Thirty years ago at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, Dennis Taylor faced Steve Davis in the World Snooker Championship Final. My custom at the time was to enjoy dipping into the action occasionally during the tournament, whilst eagerly awaiting the final which I would watch and savour. The 1985 finale proved to be an amazing spectacle and provided one of THE sporting moments of the century. But there were two other reasons why this final was so special to me.
I remember the weekend so vividly because the snooker final straddled the start of my O’levels at high school. My first ever national exam had been on the Friday, when I sat Arithmetic and my next one was English, which was scheduled for all day Monday. So although the weekend TV family viewing was sorted (and the telly took precedence in our house) I tried to keep an eye on the sport AND review my study notes and literature texts to be examined. I recall Steve Davis taking an 8-0 lead before Dennis Taylor clawed his way back to 7-9 going into the next day. On the Sunday, Taylor repeatedly came from behind to level the scores at 11-11, 15-15 and then 17-17. This was the backdrop as I made my final study preparations surrounded by tomes of good English literature. I recall that the style of the exam paper meant that you couldn’t discard any of the literature genres studied. My novel was Animal Farm by George Orwell, the play was Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the two poems I had decided to analyse were Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen and Robert Burn’s To A Mouse. There were short stories in the mix as well, but I don’t recall which ones they were. Added to that was ensuring my grasp of the grammatical rules and regulations of English was in order, and wondering what essay topics might turn up on the paper. Obviously in my own little world, the sporting greatness that unfolded that weekend was shrouded in the realms of great literature quotes. Certainly Dennis Taylor on potting the final black at his third attempt to become world champion was no “cow’rin tim’rous beastie”!
The game went into the small hours of the Monday morning and lasted 14 hours 50 minutes, the longest ever recorded for a 35 frame match. An estimated 18.5 million TV audience (including me bleary eyed but enthralled) watched the incredible final frame go down to the wire. Steve Davis had an 18 point advantage with 22 points still remaining on the table and Dennis Taylor then potted the brown, blue and pink balls. That final black became the decider and each man missed the pot twice before Dennis Taylor sealed victory to win his first World Championship. Who can forget the wee stocky Northern Irishman with the upside-down looking specs holding aloft his cue, dancing a wee jig and wagging his finger?
Taylor won against the odds in the most extraordinary fashion and yet I was the only one who wasn’t surprised. You see once in a while I get a gut-feeling about something and it won’t go away. In the February I had spotted a list of snooker players and the name Dennis Taylor leapt out at me. I said to my Dad he would win the World Championship and he laughed at me on seeing the odds of 150-1. By March my feeling had not diminished, in fact it had crystallised into something more and I predicted the “last ball in the last frame” scenario. My Dad laughed even more at this and said “that just proves that YOU (a mere lassie) know nothing about betting, sport or snooker”. When Taylor won I punched the air in delight and squealed “I TOLD YOU THAT WOULD HAPPEN”. I looked over at my Mammy who sat open mouthed in shock and my Dad had gone a funny puce colour and looked absolutely sickened. As I scooped my books up and said I was off to bed, my Dad put his head in his hands and mumbled something as he shook in disbelief. I think he might have been crying!