6-2 lead.
Higgins reduced this to 9-7 after the second session and was still favourite heading into a Saturday morning which proved to be one of the most memorable sessions ever seen at the Crucible: a nervy, twisty, exciting eight frames which would end with an improbable Davis triumph.
He made a bad start, failing to pot a ball in the first two frames, but finished the stronger, making a dramatic clearance to the pink in the 24th frame to deny Higgins a decider.
What happened in the moments which followed underlined the universal respect and affection the sport has for Davis as he was mobbed by fans like a conquering hero while he was taken from the Crucible to the BBC studio up the road at the Winter Gardens.
It was a sign that snooker and all those associated with it recognises Steve Davis’s contribution to a sport which continues to fascinate him well into his sixth decade.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.