Snooker’s JFK moment has Steve 'Interesting' Davis at its epicentre, a fitting point for a figure who has been as important to the development of snooker as the black ball was to Davis when the 'Golden Nugget' was hoisting six world titles above his gloriously ginger barnet in the 1980s.
Everybody who was doing the rounds three decades ago was probably playing snooker at a local club trying to emulate Davis, a time when the green baize ruled Britannia. They probably recall where they were when this then robotic Romford chap Davis lost to Northern Irishman Dennis Taylor, a quirky little bloke wearing a pair of upside down specs with a wagging finger and a willingness to lift a cue above his head like a weightlifter, in the 1985 World Championship final, a segment of history when an astonishing 18.5 million watched BBC2 beyond midnight on a Sunday evening.
As a kid, this onlooker was fast asleep, burnt out by watching my sporting hero Steve Davis move 17-15 ahead of Taylor having led 8-0 and the cusp of a fourth world crown. I didn’t make it up to the final denouement. It was a good job too when one had to trudge to school the next morning devastated to learn that thoroughbred Davis, a winning machine who ruled snooker with an infallible technique and a bridge hand that seemed meant for his calling in life, had somehow managed to lose like Devon Loch. My Grandad was also perplexed having gambled heavily on Davis in his pomp, a ploy that felt like buying money.
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KEY DAVIS STATS
- Davis won 28 ranking tournaments
- Won six world titles
- Reached 100 finals
- Made the first televised 147 maximum break in 1982
- Made 355 century breaks
“The final frame, the final black,” said match commentator whispering Ted Lowe as both men battled to sink the deciding ball before a record TV audience for the Beeb’s second channel that unlike Davis in the final, will never be beaten.
“I’m delighted to say I beat him twice out of five meetings at the Crucible,” Taylor exclusively told Eurosport. “I beat him 13-11 the first time he was here in 1979. Not many people can say that.
“Snooker was the winner that evening. I was just lucky to pot that final black after 17 days. I was 7-0 down after the first session then 8-0 down.
“It just shows what can happen if you persevere. Steve says he will remember that one more than the six he won.
“31 years on, they’re still talking about it. It was great to be a little part of history.”
Adding to some of the tributes already paid to Davis after he made the announcement on Sunday in the wake of his father Bill’s death at the age of 89 last month, Taylor said Davis at his peak would have been at the top of the game in this era.
snooker camera steve davis
Image credit: Imago
“Listen, Steve Davis played the game as good as anyone because when you missed against Steve Davis, you went back to your seat. You knew he was going to win the frame,” said Taylor.
“You can’t do any more than that in snooker. John Higgins is a very similar player these days.
“Steve was a man who changed snooker, and changed snooker for the good. He put in six and seven hours a day practice. He set the standard for the players today. We had to adopt his attitude just to try to get near him in the 1980s.”
The good die young. In professional sport, the great retire young. Even at the age of 58 with his peak years long gone, it is difficult to believe Davis has finally decided to opt out of playing the sport he helped carry into living rooms up and down the land. Davis has been a part of so many lives for so many years that even he may not realise his cultural significance in the UK. Like David Attenborough and Morrissey, people simply know Steve Davis.
Scotsman Alan McManus admitted he watched Davis last week in the final match of his career, a 10-4 defeat to Fergal O’Brien in the first round of the World Championship qualifiers.
He compared his status to 18-times Major winner Jack Nicklaus in golf.
“He is like snooker’s Jack Nicklaus,” said McManus. “I actually watched some of his match with Fergal last week because I wanted to watch him one last time.
"He has hardly changed when you watch him play. I just love the guy, and wish I knew him better."
Mark Williams, world champion in 2000 and 2003, feels Davis has played a significant role in the growth of the sport, particularly in continental Europe and China where it is one of the country’s most popular games.
“He’s one of the best things to happen to snooker, on and off the table,” said Williams.
Davis apparently spent more time on TV in the 1980s than Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher. He is 10-1 to be awarded a knighthood, which would be another first for ‘The Nugget’ after winning the BBC Sports Personality in 1988 during the harvest years.
steve davis and barry hearn
Image credit: Imago
Davis embarked upon an emotional lap of honour of the Crucible on Sunday clutching the world trophy he last won for a sixth time with an 18-3 dismantling of John Parrott in 1989.
Apart from missing the black against Taylor in the 1985 final, I asked him if he has any regrets looking back over his career.
“I don’t regret missing the black, it was the green in the ninth frame..”
Not only is Davis snooker’s greatest advertisement, he is also a master of self-deprecation, whose longevity proves the value of not taking yourself too seriously. It should be stated that from the utter dominance, Davis also learned to lose, an arguably tougher feat.
Snooker made Steve Davis a multi-millionaire several times over, but you cannot put a price on what Davis has done for snooker. He might have retired, but you never retire history. It is all there in black and white.
Plus decades of glorious colour with a ginger hue that remains on the record for future generations to pore over. You can never retire the legend.
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