ONE OF THE reasons we love sport is the circularity it often provides. We follow sportsmen and women, often for years, and share, from afar, their triumphs and disasters. We remember them and their performances and results resonate for this reason.
Nobody who watched the conclusion of the 1985 World Championship final will forget Steve Davis missing the last black or Dennis Taylor potting it. And now, 30 years on, Davis has won a match on the final black, 10-9 against Jamie Cope.
Ponds Forge is a ten minute walk from the Crucible and this was the first qualifying round but there was still enormous pressure, not least because the black was far from straight forward. Davis required the rest to pot it. This would have been a tough enough shot in the first frame but to win a decider it became more difficult still.
The roar which greeted its arrival in the pocket underlined the affection in which Davis is held by snooker fans who have followed his journey from shy teenage Londoner to great champion to legend. It is detailed in his autobiography – ‘Interesting’ – released last week.
Inevitably, there is a chapter devoted to the ’85 final, for which many anniversary activities are about to commence.
Davis’s perspective is valuable but outside of his and Taylor’s memories I’m not sure there’s actually anything new to say about it, although that doubtless won’t stop all the feature writers who can’t be bothered to find out anything about the game’s current players from spooling out great long pieces.
Nostalgia is the past with all the bad bits taken out. There’s nothing like talk of the ‘good old days’ to reassure people that, once, everything was so much better than it is now.
But the fact remains that Taylor deserves great credit for winning the match. He was 8-0 down to the best player in the world and humiliation beckoned. At 36, time was running out. He’d already lost the 1979 world final to Terry Griffiths and a heavy defeat to Davis on the game’s most famous stage could have knocked him back permanently.
Taylor had come through at a time where there was little money, TV exposure or public acknowledgement for snooker. He was always a grafter and demonstrated unbelievable heart and inner belief to turn it around.
He won seven out of eight frames on the first night to trail only 9-7 going into the final day. Little is made of the three superb pots on brown, blue and pink he executed before the battle on the black but, under pressure, they were as good as you’ll see in a world final.
Also, he was wearing glasses and playing snooker in them, even though they had been specially engineered for this purpose, cannot have been easy.
The final has passed into folklore. Even those who weren’t watching have probably by now convinced themselves that they were. There are more people who claim to own the famous black ball than say they attended the first ever Sex Pistols gig.
Nobody can blame Taylor for continuing to celebrate this huge achievement. As he once said, Geoff Hurst wouldn’t feel shy talking about the 1966 World Cup final.
But what of Davis?
He was rendered almost speechless in the aftermath of defeat, stuttering his way through an excruciating interview with David Vine before heading to the dressing room, where he collapsed into tears.
In his book, he blames not playing safe on a green in the ninth frame for the defeat. He says he had a choice of what shot to play, which he didn’t have on the final black.
Time – and more world titles – heal. And over time he has come to see it as something special to have been involved in, something which will never be forgotten. He was part of something which has lasted.
Davis won so many titles during the 1980s that the memory of one was soon replaced by that of another. Even his world title victories were – 1984 aside – completed so comfortably that they didn’t stick in the public mind like the closer finals do.
But nobody should remember Davis for losing to Taylor. He won six world titles and over 70 professional titles. On Monday, he will play Kurt Maflin in the second qualifying round and become the first player to have competed in 100 World Championship matches.
So his defeat to Taylor was merely the most memorable one that got away.
Barry Hearn, ever the pragmatist, soon signed Taylor to his Matchroom stable. Snooker was so large in the public conscious in those days that it happened live on television.
Soon after the final they were in the Far East for an invitation tournament. Word of this fabled match had perhaps not spread as widely as anticipated because a huge banner welcoming the players simply read: ‘Welcome to Steve Davis and friends.’
They played another long final at the Grand Prix in reading the following season. Davis won 10-9 at an ever later hour.
As for the ’85 final, 18.5 million people were watching at the end. BBC2 has never before or since had a bigger audience and it’s hard to see how they ever will. It remains a record after midnight.
Television has changed out of all recognition from those days of just four channels, but it proved snooker’s capacity to captivate.
However, more than 300 million watched last year’s World Championship. The tournament is no longer just a staple of the British TV landscape but a popular global attraction, shown in something like 80 countries.
Much of that stems from the interest built from nights like the one in 1985 when snooker’s perfect storm played out: the champion felled by the spectacle-wearing challenger on the final ball while millions of eyes were fixed to screens, hooked on this beguiling battle of wits.
And Davis, now 57, has 30 years on potted a black in a Sheffield decider to remind everyone that while he is no longer a title contender, his heart continues to beat with a competitive zeal.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.