BIG INTERVIEW: Snooker legend Steve Davis heading for North West next month

Perhaps it is the 18-3 annihilation of John Parrott in the final of the World Championships in 1989 which fans remember the most.

Friday, 14th February 2020, 5:00 pm
Snooker great Steve Davis in action (Getty Images)

Or could it be the titanic 18-16 success over Jimmy White five years earlier at The Crucible, in Sheffield, which is the one that stands out over everything else.

There is, of course, the first major tournament victory at the UK Championships in 1980 – when Alex Higgins was defeated 16-6 at Preston’s Guild Hall – which also must be considered.

Having been crowned world and UK champion an incredible six times, as well as winning the prestigious Masters on three occasions, there are many defining moments within the illustrious career of snooker great Steve Davis.

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But without doubt the legend of the green baize will always be defined the most by a match in which he ended up losing!

His defeat to Dennis Taylor – the eccentric Irishman with the ‘upside down jam jar’ glasses – in the final of the 1985 World Championships remains, three-and-a-half decades on, snooker’s greatest ever spectacle.

The classic encounter at The Crucible had everything, with Davis getting off to a superb start to lead 8-0, before Taylor staged a remarkable comeback to claw his way to 9-7. Davis always appeared destined to win, though, as he continually edged ahead over the second half of the contest and at 17-15, was just one frame away from victory.

Taylor, though, refused to lie down, drawing level to take the final to the wire. The decider is perhaps the most famous frame in the history of the game.

More than 18m people tuned in to the BBC to watch Taylor sink the final ball left on the table, the black, to win his first – and what would prove to be his only – world crown.

“It is amazing that 35 years have passed since that match and yet people still want to talk about it,” said Davis. “A ridiculous amount of time has passed but that match still captures the imagination. When I played Dennis, I had won three World Championships and was aiming for my fourth.

“At the time, to lose was devastating. But the good thing about snooker and sport, when you lose there is always another tournament around the corner.

“Whilst everybody was talking about that final, once the next season started, you’re off and running again.

“I think I won a tournament pretty soon afterwards and as a sportsman you’re always looking ahead all the time. But as the years have gone by, the significance of that final has grown, the folklore around it has grown.

“I suppose if I had not won the World Championship again, then it might be a different story. But the fact that I went on to win it another three times, I don’t think losing to Dennis has really defined my career overall.”

Davis and his old foe Taylor will be discussing that particular match when they appear at the Viva Blackpool, in Church Street, on March 8.

“We will be re-enacting some of the shots of that final frame and talking about it,” said Davis. “The amazing thing is that some of the people in the audience probably won’t have been even born when we played that match. But the great thing is, people can go on YouTube and watch it back.”

The fact that Davis and Taylor remain popular figures despite the fact that it is several years since they retired from playing, owes much to the time when they were at their respective peaks. The eighties will always be the golden era of snooker when the game and its exponents transcended the sport.

The names of Davis, Taylor, Higgins, White, Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths became recognisable not just to snooker fans but the public in general. Given primetime slots on terrestrial TV, the sport’s biggest tournaments were being beamed live into every house across the UK.

“We were sort of the first wave of the sport to get that kind of exposure,” said Davis.

“It was obviously a different period in time. In terms of entertainment at home, people only had three TV channels to choose from at the start of the 1980s. Back then all the family used to sit in front of one TV in the house.

“There was no social media, no video games and things like that. So we had effectively a trapped audience.

“That first wave of the sport was the golden period, but I am only talking about the UK. Nowadays the game is far more worldwide in terms of its popularity.

“But in the UK, that period created those famous names.

“It was great to be part of that. It was just so exciting. From being just a snooker player, we became household names, recognisable all over the UK. It was just so surreal.”

Davis was the greatest player of the 1980s, his metronomic style generally leading him to success against the arguably more talented but inconsistent stars such as White and Higgins.

He got labelled with the ‘Mr Boring’ tag as fans became tired of his serial success and they would, more often than not, root for his opponents.

Davis revealed that he took his perceived unpopularity among fans during his peak years as a compliment.

“It was understandable,” said Davis, who is now aged 62. “Human nature always goes down that road of rooting for the underdog. I never really saw it as a problem.

“The boring tag I got which came as a result of winning, it was the ultimate compliment really. It’s the best compliment you can have in that you have outstayed your welcome in terms of how much you are supposed to win. That is something you are effectively aiming for as a sportsman – to dominate as much as you can.

“I just basically got on with my job – playing the game to the best of my abilities and seeing what would happen. For a long period, I had it all my own way, so they were happy days for me.”

Inevitably, as his powers began to wane and the next generation of stars started to take his place at the top of the game, Davis’ popularity began to soar as he then became the plucky underdog.

The 1990s would prove to be a changing of the guard at the top with Scotsman Stephen Hendry taking Davis’ crown as the king of snooker.

With six World titles to his name, Davis could have been forgiven for thinking his record would stand the test of time. But within 10 years of his last Crucible win in 1989, his mark had been surpassed by Hendry. The noughties have also seen the mercurial Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins win five.

“Although Hendry had started to play some great snooker in ’89, you can’t ever predict what is going to happen,” Davis said. “But effectively overnight Hendry came of age and pushed the game to another level.

“I wasn’t mentally prepared for it if I am being honest because I had pretty much had it all my own way in the 1980s and I didn’t think anything was going to change really.

“But Stephen began to play at a level which was a level or even two levels above what I did. I think you generally find that is what happens in sport.

“So the next stage of my career was coming to terms with that and trying to compete in a more aggressive marketplace with younger players coming through.

“I was fighting a losing a battle in that respect, but I still managed to win a few tournaments, but I never won the Worlds again, so when I beat Parrott in 1989 that was the end of my reign.”

Snooker legends Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor are heading to Viva Blackpool next month.

The dynamic duo will be taking to the table on March 8. John Virgo will play host and is sure to impress the crowd with a trick shot or too in between frames.

Martin Heywood, joint owner of Viva Blackpool said: “We are delighted that such snooker icons like Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor are going to headline this event, which promises to be a night of fun and laughter whilst witnessing some championship level snooker playing as well. A night of banter, trick shots and the chance for someone in the audience to actually play a frame with the legends is on offer.”

Tickets are now on sale via www.vivablackpool.com from just £25 per person.