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And how it has been transformed! Before this rebirth fine champions like John Spencer and Ray Reardon were much nearer the ends of their careers than the beginnings. Nevertheless, Spencer’s third and last world title made him the Crucible’s first champion; Reardon’s sixth and last made him its second. The other 1970s champion, Higgins, regained the title in an emotional finale in 1982. The WPBSA’s ‘open house’ policy on professional status, implemented in 1992, allowed for 542 entries in the 1993 championship, whereas in 1931 there were only two. It is therefore unlikely that anyone will emulate the feat of Terry Griffiths, world champion at his first attempt in 1979, when his epic semi-final with Eddie Charlton provided one of the first of the gripping late-night finishes which sent the nation red-eyed to work next day. Cliff Thorburn, who has probably been responsible for more of these late nights than any other snooker player in history, became champion in 1980. Even more memorably, he made the first 147 in championship history three years later.
Steve Davis hit the 1980s like a colossus, winning six world titles and countless others, even if none of them is embedded so deeply in Britain’s collective sporting memory as his defeat by Dennis Taylor, watched by 18.5 million BBC viewers, on the final black in 1985. Joe Johnson, an unregarded outsider, sustained a once-in-a lifetime inspiration to win the title in dramatic fashion in 1986. Stephen Hendry, save for John Parrott’s world title in 1991, dominated the 1990s, winning the game’s blue riband three times. Jimmy White (a left hander), whose engaging personality and dashing skills have made him a particular favourite, made the championship’s second 147 break in 1992, but after six appearances in the final is still saddled with the description he detests: the greatest player never to win the title.
Few sports have expanded as spectacularly as the game played on a snooker table has. The administration of WPBSA, originally just a few players keeping the professional game alive under the guidance of Rex Williams, has had to cope, with varying degrees of success, with the responsibilities and issues arising from its position as a world governing body. Off-table disputes, usually generated by the pursuit of money or power, have proliferated. Yet snooker is no nine-day wonder. Its tournament circuit, like that of any other sport, will always be subject to market fluctuations, but internationally it has grown out of all recognition and its great occasions — like a Crucible final – have become as much a part of the fabric of British sporting life as the FA Cup final or the Grand National. How Joe Davis, the father of professional snooker, would have loved to have been part of it all.
If you enjoyed this blog then you will be pleased to hear that I will be following up on this blog with articles on the history of televised snooker. Please feel free to comment on any article and any requests such as snooker table recovering or snooker table removal are welcome.